It’s the question asked from east to west: Walt Disney World or Disneyland? Each destination host millions of guest annually and both offer an amazing experience. First time visitors often make the mistake of thinking these two destinations are exactly the same. They are not. While there are obvious similarities there are also experiences between these two Disney resorts making them just as different.
Disneyland is to Disney World as Lake Ontario is to the Ocean.The most notable difference between the Walt Disney World Resort in Central Florida and the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim California is the size. When making this comparison, there truly isn’t one. Disney World dwarfs Disneyland in size by miles; 43 square miles to be exact. Where Disneyland sits on just over 500 acres the Walt Disney World Resort is the same size as San Francisco, or double the size of Manhattan for you east coast dwellers. Think of Disneyland as charming and Disney World as engulfing.
While both resorts are located in year round sunny and warm climates, one thing that stands out are the locations in proximity to other, non – Disney related properties. When Walt Disney first opened Disneyland in 1955 he couldn’t have imagined the number of hotels and businesses that would pop up around the property. To his dismay, Disneyland became surrounded by a neon jungle of motels and diners that he felt worked against what he wanted to accomplish with the park. To be sure that didn’t happen with Disney World, Walt set up small “dummy” corporations that would purchase 43 miles of property in secret, keeping out developers wishing to take advantage of the Disney reputation.
Today, the cheesy neon lights are gone but Disneyland still lies smack in the middle of a working city. The Imagineers have done an excellent job at keeping the outside world from affecting your experience while inside the gates; so don’t let its location keep you from a visit. If you’d rather not have to see the “real world” while on vacation, then book yourself a trip to Walt Disney World instead.
Walt Disney World offers Disney’s Magical Express to guest flying into Orlando International Airport. Instead of getting a rental, upon arrival you can walk directly down to board a motor-coach that will take you to your resort. Guest check bags at their home departure point and they magically arrive and are waiting for them in their room. In addition, you can take advantage of the complementary transportation on property to get you from your resort, to the parks and any other location.
Given Disneyland’s smaller size, traveling between hotels on property and the parks is much easier and doesn’t require a complex transportation system. Guest staying at a Disneyland hotel can walk to the parks; there’s a special entrance into California Adventure for those staying at The Grand Californian. You even have the option of boarding the monorail in the Downtown Disney district which will drop you off right in Tomorrowland of Disneyland Park. Unfortunately, Disneyland Resort does not offer transfers from the airport. You can rent a car, or book a shuttle — to save travel time, fly into John Wayne Airport (airport code SNA) instead of Los Angeles (LAX). It’s closer, smaller and a lot less crowded.
7. Number of Theme Parks
The Disneyland Resort houses 2 parks: Disneyland Park and California Adventure. Walt Disney World is home to The Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kinddom. If your wondering if there might be any similarities, there are, but they are limited. Even those attractions sharing the same name offer different experiences in each location. For example, Pirates of the Caribbean in Disneyland Park is a longer version offering more drops than its counterpart at Magic Kingdom. Fantasmic is shown at Disneyland Park and Hollywood Studios, but the shows are dramatically different. Do your research, if you’ve been dying to ride Radiator Spring Racers, you’ll only find that at California Adventure. On the other hand, if you dream vacation means a ride with The Seven Dwarfs then Walt Disney World is where you need to be.
Disneyland Resort offers just three hotels on property; Paradise Pier, The Grand Californian and Disneyland Hotel. Don’t be discouraged if they’re all booked up when you want to visit. The Disneyland Resort has partnered with “Good Neighbor Hotels” to offer guest discounted rates and transportation to and from the parks.
Walt Disney World has over 20 hotels to choose from for every budget. Hotels are broken up into three categories, Value, Moderate and Deluxe so you have plenty of options to suit your particular preference. Guest can choose from whimsically themed rooms and well appointed suites. The best part of staying in a Walt Disney World Resort hotel is the free transportation — see number 8.
5. Water Parks!
This may totally surprise you but the closest water park to Disneyland is.. not worth mentioning. You might think that a visit to The Disneyland Resort in sunny Southern California would automatically mean water parks; sadly that’s not the case. Yes there are lots of thrills and shrills of the aquatic kind, they just don’t require swimwear.
On the other hand, Walt Disney World offers two water parks: Disney’s Blizzard Beach and Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon. True to Disney, each park follows a storyline and welcomes guest with lots of wet fun with a side of whimsy. Although located in sunny Florida, the parks operation hours are subject to weather conditions — and they do close for seasonal maintenance. Also, the Water Parks don’t offer character interactions, you won’t see Mickey or Minnie in a swimsuit. Admission to the water parks aren’t automatically included with your resort stay. You can purchase them individually or add them as an option. Make sure you visit at least one during your stay – it’s a splash.
4. Disney Springs versus Downtown Disney
The shopping district outside the parks use to be called Downtown Disney in both locations, but in 2014 Disney imagineers began a massive re-construction and update of the Orlando location and in 2015 re-named it Disney Springs. Both locations offer shopping and dining options, but Disney Springs triples in size comparison. So it offers a lot more options than the Anaheim location. In addition, Disney Springs hosts attractions you can’t find at Downtown Disney. Characters in Flight, Bowling and La Nouba by Cirque du Soleil are just a few of the many entertainment activities you can only find at Disney Springs.
3. Nighttime Spectaculars
To say “if you’ve seen one, you’ve seem them all” would be the mis-statement of the century. Disney fashion calls for the parks to close with epic nighttime productions of fireworks and light displays but the shows between locations couldn’t be more different. At Walt Disney World Illuminations at EPCOT, Fantasmic at Hollywood Studios and Celebrate the Magic at The Magic Kingdom bid you sweet dreams. Disneyland Park also plays Fantasmic; the soundtracks are similar but the shows are definitely not the same. A day at California Adventure wouldn’t be complete without a viewing of World of Color, a spectacle of colored lights on water which shows every night at Paradise Pier.
Walt Disney World boast three championship tour style courses. Disney’s Palm golf course features shimmering lakes, tropical sands, palm trees and sloping greens. Disney’s Lake Buena Vista course, in the Disney Springs area has hosted the PGA Tour, the LPGA Tour and USGA events. This 18-hole course most notably features elevated bunkered greens that put a premium on accurate approach shots. Disney’s Magnolia course, located at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa is the longest of the courses and features spacious greens, elevated tees, and challenging water hazards. Magnolia is Certified by Audubon International as a Cooperative Wildlife Sanctuary and is 4 star rated by Golf Digest. If you aren’t quite ready for your go at the Masters, no worries Disney’s Oak Trail Golf Course is a beautiful 9-hole course with rolling greens and exciting challenges sure to test your skills.
If you still aren’t up for the big challenge, Walt Disney World also offers Fantasia Garden, Fairways and Winter Summerland Miniature Golf courses.
Yes, of course you can go golfing in Southern California, just not at Disney. Sorry.
1. Days Needed for your Disney experience
The number one difference between Walt Disney World and Disneyland is simply the amount of time needed to do everything. Here’s a fact: You can spend a long weekend at The Disneyland Resort and literally do everything. That’s not saying there isn’t a lot to do, but there isn’t so much that it can’t all be conquered in 4 days. In fact, a trip to The Disneyland Resort is the perfect quick getaway if you need to soothe your Disney crave. Walt Disney World requires weeks, longer even to experience all it has to offer. It’s been said, you could spend a month at Walt Disney World and still not do everything.
Whether you choose Disneyland Resort or Walt Disney World, one thing is for sure — you can’t go wrong. It doesn’t matter if your in sunny Orlando or sunny Southern California, Disney is Disney and there’s enough Pixie Dust to go coast to coast.
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