Considering a Disney theme park vacation? In the United States, you can choose between Disney World in Orlando, Florida, and Disneyland in Anaheim, California. While many people expect them to be interchangeable, nothing could be farther from the truth.
Both destinations deliver plenty of Disney fun, yet there are many differences aside from their locations on opposite coasts. Take a look at how they compare.
Is Bigger Better? You Decide
The biggest difference between Disney's two theme park resorts in the United States is size.
Sprawling over a whopping 40 square miles, Disney World is roughly the same size as San Francisco. All in all, Disney World includes four theme parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios), two major water parks (Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon), 25 Disney resort hotels and about a dozen non-Disney hotels, a campground, three golf courses, plus the Disney Springs shopping and dining neighborhood. Explore hotel options in Disney World
You can't see all of Disney World in a single visit and shouldn't try. Instead, come up with a Disney World bucket list for your family based on your kids' ages and interests. As your kids grow up, your bucket list will change and you'll come up with new must-do experiences when you visit.
- By comparison, Disneyland is much smaller, covering only 0.75 square miles. It includes two theme parks (Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure), the Downtown Disney shopping and dining neighborhood, plus three hotels. You could feasibly experience most of Disneyland Resort in a three-day visit. Explore hotel options in Disneyland
The Nostalgic Nod Goes to Disneyland
Another major difference between Disney's two U.S. theme park resorts is their histories.
As Disney's original theme park, and the only one built under Walt Disney's direct supervision, Disneyland Resort is the sentimental favorite of many Disney fans. The original park opened in July 1955, and Disneyland celebrated its 60th anniversary in 2015. Over the years the theme park has been expanded and renovated a number of times. In 2001, a second theme park, Disney California Adventure, opened on the site of Disneyland's original parking lot.
Across the continent in Florida, Disney World opened in 1971. Walt Disney dreamed up the ambitious "Florida Project," but he died in 1966 and never saw it open. Walt's brother and business partner, Roy Disney, lived to see Disney World open in October 1971 but he died in December 1971. Disney World opened with one theme park and three hotels but has grown over the years to the size of a major city.
Unique Rides and Attractions
Since the Magic Kingdom was based on Disneyland, the two parks are very similar in layout and share some—but not all—of the same attractions. Yet even when both parks offer the same ride, there are frequently differences. For example, the Splash Mountain and Pirates of the Caribbean attractions at Disneyland are longer and considerably different to the Disney World versions.
When visiting either park, you enter at the Main Street railroad station and walk down Main Street U.S.A. toward 77-foot-tall Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland or 189-foot-tall Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom. At each park, the castle is the main hub, from which you can take paths to Fantasyland, Adventureland, Frontierland, or Tomorrowland.
As you would expect given Disney World's much larger size, there are many attractions at Disney World that you won't find at Disneyland Resort. What might be less obvious is that there are also some key attractions at Disneyland that are not available at Disney World. At Disney California Adventure, for example, the entire Cars Land is unique to Anaheim.
Here are five must-do E-ticket Disneyland rides you won't find at Disney World:
- Guardians of the Galaxy — Mission: BREAKOUT in Disney California Adventure
- Indiana Jones Adventure in Adventureland, Disneyland Park
- Radiator Springs Racers in Cars Land, Disney California Adventure
- California Screamin' on Paradise Pier, Disneyland Park
- Matterhorn Bobsleds in Fantasyland, Disneyland Park
Tickets and Planning
In general, ticket prices at Disney World cost slightly more than at Disneyland. At both parks, the per-day cost of tickets decreases when you buy a multi-day ticket.
There has been a change in how you plan a Disney World vacation with the introduction of a new ticketing process called MyMagic+, which bundles nearly every aspect of your trip together. Instead of a ticket, you get a MagicBand, a rubber bracelet containing a computer chip that holds all the components of your Disney World vacation—theme park ticket, room key, dining reservations, PhotoPass—and it also acts as a resort charge card. FastPasses have been replaced by FastPass+, a digital version of the line-jumping system that can be managed from your smartphone.
Thanks to its smaller size, Disneyland is a simpler vacation to plan. You'll need a place to stay, theme park tickets, and the paper FastPass system. Disney recently launched the official Disneyland app, which lets you buy your tickets, view wait times for attractions in Disneyland park and Disney California Adventure, browse maps, locate Disney characters, check show times, and more.
While vast, Disney World is easy to get around via an excellent complimentary transportation system. Getting between theme parks and resorts generally requires a 10- to 30-minute shuttle on a bus, ferry, or monorail.
Due to its smaller size, Disneyland is manageable without bus shuttles. The hotels are within walking distance of the theme parks, and the entrance gates to both parks are separated by about 100 yards. The Disneyland monorail travels between Tomorrowland in Disneyland Park and the Downtown Disney shopping and dining district.
Best Times to Visit
For the best time to visit a Disney park, take into consideration a combination of weather, crowds, and prices.
Finding Frozen Fun
Whether you visit Disney World or Disneyland, you can get your fill of Anna and Elsa from "Frozen," as well as other favorite Disney characters.