10 Ways a Disneyland Vacation is Different Than a Walt Disney World Vacation

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At first glance, you may think a vacation at Disneyland will be the exact same as a vacation at Walt Disney World. In truth though, that is not the case. I’ve touched on things like differences in rides and shows before, but this post is a little different. These are things about your vacation that will be different. Some better, some worse. If you’re a Disney World veteran planning your first trip to Walt’s park, here are some things that may help you prepare.

1. Park Proximity – The proximity of the Disneyland parks to each other, and to the on- and off-site resorts, could not be more different than Disney World. At Disney World you can take a 20 minute boat trip from Disney’s Hollywood Studios to Epcot, you can take a 25-35 minute monorail trip from Epcot to Magic Kingdom, or you can take 30 minutes riding busses between the parks. And that’s assuming not having to wait long for the next bus! At Disneyland, you can walk from park to park in a couple of minutes since there is only about 100 yards separating the two. At Disney World, there are a few resorts that are within walking distance to one of the parks. Unlike the transportation purgatory you can find yourself in at Disney World, at Disneyland there is practically no time lost in transit. At Disneyland, every on-site resort and several off-site resorts for that matter are within walking distance to both parks. The proximity to everything you want and need is not only the biggest difference between the two parks, it’s also the best difference between the two parks.

2. No Free Disney’s Magical Express – Sadly, there is no Magical Express at Disneyland. No bags that magically appear in your room (unfortunately, on our last trip to Disney World, our bags didn’t magically appear until after midnight, but that’s another story!). At Disneyland, you will have to work out your own transportation from the airport. Disney does have some good options. I’m a big fan of the Disneyland Resort Express Bus, and at $32 for a roundtrip per adult from LAX, it’s fairly reasonable. But notice I said reasonable. I did not say free.

3. No Rent a Car Debate – Because of the park proximity to everything, there really isn’t a “should I or shouldn’t I rent a car debate” when you go to Disneyland. At Disney World, even though Magical Express is convenient and free to those staying on-site, because of the aforementioned transportation purgatory, many people still rent cars. Even though the bus rides may not be that long themselves, combine that with the wait for a bus to arrive and you waste a lot of time getting from here to there. And, have you ever tried going from one resort to another? Oy. At Disneyland, you do not need to rent a car. Although you will have to pay for a shuttle from the airport, once you get on-site, a car would be a waste of money. You won’t need it.

4. No Dining Plan – Okay, that’s not technically true, there is a dining plan at Disneyland. But if you read my post on the Disneyland dining plan, you’ll know it is absolutely nothing like Disney World’s. There is some debate on how much money Disney World’s plan will save you, but depending on your eating habits, it can save you a good deal. Disneyland’s plan doesn’t save anyone any money. It’s really just a way to prepay the cost of your meals. Calling it a Dining Plan is a bit of a stretch for me. Also, because of its differences, don’t spend any time waiting for the every popular “free dining” at Disney World to come to the West Coast. It won’t. Mark my words.

5. Easy access to Downtown Disney District My family loves Downtown Disney on both coasts. We make a point to spend time there on every trip. At Disney World though, it takes a bit of planning and time to get there. For one thing, you can not catch a Disney bus from a park to Downtown Disney. If you are limited to Disney transportation, you’ll have to go to a resort first. Take into consideration how long it can take, and many guests just skip it rather than give up park time. That’s a mistake, and at Disneyland you don’t have to miss it! Walk out of the parks or your hotel and walk to Downtown Disney. Eat there, shop there, soak in the ambience, it doesn’t matter! Just go! Because you can!

6. No Value Resorts – Unlike Disney World where they are adding even more value resorts (does anyone else love Art of Animation?), there are no value resorts onsite at Disneyland. That’s too bad really. I really like the off-site hotels, and I love some of their prices, but they aren’t quite the same as the value resorts in Florida for me. The prices may be comparable, but you really won’t find the elaborate theming of the Disney World value resorts, and you can’t always count on the same level of comfort and cleanliness. I absolutely love the on-site Disneyland resorts, but when I’m trying to save money, I wish there were some value resorts to choose from as well.

7. Shorter Vacation – The long and short of it is, you don’t have to spend as long in California to feel like you saw a lot of Disneyland. That sentence may sound like a contradiction to some. I wouldn’t normally ever say “have to” in reference to spending a lot of time at Disney. I could go to either coast for 10 days and not feel antsy. But the fact is, there are only two parks at Disneyland, and there are four parks plus two water parks at Disney World. It just doesn’t take as long to see Disneyland, so it’s more conducive to a shorter vacation than Disney World is. Plus, Disneyland still packs in a ton of attractions. You’ll find about the same number of rides in Disneyland’s two parks than you’ll find in all 4 of Disney World’s.

8. Final Payment is Due Later – At Disney World, if you’re booking a package, your final payment is due 45 days before your vacation begins. At Disneyland, final payments for packages aren’t due until 30 days before your vacation. So, you’ve got a little more time if you’re pinching pennies!

9. Dining Reservations are Later and Easier – Dining reservations at Disneyland are very different from dining reservations at Disney World. At Disney World, you can make dining reservations 180 days out. In fact, at Disney World, if you’re staying on property, at 180 days from your check in date, you can make reservations for the check in date and the next 10 days. And at Disney World, that’s actually necessary for some of the most popular restaurants like ‘Ohana and Le Cellier. At Disneyland, you can’t make dining reservations until 60 days before the date you want. And there’s no +10 option there. You have to call 60 days out from every day you want a reservation. While that’s a bit of a pain in the neck, and maybe even a little stressful for some of the obsessive compulsive planners out there like myself, it’s actually pretty easy. Reservations at Disneyland are not hard to get. You even can get same day reservations at a lot of the restaurants on property. That’s excellent news for those of you who don’t like to decide where they want to eat 6 months beforehand.

10. You Can Email Dining Requests – As more proof that dining reservations are easier to get at Disneyland, you can email your dining requests to Disney and let them handle it. That’s how laid back getting dining reservations is at Disneyland. You don’t have to start calling at 7 am, or be online at 6 am like you do for Disney World. You just email Disneyland at dine@disneyland.com and they’ll take care of it. Disney will send your confirmations to you after it’s taken care of.

So how about you? Aside from the obvious size and park differences, what have you noticed that’s different about vacations at the two parks?

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Posted on July 13, 2012

33 Responses to “10 Ways a Disneyland Vacation is Different Than a Walt Disney World Vacation”

  • Park Hours.

    Disneyland has longer hours which really makes the proximity to hotel rooms great for mid-day naps. Also, there is time, post fireworks, to go on rides while the park clears out. And you won’t need to wait in long lines for transport to your room.

    • by Tammy Whiting on July 13, 2012, at 7:36 pm EDT

      The proximity is perfect for mid-day naps or swims. And you’re right, not only is the transportation time non existant, it also saves you the waiting in line time that transportation takes!

  • We strongly prefer Disneyland, admittedly mostly because we grew up there. We have been to both parks though, and we love being able to stay right across the street from Disneyland. No waiting for a bus to drive us back to our hotel after a long day in the park, which is my least favorite part of WDW. Our last trip we stayed at the Park Vue Inn, literally right at the cross walk where you enter into the park and it was wonderful.

    • by Tammy Whiting on July 13, 2012, at 7:37 pm EDT

      I totally agree. I love not waiting for that bus at the end of the day. That always feels like you wait for hours!

  • #3 Actually there is a rental car debate among people staying off site or want to see other stuff in Southern California.

    • by Tammy Whiting on July 13, 2012, at 7:34 pm EDT

      That’s true, Brian. I should have qualified that as there’s no rental car debate if you’re only going to Disneyland.

  • Great article! Being a local at Disneyland I am always surprised how early the Disney World parks close! Disneyland is usually open until midnight and now California Adventure regularly cleoses at 11pm, there is more day to spend in the parks! I will also say if you do drive to the park be prepared for a long wait for the parking lot trams if you leave at a peak time.

    • by Tammy Whiting on July 13, 2012, at 8:19 pm EDT

      Thanks, Corri! Ah yes, I have waited in those tram lines. Those can seem like they take forever too!

  • Weekends-starting Friday afternoon–are always very busy at Disneyland because there is huge base of locals who can come just for a day. Some come just for the afternoon or for dinner because they’re so close. Orlando has a different crowd dynamic.

    • by Tammy Whiting on July 13, 2012, at 11:16 pm EDT

      You’re so right, Amy. The difference in the make up of guests is huge. Disneyland’s crowds are dicated by locals who come in droves on weekends and holidays. Disney World’s attendance isn’t nearly as affected by locals. It does make a big difference!

  • It might be worthwhile to note the differences in weather too. The weather at DLR resort may not always be ideal, but it seldom tries to kill you. There’s no hurricane season, thunder and lightning are rare, and humidity is usually in the comfortable zone.

    • by Tammy Whiting on July 14, 2012, at 9:02 am EDT

      That is hilarious! Yes, the weather at Disneyland does not usually try to kill you. I, and my hair, greatly prefer the humidity level in California.

  • by @Aaron_Ardle on July 14, 2012, at 2:43 am EDT

    I prefer Orlando for a variety of reasons, but I noticed people at Disneyland were better dressed. Looking sharp in the parks is a lot of fun, the locals in California take the ball and run with it. Check these folks out: http://www.dapperday.com

  • I strongly prefer Disney World. It’s just much more immersive. I hate being able to see off-property while on-property at Disneyland. Every time I’m reminded there’s an outside world to which I’ll soon have to return, I break out in a cold sweat.

    Give me Disney World or give me . . . well, Disneyland, I suppose.

    • by Tammy Whiting on July 14, 2012, at 1:07 pm EDT

      Ah, Chris. I do agree on one thing, I don’t like little jolts of reality when I’m at Disney World or Disneyland. I like to be immersed. I do not agree, however, that you can’t be fully immersed at Disneyland. :)

  • The accommodation distance difference is in fathomable if you have only been to WDW. There are several hotels on Harbor Blvd that are closer to the park gates than the Disneyland Hotel or Paradise Pier. Even if it just stays parked at the hotel, I would recommend a rental car just for Target or Walgreen’s runs. And it’s insurance if anyone gets sick.

    • by Tammy Whiting on July 14, 2012, at 1:08 pm EDT

      It’s true. We were (and are) long time Disney World visitors, and it was a big shock for us the first time we went to Disneyland and realized how close the Harbor Blvd hotels are. I wouldn’t even consider staying offsite at Disney World, but have done so many times at Disneyland.

  • I’ve always been a strong proponent of kids up to the age of 4 or 5 are better suited for DisneyLand, after that DisneyWorld. The aforementioned nap schedules and just all around complaining from the younger kids due to the long waits just to get to the parks at WDW make Land a much better choice for the younger kids.

    • by Tammy Whiting on July 14, 2012, at 1:10 pm EDT

      Disneyland is a great choice for young kids, I agree. When our kids were small, we made it a point to go back for naps or a quick swim when we were at Disney World. But it was a pain in the neck!! It’s so so much easier at Disneyland.

  • Thanks for the article! I love both parks although consider DLR my “home park” because it holds all my childhood memories. I never know what to say when people ask me which park is “better”… They really are totally different in so many ways.

    • by Tammy Whiting on July 14, 2012, at 8:41 pm EDT

      Thank you, Jodie! It is hard to pick one, they’re both wonderful. I’d give disneyland the edge for the same reason you listed, it feels like my “home park”.

  • Almost sounds like the layout of DL is similar to the layout of Universal here in Orlando.

    • by Tammy Whiting on July 14, 2012, at 8:44 pm EDT

      That’s not a bad comparison. I haven’t been to Universal in Orlando as often as Disneyland but Universal feels a little more spread out to me. I have no basis in fact for that, it was just an impression. :) Disneyland is definitely closer in layout than Disney World is to Universal Florida though.

  • I found this article to be a little bit about disneyland praising and disney world bashing to be honest, even though the latter is way better in my opinion

    • by Tammy Whiting on July 18, 2012, at 4:33 pm EDT

      Hi Jeff! I certainly don’t intend to Disney World bash. I love both parks and I feel like both have things that are better at the other. Some of the things that are better at Disney World I listed in this article, like Magical Express, a workable dining plan, and value resorts.

  • Someday in the near future I plan to spend 4-5 days visiting everything in the Disneyland resort, as I’ve never been there. I’m glad to hear about the airport bus option, since DL will be the only place I’d visit in Los Angeles/Anaheim.

    But that may need to wait as I’ve got a 7-month-old baby right now…

    • by Tammy Whiting on July 19, 2012, at 5:00 pm EDT

      You will love it, Joe! After your 7 month old gets into a good napping routine it’s a good time to go! As someone said above, it’s easy to get back for naps at Disneyland. :)

  • Consider how much time you’re going to spend in the parks. I would definately encourage people to look at Disneyland’s Good Neighbor hotels and remember to do your homework. Some of these hotels are like a 3 min. walk directly across -literally – from the parks, which can be a lifesaver for families with little kids. Some of these hotels even have fireworks views, in case you’re a little crowd shy. And continental breakfast is definate bonus considering all the time you’ll be spending in the park.
    We had a terrible hotel experience w/ one of the economy value hotels on our visit to Disney World. Their front desk service was not their top priority on our whole 5 day stay- I was still waiting at 10 minutes on one occasion. Plus it was the furthest out from all of the parks. I won’t be staying at an economy hotel on our 2nd Disney World visit – even if I have to save up for it.

    • by Tammy Whiting on March 25, 2013, at 9:14 pm EDT

      Sorry to hear you had a bad experience at WDW, Kirsten. I totally agree about the offsite hotels at Disneyland. There are some great options.

  • We are planning our first Disneyland this December. I’ve been to WDW twice and I’ve been surprised about the differences in operation such as park tickets, EMH vs MM, the dining plan and scheduling you mentioned, just little things. It is also going to be a much cheaper trip for us (booking a Harbor Blvd. hotel on my own and then buying park hoppers separately saves us $200 compared to the Good Neighbor Package, please tell me if we are missing out on anything). From my research I feel this 5 day trip to DL is much more affordable than WDW and we’ll be able to do most everything in that time frame. We can’t wait to see Carsland and the holiday touches to Haunted Mansion and Small World and everything I guess :-) I also choose the holiday time so the parks would have that extra difference and I wouldn’t be comparing the 2 too much.
    Thanks for this article!

    • by Tammy Whiting on March 31, 2013, at 7:47 pm EDT

      5 days sounds like a great trip. You can definitely save money in the ways you mentioned. And the holidays at Disneyland are absolutely amazing. I hope you have a great trip, Mandy!