Walt Disney World versus Disneyland is a fierce fan debate, with each side swearing their home parks are superior. For those wondering whether to take a vacation to the California or Florida parks, the actual answer which is better is: it depends. This digs deeper, weighing weather, rides & entertainment, crowds, costs, convenience, and more to determine what’s best for you. (Updated June 25, 2023.)
This is a highly divisive subject and these comparisons commonly are thinly veiled attempts to assert one resort’s superiority over the other. To be frank, it often devolves into pettiness and trolling, which isn’t exactly helpful if you’re trying to decide whether to choose Florida or California for your vacation. Rather than inciting controversy, we’ll attempt to analyze the actual differences between a trip to Walt Disney World and a trip to Disneyland Resort.
First timers probably don’t understand why this is such a controversial topic among Disney fans (or care). Despite both resorts being owned by the same company (this isn’t exactly Coke versus Pepsi), many fans of Walt Disney World dislike Disneyland and refuse to see its charm or appeal. The same also works in reverse, with Disneyland diehards having no interest in the Florida Project’s “blessing of size.” The best way to describe it would be like a second-hand sibling rivalry, or if the Buffalo Bills and Sabres were rivals (same city and owner). Those comparisons may not make sense, which about sums up this whole pointless clash of the coasts between Disney theme park fans.
Our hope is to offer as objective of a comparison as possible, and think we’re uniquely situated to do that. We are both lifelong Walt Disney World fans who consider that our “home” resort, we’ve lived near the parks (under 30 minutes, depending upon traffic) on both coasts, and also done dozens of trips to each as tourists. We love both for different reasons–each have strengths and weaknesses.
With that said, this article is in response to questions from casual guests, so it’s geared towards those guests and diehard Disney fans like us. If you’re a veteran of one coast or another, we highly recommend you visit the other coast–an article explaining why probably isn’t necessary.
As for casual guests, a note on sometimes confusing vernacular. Walt Disney World Resort includes four theme parks: Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. Disneyland Resort includes two theme parks: Disney California Adventure and Disneyland Park. Most fans drop the “resort” when discussing Walt Disney World or Disneyland, which can be confusing since the latter is both the complex and a specific park.
With that in mind, let’s try to compare these apples and oranges to help those who haven’t visited both determine whether they’re more of an apple or an orange person when it comes to the U.S. Disney theme park complexes…
The nature of your vacation is probably the most important aspect of determining whether Disneyland or Walt Disney World is right for you. If your style is quick, weekend getaways, then the smaller footprint and walkable nature of the Disneyland Resort accommodates these trips better. By contrast, an international guest wanting to take a 21 day vacation focused solely on Disney probably is going to have a better time at Walt Disney World.
When pitching his Florida Project, Walt Disney discussed the “blessing of size” it would offer. It’s fair to say the size of Walt Disney World is both a blessing and a curse. In the “blessing” column, you have the sheer scope and scale of Walt Disney World. There are 4 theme parks, 2 water parks, 25 Disney-owned hotels, and other assorted entertainment and shopping at Walt Disney World.
Walt Disney World truly feels like a place where you can take an all-inclusive vacation. You can only spend so much time in the theme parks, but you could easily spend a full week doing other things at Walt Disney World. It’s much more of a destination resort. If you want to take a long Disney vacation, this is a definite advantage for Walt Disney World. (Heck, we lived near Walt Disney World for several years, were in the parks almost every day, and still haven’t done it all!)
In the “curse” column, because of its size and spread out nature, getting from place to place at Walt Disney World can be very time consuming, regardless of whether you rent a car or rely upon Walt Disney World transportation (although it’s typically worse if you rely on them).
Park Hopping requires no less than a 30 minute commute and getting to a restaurant in a resort hotel requires the same–and these are just minimums. While relying on Disney transportation, we’ve wasted well over an hour trying to get to dinner. If you’re taking a shorter trip or Disney is only one element of your vacation, all of this wasted time can be seriously off-putting.
Park Hopping at Disneyland Resort takes 5 minutes or less, and can be accomplished on foot. Commuting time is minimal at Disneyland Resort, but there is much less to do. Most people are not going to be able to spend a full week at the California parks. Disneyland Resort is much better geared towards short trips, or trips that incorporate more than just Disney theme parks. You can do virtually all there is to do at Disneyland in about 5 days, tops.
Resorts & Hotels
Disneyland Resort has three on-site hotels, all three of which are within walking distance of both parks and two of which are fantastic–among the top 10 (if not top 5) Disney hotels in the United States. If money were no object and I could choose any resort at Walt Disney World or Disneyland, I’d pick Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel.
With that said, Walt Disney World has approximately two-dozen resort hotels and almost all of these are compelling options in one way or another. There’s a ton more variety, themed environments, unique transportation, pools, dining, and more. Many of the Moderate and Deluxe Resorts at Walt Disney World are destinations unto themselves, and the various resort areas have their own unique draws.
Even the Grand Californian has a comparable counterpart–Wilderness Lodge–which is one of many superlative hotel options at Walt Disney World. That’s to say nothing of Animal Kingdom Lodge, Grand Floridian, Polynesian, Beach Club, BoardWalk, Yacht Club, Port Orleans, Caribbean Beach, and many others.
In short, there’s way more for resort enthusiasts in Florida. It’s a similar story with both hotels and dining–the top is strong on both coasts, but Walt Disney World wins by virtue of volume. It probably won’t matter to those doing a 5-day or weeklong trip, but the differences certainly emerge over the course of longer vacations or repeat visits.
(Frankly, it feels like we’re not doing this section justice. The variety of resorts and themes is the single-biggest selling point of Walt Disney World for us as regular, repeat visitors. See our Rankings of ALL Walt Disney World Hotels from Worst to Best. Even the “worst” on that list really we options we love–there’s a reason for the air quotes. However, we recognize that this post is aimed at first-timers or infrequent visitors, and we recognize the reality that resort variety does not matter nearly as much to you as it does us.)
Where Disneyland “wins” is for those who are planning to stay off-site. Off-site hotels at Disneyland Resort are much more conveniently located to the parks than off-site Walt Disney World hotels–or even most Value and Moderate Resorts that are on-site. The photo above was taken from a third party hotel across the street from Disneyland. Many of these offer rooms with Matterhorn, monorail, or fireworks views.
There are about a dozen hotels on Harbor Boulevard that are as long of a walk to Disneyland and Disney California Adventure as the Contemporary is to Magic Kingdom. It’s impossible to compare these “real world” hotels to on-site options at Walt Disney World. Suffice to say, each have their pros & cons–and a lot of WDW diehards are going to find the “Disney Bubble” punctured this year, regardless.
The pricing of hotels at Disneyland vs. Walt Disney World is another point in Disneyland’s favor. There are several options from the top of our Disneyland Area Hotel Reviews & Rankings that are priced under $150 per night. Even the new JW Marriott and Westin Anaheim luxury hotels are cheaper than Moderate Resorts at Walt Disney World. Those are real world nice, not just Disney nice.
The bottom line is that Walt Disney World has a larger number of excellent on-site Disney-owned options, but Disneyland has cheaper walking distance hotels. In addition to that, good real world restaurants can be reached in under 15 minutes by foot from Disneyland. Same goes for CVS and Walgreen’s for groceries and other things. Many Disneyland-area hotels also have very good free breakfast buffets, so that’s one meal you won’t need to buy.
Given the above differences, a direct dining comparison is difficult to accomplish. Walt Disney World simply has more restaurants by virtue of its size. This is especially true of nice dining options in the Disney-owned resort hotels. If you want to do a lot of fine dining and plan on visiting the resort hotels, Walt Disney World is the clear winner here. Of course, this requires time.
As mentioned, getting to some of these Walt Disney World hotels can be difficult, and if you believe that you realistically won’t make it to these hotels, the gap narrows. Walt Disney World still has more nice, in-park table service restaurants. Plus, many of the best out-of-park restaurants are easy to access via monorail or walking from EPCOT’s International Gateway.
Walt Disney World has also seen a surge in quality third party dining in the last few years thanks to the rejuvenation of its ‘downtown’ district, Disney Springs. The slate of table service options at Disney Springs is really stellar, and far superior to Downtown Disney in Anaheim. Really, no matter how you slice it, if nice table service dining is a focus of your vacation, Walt Disney World has the edge.
If you’re planning on eating at most only a few nice meals regardless of where you go, the dining difference becomes minimal. You will be hard pressed to pick three restaurants at Walt Disney World better than the top three restaurants at Disneyland Resort: Carthay Circle Restaurant, Napa Rose, and Award Wieners. (See our List of the Best 23 Restaurants at Disneyland for other recommendations.)
Disneyland has made massive strides to improve the quality of its counter service dining in recent years, but with those improvements there has been some backsliding, and also massive price increases–to the point that many of the best counter service options are now priced akin to table service restaurants.
Still, counter service dining is slightly superior at Disneyland Resort, which has many standout options that rival table service restaurants. Reasonable minds may vary on this, and arguments can be made in support of Disneyland or Walt Disney World having the superior options in this regard. Regardless of which you prefer, the quality difference is now minimal.
The bottom line is that you now can find great counter service options in both Disneyland and Walt Disney World–there’s so much “beyond burgers” and the normal theme park fare at both.
In the Disney vernacular, attractions encompasses rides, stage shows, and more. Basically, anything listed on a park map that isn’t a restaurant or gift shop. Since Walt Disney World has double the theme parks of Disneyland, it would stand to reason that it also has significantly more attractions. This is not the case.
Depending upon what you count, there are approximately 88 attractions in Walt Disney World and approximately 67 in Disneyland. Again, that number varies depending upon what you include, but regardless of what’s included, the difference in the number of major attractions in Walt Disney World and Disneyland is about 20.
Which has the better attractions is a matter of taste (more on this later), but the attraction density the Disneyland Resort parks is higher. There are numerous inferences that can be drawn from this. The fact is that the average guest can only hit so many attractions per day, and that number is typically less than the number of attractions in Disneyland.
This means that it’s a question of whether you’d rather spend multiple days completing a single park or multiple days completing multiple parks. For example, it might take you two days to do Disneyland, whereas you could “complete” Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Disney’s Animal Kingdom (combined) in a single day. This has led to some fans to describe either or both of these as “half day parks.”
Animal Kingdom is incredibly unique thanks to its zoological theme and Pandora – World of Avatar. However, it’s still painfully lacking in attractions and has no nighttime spectacular. Sure, many of us Disney fans love the park, but there’s a reason it typically clears out after 3 pm–most average guests run out of things to do.
Regardless of the raw attraction numbers and the distribution of those attractions, we think it’s fair to say that the average guest will spend at least one day more satisfactorily completing the Walt Disney World theme parks than it would take to satisfactorily complete the Disneyland Resort theme parks.
For us, that means 4 days in the theme parks at Walt Disney World and 3 days at the theme parks in Disneyland Resort. The total number of days you spend in the theme parks will likely vary, but we think this +1 day difference assumption will more or less hold true.
In terms of attraction quality, this is also highly subjective and intensely debated. In terms of the big picture, the attractions that are typically considered iconic Disney attractions exist on both coasts. Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, Toy Story Mania, Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, ‘it’s a small world’, Jungle Cruise, Mad Tea Party, Big Thunder Mountain, Enchanted Tiki Room, and others exist at Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World.
In fact, the list of overlapping “big name” attractions in Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resort is so long that most first-time guests might not even notice a significant difference in attractions at Walt Disney World versus Disneyland Resort. Then there are newer lands, like Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, that were built simultaneously at DLR and WDW and are almost identical.
There are plenty of differences, though. Two super-headliners at Disneyland Resort that are considered to have no equals at Walt Disney World are Indiana Jones Adventure and Radiator Springs Racers. Less significantly, there’s also Guardians of the Galaxy Mission Breakout and Web Slingers Spider-Man Adventure.
Many popular attractions existing in both locations are considered superior at Disneyland Resort. The most prominent examples of this are Pirates of the Caribbean (which is noticeably longer at Disneyland), Space Mountain, and ‘it’s a small world’. Disneyland also has more rides in its Fantasyland, including Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Storybook Land Canal Boats, Snow White’s Enchanted Wish, Casey Jr., Pinocchio’s Daring Journey, and Alice in Wonderland.
Disney California Adventure has Cars Land (where Radiator Springs Racers is located), which has proven a huge draw, especially for parents with kids who are fans of the film Cars. It’s really like walking into that movie. It also has the Avengers Campus Marvel land, but we aren’t inclined to call that a huge draw like Cars Land.
Walt Disney World has its own advantages, and a number of experiences that don’t exist at Disneyland. Virtually all of Disney’s Animal Kindom is unique to Walt Disney World, and anyone who loves animals will likely enjoy the many zoological attractions in this park that include Kilimanjaro Safaris, Maharajah Jungle Trek, Flights of Wonder, and Rafiki’s Planet Watch.
There are also other unique attractions here, such as Expedition Everest, Dinosaur (which uses the same ride system as Indiana Jones Adventure, but is decidedly different), Finding Nemo: The Musical (Big Blue & Beyond), and Festival of the Lion King. EPCOT also has many attractions that can’t be found at Disneyland Resort, and its World Showcase nations are a big draw for adults interested in eating or drinking their way around the world.
Walt Disney World has also gained tremendous ground on this front in the last decade. While all of the “best” attractions used to be found on both coasts, or just at Disneyland, there are now a ton of rides that are exclusive to Walt Disney World (at least in the United States). This includes two blockbuster thrill rides in Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind at EPCOT and TRON Lightcycle Run at Magic Kingdom.
It also includes a variety of family friendly attractions, such as Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, Frozen Ever After, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, and Slinky Dog Dash. Then there’s Pandora – World of Avatar, which includes an exhilarating ride in Avatar Flight of Passage and a relaxed one in Na’vi River Journey.
In terms of nighttime spectaculars, both Disneyland and Magic Kingdom have exceptional fireworks shows that are very similar to one another. Happily Ever After at Magic Kingdom perfected the concept of a modern montage show with a throughline and compelling motifs. Wondrous Journeys at Disneyland pulled from that playbook to produce its own show that is similarly spectacular. It’s almost impossible to choose a winner between the two–both are 10/10 nighttime spectaculars.
When it comes to other nighttime spectaculars, both Disneyland and Hollywood Studios have versions of Fantasmic that are superlative. Disneyland used to win in a landslide, but the ‘heroes’ segment with Aladdin, Frozen, and Moana added to the version at DHS makes it of comparable quality.
Over at DCA, there’s also World of Color, a jaw-dropping display of colorful fountains centered around a montage of Disney films. EPCOT is the other park at Walt Disney World with a nighttime spectacular, and it’ll have something that promises to be big and bold starting in late 2023 for the kickoff of the Disney100 festivities there.
As a general rule, the maintenance of attractions is better at Disneyland Resort. This is not a hard and fast rule, and if you’re a first time visitor to either, chances are you won’t even notice a difference. This is a variable that really only affects astute eyes.
The differences in attractions between Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resort can be pretty substantial to serious fans, but which has the better slate is going to vary from person to person depending upon that person’s unique interests. I find the lack of a Peoplemover and relaxing Audio-Animatronics shows like Country Bear Jamboree, American Adventure, and Carousel of Progress to be Disneyland’s biggest faults. However, I recognize that these are things that appeal to me more than the average guest, so I don’t think they bear mentioning when highlighting the biggest differences.
We could spend thousands of words covering all of the many differences in attractions between Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World, but even such a thorough list would offer little assistance in determining which is better for you on the basis of attractions because you might have some quirky individual preference that’s missed completely by the list. All things considered, we think most guests will fairly equal enjoy the attractions at Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resort.
The most commonly cited difference in ambiance is by way of the castles in each of the “Castle Parks” (Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom). Cinderella Castle in the Magic Kingdom is best described as large and grandiose. Sleeping Beauty Castle in Disneyland is best described as small and charming. The debate on which is “better” could rage forever, and we think it depends upon which you experience first.
These castles are also indicative of the overall ambiance of Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resort. In general, Walt Disney World is large and grandiose. Everything is more spread out, the parks occupy larger spaces, and everything is flat out big. Disneyland Resort occupies less space and in general things just seem smaller.
Which you prefer is going to be a matter of personal preference. Some people think Walt Disney World is sterile, and Disneyland is intimate. Some people think Walt Disney World is spacious, and Disneyland is claustrophobic.
Beyond that, as touched upon above, Walt Disney World is isolated from the real world. If you stay in an on-site, Disney-owned hotel there, you’ll be in the “Disney Bubble” for the duration of your trip. Some people love this (us included). Contrast the sea of trees beyond the berm at Magic Kingdom in the photo above with the third party hotels, freeways, apartments, and Angel Stadium behind Cars Land at DCA in the photo below.
It’s possible to escape the real world at Disneyland Resort, but this illusion breaks down from time to time as the parks are bordered by Anaheim and the greater Los Angeles metro area just outside of the parks. Some people love this, as access to the real world (and its cheaper food and amenities) is important to them. By contrast, the “Disney Bubble” buffer makes escapism easier in Florida, but the trade-off is that it makes commuting around the massive resort more time consuming.
There’s another angle of this that’s worth addressing if you’re staying off-site at Disneyland, which is safety. Many Americans visit the Disney theme parks because they offer a veil of fantasy and escapism. The parks are predictable, clean, and safe in ways that differ from most other vacation destinations.
Disneyland is part of a real city, and Anaheim has the same issues of any city its size (10th largest in California and 55th largest in the United States). If you’re staying in an off-site hotel and walking to the parks, you will likely see homelessness, street vendors, and possibly protestors. Depending upon where you stay, you also might have to cross interstate on/off ramps.
If you’re from a small or suburban town, you may find the city streets jarring and experience a bit of culture shock in Anaheim. None of this is necessarily unsafe (despite being part of the metro area, Anaheim is nothing like Los Angeles) and we’ve never had any actual issues, but you might find it uncomfortable or unsettling. (On a semi-related note, if any of this is a concern, consider flying into SNA rather than LAX. Not because LAX is unsafe, but because it’s totally chaotic and nothing like your home airport.)
Back inside the parks, there are numerous other specific differences in atmosphere. Places like the World Showcase in EPCOT, the gritty and realistic countries in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, New Orleans Square in Disneyland, and Cars Land or Avengers Campus in Disney California Adventure–among just about every other land in each of the parks–all of their own distinct ambiance that can be a specific draw to specific people.
Disneyland Resort also has more live entertainment (which could be counted in the “attractions” section above, but I consider these random entertainers more about ambiance than anything else), but there is live entertainment in all of parks being compared.
Both Walt Disney World and Disneyland, for lack of a better term, have that aura of “Disney magic” to them, and you don’t get a lesser experience in terms of this by going to either. Fans of one or the other might argue otherwise, contending on opposite sides that Walt Disney World is more magical because it was what Walt Disney envisioned to “fix” the errors of Disneyland.
Meanwhile, Southern Californians argue that Disneyland is more magical because it’s the only theme park that has Walt Disney’s personal touch on it (Disneyland is the only finished park Walt Disney ever set foot in). This is fanboy fodder–a regular guest is going to have an equally enjoyable experience in either location.
There is no noticeable difference in Cast Members. Many people claim there is, but they base these claims on anecdotal negative experiences in one location or the other–it’s almost as if they have an axe to grind as a result of a single negative encounter.
We have resided in each Orange County (Florida and California), been bicoastal Annual Passholders for over a decade, and spent (literally) over a year inside the parks at both Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resort. We are confident in saying that most Cast Members are great everywhere. There are a few bad apples on both coasts, too.
With that said, there are some slight differences in the demeanor of Cast Members. Walt Disney World has a colossal College Program and International Programs, which ensure a steady supply of fresh-faced young people who are energetic and also a bit inexperienced. These individuals are usually cheery and positive to a greater degree than the average ‘seasoned’ Cast Member on either coast. By contrast, most Cast Members at Disneyland are Californians, who tend to be more laid back and passive.
So if your impression is that many Cast Members at Walt Disney World are more enthusiastic and energetic, whereas more at Disneyland are casual and calm…that’s more or less accurate. But it’s also not representative of all Cast Members, and none of those traits are necessarily positive or negative–just different.
Suffice to say, if you visit Walt Disney World once, and then visit Disneyland Resort once, you may feel that the Cast Members at one are “better” than those at the other. Increase your sample size to 10 trips to each and you likely won’t feel the same. Cast Members are pretty much the same at both Walt Disney World and Disneyland: excellent, with a few outliers.
Crowds in Disneyland and crowds in Walt Disney World are often–but not always–relatively comparable, just composed of different demographics and with slightly different day-to-day trends. Disneyland has more local Magic Key Annual Passholders whereas Walt Disney World has more tourists. Annual Passholders at Disneyland typically only pose a “problem” for tourists when it comes to the nighttime spectaculars.
Since these guests can visit whenever they want, they have no sense of urgency. Many of them don’t mind dropping in after work with an iPad or book and grabbing a spot for Fantasmic or the fireworks a few hours in advance. However, Walt Disney World’s guest demographic includes the dreaded tour groups.
Whether these be cheerleaders, youth groups, etc., they are large, under-supervised, and often unruly groups. (Get that many kids together with little supervision and their background is irrelevant–they will misbehave.) We have never had any serious issue with these groups, however, there are plenty of horror stories. Chances are that they won’t pose a problem for you, but if you get in a long line right behind one of these groups, even the most patient person may lose their cool by the end of the line.
In practice, these differences in demographics are a relative non-factor. The busy seasons at Disneyland are the busy seasons at Walt Disney World, and the slow seasons are also the same at each, with minor variances. We consider differences in crowds at one versus insignificant.
Florida is the Sunshine State and California has a “Sunshine Tax.” Despite the descriptors, the two have decidedly different weather. The commonality, of course, is the sun. Unfortunately, with the sun in Florida comes humidity, tropical storms, season changes, and regular afternoon rain showers.
Average annual rainfall is about 15 inches in Anaheim (as compared to 50 in Orlando) with far fewer rainy days, less humidity, and fewer storms. It gets hot in Southern California, but it’s normally a dry heat.
In general, the weather is fairly consistent and pleasant year-round in Anaheim. This is one area where ‘it does not depend.’ For most of the year, weather is decidedly better at Disneyland Resort.
As far as in-park costs go, Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World are comparably priced. Ticket prices are about the same, as are food prices and souvenirs. Disneyland Resort does not have multiple hotel tiers, so if you stay at one of the three Disneyland Resort hotels, expect to pay a lot per night of your stay–potentially more than you’d spend on a Deluxe Resort at Walt Disney World.
Again, the big potential difference comes in staying off-site at Disneyland, where you can get a third party hotel within walking distance at a reasonable cost. In fact, we typically pay less for our off-site hotel at Disneyland Resort than we do for our on-site Walt Disney World hotel, and those off-site hotels are, on average, closer to the parks at Disneyland Resort than the hotels at which we stay in Walt Disney World! It’s touched upon above, but it’s important to know that not all Walt Disney World hotels are conveniently located.
At Walt Disney World, you pay a significant premium for convenient locations that make the trip easier. Beyond hotels, there are several scenarios where you’re buying your way out of inconvenience. Aside from Genie+ and Lightning Lanes, that’s not really a thing at Disneyland (and even that can end up costing you less at Disneyland because you really only “need” it for one day, as opposed to 2-3 days at Walt Disney World). The bottom line is that it is usually much cheaper to do a convenient trip to Disneyland–even taking into account the more expensive flights.
Oh, and don’t assume that just because you live closer to one resort complex, that airfare to that one will be cheaper. As a general rule, that seems to be true, but there are exceptions. We often find that airfare can be less expensive to Disneyland than to Walt Disney World. It helps that there are four airports near Disneyland Resort–make sure to check flights into each of them. Other costs are going to vary widely depending upon where you live and what else you plan to do.
Ease of Visiting
This might already be obvious from commentary about, but Disneyland is far easier to visit than Walt Disney World. We’ve often remarked that Walt Disney World is the most overly complicated and unnecessarily convoluted vacation destination we’ve ever visited. If you can “conquer” Walt Disney World, you can travel anywhere–no language barrier, public transit, or other obstacles compare with the morass of rules and procedures at Walt Disney World. Navigating the Tokyo Metro or making Paris museum reservations has nothing on the monster that is Walt Disney World.
What’s mentioned here just scratches the surface. There’s also the 60+10 ADR rule, Early Entry and Extended Evening Hours eligibility, Genie+ and Lightning Lane rules, and so much more. Disneyland has some of this, but it’s usually much more low stakes or intuitive than at Walt Disney World. (There’s a reason we have exponentially more planning posts for Walt Disney World!)
Disneyland is less stressful, more laid-back, and allows for greater spontaneity. The comparative ease of planning a trip to Disneyland is really worth stressing…er, reiterating. In general, the more free-flowing nature of the California parks makes it easier to slow down and enjoy atmospheric entertainment and simply appreciate being there.
The overwhelming majority of the time we visit Disneyland, we don’t make any plans (beyond park reservations) until we arrive. No clue where we’re going to eat, which rides we’re going to do, or how our days will unfold. If you love to plan, there’s still room for that, but it’s less essential, with far more room for spontaneity.
Which is better if you want to do other things beyond the berm of the Disney theme park complexes? Again, that depends. (Really helpful article, right?!) Central Florida has become known as the theme park capital of the world, and this is not just because of Walt Disney World. There’s also Universal Orlando, SeaWorld Orlando, Legoland Florida, Busch Gardens Tampa, and many more.
Southern California has its own mix of theme parks, including Knott’s Berry Farm, Universal Studios Hollywood (where Super Nintendo World is now open–it won’t debut at Epic Universe in Orlando until 2025), Legoland California, and Six Flags Magic Mountain.
We are big fans of the SoCal theme park roster and think that Knott’s and USH don’t get enough credit. (The Warner Bros. Studio Tour is also a quasi-theme park experience near Universal Studios Hollywood that’s fantastic.) Nevertheless, if you’re looking to make a grand circle tour of theme parks, Orlando should be the winner. It’s pretty undeniable that the Central Florida parks are better than their California counterparts.
If you want to do things outside of theme parks, it’s tough to beat California. You can surf and ski in the same day, visiting craggy cliffs, beautiful beaches, majestic mountains, and (dry?) deserts in between.
There’s the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, diverse culture (and food!) of Los Angeles, and sleepy shoreline of Laguna Beach. Plus, Santa Barbara, San Diego, Newport, Pasadena, and more all within driving distance. California also has 9 National Parks and more biodiversity than any other state.
Most importantly, you can do many of these things on a budget. California has a wealth of low cost tourist attractions. Spend one day at the Getty and Getty Villa, two of the top free museums in the US, before heading to the picturesque El Matador Beach in Malibu. Drive out to Palm Springs to do a self-guided walking tour of America’s best architecture, followed by an afternoon in Joshua Tree National Park, which is also perfect stargazing and seeing the Milky Way.
If all of that isn’t enough to tip the scales in California’s favor, the nearest In-N-Out Burger is 980 miles away from Walt Disney World. There are two within 10 minutes of Disneyland. 😉
If you’re planning a Southern California vacation beyond Disneyland and want other ideas, you’re in luck. We have tons of advice on our non-Disney blog, TravelCaffeine.com. There, we also have a ton of resources dedicated to visiting the state, including a series of blog posts about California points of interest and planning guides.
For its part, Florida has theme parks, manatees, the Everglades, outlet malls, and the Kennedy Space Center. This is not meant to be dismissive of Florida–some of those and other things are quite fun. But if you’re looking at taking a more well-rounded trip that isn’t about upping your coaster count, California should be the winner.
A lot of people have a strong bias against California based on traffic congestion and other preconceived notions, and a California vacation may not be for these people. We skew in the other direction, finding California to be the most beautiful and enjoyable place in the United States–and the entire world. For tourist purposes, Florida is only world-class when it comes to theme parks.
Ultimately, that should cover the biggest differences and provide a nice basis to help potential guests figure out whether Disneyland Resort or Walt Disney World is right for them. As mentioned numerous times throughout this article, this is mostly high level differences, and doesn’t attempt to focus on the myriad of specific differences between the resorts.
Before you scream, “YOU IDIOT, HOW DID YOU FORGET TRICERATOP SPIN? THAT IS SUCH AN IMPORTANT ATTRACTION TO ME!” in the comments, remember that this article would have to be 10 times as long as it is to focus on every little difference, and then it probably would be a bit overwhelming to a first time guest. However, if you do have some specific differences that you think are important, I encourage you to share them in the comments.
That’s what the comments are there for, and anyone contemplating a trip would probably be well-served by getting a different take on the comparison, anyway. I just ask that you be respectful and reasoned in your thoughts. This isn’t a place for turf wars or conjecture.
And really, at the end of the day, most people are going to have a good time regardless of whether they go to Disneyland Resort or Walt Disney World, so long as they properly prepare for the trip. On that note, if you’re planning your first visit to Disneyland Resort or Walt Disney World, make sure to read our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide and Disneyland Trip Planning Guide. A well-planned trip will make all the difference in the world in terms of enjoyment, and for how expensive Disney is, it’s certainly worth taking a few hours to do a little planning to insure your trip “investment” pans out!
Have you visited both Disneyland and Walt Disney World? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? Which do you consider the superior destination for your vacation style? Do you think each have their strengths and weaknesses? Is one or the other definitively better? Any questions? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!