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Disney World Resort vs Disneyland Resort: A WDW Veterans Comparison

September 15, 2015

This year, I had the opportunity (and money) to go to Disneyland in California and Walt Disney World in Florida. Not many people have the ability to go to both parks let alone in the same year; therefore I want to provide you with the top four differences that I noticed between the two resorts. I traveled with two other Walt Disney World veterans who had almost the same reaction as I did when we stepped into unknown territory. I hope you enjoy!

1. Size:

I believe that size is the biggest difference between the two different resorts. Disney World is over 40 square miles with four different theme parks and two water parks. Disneyland is only about 500 acres. That is a huge difference. In Disneyland you can walk from most of the hotels to the theme parks, where in Florida you will have to take a bus, monorail, or a boat to get to most places. The biggest shock to me was the fact that this theme park was just in the middle of a major city. This made finding things a little bit difficult if you were not familiar with the area. Signage was not as clear as in Florida and my friends and me had a hard time navigating the area. I think we went in circles a few times before we actually found the one parking area for both theme parks and Downtown Disney.

Downtown Disney is another area that is extremely small compared to Walt Disney World. We were walking out of the Magic Kingdom looking for a place to eat for dinner and as we were walking one of us said, “How about we go to Downtown Disney to eat?” We did not even realize that we were already in Downtown Disney because of how close it is to the theme parks and hotels. Whereas in Florida I would have had to take some form of transportation to even get close to Downtown Disney. So who wins the size argument? Walt Disney World by a landslide.

Photo courtesy Tom Bricker

Photo courtesy Tom Bricker

2. Hotels:

Walt Disney World has over 25 hotels that guests can stay in ranging from value to deluxe resorts. Disneyland only has three hotels and a vast majority of Good Neighbor Hotels, which are close to the theme parks but usually, do not have the Disney price tag. As a disclaimer in California, I did not stay at a Disney resort or a good neighbor hotel (We were on a college student’s budget, therefore we stayed at a Marriott in the outskirts of Anaheim).

We did make the effort to visit at least one of the hotels to see what all of the fuss was about. We went to the Grand California Hotel and checked out the lobby, gift shop, and took a peek at the pool. As an outsider who is used to Disney World theming at each hotel I first noticed the lack of theming at the Grand California. I was just not getting the ‘Disney vibe’ that I feel as soon as I step into a lobby of a Disney World resort. It felt like just a nice classy hotel that could be in any city. Now, I cannot comment on the rooms because I did not stay at the hotel. I can imagine many people would disagree with my opinions on the hotel, but once again I am choosing Disney World as the winner for this category based on theming, number of hotels, and cost.

Photo courtesy Tom Bricker

Photo courtesy Tom Bricker

3. Rides/Food:

I do not feel that comparing rides and food is fair once again due to the size of both of the resorts. Therefore, no one will win this category I will just explain some differences. At Disneyland, there are a few rides that Disney World does not have such as Indiana Jones Adventure, Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin, and Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage. These were some of the rides that my friends and I enjoyed the most at Disneyland. There were also some small changes as in Space Mountain that we thought were also better at the Magic Kingdom in Disneyland.

We did not eat at any of the table service restaurants at Disneyland because of our college budget. Though, we did see the Blue Bayou restaurant when riding the Pirates of the Caribbean and all agreed that it looked like a very neat restaurant to dine at. I apologize for the fact that I cannot comment on food very much because we were stuck to cheap places like Earl of Sandwich that are a favorite of our group. Let’s call it an even comparison between rides and food at both of the resorts. (Although we all know Disney World has a vast amount of restaurants compared to Disneyland, but once again the size factor comes into play and cannot be ignored).

Photo courtesy Tom Bricker

Photo courtesy Tom Bricker

4. Planning:

Anyone who goes on a Walt Disney World vacation knows that planning is pretty much essential. Many people plan vacations to WDW years in advance and this is now even more crucial with Fastpass + and dining reservations. Whenever I go to Walt Disney World I plan every single detail out from what rides I will use a Fastpass + for and where I will be eating that day. I cannot imagine going on a Walt Disney World vacation and not taking the time to plan the entire trip out.

Disneyland is completely different in the fact that I did absolutely zero planning except for buying my ticket online in advance. Disneyland is still using the old Fastpass paper ticket system where you have to go to that ride on the day you are visiting the park to get a Fastpass. We never had to even pull a Fastpass because we were there at the beginning of March and the crowds were minimal. The longest we waited for a ride was around 20 minutes, which is not always the case at Disney World.

Photo courtesy Tom Bricker

Photo courtesy Tom Bricker

As I mentioned before, I did not do any planning for our trip to Disneyland and this actually was not a problem except for the Fantasmic show. You MUST get a Fastpass for this show if you want any kind of decent seating. We could not find a good spot to watch the show and, therefore we left half way through. Make sure to get a Fastpass, which will give you a reserved spot to watch the show. We were used to Disney World where you can get a seat for the show without a Fastpass and have excellent viewing. Due to the size of the Magic Kingdom there are not many seats for this show and, therefore expect to stand for the entire portion of the long show. So, who wins the planning category? I do not think anyone can win this category, but I will give the advice to plan any type of trip you are going on so that you do not miss out on anything…ahem..like Fantasmic.

Overall, we really enjoyed our trip to Disneyland but in our comparison as Disney World veterans we believe WDW is better. We may be biased because of the amount of times we have been to central Florida, but there were a lot of things at Disneyland that we were not impressed with. We were extremely grateful to be able to take the trip and see the parks but at the end of the day we all felt that going back was not of extreme importance.

Does this mean I am telling you not to go to Disneyland if you are an experienced WDW visitor? NO! GO and have fun! You will appreciate the differences and your opinion may be different than mine. I believe every true Disney fan should see both of these great parks. Now go, plan that trip to the beautiful state of California for the 60th Anniversary of Disneyland…don’t forget to use the DVC Rental Store for your hotel accommodations! Thanks for reading and see you at the parks!

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