Many Disney fans are local to either Walt Disney World or Disneyland, usually based on geography. But if you are a Disney parks fan, I’d 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 consider visiting the two Disneyland resort parks in about 2-3 days, you would need more than a week to see most of Walt Disney World.
Disneyland Park and the Magic Kingdom are the most similar, while all of the others are distinct theme parks with different experiences. Disney fans will want to experience all of them.
One of the biggest benefits of visiting Disneyland is the ability to visit the two parks in one day easily. It’s so easy to walk from one park to the other, and once you go through security, you are cleared for both parks.
It makes it simple to have an efficient visit using Genie+ and Individual Lightning Lane systems to ride the attractions. To do this, however, you’ll want to get park tickets with the park hopper option.
You can purchase that option when buying your tickets and will pay extra. You aren’t able to use two separate days on a standard ticket to park top. Currently, you’ll have to wait until 11 am to park hop at Disneyland.
While I love Walt Disney World, it is harder to park hop. 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. This whole process can take a while.
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 Pixar Pier Hotel (previously Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel). In addition, there are several “good neighbor” hotels across the street and in the surrounding area that offer family-friendly amenities and accommodations. Two of our favorites are the Westin and the Howard Johnson.
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 much more essential at Walt Disney World, where it’s much easier to get to the parks from the on-site hotels.
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, Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge, and Frontierland exist in both resorts. (edited to clarify: Galaxy’s Edge at Walt Disney World is in Disney’s Hollywood Studios).
You’ll also find Critter Country, New Orleans Square, and Mickey’s Toontown at the Disneyland Resort in California. 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. It can 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 has 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, Avenger’s Campus, and Cars Land, which are exclusive to the West Coast park.
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, some attractions exist at one of the resorts, but not another. In other cases, some rides are similar (and maybe even have the same name) but also have some differences. If you want to see the differences between Disneyland and Disney World 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
- Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind
- Kilimanjaro Safaris
- Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
- Test Track
- Rock N Roller Coaster
- Expedition Everest
- Frozen Ever After
- Mission: SPACE
Some rides have the same or similar names but are a bit different.
- Pirates of the Caribbean (I prefer the Disneyland version)
- Haunted Mansion (the exteriors 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 smaller than Disney Springs. Neither requires park admission, so they are a great place to visit on a day when you don’t have tickets.
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 (currently 60 days but subject to change). 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.
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 Genie+. MagicBand+ has recently come to Disneyland but with decreased functionality.
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, and the California Adventure Food and Wine Festival focuses on California specialties. They run during different seasons, 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?
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