When you’re ready to make your dream Disney vacation a reality, it’s a tough choice to decide between Disneyland in California and Disney World in Florida. Both parks have the potential to give you a truly magical vacation, but there are a few differences between the two.
If you’re struggling to decide between the “happiest place on earth” or the “the most magical place on earth,” we’ve broken down the differences between the two so you don’t have to. Read on to learn everything you need to know about Disneyland vs. Disney World.
- Disneyland vs. Disney World in Summary: What’s the Same?
- Disneyland vs. Disney World in Summary: What’s Different?
- Disneyland vs. Disney World: A Brief History of the Two Parks
- Disneyland vs. Disney World: Comparing the Location
- Disneyland vs. Disney World: Comparing the Size
- Disneyland vs. Disney World: Comparing the Crowds & Lines
- Disneyland vs. Disney World: Comparing the Ticket Cost
- Disneyland vs. Disney World: Comparing the Best Time of the Year to Visit
- Disneyland vs. Disney World: Comparing the Rides
- Disneyland vs. Disney World: Comparing the Hotels
- Disneyland vs. Disney World: Comparing the Castles
- Disneyland vs. Disney World: Comparing the Food
- Disneyland vs. Disney World: Comparing FastPass
- Disneyland vs. Disney World: Comparing the Transportation
- Disneyland vs. Disney World: Comparing Downtown Disney & Disney Springs
- Parting Thoughts
Disneyland vs. Disney World in Summary: What’s the Same?
There are quite a few similarities between Disneyland and Disney World. Both parks strive to create the same escapist atmosphere where magic and innovation provide guests with a unique theme park experience. Here are some of the notable similarities:
- Both parks offer rides, experiences, shopping, dining, and character meet-and-greets
- Some of the most popular rides, like Space Mountain and Peter Pan’s Flight, can be found in both parks along with the same characters
- Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom Park in Orlando are set up similarly, with a castle hub in the middle and distant lands shooting off in every direction
With these things in mind, both parks take different approaches to the way they run things, and you’ll still get a vastly different experience at either.
Disneyland vs. Disney World in Summary: What’s Different?
While many people think that Disneyland and Disney World are virtually the same, there are many differences between the two parks. Disney World is much larger and comprises of four theme parks, two water parks, and several resorts.
Each park has attractions and cuisine that are unique to the park. Each park also has its own atmosphere and set of fans. Disneyland attracts people going for a nostalgic, retro vibe, while Disney World offers the whole immersive experience for those looking for an escape to something magical.
Disneyland vs. Disney World: A Brief History of the Two Parks
The history of Disneyland and Disney World are intertwined. Disneyland came first, and its success led to the creation of Disney World less than two decades later.
According to legend, Walt Disney got the idea for Disneyland while watching his daughter ride a carousel. He imagined a place that would be fun for the entire family, instead of the parents just watching their children have fun.
Disney purchased land in the Anaheim area, and construction on the park began in 1954. It opened in 1955 with 33 attractions. While the opening day was disastrous, the park quickly gained momentum and went on to spawn one of the world’s entertainment leaders.
Disney World History
After the success of Disneyland, Walt wanted to go even bigger. Anaheim didn’t offer the space he needed to expand and fully realize his ideas. He and others in the company started searching for land before eventually deciding on 235 acres of swampland in Florida.
Construction on Disney World started in the mid-1960s and the park opened to much fanfare in 1971. Sadly, Walt died before getting to see its completion, but the park was a raging success. According to the Themed Entertainment Association (TEA), over 50,000 people pass through the park each day.
Disneyland vs. Disney World: Comparing the Location
Disneyland sits in Anaheim, CA. The property started as 160 acres and later expanded to 500 acres. Disney World is near the Orlando area, in the town of Lake Buena Vista, a town owned by the Disney company. It covers 27,000 acres, meaning you could fit 51 Disneylands inside of it.
One of the most significant advantages of the Disneyland location is the weather. It’s not too hot in summer or too cold in the winter. The average rainfall is low. Your vacation is always likely to be comfortable. Disney World has nice weather during the winter and early spring, but it’s swelteringly hot the rest of the year.
Because of its sheer size, Disney World can give visitors a truly immersive experience. From the moment you drive through the gates, you’re right in the middle of the total Disney experience and cut off from the outside world.
Disneyland vs. Disney World: Comparing the Size
Disneyland is made up of two parks: Disneyland Park and California Adventure. Both parks are on the small side compared to the parks at Disney World – Disneyland is 85 acres, and California Adventure is 72. Disneyland also has the Downtown Disney area, which is made up of a few stores and restaurants.
Disney World has four theme parks: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. There are also two water parks, Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon, and the Wide World of Sports Complex. Disney Springs is an extensive shopping, dining, and entertainment district.
In total, Disney World sits on 21,180 acres of land.
Disney World has much more to offer. There are more attractions, more dining options, and more experiences. Disneyland, though smaller, also has its charms. While you’ll need a several-day vacation to see all of Disney World, you can see most of Disneyland in a couple of days.
Disneyland vs. Disney World: Comparing the Crowds & Lines
You can expect crowds and lines at both Disneyland and Disney World. Disney World gets more visitors, and Disneyland is smaller, making them both congested. Although the crowds are relatively equal, there are some differences in demographics.
There are more people in California with a Disneyland annual pass, meaning more residents are often visiting Disneyland. Disney World usually has many more tourists and often hosts large foreign tourist groups.
Since Disney World has more parks, you can be more strategic when it comes to crowds. You can organize your itinerary to go to the least-crowded park each day. Check out our guide on how many days you’ll need at Disney World to help plan your trip.
Since Disneyland only has two parks, both parks are usually equally crowded. Since the crowds balance out, you can also expect comparable line lengths.
Disneyland vs. Disney World: Comparing the Ticket Cost
When it comes to standard ticket prices, Disneyland and Disney World are pretty similar. You’ll pay roughly the same price for a one-day ticket. Both parks also offer discounts the more days you purchase and have a comparable price for the Park Hopper option.
Both Disneyland and Disney World base their cost on the time of the year. You can expect to pay significantly more during the peak seasons.
It can be challenging to compare costs between the two. You can get deep discounts per day at Disney World, but you’ll need to stay for several days, making your overall cost more. A Disney World trip is usually more expensive because there’s more to do and you need more days.
Disneyland vs. Disney World: Comparing the Best Time of the Year to Visit
If you’re trying to avoid crowds, the best times to visit both Disneyland and Disney World are any times when kids are typically in school. Since Disney is often considered a family vacation, crowds are much larger when kids aren’t in school. Avoid spring break, summer, and longer holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas.
When considering the weather, Disneyland is pretty nice year-round. The daily highs range from the low 70s to the high 80s throughout the year. It can get chilly at night, but nothing too extreme.
Orlando is excellent during the late fall, winter, and early spring months but can get incredibly hot and humid during the summer. It frequently rains during the summer, but the rain is usually over quickly, helps with the heat, and often clears out the parks.
Disneyland vs. Disney World: Comparing the Rides
While Disneyland and Disney World share many of the same rides, certain rides are unique to each park. Below are some of the highlights.
Rides That Are the Same
You can find many of the classic rides in both parks. You can find rides like:
- The Haunted Mansion
- Pirates of the Caribbean
- “it’s a small world”
- Peter Pan’s Flight
- Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
- Space Mountain
- Jungle Cruise
- Mad Tea Party
- Splash Mountain
If you’re looking to enjoy the new Star Wars experiences, both parks have the Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run and Rise of the Resistance rides.
Rides Unique to Disneyland
There are some rides you can only experience at Disneyland. Many of these rides are fan favorites that bring back a sense of nostalgia for the park in its early days. For example, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride is one of Disneyland’s most beloved rides. You can also find Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin and the Matterhorn Bobsleds.
Disneyland and the California Adventure Park have some new rides that you won’t find at Disney World. There are some fun Pixar-based rides, like the Incredicoaster & Monsters Inc., Mike, and Sully to the Rescue!
California Adventure also has an entire section dedicated to the Cars films with three exciting rides: Radiator Springs Racers, Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree, and Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters.
A Note on Marvel Rides at Disneyland
If you’re a Marvel fan, Disneyland is the destination for you. You can visit Avenger’s Campus, where you can attend the stage show Doctor Strange: Journey Into the Mystic Arts or take a free fall on Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout! (formerly Tower of Terror).
You can also try out Web Slingers: A Spider-Man Adventure, the newest ride at Avenger’s Campus. Guests get to imagine themselves as Spidey in this interactive ride.
While there’s room for Avenger’s Campus to grow at Disneyland, there probably won’t be many Marvel rides at Disney World. When Disney purchased the Marvel franchise, they agreed not to use any Marvel characters featured on Universal Studios’s Super Hero Island east of the Mississippi River.
Rides Unique to Disney World
Disney World is made up of four parks vs. the two parks that makeup Disneyland. As a result, many rides and attractions are unique to Disney World.
Magic Kingdom Rides
Many of the rides are the same between Magic Kingdom and Disneyland, but there are several rides that you can only find in the Magic Kingdom. Two of the park’s newest rides, the Seven Dwarves Mine Train and Under the Sea: Voyage of the Little Mermaid, are unique.
You can also find a few classic rides and attractions, like the Carousel of Progress and Country Bear Jamboree.
Almost all of the rides and attractions in Epcot are unique to the park. You can find dark rides like Spaceship Earth and The Seas With Nemo and Friends. If you’re looking for thrills, there’s Mission: Space, Soarin’ Around the World, and Test Track. The new ride, Frozen Ever After, based on the hit film, is also trendy.
Epcot is also home to The World Showcase, where you can experience different countries and cultures. There are many unique experiences in this area, like special character meet-and-greets and educational shows.
Epcot will soon be home to exciting new attractions, like Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure and the Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind rollercoaster. This coaster will be the first (and possibly only) Marvel ride in Florida.
Hollywood Studios Rides
Hollywood Studios is dedicated to all things film. If you want the classic experience, you can take a spin on Aerosmith’s Rock ‘n’ Rollercoaster, drop down the Tower of Terror, and experience Fantasmic. The park also has one of the largest aquariums in the US.
This park is also home to two new lands: Toy Story Land and Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge. Toy Story Land has the interactive Toy Story Mania ride and the Slinky Dog Dash rollercoaster. One of the park’s newest rides, Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, is the first and only to feature the Mouse himself.
While you can find the same Star Wars rides in both Disneyland and Disney World, you’ll get a more immersive experience at the world as they’ve spent a lot of time world-building in the park.
Animal Kingdom Rides
Animal Kingdom is one of Disney’s favorite parks. Not only does it have some fantastic rides that you can’t find anywhere else, but it’s also a working zoo where guests can have unique encounters with animals. Guests can even go on a “safari” through a constructed African savanna.
You can also enjoy some thrill rides, such as DINOSAUR and Kali River Rapids. One of the park’s most innovative rides is Expedition Everest, a coaster that goes forward and backward and stars one of Disney’s largest audio animatronics.
For fans of the Avatar film, Disney recently opened a new land, Pandora, with two new rides: Avatar Flight of Passage and Na’vi River Journey.
Disney World also has two themed water parks: Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach. The two water parks feature numerous slides, wave pools, and lazy rivers.
Disneyland vs. Disney World: Comparing the Hotels
Both Disneyland and Disney World have hotels for guests who want to stay on property for their entire trip. Disneyland has three resorts onsite. All are beautiful, high-end luxury resorts but may not be in the price range of those who want to have a budget-friendly vacation. However, there are some incredible hotels near Disneyland, Anaheim, California which would allow for a budget-friendly vacation with the family.
Disney World has 28 resorts with a variety of themes. Guests can enjoy themes like Hawaii, New Orleans, animation, sports, and more. The resorts also suit a variety of budgets, from value to moderate to deluxe. Guests can even rent a campsite at the Fort Wilderness campground. Learn more about the onsite options in our guide to the best Walt Disney World Resort hotels for families.
Disney World also has a new resort experience coming in 2022. The Star Wars: Galactic Cruiser is a one-of-a-kind experience in which guests stay for two days and get a chance to completely immerse themselves in the world of Star Wars, complete with realistic interactions.
Disneyland vs. Disney World: Comparing the Castles
While many people think the castles in Disneyland and Disney World are the same, there are quite a few differences. Disneyland is home to Sleeping Beauty’s castle, while Cinderella’s castle is in Disney World.
Cinderella’s castle is much larger than Sleeping Beauty’s and has a restaurant, a suite, and Bippity Boppity Boutique. Sleeping Beauty’s castle has a working drawbridge and has real gold on its exterior.
Cinderella’s castle is the only one with a stage often used for exciting shows featuring characters, music, and dancing.
Disneyland vs. Disney World: Comparing the Food
Both Disneyland and Disney World offer a variety of dining options, from fast food to fancy cuisines. Both parks offer the standard theme park fare of hamburgers, hot dogs, and pizza. You can also find character dining options at both parks.
Disneyland is home to the Blue Bayou Restaurant, which features Cajun and Creole cuisine. There are also several character dining options, including a Goofy buffet and a unique princess dining experience, both opening soon.
Disney World offers some eclectic cuisine offerings. Guests have the option of eating inside the castle, sampling world cuisine at Epcot, or even dining with an Imagineer or animal specialist. Epcot is also home to the annual food and wine festival, allowing guests to eat and drink around the ‘World.
Disneyland vs. Disney World: Comparing FastPass
Disney parks have a few FastPass options that allow guests to skip the lines for specific rides. This program differs between the two parks. Check the Disney park websites to see if any health-related or current events keep FastPass from operating.
FastPass at Disneyland
The FastPass service comes with your park tickets. To use, you’ll locate the kiosk outside the ride you want and use your park ticket to get FastPasses. The passes will give you a window, usually an hour, when you can return to the ride and skip the line.
MaxPass at Disneyland
MaxPass is only available at Disneyland and must be purchased daily. The MaxPass enables you to use your phone to make FastPass reservations through the app. You can choose the times you want and make changes on the fly.
You’ll also get unlimited photos through Disney’s PhotoPass service. Please note that the MaxPass currently can’t be used on the new Star Wars attractions Smuggler’s Run and Rise of the Resistance.
FastPass+ at Disney World
The FastPass+ service is free, and you can link it to your Magic Bands for added convenience. You can reserve up to three FastPass+ attractions up to 60 days in advance (30 if you aren’t staying in a Disney resort). Once you’re in the park and have used up your FastPasses, you can then book one at a time using an app.
Disneyland vs. Disney World: Comparing the Transportation
No matter which park you choose, transportation is always a challenge. Fortunately, both parks have made efforts to make it easy for you to navigate the parks.
Transportation at Disneyland
Disneyland is small. The two parks are close enough for you to easily walk between as the entrances are only about 300 feet apart. The Park Hopper is a good buy because it’s easy to go back and forth between the two parks.
When arriving at the airport, you can pay to take the Disneyland Resort Express for a fee. The three resorts are also within walking distance, along with several other off-site resorts. If you want to travel to Downtown Disney, you can take the Monorail from Disneyland.
There is a fee to park at the parks or Downtown Disney. You can often use a tram to get you closer to the park.
Transportation at Disney World
It’s challenging to walk between most places in Disney World, although there are a few hotels within walking distance of the parks. Disney World offers various transportation options, including boats, monorails, and an extensive bus system.
Disneyland vs. Disney World: Comparing Downtown Disney & Disney Springs
Both Downtown Disney and Disney Springs offer fun dining and shopping options, but there are significant differences between the two. Disney Springs is much larger than Downtown Disney. In addition to shopping and dining, there are also some fabulous attractions like boat rides, bowling, and a hot air balloon ride.
Both Disneyland and Disney World offer exciting vacation experiences. One isn’t necessarily better than the other – it’s more about the experience you want to have. If you’re looking for charm and nostalgia, Disneyland is the place to go. If you want the full-on Disney experience, Disney World is your best option.
Heading to the golden state? You’re in luck; our handy guide can help you plan your ultimate family trip to Disneyland California.