One question I hear frequently from friends is, “Should we go to Disney World or Disneyland for our big Disney trip?” The parks are not identical, and there are a fair amount of differences when you compare Disney World vs. Disneyland.
My first instinct is to tell them to go on a Disney Cruise instead, since my family prefers Disney Cruise Line over the Disney parks. But if you’ve never been to the Disney parks, I can understand the desire to visit them first.
One park is not better than the other, they are just different. So if you’re trying to decide between Disney World vs. Disneyland, consider the following:
Disney World Advantages
Theming and Atmosphere: At Disney World in Florida, you really feel like you’re in a different place. Disney World is spread out over so much land that you feel like you’re getting away from it all. The resort hotels have different themes that transport you to the Caribbean, New Orleans, the Pacific Islands or a beach boardwalk. You can feel like you’re at a lodge in the Pacific Northwest without ever leaving Florida.
Restaurants: The food at Disney World is a big part of the experience. With the number of character meals and themed restaurants, you can try new ones every visit without running out of choices. Want to dine in a car at a drive-in movie? Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater has you covered. How about eating in a romantic setting next to a Mayan pyramid, or seeing fish float by as you dine? Disney World has so many great themed restaurants.
More Parks: Disney World has four theme parks plus two water parks, compared to Disneyland’s two theme parks. That means that Disney World simply has more rides and attractions to offer. It is easy to stay an entire week at Disney World without ever leaving the property.
Superior Riding Queue System: Disney World uses the FastPass + system, which lets you reserve three rides ahead of time. That means you will have minimal wait times for those rides and you don’t have to waste time waiting in long lines. You can also add additional ride reservations after you’ve used your three ride reservations. My daughter and I rode almost every single ride at Magic Kingdom two summers ago with this system without waiting in long lines.
Disney World Disadvantages
Lots of Walking: Since Disney World is so large and spread out, you must walk a ton to get around. Even if you stay onsite, you can still walk a lot just to get from the bus drop-off to the front gate. It’s exhausting!
Offsite Hotels are Far Away: If you stay offsite, you can’t just walk from your hotel to the main gates of any of the parks. You must drive or take a shuttle, which can add a chunk of time to your day.
Weather: Orlando gets a lot of rain. Wearing a rain poncho while walking through puddles can ruin anyone’s mood! The parks also get unbearably hot during the summer.
See 4 Things I Wish I Knew Before Our Disney World Vacation by Mommy Baby Life.
Weather: The weather in Southern California is ideal for a theme park. It seldom rains, and the temperature is rarely as miserable in the summer as it is in Orlando.
Compact Space: Disneyland is squished in the middle of the city. You won’t see vast lagoons or green spaces around the park. However, that does make it much easier to get around. Although you will still get in a ton of walking, the distance is much more manageable.
Off-site Hotels are Close: If you want to save money by staying offsite, you can end up being closer to the main gate than the onsite hotels! Many hotels are within a 10-minute walk to the parks, so going back to your room for a mid-day nap doesn’t suck as much time from your day.
The Original! Disneyland is the original Disney park, and it still has some older rides that Disney World no longer has. If you want to ride the original Snow White ride or Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, you must go to Disneyland.
Cars Land: In my opinion, this is the best themed land in all of the parks. You really feel like you are in Radiator Springs! If your kids are a big fan of the Cars movie, you must see it!
Lack of Themed Hotels and Restaurants: The three onsite hotels at Disneyland do not have themes that are as immersive as some of the resorts at Disney World. Plus, there are only three, and none of them are moderate or value-priced. I also find the restaurants, on the whole, to be far less interesting than the ones at Disney World. There are fewer character dining opportunities and fewer destination restaurants. Dining just isn’t as exciting as it is at Disney World.
Inferior Ride Queue System: Disneyland uses a very different version of the FastPass system since a large number of visitors are local. You cannot reserve rides ahead of your visit. If you buy the MaxPass feature for $10 per person per day, you can reserve one ride at a time on your mobile phone, or you can walk to the FastPass distribution locations for each ride. I find this system to be far less efficient than the FastPass + system at Disney World. My family could not get on as many rides with this system and we waited in more lines.
Two Theme Parks: Disneyland has just two theme parks, so there are fewer rides and attractions than Disney World. If you want to spend a week in Anaheim, you probably need to visit other non-Disney attractions.
It’s very difficult to say which park is better than the other when comparing Disney World vs. Disneyland. I love each of them for different reasons (although Disney Cruise Line is still my #1 Disney choice!)
If you can only visit one, I recommend Disney World in Florida. You can experience more attractions with more efficiency, and fewer lines results in more enjoyment for all family members.
What are your arguments for Disney World vs. Disneyland? Do you prefer one over the other?
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Nancy lives near Dallas, Texas, with her husband and three kids. Her favorite vacations include the beach, cruising and everything Disney.