Disneyland vs. Walt Disney World: What’s Different?
My life is strange in that I have many friends in California and others on the East Coast, neither of which interacts with the other often.
So, one of the questions I get asked the most as the Disney Guy in the group cuts both ways.
What are the differences between Disneyland and Walt Disney World? It depends entirely on what you’re used to doing during a park visit.
Here’s what you need to know.
Comparing the Parks
This conversation exists on two levels. First, when comparing Disneyland Resort to Walt Disney World, we’re primarily talking about theme parks.
In this manner, Disneyland and Magic Kingdom mostly mirror one another. Sure, some of the broad strokes are different.
Disneyland hosts New Orleans Square and Mickey’s Toontown. Meanwhile, you’ll find Liberty Square and Storybook Circus at Magic Kingdom.
Similarly, they share attractions like Haunted Mansion and It’s a Small World that are mostly the same.
Still, diehard Disney fans can point out all the differences between the ride variants.
For this reason, Disneyland regulars will notice attraction changes at Magic Kingdom and vice versa.
For older rides, the original form comes from Disneyland. However, in recent years, Magic Kingdom has gotten the first version instead.
Also, you’ll notice that Magic Kingdom has replaced its version of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride in favor of The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.
Overall, Magic Kingdom doesn’t feel the same constraint to honor Walt Disney’s version. He never entered this park, and that gives management more leeway.
At Disneyland, any change must meet the stringent standards of Uncle Walt’s legacy. Still, some updates occur.
To wit, Disneyland has recently introduced Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and Snow White’s Enchanted Wish.
However, I’m only telling half the story here. Disneyland Resort features a second theme park, Disney California Adventure.
Walt Disney World hosts three more parks: EPCOT, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom.
As such, you’ll find plenty more to do when you visit Walt Disney World. But, conversely, you can do more in a shorter time frame at Disneyland.
A Disney veteran can do everything at Disneyland Resort in three days. An Orlando visit should require twice that amount.
Let’s Talk about Walking and Crowds
Walt Disney nearly went bankrupt in building Disneyland. Then, almost immediately, he realized he needed more land but couldn’t afford it.
Once the Happiest Place on Earth opened, real estate prices skyrocketed. As a result, the parks have never claimed the land Disney wanted.
Fortunately, the entrepreneur learned from his mistake and bought a massive land stake in Central Florida.
For a park guest, the difference in scale between the parks plays out in several forms.
At Walt Disney World, traveling between the parks requires a lot of overhead. So you’ll take a bus, boat, monorail, or Disney Skyliner.
You may need 20-30 minutes to switch parks, not including the time spent walking to and from the entrance gates at each location.
Conversely, Disneyland works seamlessly. The gates face each other, meaning you can pick where you want to go from a central location.
Overall, you’ll walk MUCH less at Disneyland than Walt Disney World. Like, it’s not even close.
Animal Kingdom on its own is three times larger than Disneyland and Disney California Adventure combined!
Obviously, you’ll rack up more Fitbit mileage in Orlando than Anaheim. However, Texas may be on to something. Bigger is better in some ways.
You’ll face more congestion at Disneyland than even at Magic Kingdom. I can even show this statistically.
In 2019, 18.7 million guests visited Disneyland, a 100-acre theme park. Contrast that to Magic Kingdom, where 20.96 million people entered a 142-acre park.
That’s 512 guests per acre at Disneyland versus 404 guests per acre at Magic Kingdom.
Remember that Walt Disney World comes with twice the park options as well. So yes, even though the Orlando campus hosts more guests, it’s less congested.
So, you’ll walk less at Disneyland but also feel a bit more crowded during a park visit.
Other Parts of the Resorts
Those spatial limitations at Disneyland Resort come into play in other ways.
Downtown Disney, the entertainment district, resides within walking distance of the parks. However, it’s MUCH smaller than Disney Springs.
The Walt Disney World version of the same concept, Disney Springs, spreads across four sections, with more than 100 shops and restaurants.
In truth, the spatial differences between the two resorts will blow your mind.
You can exit Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa and be 20 steps away from an ice cream parlor at Downtown Disney.
Meanwhile, at Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa, a 10-minute walk or five-minute boat ride will take you to Disney Springs.
As a reminder, the SELLING POINT of Saratoga Springs is its proximity to Disney Springs. That’s how much different a perspective people have about Walt Disney World.
In Orlando, Disney operates more than 20 official resorts. At Disneyland, you’ll find three of them, all of which are relatively close to one another.
Disney also controls much more of the surrounding land at its Orlando campus, which has led to gorgeous maintenance of the region.
Conservationists admire the beauty of the former swampland that is Walt Disney World.
Conversely, Disneyland owns little of the property immediately surrounding the parks. So, it’s cluttered and not as Disney as you probably expect.
Moving around the Parks
Then, there’s traffic and driving. In Orlando, I-4 is undoubtedly a nightmare at times, but Disney controls enough that buses receive special consideration.
You’ll drive 10-15 minutes to travel between parks and resorts. It’s not as aggravating as it sounds,
The problem is getting a bus in the first place, which can prove frustrating.
At Disneyland, once you’re at the resort, you can walk everywhere. So, its logistics are superior.
Park officials set up Disneyland’s infrastructure so well that the monorail here is just for show. At Walt Disney World, it’s a valued part of the transportation system.
Where Are the Better Rides?
Quick! Name your favorite child, pet, and parent! Yeah, it’s about the same thing as stating which Disney park features better rides.
As mentioned, most of them are similar anyway. Sure, one version of Haunted Mansion goes up while the other goes down.
One Buzz Lightyear prefers Astro Blasters, while the other features a Space Ranger Spin. And yes, Magic Kingdom lacks Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.
Overall, the variances between the parks aren’t significant, though. Perhaps the best Disneyland exclusives are Matterhorn Bobsleds and Indiana Jones Adventure.
Meanwhile, Magic Kingdom offers Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. But, of course, that’s only comparing Disneyland to Magic Kingdom.
Realistically, Walt Disney World wins on volume alone. Its four parks offer several other exclusives like Expedition Everest, Test Track, and Slinky Dog Dash.
The newest rides also belong to Orlando’s parks, as Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway and Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure debuted in 2020 and 2021.
However, in Disneyland’s favor, several of its opening day attractions remain. So during a visit here, you can appreciate Walt Disney’s vision.
I mean, a ride on Jungle Cruise takes you back to the time when it impressed guests as a realistic journey down Earth’s mightiest rivers!
On the whole, I’d strongly suggest a visit to Disneyland AND Walt Disney World at some point.
Each vacation destination comes with its own strengths. Any self-respecting Disney fan should experience both at some point.
One of the benefits of Disneyland is that you can spend a three-day weekend here and do most of what you’d like.
Walt Disney World counts as more of a full vacation destination, in my opinion.