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.
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 is better?
Disneyland vs. 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. 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.
Disneyland vs. Disney World: 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:
The Disneyland Resort has just two theme parks on property:
- Disney California Adventure
While Magic Kingdom and Disneyland are extremely similar (with a few notable differences like Toontown in Disneyland), the other theme parks on this list are almost entirely unique.
There is nothing like Disney’s Animal Kingdom (where you can find Pandora) or Epcot’s World Showcase anywhere else. And while Disney California Adventure may have some similarities to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, most of the park is entirely different with lands in California (like Cars Land, Pixar Pier, and Avengers Campus) that you won’t find in Florida.
Disneyland vs. Disney World: Rides
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
- Frozen Ever After
- Spaceship Earth
- Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure
- Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster
- Slinky Dog Dash
- Avatar Flight of Passage
- Expedition Everest
Some Rides Found at Disneyland But NOT Disney World:
- Matterhorn Bobsleds
- Classic dark rides like Alice in Wonderland, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, and Snow White’s Enchanted Wish
- Indiana Jones Adventure
- Radiator Springs Racers
- WEB SLINGERS: A Spider-Man Adventure
There are of course a lot of rides that can be found at both parks too. Fantasyland classics like Peter Pan and It’s a Small World 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.
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 Gadget’s Go Coaster in Disneyland.
Disneyland vs. Disney World: 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. While Disneyland does have some stage shows (although we’re still awaiting word on when most of them will return), Disney World has a lot more (as you can expect with a bigger park).
From fan-favorites like Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage and Festival of the Lion King to outdoor entertainment at the America Gardens Theater in Epcot or Feathered Friends in Flight at Animal Kingdom, there are just a lot more options at Disney World.
Disneyland vs. Disney World: Resorts
As you can imagine with such different sized properties, there is a big difference in Disney resort offerings.
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. From major branded hotels you know like Hilton and Marriott to smaller hotels, there is so much in the area that is within walking distance to Disneyland. Some of these also act as “Good Neighbor” hotels, offering some of the same perks as Disney resorts.
Walt Disney World, on the other hand, has over 25 on-property resorts. You can choose from budget friendly options like Disney’s All-Star Movies Resort or opulent getaways like Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa.
Disney World hotels offer complementary transportation to the parks, and other perks like early access to theme parks.
There are also a good amount of Good Neighbor hotels on Disney World property, which often offer the same perks as Disney resorts.
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.
Disneyland vs. Disney World: Transportation
Transportation offerings differ vastly between the two 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.
And 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.
Trying to decide on a Disney vacation? Check out our post on Disney World vs. Disney Cruise Line!
Disneyland vs. Disney World: 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), plus 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 Downtown Disney, 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.
Disneyland vs. Disney World: Food
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.
Pro tip though: if you go to Disneyland, don’t leave without eating a churro!
Disneyland vs. Disney World: Characters and Holiday Fun
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.
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. Plus, Epcot has special festivals going on pretty much year-round, giving you something to celebrate even when it isn’t the holiday season.
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.
Disneyland vs. Disney World: 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 vibe. 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 really crowded all the time 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 (seriously, those tiny Fantasyland queues that were basically just added onto the walkways were not fun), and open spaces to make the park feel less cramped.
Disney World Pros & Cons
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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. I mean, 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!
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!
Do you love Disney just as much as we do? We have a whole list of books all about Disneyland and Disney World!