In the United States, there are two main Disney theme parks you can choose between; Disney World in Orlando, Florida, and Disneyland in Anaheim, California. Unfortunately, because these two Disney locations are so far away from each other, it’s not possible to visit both in one trip. So Disney fans are left to wonder: ‘Which Disney park should I choose? Which one is better to visit? Which one has more to do?’
While both Disney locations are absolutely jam-packed with exciting rides, thrilling experiences, and magical dining, there are still plenty of differences between the two. Read on for a full guide about the parks in comparison to each other, so it can help inform your decision of which one to head to for your next Disney vacation.
Disneyland vs Disney World size
The most obvious distinction between DIsney World in Orlando and Disneyland in Anaheim, California, is the physical size of the two. When Disneyland was first opened in 1955, it was just a single park. In 2011, a second park was opened, and in the modern day, they combine to become an approximately 500-acre resort.
In the mid-1960’s, the Walt Disney Company acquired more than 25,000 acres in Central Florida, and planned a world of Disney entertainment like no other. Boasting a whopping 40 square miles of land, Disney World is about twice the size of Manhattan, or roughly the size of San Francisco. Although, not all of the land is actually used for the parks.
In summary, Disney World is technically 24,500 acres bigger than Disneyland.
Given Disneyland’s much smaller size, getting around is a breeze. The hotels are all within walking distance of parks, and the entrance gates to both parks are about 100 yards apart. If you buy a park hopper ticket (which lets you enter both parks in one day) it’s relatively easy to walk from one end of Disneyland Park to the far end of California Adventure.
There’s a monorail at Disneyland which runs between Tomorrowland at Disneyland Park and the Downtown Disney district but it serves as an attraction rather than a mode of transport.
At Disney World on the other hand, it’s pretty much impossible to get around in a single visit. The parks are huge (Animal Kingdom alone covers 500 acres), so even if you purchase a park hopper ticket you may find it a struggle to get around more than one park per day.
If you would like to visit multiple theme parks, you can take advantage of Disney World’s complimentary network of monorails, buses and boats. Be aware though that these require long waiting and travel times.
The amount of time you need
If you’re comparing Disney World vs Disneyland, another significant difference is the amount of time you’ll need to do everything. You can spend a long weekend at Disneyland and conquer everything in around 3 or 4 days. Disney World requires a week or even longer to get a good feel for everything it has to offer. In fact, you could probably spend a month at the resort and still not have time to do everything.
Disney World vs Disneyland location
While both resorts are located in year-round sunny climates, one major difference between them is their location. The Disneyland resort is in Anaheim, surrounded on the western side by the Downtown Disney entertainment district and on the other 3 sides by public roads that are packed with shops, restaurants and hotels.
Disney World is located in a sprawling purpose-built area in Bay Lake and is surrounded by scenic land that is owned by the Walt Disney Company. Despite its vast boundaries, Disney World is just a 30-minute drive from Orlando International Airport and 20 miles southwest of Orlando.
On average there are around 280 sunny days per year in Disneyland, California, and the July high is around 85F. Disney World in Orlando has around 230 sunny days and its July high is a roasting 92F.
Disneyland vs Disney World rides
Disneyland Park and Magic Kingdom are both very similar in terms of layout and attractions. Both have classic rides Space Mountain, Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Road, Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion. Both also have a scenic Main Street that leads to the castle in the middle of the park.
However, even these 2 similar parks have many differences. Disneyland Park has the Indiana Jones Adventure and the Matterhorn Bobsleds: Magic Kingdom has the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and the Carousel of Progress, an audio-animatronics show that Disney designed himself.
If it’s speed you’re after, Disney World claims the fastest ride: Test Track. Guests get to design their own virtual vehicle then take off on a banked track where you can race at speeds of 60+ mph. The rates of acceleration combined with the special effects provide an instant adrenaline rush.
There are few shared attractions between California Adventure and Disney World’s other parks. At California Adventure, for example, the entire Cars Land is unique to Anaheim.
Over at Disney World, one-of-a-kind-rides include Spaceship Earth, World of Avatar and Kilimanjaro Safaris. There are also unique areas, such as Toy Story land.
If you’re comparing Disney World vs Disneyland in terms of rides, there are about 30 attractions which are unique to Disneyland compared to around 26 at Disney World.
Space Mountain Disney World vs Disneyland
Special interest is often paid to the Space Mountain ride at both parks, as it is one of the most popular coasters overall. At both parks, Space Mountain is renowned for making you feel like you are going a lot faster than you actually are, using a method of quick acceleration and sudden turns. However, Disneyland’s Space Mountain is actually ever so slightly faster; achieving speeds of up to 32mph, whereas the Space Mountain at Disney World hits 30mph.
Although Disneyland was built before Disney World, it was the latter who was the first to offer Space Mountain, which was built in 1975. Two years later, in 1977, the Space Mountain at Disneyland was then built.
Both are an indoor attraction, completely in the dark and both packed full of incredible sensory effects that make you feel like you are rocketing through the universe. However, die-hard Disney fans who have been lucky enough to visit both parks and ride both Space Mountains, have often claimed the Disneyland coaster as the winner, due to a smoother ride, darker experience, and immersion on a completely different level to Disney World thanks to the speakers in the headrests.
Disneyland castle vs Disney World castle
An incredible castle is probably the first thing you think of when you hear the words “Disneyland” or “Disney World”. But did you know they are completely different between the two parks?
Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle is the original Disney castle and the favorite for many theme park enthusiasts. Located in the Magic Kingdom, it stands at 77 feet tall and features a walkthrough with winding passageways, 3D displays and stunning special effects.
However, Cinderella’s castle at Disney World stands at almost twice the size of the Sleeping Beauty castle. It stands at a soaring 189 feet tall, and it is the first thing you see when you enter Magic Kingdom park. It is surrounded by a moat, and inside, you can find the immersive and beautiful Cinderella’s Royal Table restaurant, a boutique, and there is even an extra special hidden suite, not allowed to be seen by Disney World visitors.
Best time of the year to visit Disneyland and Disney World
For the best time to visit, take into consideration the combination of weather, crowds and prices. If you visit either park during the holidays you should expect large crowds and long queues. There’s more on the best time to visit Disney World in this guide.
If you’re booking a vacation, another thing to consider is the cost. Generally, the cheapest time to go is outside of term time and federal holidays. While it’s notoriously expensive and hectic to travel during school holidays, you’ll make great savings if you buck the trend and go off peak.
Disneyland vs Disney World cost
For both resorts, buying tickets can get a little confusing. Both offer a one-park-per-day ticket option or a park hopper ticket, which allows you to visit multiple parks in a day for a slightly higher rate. At both parks, the per-day cost of tickets decreases when you buy a multi-day ticket.
Things get a little more complicated at Disney World, where ticket prices come in three tiers: value, regular and peak. Basically, if you visit on the most popular days you’ll pay more than if you visit at less crowded times like weekdays. At Disney World, Magic Kingdom tickets are slightly more expensive than tickets to the other three parks.
Disney’s ticket prices are often beaten by specialist ticket agents so it pays to shop around when buying your passes.
When considering cost, it is also a good idea to take into account the price of flights from your location to California or Florida. Make sure you spend some time browsing your dates for both destinations, to work out whether one is more viable than the other. Other things to take into consideration is the accommodation at both locations. Whilst Disney World offers loads more hotels and resorts to stay in the surrounding areas, the prices can be quite steep at both parks. It can quickly add up, especially if you are bringing a large family. To combat this, it’s a good idea to consider the various villas on offer, particularly in Orlando, though they are available around both parks. You can get your whole family under one roof without having to pay extra for more or larger rooms, with facilities available to help you feel comfortable and at home.
Because it’s the larger resort, Disney World has more to offer in terms of its restaurants and dining options. It offers dozens of character dining experiences, and some of its resorts offer exceptional fine-dining dining experiences.
Disneyland is no slouch when it comes to dining either. It offers more than 8,500 food items across its myriad food and beverage locations – and many chefs are graduates of prestigious culinary schools.
Unfortunately though, both Disney World Orlando and Disneyland California do not offer dining plans which enable guests to make additional savings at various restaurants throughout the parks, so be prepared to pay full price for your meals. Alternatively, you are allowed to bring your own food and drink into both sites – just make sure you notify security as you go in of what you have.
Another big difference between Disney World and Disneyland are their histories. The Anaheim resort was Disney’s original theme park and the only one built under Walt Disney’s direct supervision. Because of this, it has more of a classic feel and many fans have a sentimental attachment to it. He even rode some of the rides. The Disneyland Railroad, which gives guests an overall view of the park, was Disney’s personal favorite.
Attractions, shows, shopping and entertainment
All in all, Disney World in Orlando encompasses 4 theme parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom), 2 water parks (Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon), 28 resort hotels and the sprawling Disney Springs shopping and dining district. It’s also home to the ESPN Wide World of Sports, a campground, 4 golf courses, parking lots and the Reedy Creek Improvement District (an area of land around the parks).
Disneyland has 2 theme parks (Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure), 3 hotels and the Downtown Disney shopping and dining neighborhood. It also has parking areas for both guests and staff.
Disneyland and Disney World Shows
Like the rides, you’ll be able to see some of the same shows at both parks including Fantasmic, Turtle Talk with Crush and It’s Tough to be a Bug.
Only Disney World can lay claim to shows like Happily Ever After, Illuminations, Mickey’s Philharmonic, Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage and Finding Nemo the Musical.
Unique shows at Disneyland include Remember Dreams Come True, World of Color and Frozen Live at the Hyperion.
Shopping & entertainment
The shopping districts at both parks used to be called Downtown Disney. However, in 2014 the Orlando-based district began a massive renovation and in 2015 it was re-named as Disney Springs.
Both locations offer plenty of shopping, dining and entertainment options, however Disney Springs is triple the size of its Californian counterpart. In addition, it hosts many attractions that you won’t find at Downtown Disney, such as Characters in Flight and La Nouba by Cirque du Soleil.
Disney World boasts 3 championship golf courses and 1 beautiful 9-hole course. The Lake Buena Vista course in Disney Springs has hosted the PGA Tour, the LPGA Tour and USGA events. The Magnolia course is certified as a Cooperative Wildlife Sanctuary and is 4-star rated by Golf Digest. If you’re not up for the bigger courses, Disney World also offers 3 miniature golf courses. You can also go golfing in California, just not at Disneyland.
It may surprise you to hear but there are no water parks at Disneyland California. You’ll find water-based rides such as Grizzly River Run and Splash Mountain but if you’re after some full-on water park fun then head to Disney World for its 2 huge water parks.
Ranked as some of the best water parks in the world, Disney World’s Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon offer hundreds of family friendly thrills and spills. Admission isn’t automatically included in your ticket price – you have to purchase water park tickets separately or add them as an option.
Star Wars Disney World vs Disneyland
In recent years, both Disneyland and Disney World have opened a brand new zone at their parks, both called Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, with the same rides; Stars Wars: Rise of the Resistance, and Star Wars: Smuggler’s Run. They both are set over around 14 acres each, and essentially, do not have enough differences for either to be considered superior over the other. If you are a Star Wars fan, you certainly will not be disappointed by either, and won’t be missing out on anything if you select one over the other to visit.
Disneyland vs Disney World attendance
The latest visitation statistic available for Disneyland in California, shows that the park was visited by a total 1.19 million people in 2020. For Disney World in Orlando, that number climbs to a whopping 6.94 million visitors in 2020, which also makes it the most visited theme park of that year, with visitor numbers generally increasing every single year.
Other useful resources
If you’re thinking of booking a Disney vacation and you need advice on where to stay then contact us today. Additionally, our dedicated concierge team can arrange any added extras you need such as great value car hire and attraction tickets.
You can see all of our villas near Disney World here – and all of our villas near Disneyland here.
We go to Disneyland once a year or so but just got back from our second trip to WDW. I think the Magic Kingdom food is a ton better than Disneyland, and I loved the MagicBands and FP+ once I figured out how to make it work best for our family!
Thanks for reading!