Disneyland vs. Disney World: 11 Differences You Never Knew Existed
Read on to find out what makes Disneyland "The Happiest Place on Earth," while Walt Disney World is "The Most Magical."
Disneyland vs. Disney World
A vacation to either Disneyland or Walt Disney World can be a dream come true for the young or the young-at-heart. But how do you decide which park is better for you? Both theme parks have tons of rides ranging from sentimental classics to exhilarating experiences that will take your breath away, tasty treats that are worth lining up for, the star of the show Mickey Mouse, and magical moments just waiting to be had. But similarities aside, there are a number of big and small differences between the two Disney parks. If you’re not sure which park to visit first, this handy guide below will walk you through each Disney theme park including Disney secrets you’ll want to know like where to find those Hidden Mickeys and how Disney World is celebrating its 50th anniversary.
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Disneyland vs. Disney World: Location
Walt Disney himself hand-picked Anaheim, California for the location of Disneyland; he was drawn to Orange County’s open landscapes and its proximity to Disney Studios in nearby Burbank. Disneyland is about an hour’s drive away from Los Angeles International Airport, while the smaller John Wayne Orange County Airport is the closest airport to the theme park.
Walt Disney bought as much land as he could in Central Florida for Disney World because he wanted a bigger theme park that could expand in size, if necessary. The closest airport to the park is Orlando International Airport.
Disneyland vs. Disney World: Size
Walt Disney World is much bigger than Disneyland in total area. By the numbers, Disneyland resides on more than 500 acres while Disney World covers over 27,000 acres of land. That makes “The Most Magical Place on Earth” nearly double the size of New York City’s Manhattan.
Disneyland has only two theme parks—Disneyland Park and California Adventure Park, while Disney World has four (EPCOT, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios) along with two water parks as well as various yachting, beach, and golf resorts.
Based on size alone, you may automatically think Disney World is better, but many find that Disneyland is more manageable—especially when traveling with little kids.
Disneyland vs. Disney World: Opening Day
The Disney theme park in Anaheim opened in 1955, while the Orlando theme park opened 16 years later in 1971. WDW benefited from Walt Disney’s hindsight; Disney hated that the area around Disneyland was overrun with other non-Disney hotels and theme parks, because he felt that it “broke the illusion.” To prevent this in Orlando, he bought a ton of land in Central Florida to have a bigger theme park to accommodate more guests. By comparison, the Disney theme park in Anaheim takes up about 510 acres of land, while the park in Orlando rests on about 30,000 acres.
Disneyland vs. Disney World: Cost
A single-day ticket to Disneyland Resort for guests 3-years old and up starts at $104, while entry into the Magic Kingdom start at $109 for guest 10 years old and up and $104 for children three to nine. At both parks, children under the age of three may enter free of charge. Keep in mind, the more days you add to your ticket, the more the price per day goes down—a five-day ticket to Disneyland averages out to $72 per day while the same ticket to Disney World costs $88 per day.
There are also “Park Hopper” tickets available for those who want to visit more than one theme park at Disneyland or Disney World in a single day. Plus, Disneyland also offers discounts for California residents, Disney World to Florida residents, and both offer discounts to military personnel, Chase Disney Premier Visa credit card-holders, and others.
Disneyland vs. Disney World: Best time to visit
Thanks to the pandemic, there’s not currently an ideal time to visit Disneyland or Walt Disney World. While both parks have been slowly reopening the home state of each park has different mandates and requirements for vacation travel that change frequently, so be sure to check before you book your trip.
In pre-pandemic times, Disneyland might have the edge when it comes down to the best time to visit. One reason: The weather. Southern California has a year-round average temperature of about 63 degrees Fahrenheit; in winter that drops to 50 degrees and even in the summer months, the hottest average temperature is around 85 degrees. Overall, the weather at Disneyland is best described with one word: “pleasant.”
Disney World on the other hand is located in Orlando, where the weather is hotter and more humid, especially during the summer. Its average year-round temperature is about 72 degrees. The theme park was built on top of swampland after all, though surprisingly you’ll almost never see mosquitoes at Disney World.
As far as the best month to visit either park, the late spring (April and May), early fall (September), and late winter months (January and February) are generally off-peak. Spring break (March through early April), summer (June, July, and August), and around the holidays, particularly Halloween through New Year’s, tend to be more crowded.
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Disneyland vs. Disney World: Hotels
There are three Disney-owned hotels at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim: The Disney Hotel, Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa, and Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel. Additionally, since Disneyland is smaller and closer to non-Disney hotels, there are a number of less expensive places to stay around the theme park.
Over at Disney World, there are over 35 different hotels and resorts ranging from the wallet-friendly Disney’s Art of Animation Resort to the sleek safari-like Animal Kingdom Lodge, and the deluxe Disney’s Polynesian Villas & Bungalows. In addition, there are nearly 45 “Good Neighbor” hotels that are within 15 miles of the parks. These hotels aren’t “official” Disney hotels, but they have partnered with Disney World to provide a more budget-friendly experience than staying on Disney property. The benefit to staying on property at Disney World is free and convenient transportation (discussed next) along with Extra Magic Hours early entry and extended hours at specific parks daily. (This perk has been suspended due to COVID-19, but is scheduled to restart on October 1.)
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Disneyland vs. Disney World: Transportation
Since the park in Anaheim is smaller, getting to and around the park is an easier process. If you’re staying at the Disney Hotel, you can simply walk to the guest entrance, while there’s a special entrance to Disney California Adventure from The Grand Californian hotel. If you have a valid park ticket, you can also take the monorail from the Downtown Disney District, a free and open-to-the-public outdoor shopping center (you just have to pay for parking) with Disney-themed shops, restaurants, and family entertainment—straight into Tomorrowland. (Because of the pandemic, the Disneyland Monorail is temporarily unavailable until further notice.)
At Disney World, you’ll need to take the complementary system of buses, ferries, gondolas, and/or monorail system to get from your hotel to the various theme parks, around, and back again. Or you can hop in an Uber or Lyft at your own expense.
Disneyland vs. Disney World: Restaurants
Because it’s the bigger theme park, Disney World also has more to offer in terms of restaurants and dining with nearly 400 restaurants and food stands. Gourmet restaurants include Cinderella’s Royal Table, Le Cellier Steakhouse, and Topolino’s Terrace—Flavors of the Riviera.
The park in Anaheim is no slouch when it comes to dining either with more than 120 eateries. Blue Bayou, Carthay Circle, and Napa Rose are worth the trip!
Unfortunately, the park in Anaheim doesn’t offer its guests dining plans—unlike the park in Orlando, which includes various table and counter-service restaurants throughout the parks for additional savings. Meanwhile, both theme parks are home to an outlet of Disney’s private members-only restaurant, Club 33. Check out some of the newest—and most delicious—tastes you’ll find at WDW.
Disneyland vs. Disney World: Rides
Overall, Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Park boast more than 90 rides and attractions, while Disney World features 165 rides and attractions in its four theme parks and two water parks.
While both Disneyland (41 rides) and Disney World’s Magic Kingdom (55 rides) share the same “Lands” (Tomorrowland, Fantasyland, Frontierland, etc.), each theme park has rides that are exclusive to their respective parks. At Disneyland, these include Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Matterhorn Bobsleds, Indiana Jones Adventure, Pinocchio’s Daring Journey, and more; while at Disney World you’ll find Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover, Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse, Country Bear Jamboree, and more.
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Disneyland vs. Disney World: Disney Castles
You’ll find Sleeping Beauty’s Castle—which is about 77 feet high—at Disneyland, while the taller Cinderella’s Castle (189 feet) is the centerpiece of the Magic Kingdom at Disney World. Speaking of castles and mystical creatures, make sure you read up on your Disney trivia before going to these magical places.
Disneyland vs. Disney World: Avengers Campus
Opened on June 4, 2021, Avengers Campus at Disney California Adventure is a Marvel Cinematic Universe-themed “Land” featuring rides and attractions based on Spider-Man, Iron-Man, Ant-Man, and the rest of the Avengers. And while this new theme park area will also appear at Disneyland Paris in France and Hong Kong Disneyland in China, it will not be part of Walt Disney World in Orlando—thanks to theme park licensing rights with rival theme park Universal Studios Florida.
In 1994, Marvel Entertainment Group signed a deal with Universal Studios for theme park rides and attractions that stipulates that heroes and villains in The Avengers (Iron Man, Captain America, Spider-Man, Wolverine, and others) and Fantastic Four (Mister Fantastic, Invisible Woman, The Thing, Human Torch, and more) families cannot be used in theme parks east of the Mississippi River—including Walt Disney World.
Disney movie lovers will be happy to hear that In 2023, Disney World goers can look forward to taking a spin on the new Guardians of the Galaxy Cosmic Rewind, a roller coaster based on the series of the same name. It will be based at EPCOT.