I just returned from several days in sunny California, exploring the original happiest place on earth with my Disney-loving third child. I encountered several people at church this morning and they all asked the same thing….”How is Disneyland different than Disney World?” It’s a difficult question to answer. In some ways, they are the same; in other ways, completely different.
Resort Size: To put this in perspective for you, Disney World covers over 25,000 acres. Disneyland is just 500 acres. As a result, Disneyland just has a more intimate feel to it. Obviously, it doesn’t take long to walk between different park areas and because Disneyland, California Adventures, and Downtown Disney are all connected by a promenade it’s easy to walk between the different areas throughout the day without wearing yourself out. We were in the parks for almost 3 full days and easily saw and rode everything we wanted to, sometimes twice!
Character Meet & Greet: Because of Disney World’s size, character interactions have been regulated to waiting in line and posing for photographs. This does have its benefits if your child is set on meeting a particular character. Disneyland is much more spontaneous. You can be walking down Main Street and run into Donald Duck or Cruella Deville. This was always a fun surprise but also a bit frustrating if you happen to catch Mickey as he’s heading back to the clubhouse and is done with photos for the next hour.
Cast Members: Disney World attracts cast members (employees) from all over the world. This is partly due to their extensive college program which has US and International divisions. Cast members have their home city/country on their nametags and I’m always fascinated by the diversity among them. Disneyland, however, seems to pull their workforce from the local area for the most part. Almost every name tag I saw was a town in California. Cast members are almost always super helpful and anxious to help make your day magical!
Rides: There’s been a lot of construction and renovation the last several years with the additions of Cars Land, Toy Story Land, Star Wars Land, and the updating of Fantasyland in Disney World that has changed the landscape, literally, of what rides you can find at each park. Rides seem to fall in three categories (which I just totally made up): twins, distant cousins, and no relation. There are multiple rides which are exactly the same in both resorts, too numerous to list, but the classic favorites seem to be similar both places. The main exception to this is Space Mountain. The Disneyland version has been updated to feature Star Wars and is hands down the winner. Disneyland also has some unique rides not available at Disney World like Monsters, Inc, and vice versa. Then there are the distant cousins that are essentially the same ride, but with different graphics and atmosphere: Radiator Springs Racers and Test Track or Indiana Jones and Dinosaur.
Parades, Shows, and Fireworks: Each resort has their own entertainment offerings and you won’t find the same parade or fireworks show at any of the parks. Maybe it’s because it was new and different, but I loved the Paint the Night parade and Forever fireworks show in Disneyland. But, I also love Celebrate the Magic in Disney World. You really can’t go wrong with either. California seems to be heavier on the Pixar characters in their parades so if your kids are big Woody and Nemo fans, maybe that’s the right park for you.
Hotels: Disneyland has 3 hotels; Disney World has 28. We stayed in Paradise Pier in the Disneyland Resort and I’ll be posting a review of it later this week.
Transportation: There is no Magical Express in California but there is a shuttle service to and from John Wayne airport in Orange County and Los Angeles International Airport. Unlike the Magical Express, it will cost you and, depending on how many are in your group, it might be cheaper to rent a car. Be sure to factor in the cost of parking at the hotel. If you are staying in a Disneyland Resort hotel, it’s $18/day for parking.
More confused than ever as to which park you should visit? Sorry, I couldn’t pick one over the other. They both have their own unique vibe and advantages and you should probably visit both to form your own opinion! I haven’t had the opportunity to visit any of the international locations yet. Maybe one day!
Leave a comment and tell me your favorite Disney park!