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Major Differences Between Disneyland and Disney World

Many Disney fans are local to either Walt Disney World or Disneyland, usually based on 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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Pixar Pier at sunset
Pixar Pier at sunset

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 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 once, you are cleared for both parks. It makes it so 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. Currently, you’ll have to wait until 1 pm to park hop.

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.

Disney's Beach Club
Disney’s Beach Club Resort 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. 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 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, Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge, and Frontierland exist in both parks.

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. 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 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.

It's a small world

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 regard 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
  • Incredicoaster
  • 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
  • Dinosaur
  • Expedition Everest
  • Frozen Ever After
  • Mission: SPACE

There are also some rides that 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.

water feature in Disney Springs with buildings around it

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 requires park admission, so they are a great place to visit on a day when you don’t have tickets.

Disney's Boardwalk

Dining Reservations

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 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.

Pixar Pier

Other Differences

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+. While there are currently no MagicBands at Disneyland, that is scheduled to change soon.

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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There are some small and large differences between Disneyland and Disney World. If you are familiar with one of the parks but not the other, here's what you need to know about the differences.
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Sharon Paul

Saturday 13th of February 2021

Great job with your info and comparisons of the two Disney properties.

Jodi Grundig

Sunday 14th of February 2021

Thank you!

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