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What to Know If You’re a Disneyland Fan Visiting Disney World
This is not a Disneyland VS. Disney World sort of post. I’m definitely not comparing the Parks on either coast in that way, because I have love for Disney all around! I love Disneyland for different reasons than why I love Walt Disney World. And they are both completely different from each other. Sharing my tips for having the best experiences and knowing the differences can make your vacation run that much smoother. These are the nine things to be aware of when planning your Disney World vacation!
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. Sign in and create an account, and then add your vacation details here. You can schedule FastPass+, make dining reservation, link your Park tickets and add your Disney resort hotel room information here (even if you didn’t book the room through the Disney site).
This is all really important stuff so 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 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. They will also deliver your luggage, handling it from baggage claim straight to your room! 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.
The important thing is to set this all up before your trip. You can’t just expect to show up for your flight and expect 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 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.
3. Disney Resort Hotels
Unlike Disneyland’s three resort hotels, Walt Disney World has 27 Resort Hotels to choose from. In Anaheim, it’s very convenient to book a non-Disney room and walk to the front gates within minutes. Not so at Disney World. There are a few Walt Disney World resort hotels within walking distance but most Disney 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 off-site.
Also at Disneyland, you’re used to paying very high prices for each of the three on-site hotels. At Disney World, resorts are classified into three categories, Deluxe, Moderate and Value (like the All-Star Music Resort shown in this image). Staying on-site can be very reasonably priced and you’ll still receive all of the Disney perks, including complimentary luggage delivery and Magical Express Bus service! Travel With a Plan offers additional tips for pricing out a Walt Disney World trip.
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4. Size to Consider
Everything at Walt Disney World is…BIG! The sheer size of the resort compared to Disneyland can be overwhelming. While 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 greenscapes 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 than at Disneyland. We spent 7 nights at Walt Disney World on our last trip and you know, we STILL didn’t do everything we wanted to do!
Save plenty of time in your schedule to explore outside of the Parks. Spend time enjoying your resort or “resort hop” to visit other locations. Take a day for souvenir shopping and specialty dining at Disney Springs (we LOVED our visit to Raglan Road for brunch!). An afternoon mini-golfing or relaxing at one of the resort “beaches” is a great way to spend an off-day.
We spent 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 day trip to Disneyland is often enough, plan on spending a full week at Disney World if you truly want an immersive experience.
All that walking 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. Park Hopping at Disney World Isn’t a Quick Process
While Park Hopping at Disneyland requires a quick walk across the esplanade between the Parks, Park Hopping at the Walt Disney World resort requires longer transportation. You’ll be taking a bus, boat or monorail to get from park to park. Keep in mind that the transportation between Parks will eat into your day. You’ll need to plan accordingly.
If you are able to stay long enough to visit each of the Parks on a single day, I’d do so. I’d recommend you skip buying a Park Hopper at Walt Disney World. This will allow you to visit one park on a single day and save time on what could be an hour+ long process of “Hopping” to another Park.
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, FastPass+ and dining reservations. After scheduling all these in on My Disney Experience, guests staying at a Disney World resort hotel are able to choose the color and name that is printed on the inside of the band. The MagicBand is complimentary and can be upgraded to a style like the Toy Story Land version below.
The box with your bands will arrive at your house before the trip (don’t forget to take them with you!) You can even decorate them beforehand (see this thread from the Magical Blogorail about decorating your MagicBand). You should probably put them on before boarding the plane because you’ll need your band before you get on the Magical Express Bus once you reach Orlando.
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 WDW 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-ers don’t worry about such things as making reservations! They either wing it when it comes to meals or only make an Advance Dining Reservation (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! And you should absolutely plan out which restaurants you want and book them the first day you can. You’ll find that your choices are often already filled up. 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!
9. 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 similarity too (which I discovered via my trip photographs and documented in my article, Similarities Between Disneyland & Walt Disney World). There are some very interesting differences that you might not be used to if you’re a Disneyland regular.
For instance, inclement weather can cause the fireworks show to be cancelled at Disneyland. However that doesn’t always happen at Disney World. And while Fantasyland closes during Disneyland fireworks, at Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, we were able to watch the fireworks while inside Fantasyland.
Differences and Similarities at Each Disney World Park
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! 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.
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. 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, Expedition Everest and DINOSAUR.
And of course, 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) and more experiences discovering world cultures and food in the World Showcase.
10. 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!
11. 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).
You’re a Disney World-er experiencing Disneyland for the first time?
Be sure to read this article on TravelingMom, 14 Disneyland Tips Every Walt Disney Regular Needs to Know.
Are you a Disneyland fan who also visits Walt Disney World? What other things should Disneyland-ers know before making the trip to Orlando? Share below in the comments!