Disneyland vs. Disney World: Which Is Better?

Disney World vs. Disneyland

TripSavvy / Alison Czinkota

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 some may expect both Disney parks to be interchangeable, nothing could be farther from the truth. Each park offers a different experience in terms of rides, attractions, wait times, history, and more. There are many differences aside from their locations on opposite coasts. Thinking of planning a Disney trip? Here's a breakdown of how these two parks compare.

Park Size

magic kindgom Aerial view
MichaelWarrenPix/Getty Images

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. 

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.​s

History

Disney World Cinderella Castle

 mocajomiso / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

 

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. 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.

Locations

Disney World Epcot

 I am R. / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

 

While it may be a dream to visit both Disney World and Disneyland, it certainly isn't possible to knock off both in one trip. That's because Disney World and Disneyland are located not only in different states, but on opposite sides of the U.S.

Technically, Disney World can be found just outside of Orlando, Florida, about a 20 minute drive from the Orlando International Airport. The majority of the park is actually located in the city of Bay Lake. Still, arriving in Orlando is the easiest way to get to the park, and Disney provides several shuttles directly from the airport to make the trip easier.

Disneyland, meanwhile, can be found on the opposite coast, in Anaheim, California. Anaheim is located about 26 miles from Los Angeles. The park itself is located a quick eight minute drive from Anaheim's downtown, and is easily accessible via car or Disney shuttle.

Rides and Attractions

Guardians of the Galaxy ride at Disneyland
Courtesy of Walt Disney Parks

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.

There are several Disneyland rides you won't find at Disney World, including Guardians of the Galaxy — Mission: BREAKOUT at 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 and the Matterhorn Bobsleds in Fantasyland, Disneyland Park.

Ticket Prices

MagicBand at Disney World

Walt Disney World

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.

Getting Around

Epcot Center and Monorail in Walt Disney World
Blaine Harrington III/Getty Images

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.

The Best Times to Visit

Micky and Minnie on a parade float
Matt Stroshane/Walt Disney Parks

For the best time to visit a Disney park, take into consideration a combination of weather, crowds, and prices.

If you're looking to avoid crowds, the best time to visit Disney World is in January or September. The Florida heat and humidity during these months are more mild that usual. Additionally, because children are in school, crowds are thinner and prices are more affordable. Special events are more frequent in August, September, October and November, but take note that school holidays such as spring and summer breaks, as well as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and long weekends can bring major crowd congestion.

The best time to visit Disneyland is during the summer and holidays when park hours are the longest and special event, fireworks, and parades happen frequently. Rides are also unlikely to be closed for maintenance during these times, which means there's less chance of missing out on something you had on your list. However, the Anaheim summers can be aggressive, and throngs of crowds are certain to flock to the park during these times. Be prepared to dress appropriately and take frequent water breaks to avoid overheating and dehydration.

Where to Stay Near Each Park

Four Seasons Disney

Courtesy of Four Seasons Disney World Resort

Finding the perfect place to stay for your Disney trip is essential. Luckily, there are a number of Disney resorts to choose from, many located in convenient walking distance from the parks' top attractions.

Florida's Disney World is home to over three dozen hotels within the amusement park. Each offer different themes, amenities, and rates. The cream of the crop include:

  • Disney's Grand Floridian Resort: This chic Victorian property is just one stop away from the Magic Kingdom on the Resort Monorail. It includes a full spa, health club, a pool with waterslide, and direct views of Cinderella Castle.
  • Disney's Animal Kingdom Lodge: Perfect for animal lovers, this lodge is home to over 200 animals and birds call home and offers several educational animal programs for children and adults alike.
  • Disney's Saratoga Springs Resort: Inspired by the historic New York horse racing region, this resort features a dining area modeled after a historic racetrack, a golf course, and several enchanting treehouse villas elevated 10 feet off the ground.

Unlike Orlando, most visitors to Anaheim's Disneyland stay off property at one of the many hotels in the city. Some top options include:

  • The Anaheim Hotel: This 306-room boutique hotel is walking distance from Disneyland and offers great amenities like an Olympic-sized pool at an affordable price point.
  • Disneyland Hotel: This popular property offers sleek and modern design while also providing the perfect amenities for families, including two themed pools with waterslides and private cabana access for an additional fee.
  • Disney's Grand Californian Hotel & Spa: Right in the heart of the Downtown Disney district lies this little slice of luxury, which includes a spa and highly rated dining options.

Frequently Asked Questions
  • Which Disney park is larger, Disney World or Disneyland?

    Sprawling over a whopping 40 square miles, Disney World is roughly the same size as San Francisco, and much larger than its counterpart, Disneyland.

  • Which Disney park was built first, Disney World or Disneyland?

    Disneyland is the original Disney theme park, built in 1955. Florida's Walt Disney World followed, opening in 1971.

  • Where is each Disney park located?

    Disney World is located just outside of Orlando, Florida, in the city of Bay Lake. Disneyland is located in Anaheim, California.

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