Many Disney fans are local to either Walt Disney World or Disneyland, usually based upon geography. But I’d definitely recommend visiting both parks, because there are so many differences between Disneyland and Disney World. It’s so fun to visit both, to see the various attractions that are either completely or slightly different between the two parks. Here are the main differences – both in planning your stay and your experience once you are there.
I am a former member of the Disney Parks Moms Panel and have been on some complimentary press trips at Walt Disney World, but all opinions are my own. This post contains affiliate links. A purchase/click through one of these links may result in a commission paid to us.
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Major Differences Between Disneyland and Disney World to Consider When Planning Your Vacation
The Size Difference Between the Two Resorts: Walt Disney World and Disneyland
If you’ve visited the two resorts, you’ll probably agree that the biggest obvious difference between the two resorts is the size. While Walt Disney World features four theme parks, two water parks (Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach), Disney Springs, multiple golf courses, and the ESPN Wide World of Sports, Disneyland just has the two parks and Downtown Disney. The land covered by Walt Disney World is massive and nearly impossible to cover in just one visit.
The two parks at Disneyland include Disneyland Park (most similar to the Magic Kingdom) and Disney’s California Adventure, while Walt Disney World offers the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. While you could definitely consider visiting the two Disneyland resort parks in about 2-3 days, you would definitely need more than a week to see most of Walt Disney World.
One of the biggest benefits I see to visiting Disneyland is the ability to easily visit the two parks in one day. It’s so easy to walk from one park to the other, and once you go through security once, you are cleared for both parks. It makes it so simple to have an efficiency visit using the MaxPass and/or FastPass systems to ride the attractions. To do this, however, you’ll want to get park tickets with the park hopper option.
While I love Walt Disney World, I do find it difficult to park hop multiple times per day. Because of the distance between the parks, it’s not as easy as walking across the courtyard. In addition, you always have to go through security at each park at Walt Disney World.
Disney Resort Hotels at Both Disneyland and Walt Disney World
There are no hotels in common between the two resorts. Disneyland offers three hotels – the Disneyland Hotel, the Grand Californian Resort, and Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel. In addition, there are a number of “good neighbor” hotels across in the street and in the surrounding area that offer family-friendly amenities and accommodations.
Walt Disney World has over two dozen hotels in three different room categories – deluxe resorts, moderate resorts, and value resorts. There’s also the Fort Wilderness campground, where you can bring an RV, stay in a tent, or stay in a cabin. While there are also off-property resorts, they aren’t quite as convenient as the Disneyland off-property hotels, because you can’t walk to the parks.
I feel that staying on property is more essential at Walt Disney World, where it’s much easier to get to the parks from the hotels, and you’ll get the benefit of the earlier FastPass booking window for those staying on property.
Different Lands at Disneyland Park and the Magic Kingdom
Although the Magic Kingdom and Disneyland Park have some of the same “lands”, there are also some different lands that exist in one park but not the other. Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, Adventureland, Main Street USA, and Frontierland exist in both parks.
At the Disneyland Resort in California, you’ll also find Critter Country, New Orleans Square, and Mickey’s Toontown. Some of the rides are in different lands in the two parks. So for instance, while you’ll find Pirates of the Caribbean in Adventureland at WDW, it’s in New Orleans Square. Splash Mountain is in Frontierland at Walt Disney World and Critter Country in Disneyland. It can definitely be a little surprising to look for a favorite ride in the same land and find out that it’s somewhere else.
Walt Disney World also have Liberty Square, which doesn’t exist at Disneyland. The Haunted Mansion is in Liberty Square at Walt Disney World, and New Orleans Square at Disneyland.
Disney’s California Adventure has completely different lands than anything at Walt Disney World, although there is a Hollywood Land. Walt Disney World fans will especially love Pixar Pier and Cars Land.
Different Attractions at Disneyland and Disney World
When it comes to attraction differences between Disneyland and Disney World, they fall into two buckets. In some cases, there are attractions that exist at one of the resorts, but not another. In other cases, there are resorts that are similar (and maybe even have the same name), but also have some differences. If you are wanting to see the differences between Disneyland and Disney World with regards to attractions, here are some of the things you’ll want to check out.
At Disneyland Resort , completely different rides include the following:
- Alice in Wonderland
- Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride (which used to exist at Walt Disney World)
- Indiana Jones Adventure
- Matterhorn Bobsleds
- Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Sled
- Goofy’s Sky School
- Monsters Inc Mike and Sulley to the Rescue
- Pixar Pal-A-Round
- Radiator Springs Racers
At Walt Disney World, here are a few of the different rides:
- Avatar Flight of Passage
- Kilimanjaro Safaris
- Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
- Test Track
- Rock N Roller Coaster
- Expedition Everest
- Frozen Ever After
- Mission: SPACE
There are also some rides that have the same or similar name, but are a bit different.
- Pirates of the Caribbean (I prefer the Disneyland version)
- Haunted Mansion (the outsides of the attractions are completely different, the actual rides are pretty similar)
- it’s a small world (the Disneyland version incorporates some of the popular Disney characters while the Walt Disney World version doesn’t)
At Disneyland California Adventure, you’ll find Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission BREAKOUT. This was originally the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. The ride motion remains the same, but the theme is completely different. The original Twilight Zone Tower of Terror still exists at Walt Disney World.
Disney Springs vs Downtown Disney
Guests on either coast may enjoy the entertainment, shops, and restaurants at Downtown Disney/Disney Springs. While they both have a similar concept, Downtown Disney is definitely smaller than Disney Springs. Neither require park admission, so they are a great place to visit on a day that you don’t have tickets.
Utilizing the FastPass system can be a great way to save time at the parks. It’s offered on both coasts, but the process is different.
At Walt Disney World, you can book your FastPasses in advance online (60 days in advance for on property guests or 30 days in advance for off property guests). FastPasses for the most popular attractions do book up well in advance, so it’s a good idea to make your reservations. as soon as possible after your booking window opens to you. This process works great for those who plan ahead, but makes last minute vacations a little challenging.
Disneyland still utilizes the paper FastPass system, although they do have a premium program as well. Any guest can get FastPasses by going up to the kiosks. You’ll be given a receipt with the next available time.
For $15 per day per guest (as of 3/19), you can also upgrade to MaxPass. This program is offered at Disneyland but not Disney World. With MaxPass, you can book your FastPass reservations on the app. It’s so much easier, because you won’t have to actually walk up to the kiosk, and you can actually get a FastPass reservation at one park while you are at the other.
As an added benefit to MaxPass, it also includes any PhotoPass pictures taken of you while you have the MaxPass. That can be a great money savings if you have lots of pictures taken.
Food can be a big part of your Disney vacation. The most popular restaurants at Walt Disney World book up months in advance. Guests at WDW can book their dining reservations 180 days in advance. Again, this can be great for advance planners, and a bit challenging for last minute guests.
At Disneyland, you can book your dining reservations 60 days in advance, making it easier for last minute travelers. You won’t need to plan a full six months in advance.
Of course, at both parks, this only applies to sit down restaurants. You can always walk up to the quick service restaurants at any time to eat. Mobile ordering is also offered at both parks. Just keep in mind that each park has its own app, so you’ll need to download them separately.
There are lots of other differences between the two parks as well Walt Disney World offers MagicBands, which can be used to open resort hotel doors, pay for purchases, allow access to the parks, and utilize FastPass and PhotoPass. Disney on-property guests receive complimentary MagicBands, while other guests have the option to purchase them. There are no MagicBands at Disneyland.
Walt Disney World also offers the complementary Disney’s Magical Express from Orlando International Airport to any of the on property hotels. This is offered exclusively for those staying on property. While you can take Disneyland Resort Express from some of the LA area airports to Disneyland, this is not a free service offered by Disney.
While both parks offer a Food and Wine festival, the themes are slightly different. Epcot’s International Food and Wine Festival focuses on international cuisine, the California Adventure Food and Wine Festival focuses on California specialties. They run during different season, but both offer delicious food samples for guests.
Have you been to both parks? What is the biggest difference between Disneyland and Disney World that you’ve experienced?