The great debate of Disney World vs. Disneyland rages on across the Internet every day. While I could never pick a favorite, some reader comments last week gave me the idea to share my opinions on what makes the two coasts so different. With that in mind, here are the top ten differences between Disney World and Disneyland to help you decide if you should visit Disneyland.
Size: Starting with the itty bitty castle, some could view Disneyland as a scaled down version of Walt Disney World. However, I look at it like the greatest hits! In a smaller space they manage to pack in all the best attractions. Sure, it takes a little while to get used to seeing Star Tours across the street from Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, but you can ride them both without setting foot on a bus! Even better you can hop between the two California parks with just a quick walk. It’s enough to spoil a Disney World fan rotten!
People: Imagine a summer in the parks without tour groups everywhere. That actually happens at Disneyland! Not only that, but the main customer base consists of Annual Passholders. This means that the lines generally don’t get as crazy as at Walt Disney World. In general, the guests are more laid back as their trips are not “once in a lifetime” experiences. The locals also mean that rides can be taken down to offer seasonal events like Haunted Mansion Holiday.
Seasonality: The downside of the smaller tourist draw is seasonality in entertainment. During slower months there may only be fireworks or Fantasmic on the weekends. Other offerings are also adjusted based on occupancy. Tools like Touring Plans become very important, as Disneyland only posts its park hours and schedules 45 days in advance. Historical trends are what you have to depend on when picking dates if you aren’t booking a last minute trip.
Planning: The upside of this “last minute” attitude at Disneyland is that you can relax when planning. Putting together a Walt Disney World vacation can feel like wedding planning! There are so many little details, and if you don’t call exactly 180 days in advance you may not get to try a restaurant you’d dreamed about. At Disneyland you can normally call just a day or two before or even (gasp!) just walk up to the podium for a table. We love the relaxed attitude at Disneyland and not having to plan months in advance.
History: Disney World can’t touch the nostalgia of Disneyland. Walt Disney, himself, personally oversaw attractions there. You can even see the light in his old apartment burning in the window. I was lucky enough to set foot in his apartment over the Fire Station two years ago, and it was amazing to be somewhere Walt actually stood. As amazing as Disney World is, it can never compete with that!
Hotels: If Disney World fell short on the last one, Disneyland falls flat on this one! While I’ve given my opinion on staying offsite at Disney World before, you don’t have much choice at Disneyland. There are only three official Disney properties at Disneyland, and all are very, very expensive. Worse, they really don’t offer a much better experience than staying across the street at other non-Disney properties. Unlike Walt Disney World, it can sometimes be easier the stay offsite at Disneyland.
Downtown Disney: At Disneyland, Downtown Disney is connected to the two theme parks and a very easy walk. I’ve been pretty vocal about the parking issues at Downtown Disney at Walt Disney World lately. None of this is an issue at Disneyland. You park once and have easy walking access to the entire Disney complex.
Dining: While we’ve had excellent meals at Disneyland, it’s worth pointing out that the variety pales in comparison to Walt Disney World’s. Of course, that makes sense as the California resort doesn’t have room for a World Showcase! If you go in with that understanding, there is no reason to be disappointed at Disneyland.
Early Entry: While Walt Disney World fans are used to both Morning and Evening Extra Magic Hours at its parks, it’s a totally different story at Disneyland. You can expect one park to open one hour early each day. The only way to gain access to this extra hour is to stay onsite (in which case it’s called Extra Magic Hour, and you have access to it every day) or to buy a three or more day park hopper ticket. The hopper tickets only gain you access to one “Magic Morning” for each ticket (not each day), and it’s good only at Disneyland Park (not Disney California Adenture!). It can be tough to get in, but I found that we were able to complete all of Fantasyland with a single Magic Morning.
Cars Land, World of Color, Alice in Wonderland, and SO much more: Despite the smaller size, there’s a lot to see and do that’s exclusive to those parks! In my opinion Cars Land alone is worth a trip out west! World of Color is breathtaking and not like anything at Walt Disney World. Check out the attraction lists at Touring Plans and see if you find something that gets you thinking about heading out west!
What’s your opinion on Disneyland vs. Disney World? What’s your favorite attractions that isn’t on the other coast? Can you think of a reason to visit Disneyland that I missed? Please let us know in the comments below! As always, thanks so much for reading and commenting.