Ways to Compare Disneyland and Disney World
This is not a Disneyland VS. Disney World sort of post. I’m definitely not comparing the Parks to tell you that one is better than another. I have love for Disney all around! I truly love Disneyland for different reasons than why I love Walt Disney World. And they are both completely different from each other. I’ll compare Disneyland and Disney World so you can make that determination when planning your trip.
As you read this post and start planning your vacation, you’ll start noticing the deeper differences between Disneyland and Disney World. There are going to be additional small details that will tip the scales for you more towards one theme park than another. It’s okay to embrace the fact that both Disneyland and Disney World are ideal family vacation destinations and either are fantastic!
If you’re planning a first Disney World vacation be sure to read the full travel guide. And for those highly familiar with Disney World vacation planning but want to plan a first Disneyland vacation, check out this ultimate planning guide.
2021 Disney World Vacation Planning
From the west coast to the east coast, travel planning for families has changed dramatically in the last year. Responsible travel during Covid-19 is important along with safe procedures. With Disney Parks reopening across the country, these are the most important things to know including whether to take the kids.
Do your research before committing to a Disney vacation. Many familiar vacation features including changes to character dining, park capacity, reservation systems and the requirement of facial coverings make Disney travel different than in the past. Other things at Disney World have been adjusted for travel during this time, including reservation requirements for each day in the parks and no Fastpass+ booking. Things that are mentioned within this article may have current modifications.
During this challenging time, it’s important to have a travel partner you can trust. Get Away Today is able to help you with all your Disney World vacation planning, including exclusive concierge service, a convenient layaway plan, and complimentary price monitoring. All backed up by their Peace of Mind guarantee!
Is Disney World Better Than Disneyland?
In a word, yes. Is Disney World better than Disneyland? Yes. And is Disneyland better than Disney World? Again, yes! When comparing the Disney parks, they each have their different aspects that make each one better than the other. And truthfully, what makes each Disney park “better” is going to be unique for each family.
For some families, they’ll love the sheer size of Disney World with the endless amounts of activity. Other families may feel overwhelmed at Disney World and prefer the compact nature of Disneyland, with the ability to park hop within minutes. Some love that Disney World allows pre-booking for Fastpass+. Others feel restricted by the early planning and gravitate towards the ability to vacation on the fly at Disneyland with Maxpass for booking ride reservations.
Sharing my tips for having the best experiences and knowing the differences can make your vacation run that much smoother. These are the top things to be aware of when taking a Disney World trip – but there’s a LOT more so make sure to click the links when you see them and bookmark for later!
1. My Disney Experience App
Your Walt Disney World vacation starts at home, months ahead of time with My Disney Experience. You can install the app onto your smart phone or access on desktop. Ideally the app should be loaded onto the cell phone that you’ll be taking into the parks.
Sign in and create an account, and then add your vacation details there. You’ll be able to schedule FastPass+, make dining reservations, link your Park tickets and add your Disney resort hotel room information here (even if you didn’t book the room through the Disney website).
This is all really important stuff when it comes to a smooth Disney vacation! Be sure to take your time during the vacation planning process to make all these schedules and reservations. You’ll thank yourself later for taking the time to pre-plan and book ahead!
Disney World is not a “wing it” kind of place like Disneyland. Most of the time, you can just show up on any given day at Disneyland and plan as you go. But if you want to make the most of your time at Disney World you really should do these things pre-trip.
2. Magical Express Bus
If you’ve ever flown in to Los Angeles California, you know that there isn’t any special transportation available for Disneyland Resort guests. Fortunately Disney’s Magical Express Bus in Orlando will transport you (for free!) from Orlando International Airport to your Walt Disney World Resort hotel if you are a resort guest.
There are a few Disney World-area hotels that do not participate in this program (namely the Swan & Dolphin and Shades of Green) so make sure to check first. Editors Note: The Magical Express program will end on Jan 1st, 2022. A new transportation program has not yet been announced. Anyone booking a Disney World vacation for 2021 will still have use of the Magical Express bus.
The important thing is to set this all up before your trip. You can’t just expect to show up for your flight and find a free ride waiting at the other end. Do all the legwork of entering your flight numbers to book your Magical Express Bus reservation. Then verify that the accurate luggage tags indicating your destination hotel are secured to your bags.
At the end of your trip, be sure to read all the details about returning to the airport via the Magical Express Bus. I got a bit wrapped up in the Disney magic and totally messed this up on my first vacation there. Read about my $80 Magical Express Bus Mistake on Traveling Mom. The Magical Express is absolutely a perk when traveling to Disney World and one of the main reasons I choose to stay at an on-site Disney World hotel.
3. Disney Resort Hotels
Unlike Disneyland’s three resort hotels, Walt Disney World has 25 Resort Hotels to choose from. In Anaheim, it’s very convenient to book a non-Disney Anaheim Good Neighbor Hotel and walk to the Disneyland front gates within minutes. Not so at Disney World.
There are only few Walt Disney World resort hotels within walking distance of theme park entrances. Most Disney World hotels are located much further out. Walking from a non-Disney World resort hotel to any of the Park front gates is out of the question. You’ll either need to use a shuttle service, taxi or rental car if you book an off-site property.
Also at Disneyland, prices for each of the three on-site hotels are all high. At Disney World, resorts are classified into three categories, Deluxe, Moderate and Value (like the All-Star Music Resort shown in the above image). Staying on-site at Disney World can be very reasonably priced and you’ll still receive all of the Disney perks, including complimentary luggage delivery and Magical Express Bus service!
Renting Disney Vacation Club (DVC) travel points is another option for families that can plan their trip to Disney World far in advance. Travel With a Plan offers additional tips for pricing out a Walt Disney World trip.
4. Size to Consider
Everything at Walt Disney World is…BIG! The sheer size of the resort compared to Disneyland can be overwhelming. The Disneyland Resort is compact and the hotels, Parks and Downtown Disney District are all right there. Not so at Walt Disney World. Everything is spread out over vast miles with water parks, golf courses, resorts (and lots of greenscape and trees) in between the Parks. It’s going to take you longer than you’d expect traveling, both inside and outside the Parks.
The large size of the Disney World resort also means that there is A LOT more to do than at Disneyland. We spent 7 nights at Walt Disney World on our last trip. And you know what? We STILL didn’t do everything we wanted to do!
At Disneyland, except for the three hotels and Downtown Disney shopping, there’s not much else to do within the “Disney bubble”. But this can’t be said for Disney World, with distinctive Disney opportunities for fun at each destination. Save plenty of time in your schedule to explore outside of the theme parks. In fact you’ll want to work in a few non-park days at Disney World just to see and do things outside of the amusement park atmosphere.
Things to Do at Disney World Outside the Theme Parks
Planning activities outside of theme parks is one of the big differences between Disneyland and Disney World. Schedule in one of two days between amusement park visits to try some of these Disney World activities:
- Spend time enjoying your resort. Cast members often have crafts or pool parties.
- “Resort hop” to visit other locations. You can’t use other hotel pools but you can shop, dine and wander the grounds.
- Visit the various Disney World playgrounds and let the kids run around.
- Take a day for souvenir shopping and specialty dining at Disney Springs (we LOVED our visit to Raglan Road for brunch!)
- Mini-golfing at Fantasia Gardens and Winter Summerland miniature golf courses.
- Dine at one of the Disney World resorts including Hoop Dee Doo Musical Review.
- Relax at one of the resort “beaches”. There are often hammocks to nap in and sand for kids to play in.
- Spend a day at each of the Disney World water parks, Blizzard Beach & Typhoon Lagoon.
There’s really enough to do at Disney World that it would take you a month of vacation to see it. While a 3-5 day trip to Disneyland is often enough, plan on spending a full week at Disney World if you truly want an immersive experience.
Should You Bring a Stroller to Disney World?
As I implied earlier, Disney World is very big! All that walking at Disney World is going to tire out little legs. Even if your kids don’t usually ride in stroller, consider renting one for use at Disney World. My recommended partner is Kingdom Strollers, who will drop off and pick up at any Disney World Resort hotel or Orlando area hotel!
5. Should You Plan for Park Hopping at Disney World?
Park Hopping at Disneyland requires a quick walk across the esplanade between the Parks. In contrast, Park Hopping at the Walt Disney World resort requires a much longer means of transportation. You’ll be taking a bus, boat or monorail to get from park to park at Disney World. Keep in mind that the transportation between Parks will eat into your day, so you’ll want to plan accordingly.
While I can highly recommend park hopping at Disneyland, I actually don’t recommend it at Disney World. If you are able to stay long enough to visit each of the Parks on a single day, do so. This is why I recommend you skip buying a Park Hopper at Walt Disney World. With a single day ticket you’ll be allowed to visit one park on a single day. Without park hopping you’ll save time on what could be an hour (or longer) process of hopping to another Park.
Maximizing Park Hopping at Disney World
Is your Disney World vacation short on time and you want to park hop in order to visit all four theme parks? Aim for two parks per day. Minimize the travel distance between these two amusement parks by choosing the two parks wisely.
Epcot and Hollywood Studios are the closest parks together. In fact, they can be walked to each other within about 20 minutes time (when exiting Epcot at the International Gateway). The Friendship Boats are another quick way to get from one park to another. They are ideal parks to park hop based on location. However Epcot is easily a multi-day amusement park so you’ll likely be missing a lot in order to visit Hollywood Studios on the same day.
It’s also easy to hop from Epcot to Magic Kingdom, via the Monorail system (with a transfer at the Transportation & Ticket Center). Of course Magic Kingdom is also a good multi-day park. If you have toddlers or preschoolers, this is the theme park you should plan to spend the majority of your time.
Animal Kingdom is the park that’s farther away from the rest of the parks and accessible only by bus or car. When park hopping to include Animal Kingdom, check the times of closure. This park often closes earlier than the rest. Choose a theme park to end the day that closes the latest if you plan to stay out until closure.
6. MagicBands Are a Game Changer
While Disneyland still uses paper tickets, Walt Disney World has moved into the high-tech world of MagicBands. A MagicBand is a rubberized bracelet that you wear. Inside is RF (radio frequency) technology, which holds your park ticket, room key and dining reservations. You can also scan to receive Photopass images, check in for your booked Fastpass+ experiences and make charges on food and merchandise.
Starting with Disney World vacations booked in 2021, MagicBands will no longer be complimentary for all Disney World guests. However premium MagicBands will still be available for purchase, with creative style options like the Toy Story Land version below. Yes, it’s one more thing to add to the cost of your Disney World vacation. However MagicBands really do add a sense of ease to your trip and are a must, in my opinion.
Pre-ordering MagicBands from ShopDisney is ideal, so you have them in advance of your trip. In fact you should be wearing your MagicBand when you get off the plane in Orlando, so don’t put them inside your checked luggage! You’ll need your band scanned to get onto the Magical Express Bus and again at the hotel, to open the door to your room.
7. FastPass+ at Disney World for Ride Reservations
Paper FastPass? Nope! FastPass+ at Walt Disney World is now linked to your Magic Band so you’ll just flash the band and receive access to the special line. If you’re accustomed to booking your Disneyland FastPasses on a whim while once inside the Park, the FastPass+ system at Walt Disney World is a big change.
30 days out you’ll “reserve” your FastPass+ for certain rides (or 60 days out if you book a Disney World Vacation Package). Show up without booking your FastPass+ and you’ll be standing in long queues the entire day. You can only reserve three FastPass+ in advance but you can book more as you go through the day at kiosks throughout the Parks or on the My Disney Experience device app.
8. Advanced Dining Reservations
Most Disneyland visitors don’t worry about such things as making reservations! You can usually eat at Disneyland without making Advance Dining Reservation. Or choose to make ADR for certain coveted meals like Goofy’s Kitchen or the Blue Bayou. However dining at Walt Disney World can be much of the adventure and anything above quick service dining will require an Advanced Dining Reservation. You will most likely NOT be able to walk-up and get seated at any full-service restaurant without a reservation.
ADR can be made in My Disney Experience months in advance. Yes, months! To get the Disney World dining reservations for the meals you want, plan out which restaurants you want for specific travel dates. Then book them the first day available with your vacation reservation. You’ll find that the most popular choices fill up very quickly.
More Advance Dining Reservation Tips
If there is a special restaurant you must eat at, keep trying throughout the time leading up to your trip. Many guests cancel at the last moment (so as not to be charged if they don’t show up). Don’t be deterred if you are still trying in the few days before your vacation. I was able to score lunch at Be Our Guest and dinner at the Prime Time 50’s Cafe the day before we left for our trip!
Plan to schedule one full service dining experience for each day of your trip at Disney World. The dining really is a huge part of the vacation. My preferred ADR is for lunch. The pricing is often less expensive than dinner. You’ll also have a place to go inside and eat during the near-daily Orlando rain storms!
9. Character Experiences
Many of the characters at Disneyland wander through the Lands, stopping for photos and autographs or even just holding hands and walking with kids from place to place. Character greetings are more scheduled at Disney World. You’ll also find many more characters that you’ll never see at Disneyland. Characters like Baymax from Big Hero 6 and Joy and Sadness from Inside Out are some of the characters you’ll find in the park.
Unlike at Disneyland where all character greetings are offering through the stand-by line, some character experiences can be booked with a Fastpass+. This is a great option when you have a toddler or preschooler who wants to meet Mickey and Minnie or Rapunzel and Tiana without the long lines!
10. More PhotoPass Opportunities
Just like at Disneyland, Disney’s PhotoPass is an awesome way to capture your vacation memories in the park. There are PhotoPass photographers located around the park where you can line up for your photo opp. In addition there are on-ride photos as well.
I’ve found that there are a lot more PhotoPass opportunities at Walt Disney World than there are at Disneyland. You’ll find PhotoPass pictures on Haunted Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean, which you won’t find at Disneyland. There also just seem to be a lot more photographers available at the park to capture those “Magic Shots” (like this one I received of Tinker Bell). I highly recommend purchasing the Memory Maker to enable downloading of all the photos. It’s definitely worth the extra cost at Disney World, especially with so many on-ride images.
11. The Weather is a Factor at Disney World
One of the biggest factors when we compare Disneyland to Disney World is the weather! My kids, all California natives, were pretty thrown off during our summer visit to be stuck in many strong downpours. It doesn’t rain much, if at all, during summer months at Disneyland! The rain, humidity and oppressive heat in Florida can definitely affect your Disney World vacation. Be sure to research the expected temperatures and weather patterns ahead of your trip. This is especially important when packing so you’ll know what are the best outfits to wear at Disney.
Inclement weather can cause the fireworks show to be cancelled at Disneyland. That doesn’t always happen at Disney World, as some shows will continue despite a sudden downpour. However with the frequent heavier rain storms and lightening at Disney World, this can cause some attractions to close.
12. Similar But Not the Same
As you can see, there are LOTS of differences between Disneyland and Walt Disney World. However there are a considerable amount of similarities too. Comparing Disneyland and Disney World, both use Mobile Ordering for most quick service dining locations. You’ll find lots of the same foods too, like Mickey pretzels and Dole Whip. Some of the restaurants have similar names, but with different items on the menu! Same with the attractions – subtle differences that Disneyland fans will notice.
As a Disneyland regular and Annual Passholder, there are things ingrained into our regular park day that are different at Disney World. For instance, while Fantasyland closes during Disneyland fireworks, at Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, we were able to watch the fireworks while still inside Fantasyland.
For families traveling with teens, you might find that they prefer Disney World over Disneyland. There are a higher number of thrill rides at WDW, which my teens enjoyed. They also loved that there were so many activities outside of the theme parks at the Disney World resort. However at Disney World I didn’t feel comfortable allowing my teenagers to park hop alone, which is something I’m fine with when at Disneyland. Weighing all of these factors is important when deciding between Disneyland and Disney World!
Differences and Similarities at Each Disney World Park
One of the biggest areas that guests compare Disneyland and Disney World is in the rides, shows and attractions. For sure there are some areas that overlap heavily or are almost identical between the theme parks. And of course there’s a lot that’s complete unique. I’ve addressed some of the details within each of the four Disney World theme parks, when compared to Disneyland.
Quite a few people I’ve talked to think that Disneyland and Magic Kingdom are interchangeable. Even my own husband thought they were the same before our first trip together! However while they do have some similar rides and attractions, there is quite a bit that is unique to each location. Don’t assume that Magic Kingdom is “just like Disneyland” – it’s not!
Yes, some of the attractions have the same names, like Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion. But the differences within each ride will be noticed by any Disneyland regular. Can’t miss things at Magic Kingdom are Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Enchanted Tales with Belle and The Hall of Presidents. Read more if you’re taking on Magic Kingdom with toddlers to maximize your time in this park with little ones.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios
There are similar attractions at Disney’s Hollywood Studios to what you’d find at Disney California Adventure park as well. When we compare Disneyland and Disney World, we find that the Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge area is almost identical in the two theme parks. Save time for Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, Walt Disney Presents and Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. And of course, the new Toy Story Land can’t be missed! Read more about it in my Ultimate Guide to Toy Story Land with Kids.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom
Many have compared Disney’s Animal Kingdom to the San Diego Zoo. Yeah, they both have animals in lush, natural settings, but that’s about where the similarities end! Disney’s Animal Kingdom has some great live shows like Finding Nemo and Lion King. Make sure to visit the new Pandora area to ride the excellent Avatar Flight of Passage, Expedition Everest and DINOSAUR.
Epcot is a completely unique park unto itself! I actually like to take two days enjoying Epcot so I can focus on each section separately (Future World on one day, World Showcase on another day). You’ll find more rides in Future World like Test Track and Spaceship Earth. There are a few can’t miss attractions in World Showcase, like Frozen Ever After. However there are more experiences to discovering world cultures and food in the World Showcase than actual rides.
Even within Epcot there are ways to compare Disneyland and Disney World with attractions like Soarin’ Around the World that are exactly the same. However there’s more difference here than alike.
When you compare Disneyland and Disney World, which theme park works best for your family? Share in the comments!
This article originally published Aug 4, 2015 and has been updated and republished.