Planning that first trip to Disney and you’re not sure which destination to go to, Disneyland or Walt Disney World? Been to Walt Disney World before but don’t know if its worth the time or money to make the trip to Left Coast? Stressing about the choices, trying to make your next Disney vacation the best one for your family? Well, don’t worry! We’re here to share with you what we’ve discovered over the years in our travels to both parks to help you make the best decision.
Deciding on which Disney destination to visit can be one of the hardest decisions to make. Which location has the best hotels, or the biggest variety of food options, or the most thrilling ride? Let me start by saying, Disney has perfected to art of emersion and hospitality to make your experience memorable whichever location you choose. Either Disney destination is a great choice with both having common and unique elements to them. We’ll explore some of these unique elements below as it is these items that will help you to decide which location is the better fit for you and your family.
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How long will it take to see everything you want to see? This is probably the most important question to ask when it comes to a Disney vacation. Unfortunately, our jobs and school as well as our finances can really restrict us on how much time we can allocate to our vacation. So how can have the most fulfilling experience in the least amount of time.
With 4 theme parks, 2 water parks, 2 miniature golf courses, a shopping/dining/entertainment complex, a sports complex, a multitude of hotels and even more dining experiences uniquely themed, there is just way too much to see within a short trip at Walt Disney World. If you want to get the most out of your visit, I would strongly recommend planning a minimum of 6 days on property (excluding travel days). Even with 6 days, you will not be able to see everything Walt Disney World has to offer but it will allow you to see all the major areas as well as some of the minor areas or an opportunity to circle back to some areas you’d like to see again.
In contrast, you can see everything you would like at Disneyland within 2 to 3 days. With only 2 theme parks and a dining/entertainment complex all centrally located you can easily see everything Disney has to offer within the condensed period. This is perfect for a family tight on time. If you happen to have more time available, it can be put to good use traveling to nearby Universal Studios, Knotts Berry Farms, Downtown LA or Hollywood. If you’d prefer to keep your vacation 100% Disney themed, you can visit Walt Disney Studios in nearby Buena Vista or go on a nostalgic car ride to Walt and Roy’s California homes. California also has wonderful beaches and many other attractions, dining and entertainment opportunities in the surrounding areas that can be added on to your vacation depending on your length of stay.
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For many people, this may be the deciding factor right from the start. If you live on the East coast, a trip to sunny Orlando, Florida may be a quicker trip than making the cross-country trek. Or you may live within a reasonable driving distance from Disneyland, saving you hundreds (if not thousands) of dollars on airfare. Proximity can play a huge role in your decision as travel costs can fluctuate greatly depending on how far away you are, what time of year you are traveling, and how late you book your travel, just to name a few.
Having a car available makes for a much better vacation experience when traveling to Disneyland. Whether that be renting one at the airport or driving from home. Disneyland is in a much more condensed area than Walt Disney World with a lot of things to do outside the park in the neighboring cities. Arriving by air complicates things more as Disneyland has five major airports surrounding it with the closest being a minimum of 30 minutes away. You can obtain shuttle services from the airport to the resorts, but it is at an additional cost and is not associated with Disney. Once you’re on property, no car is needed. But the safe bet is you’ll want to venture off property at some point within your trip, especially if the vacation lasts more than 3 days.
With Walt Disney World attractions being as spread out as they are, you can benefit from a car, but it is not needed. The free transportation from the resorts to the park run regularly through the day and can get you to any destination on property. There are some areas you may want to visit off property, like Universal Studios, but can easily take an Uber or a taxi which readily available at the resorts. Transportation to and from the airport is also a breeze when staying on property. With Disney’s Magical Express, you receive complimentary shuttle service to and from the airport. This service also comes with free luggage delivery right to your room as well as a baggage check-in at your resort when it’s time to leave (baggage check-in not available for all airlines).
Your hotel experience from Walt Disney World to Disneyland is quite different, each one carrying their own benefits. Walt Disney World was built and designed to be all inclusive, meaning everything is available to you on location. When it comes to the hotels, they offer 5 categories of Resorts spanning 32 locations, all on property, all with varying rates which makes it easy to find a room on any budget. In addition to the Disney owned properties, there are many neighboring resorts on and just outside of the property. One fantastic feature offered at Walt Disney World but not Disneyland is the use of Magic Bands. You do not need to stay at a Disney owned property to use the magic bands, but you will be missing out on some nice features if you aren’t. For guests staying on property, the magic bands will not only be your ticket into the parks but will also be serve as your room key. You can also add features to your magic band such as the ability to charge expenses by simply scanning your band at any Disney kiosk. And those valuable souvenirs you just purchased at the park, with your magic band, don’t worry, Disney will deliver them right to your room.
Where Walt Disney World has a variety of on-site properties, Disneyland has just as many “Good Neighbor” ones. Good Neighbor Properties are resorts recommended by Disney and typically authorized to sell theme park tickets to either of the Disneyland parks. Disneyland does not currently make use of the magic band system so staying at a Disney owned property is not as advantageous as it is in Walt Disney World. This has allowed neighboring hotels to offer the same quality product without the higher prices Disney typically charges. There are still some advantages to staying in one of the three hotels Disney has to offer, such as your proximity to the parks and the Disney theming throughout, usually at a greater cost. Even this is not a huge advantage though as some of the value motels are located within walking distance from the park entrance. In addition, the Good Neighbor resorts will often provide transportation to and from the park as well as a small store stocked with Disney merchandise for that last-minute souvenir purchase (usually at a dramatically reduced price).
When comparing the parks between Walt Disney World and Disneyland, it comes down to Quality or Quantity. Just focusing solely on the major theme parks, Walt Disney World has an abundance of rides and attractions. Even with a full week, you will be challenged to see everything. And Walt Disney World REALLY does have everything. The first park built on property back in 1971 was the Magic Kingdom. This theme park is a smaller replica of the Disneyland park in Anaheim with a lot of the same rides found in both locations. The next park to be built was EPCOT. This park has two main sections to it, Future World and World Showcase. Even though this park was nothing like the EPCOT Walt Disney himself had envisioned, it still carries a bit of charm and innovation. The third park to be built was Disney Hollywood Studios (formerly MGM Studios). This park does not currently hold a great number of “E Ticket” attractions. With only 4 major attractions right now, this park can be covered in less than a day. This will be changing though very soon as most of the changes coming to Walt Disney World are in this park. With Toy Story land set to open in June of 2018, followed by Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge (as well as a Star Wars Themed Hotel connecting to the land) and Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway sometime in between, this park will quickly go from a half-day adventure to possibly a multi-day visit. And finally, the last park to have been built in Walt Disney World is its most unique one, Animal Kingdom. This park not only carries the magic of Disney but also the wonder of first hand encounters with live animals like you’ve never seen before. All four parks offer something unique and special, making your vacation a memorable one.
With only two theme parks, Disneyland loses in volume, but more than makes up for it in charm. Nothing compares to the awe-inspiring sense of taking a stroll down main street, the street that started it all or walking over the same drawbridge where Walt Disney gave his famous park opening address as you stroll through the castle toward Fantasyland or riding on the last ride Walt Disney personally worked on, Pirates of the Caribbean. With a limited amount of space to work with, Disney must be as efficient as possible with its use of certain areas. So even though you will not find as many rides in Disneyland, you tend to see the more popular ones in both parks. I will admit, the direction for the parks recently has been to create unique experiences separate from each other. This has caused new attractions to be added in Anaheim that you cannot find in Orlando (and vice versa). For example, Radiator Springs can be found on the West Coast but not the east, or toy story land on the east but not the west with no plans to have them added in the foreseeable future. Even though this is the direction, you will still find items replicated between both areas, such as Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge. The first park to be built was Disneyland park, opened in 1955. This was also the only park Walt Disney had a direct influence over and was the only park he had ever seen opened. As you walk into the park, to the left there is a lamp lit in the window above the Fire Station. Lighting this lamp was the way Walt had let people know he was in the park. After his death, this lamp was kept on letting everyone know that Walt is still very much a part of this park. The park is a bit bigger than its sister location in Orlando but contains many more popular rides. With the limited amount of space available to expand in Anaheim, most of the changes and additions that have taken place have been on the existing property, either taking over older rides or building into areas previously used for backstage activities. This has created a situation where you can experience more of the major rides within a shorter period, unlike Walt Disney World where everything is spread out across several parks. The last park to be built is California Adventure. At its onset, this park was an homage to California with most of the major landmarks in the state represented. Since then, this park has gone through a great many changes, with the goal always being the same, to bring more Disney characters into the park. Because of this, the park has come to be more of a replica of Disney Hollywood Studios than something that embodies California. Even still, there are elements of the original park located throughout with the biggest being Grizzly Peak mountain.
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This is one category that a strong argument can be made for both properties. When it comes to Walt Disney World, you have several options once you leave the property. With Universal Orlando, Legoland, and SeaWorld nearby, there are no shortages of theme parks to visit. If you’re willing to travel a bit further, you can visit Cape Canaveral, Tampa Bay, Miami as well as the many beaches along the coast line. The downside to Walt Disney World is that there is literally TOO MUCH to do in one trip that you cannot possibly see it all. So, if going off property is what sounds good to you, plan on sacrificing some of the wonderful events or experiences located on property.
Whereas with Walt Disney World there is too much to see, Disneyland almost doesn’t have enough. Because of the parks being centrally located to each other, you can travel between them much easier allowing you to spend more time on rides and immersed in the Disney experience than at its east coast counterpart where transportation does factor in. This can be a huge advantage for the fulfillment of your vacation by allowing you to see everything in the parks with time to venture into Southern California for a new and exciting experience all within the same trip. Live out your movie fantasies by visiting some of the local production studios, stroll down upscale Rodeo Drive, see the iconic Hollywood sign up close or take a scenic drive down the coast. There is just a wealth of experiences in the LA and surrounding areas, it just depends on what you want to do. There is pretty much something for everyone.
In conclusion, there are a ton of things that need to be considered when deciding which Disney Resort destination to choose. Hopefully, the information provided will help to better position you to make that choice. But, when it comes down to it, any Disney Destination is a special one filled with wonder and magic. Disney does such a tremendous job immersing you into the experience, you really can’t go wrong with either location.