There are all sorts of questions to consider when you’re trying to decide which Disney park you should visit. Should you head to Florida to go to Disney World, or check out Disneyland in California? Even if you begin your decision-making thinking, Hey, Disney is Disney, you’ll quickly learn that it’s actually not comparing apples to apples. As Christopher Lucas, author of Top Disney: 100 Top Ten Lists of the Best of Disney, points out, Disney World and Disneyland have plenty of differences. So while you’re deciding which to visit, in addition to cost, geography, and park offerings, you might just find yourself wondering: Which park do people like better? Which is more popular and gets more visitors?
The winner is…
Disney World, in Florida, gets more annual visitors by a long shot. “Walt Disney World—the four theme parks [and] two water parks—gets about 52 million people a year right now,” Lucas explains, citing 2018 numbers. Disneyland’s visitor count is quite a bit smaller, at “around 20 million.”
Why does Disney World get more than double Disneyland’s number of visitors? Lucas breaks down a couple of reasons more people flock to Florida to get their Disney fix:
Disney World is on the East Coast and Disneyland is on the West Coast—and this distinction actually factors into their visitor count quite a bit. The eastern side of the Mississippi River is more heavily and densely populated than the west side, meaning that, for more of the U.S. population, Florida’s Disney World is just closer.
And this reasoning has been true throughout the parks’ entire history, too. “When Walt opened Disneyland [in 1955], three-quarters of the country could not afford to go there,” Lucas explains. “It was just not possible for somebody living in New York or Massachusetts…to get out there because it was too expensive.” But when Disney World opened in 1971, people living on the East Coast found that a trip to Florida was in their reach, whether by a full day of driving or a quick two-hour flight. By the way, back then, when Disney World first opened, you won’t believe how little a ticket cost.
And nowadays, it’s not just East Coasters who find a Florida destination more accessible. “At Disney World, more than 50 percent [of visitors] are people from all over the world, including people from the East Coast,” Lucas told Reader’s Digest. “Disneyland, it’s the opposite. More than 50 percent are…locals, from California.”
Any Disney aficionado will surely tell you that the parks themselves are very different, in terms of both size and offerings. Disney World encompasses 43 square miles of land, compared to Disneyland’s 500 acres. Disney World fills that space with four different theme parks and two water parks; Disneyland consists only of Disneyland Park and California Adventure. And it makes sense that Disney guests would prefer to visit the park that has more. “The size is the biggest factor,” Lucas explains. “People stay [at Disney World] longer. There’s more to do; more to see.” On the other hand, he says, “Disneyland and California Adventure are two very tiny parks…You can cover it all within one day.”
You’d think Disneyland would be the winner in this area, and it is—in terms of ticketing. On average, an admission ticket to Disneyland will cost you less than one to Disney World, but there are other factors to consider. The parks’ differing hotel situations can contribute to a difference in cost. “Disneyland, oddly, is [often] a more expensive vacation than Disney World,” Lucas says. “They only have a few hotels on their property, because of space reasons, and they charge a tremendous amount of money. Even the ones around them, in the peak seasons, charge a lot of money.” On the other hand, “Disney World is so big, and has so many hotel rooms, that they can drop the prices…for some of their all-star resorts.”
All of these factors combine to make Disney World the most popular park by a wide margin. And you think 52 million yearly visitors is a lot? Wait for the next few years, especially now that most of these new things that are opening at Disney World in 2019 are up and running. “It’s gonna go up in the next couple years as they open more rides, and they have their 50th anniversary [in 2021],” Lucas says.