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Disneyland vs. Disney World: Differences + Pros & Cons

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It might seem like Disneyland vs. Disney World would be a toss-up. But when it comes to comparing these two theme parks, there are some MAJOR differences. Disney World is bigger and has more rides and more dining, while Disneyland has classic charm, better weather, and a more manageable size.

If you are trying to decide which vacation is right for your family, here are the things to consider about each Disney property, plus we’ll tackle that challenging question: Which Disney Resort is better?

Planning a trip to Disney World? Check out our Ultimate Disney Vacation Planning Guide!

Disneyland vs. Disney World: Summary

We’re going to dig into ALL the details here. But if you just want to the main points, here are the major differences you need to know about each park.

Disney World

  • Located in Orlando, Florida
  • Consists of 4 theme parks and over 25 resort hotels
  • Bigger and more spread out
  • More rides and more restaurants
  • Some rides that only exist at Disney World — Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, Avatar Flight of Passage, Rock n’ Roller Coaster, Slinky Dog Dash

Disneyland

  • Located in Anaheim, California
  • Consists of 2 theme parks and 3 resort hotels
  • Smaller space, and easy to get from one park to the other
  • Some rides that only exist at Disneyland — The Incredicoaster, Radiator Springs Racers, Matterhorn, WEB SLINGERS: A Spiderman Adventure, Indiana Jones Adventure

Save Money at Disney World!

Location and Size

Let’s start with the most obvious difference between the two parks: location. Walt Disney World is located in Orlando, Florida, while Disneyland is located in Anaheim, California (which is just south of Los Angeles).

This factor alone might be the deciding factor of your vacation. If you live on the East Coast, it might be easier for you to get to Disney World, while the same might be true with Disneyland for West Coasters.

Besides location, there is also a BIG difference in the size of the two properties. Of the two, Disney World is a much bigger park. Disneyland is landlocked in Anaheim and consists of just 500 acres, while Disney World is basically its own city and spans over 40 square miles.

Cost

The truth is, Disneyland and Disney World are pretty comparable in price. Disneyland is usually a few dollars cheaper for a day ticket, which makes sense because it is a smaller park with less to offer. But there’s not usually a huge difference in cost.

With both parks though, ticket prices vary both according to the dates of your trip (crowded times will be more expensive) and the length of your stay (longer stays will be less expensive per day).

If you want to save money on tickets for either Disneyland or Disney World, one of the best things to do is to buy tickets from Undercover Tourist. They sell authorized Disney tickets at a discounted price. So there’s really no reason to ever pay full price for Disney tickets!

Best Time to Visit

There are two factors to consider when thinking about the best time to visit Disneyland or Disney World: weather and crowds.

Weather

Disneyland gets the nod with weather. Since it’s located in Southern California, it usually has pretty pleasant weather all year. However, I will say I have been to Disneyland in July and been SO HOT even without the humidity. Maybe it’s just because I’m a Southern girl used to the heat with the humidity?

Disney World though can have super hot and humid summers which can get pretty unbearable sometimes. We’re talking summer heat indexes that can sometimes feel over 100 degrees. And it’s pretty warm all year-round, although late fall, winter, and early spring will give you the best weather.

Crowds

Crowds are also a factor when thinking about the best time to visit. It used to be that winter and certain points in the fall and spring saw less crowds because of the timing of school breaks, especially at Disney World. However, this has become less and less the case. Although both parks still have slower times.

In general though, Disney World tends to get more crowded because it is bigger and a more popular destination. Both parks have busier days though with high crowds along with occasional slightly slower days.

Transportation

Transportation offerings differ vastly between the two parks, both when it comes to getting to the parks and getting around the parks.

Getting To the Parks

Depending on where you are coming from, you may choose to either drive or fly to Disneyland or Disney World. Of course, if you drive, your transportation is pretty straightforward.

Flying is a different story though.

If you are flying to Disney World, there is really just one option: Orlando International Airport (MCO). It’s about a 25-30 minute drive from MCO to Disney World. You can choose to either rent a car, take a service like Uber or Lyft, or ride the MEARS Connect bus.

At Disneyland, there are a lot more airport options, which may make finding flights easier depending on where you are coming from.

  • Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) — about 45 minutes to Disneyland
  • Long Beach Airport (LGB) — about 20-30 minutes to Disneyland
  • John Wayne Airport (SNA) — about 20-30 minutes to Disneyland
  • Ontario International Airport (ONT) — about 45 minutes to Disneyland

My favorite way to get to Disneyland is to fly into a smaller airport like Long Beach or John Wayne. These are the two closest airports to Disneyland, and their small size makes your transportation day a lot less stressful than a mega-hub like LAX.

From any of these airports, you can take a taxi or an Uber or Lyft. Or you can rent a car (but you won’t really need it at Disneyland).

Getting Around the Parks

Because Disneyland is a smaller area and most of the resorts and both of the parks are within walking distance of everything else, there are limited transportation options.

Everything is easier to walk to at Disneyland, while Disney World offers more transportation options for longer distances.

If you’re park hopping between Disneyland parks, you just have to walk across a big plaza called the Esplanade. Like you can WALK from Disneyland to California Adventure in about one minute. Which, if you are used to Disney World, is a little mind-blowing.

If you are staying off-property at Disneyland, there are resort buses, parking lot buses, and hotel shuttles you can use to get to Disneyland. And within Disneyland there is a monorail you can take from Downtown Disney to Tomorrowland in Disneyland. But most likely, you’ll be walking to the parks because it is just so easy.

Disney World, however, has an extensive network of on-property transportation because everything is so spread out. Every resort on Disney World property has at least one option (often more!) that will get you to the theme parks: buses, the Monorail, the Skyliner, walking paths, and even boats. So while you may not be able to walk to your destination at Disney World, there are plenty of easy transportation options.

Theme Parks

Because of the difference in the size of Disneyland and Disney World, there is also a big difference in how many theme parks each property has. (Yes, each property has multiple theme parks.)

The Walt Disney World Resort has four theme parks:

  • Magic Kingdom — The classic park with Cinderella Castle and themed lands like Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, Adventureland, and Frontierland.
  • Epcot — Home to World Showcase with pavilions from different countries. Plus, the front half of the park is dedicated to discovery and learning.
  • Disney’s Hollywood Studios — This park focuses on Hollywood movies, with a classic Hollywood front of the park and lands that focus on movie franchises like Toy Story Land and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.
  • Disney’s Animal Kingdom — Half theme park, half zoo, this is actually my favorite Disney Park. You’ll find lands with real animals like Africa and Asia and lands that are more fantastical like Dinoland and Pandora — The World of Avatar.

The Disneyland Resort has just two theme parks on property:

  • Disneyland — The original Magic Kingdom with Sleeping Beauty Castle. You’ll find many of the same lands as in Orlando, but they also have New Orleans Square (instead of Liberty Square), Toontown, and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.
  • Disney California Adventure — The front of this park feels very much like Hollywood Studios, but the rest is wholly unique, with lands like Cars Land, Pixar Pier, and Avenger’s Campus.

Read more about these parks in our Disneyland vs. California Adventure comparison!

Pandora is Unique to Disney World

Rides & Attractions

As you can imagine, having entirely different theme parks in each property also means there are some big differences when it comes to rides.

A list of the ride differences would be WAY too extensive to list here, but to give you an idea here are some highlights.

Some Rides Found at Walt Disney World But NOT Disneyland:

  • Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
  • Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover
  • TRON Lightcycle/Run
  • Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind
  • Frozen Ever After
  • Spaceship Earth
  • Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure
  • Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster
  • Slinky Dog Dash
  • Avatar Flight of Passage
  • DINOSAUR
  • Expedition Everest

Some Rides Found at Disneyland But NOT Disney World:

  • Matterhorn Bobsleds
  • Alice in Wonderland
  • Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride
  • Snow White’s Enchanted Wish
  • Indiana Jones Adventure
  • Radiator Springs Racers
  • WEB SLINGERS: A Spider-Man Adventure
  • Incredicoaster

There are of course a lot of rides that can be found at both parks too. Fantasyland classics like Peter Pan, It’s a Small World, and Mad Tea Party are on both properties. Soarin’ can be found at both Epcot and Disney California Adventure and Toy Story Mania can be found at both Hollywood Studios and California Adventure.

Favorites like Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Splash Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, Jungle Cruise, and the Haunted Mansion are also at both Magic Kingdom and Disneyland, although there are slight differences between them. (And to be honest, I think most of them, especially Space Mountain and Pirates, are better at Disneyland.)

The entire Galaxy’s Edge expansion can be found at both Disneyland and Hollywood Studios.

There are also similar rides that go by different names. Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT! is just a rethemed Tower of Terror. And the kiddie coaster Barnstormer in Magic Kingdom is very similar to Chip & Dale’s Gadget Coaster in Disneyland.

Entertainment

Disneyland and Disney World are pretty different when it comes to entertainment. Both parks have fireworks, in-park performances, and character cavalcades and parades (although they are different at each park).

But Disney World has A LOT more to offer when it comes to entertainment. But the entertainment at each park is EXCELLENT.

Nighttime Shows & Parades

Disney World has a nighttime show at three of its four parks.

  • Happy Ever After at Magic Kingdom is one of my favorite fireworks show ever. It’s a fireworks spectacular with projections on the Cinderella Castle.
  • Epcot Forever is a temporary show that Epcot is currently offering. It’s fine. But they are going to announce a new show soon.
  • Fantasmic! is the nighttime show at Hollywood Studios that takes place in an amphitheater where you see Mickey fighting villains in his dreams.
  • Festival of Fantasy is the parade in Magic Kingdom. It has incredible floats with classic characters and it’s tons of fun.

Disneyland actually has the same number of nighttime shows at Disney World, despite having two less parks.

  • Wondrous Journeys is the new fireworks show at Disneyland. It is EXCELLENT, but since the castle is smaller, it’s just harder to see the projections. (Although there are projections on the buildings down Main Street.)
  • Fantasmic! also shows at Disneyland. It takes place on Rivers of America near New Orleans Square and Frontierland.
  • World of Color – One is a fountain projection show in California Adventure and it is INCREDIBLE.
  • Magic Happens is the parade in Disneyland and it is maybe my favorite parade I’ve ever seen. It’s upbeat and fun and makes you want to dance, with characters you don’t always get to see like Moana, Maui, and Miguel.

Stage Shows

Because Disney World is bigger, they just have a lot more stage shows than Disneyland. You’ll find shows like Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage, Festival of the Lion King, For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration, Feathered Friends in Flight, and more.

Disneyland does still have entertainment options though like Storytelling at Royal Theater and Tale of the Lion King. They are good, but there just aren’t as many as in Disney World.

Resorts

As you can imagine with such different sized properties, there is a big difference in Disney resort offerings. In general, Disney World has more Disney Resorts to choose from, while I think it is easier to stay at an off-property resort at Disneyland.

Disneyland Resorts and Hotels

At Disneyland there are three Disney hotels you can choose from:

  • Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa
  • Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel
  • Disneyland Hotel

These hotels come with some benefits, especially easy walking or transportation to the parks (I mean, the Grand Californian has its own special entrance into California Adventure!).

But because Disneyland is small and enveloped in the city of Anaheim, there are a lot of other area hotels you can choose from:

  • I know lots of people love the Howard Johnson near Disneyland for a reasonably priced option. Be sure to ask for a room in one of the renovated buildings though.
  • We’ve stayed at the Hilton Anaheim and had a good experience there. It’s about a 20 minute walk to the park, or you can take the Disney bus from the Toy Story parking lot. Or you can pay to get an ART (Anaheim Resort Transportation) bus pass.
  • If you are a fan of Hyatt, there is a Hyatt Place and a Hyatt House near Disneyland. We’ve stayed at the Hyatt Place and found it super convenient to the Toy Story Parking lot and a great hotel.
  • The Westin Anaheim is another popular resort that is about a 20 minute walk to the park.
  • If you want to be right across the street from Disneyland, you can try the Courtyard by Marriott Anaheim Theme Park Entrance or Fairfield by Marriott Anaheim Resort. Both are just about a 10 minute walk to the Disneyland gates.

Some of these also act as “Good Neighbor” hotels, offering some of the same perks as Disney resorts. This is one thing I love about Disneyland: it is so easy to save some money by staying off property and still have a great parks experience!

Walt Disney World Resorts & Hotels

Walt Disney World has over 25 on-property resorts. There are three categories of resorts at Disney World: Deluxe, Moderate, and Value.

Deluxe Disney World Resorts include classics like the Polynesian Village Resort and the Contemporary Resort, as well as newer properties like Beach Club Resort, Yacht Club Resort, and the Riviera Resort.

Moderate Disney World Resorts include properties like Caribbean Beach Resort, Coronado Springs Resort, and Port Orleans Resort.

Disney World’s Value Resorts are the easiest to fit into a budget Disney trip and include the All-Star Resorts, Art of Animation, and Pop Century.

All Disney World hotels offer complementary transportation to the parks, and other perks like early access to theme parks, which can be a big time benefit when you are trying to fit in as many rides as you can!

There are also a good amount of Good Neighbor hotels on or near Disney World property, which often offer some of the same perks as Disney resorts. However, not all Good Neighbor hotels offer the same perks (only a select offer the benefit of Early Entry).

Some Disney World Good Neighbor Hotels that include Early Entry:

The Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotels are also included here, and they are both Marriott Properties. But they are technically on Disney property and are often thought of as Disney World Resorts because they come with all the same benefits as a Disney-run hotel.

Basically, either park you choose to go to, it’s fairly easy to find somewhere to stay that fits your budget. But if you definitely want to stay at a Disney-branded resort, you’ll have more options at Disney World. And if you want to stay at a non-Disney hotel to save money, you’ll find more convenient options at Disneyland.

Polynesian Resort Lobby at Walt Disney World

Trying to decide on a Disney vacation? Check out our post on Disney World vs. Disney Cruise Line!


On Property Bonuses

Even though Disney World has four theme parks and over 25 resorts, there is still a lot of space to take up in that 40+ square miles. Which means Disney World has a lot more to enjoy on property beyond the parks.

There are two water parks at Disney World — Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon, both of which you can easily spend an entire day enjoying.

Another popular spot at Disney World is Disney Springs, a shopping and restaurant area (that is free by the way!) with some super popular spots. Here’s where you can find some of the best food on property (like really, there are so many restaurants), upscale shopping, entertainment like live music and bowling, and those famous Gideon’s cookies.

Walt Disney World also has multiple golf courses and putt-putt golf courses, if you need even more to do on your vacation!

Disneyland on the other hand, doesn’t have nearly as much to offer. There is the Downtown Disney District, which is comparable to Disney Springs, with dining, shopping, and entertainment. But beyond this area, there isn’t a lot to do outside of the theme parks at Disneyland unless you venture into greater Anaheim or Los Angeles.

Food & Dining

Theme parks get a bad rap, but both Disneyland and Disney World have some excellent food. Sure, you can find some not so great burgers and pizza, but if you pay attention and read reviews you can find some truly delicious restaurants and snacks at both parks. Both parks also have character meals to choose from.

Because Disney World is bigger, they simply have a LOT more options. But if you do your research and plan ahead, you won’t be disappointed with food at either park.

Disney World has more Table Service options. Some popular restaurants include Cinderella’s Royal Table, Be Our Guest Restaurant, Space 220, and honestly SO many more.

But there is also some excellent Quick Service in Disney World. In fact, Satu’li Canteen is a Quick Service restaurant at Disney’s Animal Kingdom that might actually be my favorite food in all of Disney World.

Disneyland focuses more on Quick Service than Table Service. There are some great Quick Service options though. Bengel Barbecue in Disneyland is a true highlight, while in California Adventure you won’t want to miss Pym’s Test Kitchen.

There are limited Table Service options in Disneyland. But I’ll tell you this: I had some of the best salmon I’ve ever had at Carthay Circle and the potato skins and Lamplight Lounge are maybe the best thing I’ve ever eaten at a theme park.

Pro tip: If you go to Disneyland, don’t leave without eating a churro!

Festivals & Holiday Fun

Special events and holidays can make your time at both parks even more magical! Here’s a breakdown.

Festivals

Both Disneyland and Disney World offer special festivals throughout the year. At Disney World, Festivals take place at Epcot. While at Disneyland, they are held at Disney’s California Adventure.

Disney World Festivals

  • Festival of the Arts celebrates all things art, including culinary and visual art.
  • Flower and Garden Festival offers garden themed foods and is the time when Epcot is dotted with special character topiaries.
  • Food and Wine Festival has food booths with culinary offering from around the world, including countries that aren’t part of Epcot’s World Showcase.
  • Festival of the Holidays is a celebration of holidays around the world.

Disneyland Festivals

  • Lunar New Year celebrates the Lunar New Year with food, characters, and crafts.
  • Food & Wine Festival offers different food booths, California wine, and culinary demonstrations.
  • Festival of the Holidays celebrates the winter holidays with food booths and special entertainment.

Holidays

When it comes to holidays, both parks go all out.

Both Disney World and Disneyland have parties and special events for Halloween and Christmas, with special characters, treats, parades, and more.

At Disney World, there will nights set aside at Magic Kingdom for Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. While Hollywood Studios will have a Disney Jollywood Night during November and December (new in 2023)!

At Disneyland, they offer Oogie Boogie Bash at Disney’s California Adventure during the Halloween season.

At both Disney Resorts, these events are separately ticketed events.

Disneyland, however, gives the holidays just a little bit more. Characters don’t just dress up for special parties, they show up in their special garb for regular day guests. And they really go all-out with the decorations too (I mean, have you SEEN Cars Land at Halloween?).

Disney World saves more of their holiday celebration for the guests who pay for special events. But there is still plenty to enjoy at the holidays there too, from holiday decorations to special food items.

Cars Land at Halloween

Characters

Characters sightings and meet and greets are another difference in the parks. Seeing characters at Disney World is a more formal affair, with meet & greet lines and scheduled appearances. But at Disneyland you are much more likely to see characters randomly out and about, and even spot some of those rarer characters.

At Disney World, you’ll find classic characters throughout all four parks. Princesses are most prevalent at Magic Kingdom and Epcot. In Hollywood Studios you’ll find Toy Story characters and Star Wars characters. And in Animal Kingdom you’ll have some unique characters like Moana the characters from Up.

At Disneyland, there are character meet and greets with all kinds of characters, but so many characters can be found just walking around the park. In Fantasyland I’ve seen Peter Pan and Wendy, the Genie, Mary Poppins, and Merida all just wondering around talking to guests. In Adventureland I’ve seen Jack Sparrow and Red. And in Galaxy’s Edge there are always Star Wars characters.

At California Adventure you’ll seen the cars from Cars in Cars Land, Marvel super heroes in Avengers Campus, and I’ve seen Oswald toward the front of the park. There are so many more though!

Ambiance & Miscellaneous Factors

There are a few differences between Disneyland and Disney World that can’t be easily categorized.

First, let’s talk about the general vibes. Disney World is a vacation mecca. It is full of families looking for magical experiences, with guests staying for days at a time and looking to pack as much into their Disney trip as possible.

Disneyland, on the other hand, while also a big vacation destination, is more likely to have single day visitors and locals who just want to pop by for the afternoon.

I think all this, plus the location, contributes to another big factor: how much you stay inside the magic. At Disney World, you can completely immerse yourself in the Disney bubble and forget that the outside world exists. For me, this is a little harder to do at Disneyland, where you walk outside the gates and see non-Disneyland right next door.

Another big difference I noticed between the parks is their design. Disneyland opened in 1955 while Magic Kingdom in Disney World opened in 1971. And I think in those intervening years the park designers learned a lot about theme park design. To me, Disneyland felt more crowded because there is just less space. The lines in Fantasyland are TINY. The walkways aren’t as well thought-out. And all this contributes to the park feeling cramped. (To me, since California Adventure is a newer park, it didn’t have these problems.)

But at Disney World, they knew to anticipate the crowds, and the design and layout of the park allows for that a bit better (okay, minus that Peter Pan/Small World bottleneck in Magic Kingdom). Generally Disney World has wider walkways, more room for queues, and open spaces to make the park feel less cramped.

However, Disneyland has a charm that Disney World can’t achieve. Disneyland is the classic park that Walt Disney had a direct hand in creating. It’s small and almost quaint, and that contributes to the magic in a special way.

Disney World Pros & Cons

Pros:

  • It’s a bigger space with a lot more to do and see.
  • It’s easier to stay immersed in the magic.
  • I mean, it’s a huge vacation destination for a reason.

Cons:

  • The bigger space also means it takes more time and effort to get from place to place.
  • You can get FOMO much more easily…because no matter how much time you have it really feels like you can never see/do/eat it all.

Disneyland Pros & Cons

Pros:

  • It’s the first park that was built and is full of history and charm.
  • Everything is in easy walking distance.
  • Easier to tackle on a shorter vacation.

Cons:

  • It’s smaller and has less to do.
  • Smack dab in the middle of Anaheim.

Which Disney Property is Better??

It’s hard to say which one is better, Disneyland or Disney World.

And I know I’m going to make some enemies here, but I prefer Walt Disney World.

A lot of this has to do with personal preference I’m sure. It’s the park I grew up going to. But I also think that Disney World has a lot more to offer, features a more complete magical experience, and is overall better designed. Personally, I like being able to enclose myself in the bubble of Disney World and not think about the existence of the real world for at least a little bit.

That being said, Disneyland is definitely worth visiting. Aside from the fact that it was the very first Disney park and the one Walt Disney was there to lead, there are so many experiences that are unique to Anaheim. So if you’ve always been to Disney World and want to find out what Disneyland is all about, definitely make time to visit! I truly have loved my trips to Disneyland too!

But that doesn’t necessarily help you decide: which Disney Park should YOU visit? Here’s what I think.

If you are looking for a big family vacation, live on the East Coast, and/or want to completely immerse yourself in the magic for an extended period of time, visit Walt Disney World!

But if you want a shorter, more manageable trip and have easier access to the West Coast, visit Disneyland.

Either way, you’ll have a magical time!

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