It’s finally here! The Walt Disney World versus Disneyland showdown. Let’s get right to it!
Ease of Getting Around(DISNEYLAND): Disneyland definitely beats Walt Disney World in this category. All three onsite resorts, both theme parks, and Downtown Disney are within walking distance of each other. This means no waiting for buses, no complicated transportation between resort hotels, and less time-consuming park hopping.
That being said, there is one major caveat to Disneyland’s transportation “win”. While Walt Disney World provides complimentary round trip airport transportation for its onsite guests, Disneyland does not. Disneyland CAN help you arrange a shuttle to and from the airport, but it is not free and it is not nearly as seamless as Disney World’s Magical Express.
Theme Park Attractions (TIE): There’s no clear overall champion when it comes to attractions, so I’ve broken it down into some sub-category winners.
Theming: Not surprisingly, attractions at both Disney World and Disneyland feature impeccably detailed and thoughtful theming. True, California Adventure’s CarsLand was a HUGE theming highlight for us at Disneyland, but so was Pandora at Disney World’s Animal Kingdom. This one’s a tie.
Upkeep: Perhaps because the smaller size of the Disneyland parks makes upkeep more manageable, I found the Disneyland attractions to be better maintained than those at Disney World. Disneyland for the win.
Variety: Disney World is markedly bigger than Disneyland, so it has a much wider variety of attractions. Consequently, a trip to Disney World is unlikely to be significantly impacted by attraction refurbishments, as there are always plenty more options available. On the other hand, even a handful of Disneyland attraction closures can affect wait times and lead to guest disappointment and frustration. Disney World takes this one.
Entertainment (DISNEY WORLD): While we LOVED World of Color at Disneyland’s California Adventure Theme Park, I have to give Disney World the win in this category. Aside from World of Color and Fantasmic (and a few pop-up street parties/strolling bands here and there), there was no other major entertainment at Disneyland. No fireworks behind the castle, no real parades, nothing. And I’m not even talking about cancellations due to weather: these things weren’t even on the schedule to begin with.
FastPasses (DISNEY WORLD): Disney World guests get to schedule three FastPasses in advance. Disneyland FastPasses can only be obtained on the day of your visit. I’m a planner by nature, and it’s much easier to lay out my day if I already have at least some of my FastPasses secured. I give Disney World the nod on this one, but it’s completely a matter of personal Type-A preference.
Resort Hotels (DISNEY WORLD): There are over two dozen onsite resort hotels at Walt Disney World, and each one is extensively themed. In contrast, there are only three onsite resort hotels at Disneyland: Paradise Pier, the Disneyland Hotel, and the Grand Californian. We stayed at the Paradise Pier Hotel, and it was fine: clean, safe, fun pool, a nice little lounge, and a restaurant. Overall, though, none of these things jumped out as spectacular to me. Frankly, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was in a hotel chain. It was all rather generic, and nothing screamed “YOU’RE AT DISNEY!!”. This feeling wasn’t specific to Paradise Pier either, as the grounds of the Disneyland Hotel also felt sterile. The Grand Californian was the exception: it is beautifully themed and you can’t beat the location, but it comes with a generous price tag. Bottom line: this category goes to Disney World.
Dining (DISNEY WORLD): We were impressed with the variety of sit-down dining options at Disneyland, most of which are located in the Downtown Disney area. We had a couple of very memorable meals. On the other hand, Disneyland is woefully lacking in the character meal department. Ariel’s Grotto is the sole princess meal at Disneyland, and it is currently closed for refurbishment. There are only a handful of other character meal options at Disneyland, and they ALL feature exclusively fur characters like Chip & Dale, Tigger & Pooh, Mickey & Friends, etc. Disney World has more variety in this department, so I give them the blue ribbon in this category.
Overall Resort Feel (DISNEY WORLD): From the moment I set foot in whichever onsite Disney World Resort I’m staying at, I feel like I’m enclosed in a Disney bubble…and this feeling doesn’t disappear until I’m back at the airport heading home. Disney World’s ENTIRE resort contributes to this feeling, from the hotels to the walking paths to the park buses. I just didn’t get that same vibe at Disneyland until I entered the official theme park area. Because Disneyland is part of an actual functioning city, there’s lots of traffic and noise and non-magical distractions near some of the resort hotels and pathways. I totally get that this is unavoidable, as Disneyland doesn’t have the luxury of space like Disney World does. Still, I wasn’t digging it.
FINAL THOUGHTS: Friends, there's just no denying it. I'm a Disney World gal. That being said, I really enjoyed our trip to Disneyland. I think it's definitely worth at least one visit, and I wouldn't rule out returning someday. But my heart is with The World.
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Meredith McCutcheon: Owner and Disney Vacation Specialist