Disneyland vs. Disney World: Choosing a Disney Destination

For my left coasters, Disneyland is most definitely closer than Disney World, but is it a similar experience? In some cases, yes. The sheer size of Disney World can be overwhelming for those that often go to Disneyland. Disney openly states that Disneyland and it’s newer addition, Disney’s California Adventure can be done in 3 days (with the aide of their park hopper). But how do they really match up? Let’s look at the major similarities and differences.

Available lodging

Disney World offers an overwhelming number of resort options on property in 4 different booking categories. By staying in any of these resorts you receive certain benefits like free transportation to and from the airport, extra magic hours, and more.

Disneyland, by comparison, cannot compare. With only 3 official Disney hotels, it makes the choice to stay “on property” a bit less confusing. However, the 30+ “Good Neighbor” hotels that offer discounts in conjunction with Disney packages makes it much more confusing. Smart hotels took the initiative to build around Disneyland park and now many recognizable changes and locally owned hotels are available. No Disneyland hotel offers free airport transportation, however discounted transport is available from the various airports in the area. Plus, parking at the 3 Disney hotels is not free, a major difference over the Disney World hotels.


A clear difference here is the number of theme parks and their proximity. Disneyland has Disneyland Park and Disney’s California Adventure. Disney World has it’s 4 theme parks, plus 2 water parks. The very nice think about Disneyland: the 2 parks are right next to each other. No need to navigate a web of transportation.

Downtown Disney

California’s Downtown Disney District is also in close proximity to both theme parks (a monorail ride away) which is a great improvement on the difficult and painful transport to Downtown Disney in Florida (anyone that’s waited for one of those buses can agree with me on that statement!) Comparison in size is similar enough.

Dining Plan

Both locations have an available Dining Plan but they are extremely different. Disney World offers an all inclusive plan, while Disneyland has specific character meals included in their plan. This makes sense in a way as many Disneyland guests are either day guests or traveling for a short period of time and headed elsewhere in Southern California as well. Dining options are a bit more limited as well (just think of all the available options in the deluxe resorts alone!

Available Attractions

Here’s where it gets interesting! Many of the attractions found in Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure have a similar name to a Disney World attraction, but that does not mean they are created equal. A quick comparison of them and who has the edge for those that have been to one park and are thinking about the other! In alphabetical order…

  • Big Thuder Mountain Railroad – A similar experience in both parks.
  • Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin – Game premise is the same, Enthusiasts say Disneyland takes this one!
  • Castles – Cinderella takes this one. The castle is larger and taller in Disney World
  • Dumbo – The ride is the same in both places. The addition of the second Dumbo in Storybook Circus in new Fantasyland might give it a little edge in Florida.
  • Enchanted Tiki Room – Essentially the same in both locations
  • Haunted Mansion – With the recent update in Magic Kingdom, the ride is a bit longer. The experience from start to finish is almost the same though!
  • it’s a small world – Disneyland wins this race! It’s longer. So maybe Disney World wins so you don’t get that song stuck in your head?
  • Jungle Cruise – Disney World’s ride is longer, the story tellers/guides at Disneyland are better
  • Mad Tea Party/Tea Cups – Essentially the same ride. Makes me sick in both places!
  • Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh – Disney World is better and longer (if you’re going to do this ride in one place, go in Florida)
  • Peter Pan’s Flight – Again, a longer ride in Disney World.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean – This one has no comparison. Disneyland’s experience is far longer and thus much better!
  • Space Mountain – Disneyland.
  • Splash Mountain – Disney World has a longer ride and taller drop
  • Tom Sawyer’s Island – Similar in size, better experience in Disneyland
  • Tomorrowland Speedway/Autopia – Disneyland wins this one hands down!

In addition to all of the above, you have additional attractions that in one of the two parks that are spread out among the 4 Disney World theme parks including:

  • Toy Story Midway Mania!
  • Tower of Terror
  • It’s Tough to be a Bug
  • Muppet Vision 3-D
  • Turtle Talk with Crush
  • Test Track (with a Cars theme and a different name in California)
  • Soarin’
  • Fantasmic!
  • Captain EO
  • Innoventions
  • Jedi Training
  • Star Tours

Disneyland & California Adventure also has several major attractions that are only available in the west coast including Matterhorn, Indiana Jones Adventure and World of Color. Plus attractions that are now gone from Disney World remain in Disneyland like Snow White’s Scary Adventures and Toontown.


Disneyland still has paper FastPasses. It has yet to upgrade to MyMagic+ like Disney World. For those that have already forgotten about how paper FastPasses work: you must walk to the attraction you want a FastPass for. You are not allowed to choose your time. Your return time will be printed on your ticket. No MagicBands here either. You’ll have to do more research on the location of Disneyland’s maps before you arrive, but there’s less planning involved throughout the whole process.

Crowd Levels

Crowds of Magic Kingdom and Disneyland Park are essentially the same on a daily and annual basis and have similar peak travel times: summer, spring break, and major holidays. The difference is that Disneyland & California Adventure do not see as many travelers as all 4 of Disney World’s Theme Parks put together. However when you divide the them among the available parks, distribution is about the ame.

The Bottom Line

If you’re looking for a short trip or a trip with really little ones, Disneyland may be the best choice for you. It may be even better for you if you are closer to California than Florida. You have quite a few of the same attractions, more great things for little ones in a smaller scale. I’d never tell you to not go to Disney World as it’s one of my most favorite places and I’d happily go there more than once a year if I lived closer.

A free gift for Disney vacation! The amazing and exciting Minnie Box! (subject to minimum vacation package)

A free gift for Disney vacation! The amazing and exciting Minnie Box! (subject to minimum vacation package)

Ready to get started planning your 2015 Disney World vacation? Please contact me at any time for a free quote. The benefits to using an authorized Disney vacation planner include saving time before and during your vacation with itinerary planning which can help save you hours of standing in line each day. Plus you won’t have to watch for available discounts, research resorts, wake up early for dining reservations, or stay up late for FastPasses. The best part about using a travel planner instead of planning yourself? It’s totally FREE! Plus I’ll take away some of the stress and confusion of planning a Disney vacation (especially if it’s your first one!)It’s also a worry free cruise opportunity. I’ll walk through through all of the steps to the process with a few little insider tips along the way! If you already have your vacation planned and are interested in transferring your vacation, ask me how!