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Top 10 Differences Between Disney World and Disneyland

Every year, millions of tourists flock to Walt Disney World and Disneyland, two iconic global destinations. The perpetual question among visitors remains: which triumphs, Walt Disney World or Disneyland?

Despite the assumption of identical experiences, these resorts diverge significantly. While similarities exist, unique differences set them apart, offering distinct appeals for exploration and enjoyment.

Walt Disney World and Disneyland present enchanting experiences with exclusive features catering to varied preferences. Whether you seek a vast resort with many attractions or a more intimate park filled with a rich history, both locations promise indelible memories for visitors spanning all age groups.

10. Size

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.

In Orlando, Florida, Walt Disney World has numerous theme parks, including the Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. Each park has its own distinct theme and attractions, making it easy for visitors to find something that suits their interests.

Walt Disney World offers a wide range of accommodation choices, catering to all budget preferences, including economical hotels and upscale resorts, along with diverse dining selections and entertainment offerings.

Disneyland, situated in Anaheim, California, stands in stark contrast to Disney World with its smaller size and two parks: Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure. Even though it may lack the vast expanse of its counterpart, Disneyland boasts a rich history and a distinctive charm that captivates many visitors.

Disneyland is the only park Walt Disney himself visited, making it a must-see for Disney fans. Disneyland has a unique atmosphere and is known for its classic attractions, such as the Matterhorn Bobsleds and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.

9. Location

While both resorts are located in year-round sunny and warm climates, one thing that stands out is 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 his goal with the park.

To ensure that didn’t occur with Disney World, Walt Disney adopted a clever strategy. He established discreet “dummy” corporations to acquire 43 square miles of land, preventing any opportunistic developers from exploiting the Disney brand.

The cheesy neon lights are gone today, 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. Book a trip to Walt Disney World instead if you’d rather not have to see the “real world” while on vacation.

8. Transportation

When traveling from Orlando International Airport (MCO) to Walt Disney World, an efficient option is to utilize Mears Connect, the current transportation service succeeding Disney’s Magical Express. In addition, travelers can choose from various private car services, rental cars, or ride-sharing options for their convenience.

At Walt Disney World, guests benefit from complimentary transportation services that efficiently navigate the vast resort, connecting resorts to different destinations such as the various parks. The comprehensive transportation network includes buses, Skyliners, water taxis, and pedestrian pathways, presenting visitors with various travel choices for effortless exploration within the expansive property.

Given Disneyland’s smaller size, traveling between hotels on the property and the parks is much easier and doesn’t require a complex transportation system. Guests 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 can even board 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 two parks: Disneyland Park and California Adventure. Walt Disney World is home to The Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. If you are 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 your dream vacation means a ride with The Seven Dwarfs, then Walt Disney World is where you need to be.

6. Accommodations

Disneyland Resort offers just three hotels on the 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 guests discounted rates and transportation to and from the parks.

Walt Disney World has over 20 hotels to choose from for every budget. Hotels are divided into three categories: Value, Moderate, and Deluxe, so you have plenty of options to suit your particular preference. Guests 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 visiting The Disneyland Resort in sunny Southern California would automatically mean water parks; sadly, that’s not the case. Yes, there are many 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 park’s 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 isn’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 used 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 seen them all” would be the misstatement 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 that shows every night at Paradise Pier.

2. FORE!

Walt Disney World boasts 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 emphasize 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 golf 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 cravings. Walt Disney World requires weeks, longer even, to experience all it offers. 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 you in sunny Orlando or sunny Southern California; Disney is Disney, and there’s enough Pixie Dust to go coast to coast.

BONUS TIP: Consider Undercover Tourist for the best discounted Disney park tickets at Walt Disney World or Disneyland.

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