Disneyland and Disney California Adventure are excellent theme parks, but many fans never visit, opting instead for annual pilgrimages to Walt Disney World. In this post, we’ll make the case for Florida loyalists to make the trip to California, and give our pitch as to some of Disneyland Resort’s selling points.
Before we get started, we do want to be clear that this post is about the strengths of Disneyland, and the title should not be read as an imperative. There’s a lot of “you’re not a true Disney fan unless…” on the internet, much of which seems to be oneupmanship so certain people can claim superiority over others. You’re a true Disney fan if you claim you’re a true Disney fan, full stop. There’s no checklist of requirements for being a true or serious fan, and we realize that many people either cannot visit Disneyland or aren’t interested for their own personal reasons. We aren’t here to judge.
What we are here to do is make a sales pitch for Disneyland, particularly to those who think it’s inferior to Walt Disney World, and thus not worth their time. In my experience, a lot of frequent Walt Disney World guests never visit Disneyland, basically, because it’s smaller than Walt Disney World, not as isolated from the real world, and because it can cost more to visit Disneyland. There are other reasons as well, but these are the ones most frequently cited.
Then there’s the concocted rivalry between the coasts, and sense of defensiveness Walt Disney World fans have towards their home resort. I was once one of those defensive Walt Disney World fans, and had that same “sports team” mentality for Walt Disney World.
Growing up with annual visits to Florida and viewing Walt Disney World as my home resort (and I’d still describe it as such even though we’re now farther away now), I didn’t have much desire to visit Disneyland for a long time. It wasn’t until we were out in California for a wedding several years ago that felt compelled to make a visit, and we immediately fell in love.
After being Disneyland locals and Annual Passholders for a few years now, I feel I can say with some authority that those Walt Disney World fans just don’t get it. I mean no disrespect with that; I think each coast has its own strengths and weaknesses, but to judge Disneyland on its weaknesses alone is a grave error.
Yes, Disneyland does have two parks to Walt Disney World’s four. No, Disneyland doesn’t have any water parks. Yes, Disneyland only has three resort-hotels, and all are fairly pricey. Yeah, the real world does encroach-upon Disneyland. These seem to be some pretty serious blows to Disneyland being a viable tourist destination, but trust me, it is a great place to vacation.
First, the big reason: Disneyland is the original Magic Kingdom. It’s the only park Walt Disney personally walked, and its history and historic detail is amazing. Anyone who fancies themselves a Disney history buff should try to visit Disneyland if they can. Walt Disney’s original magic kingdom is like a museum in some ways, and between the park’s preserved history and its intimate size, there’s a charm to Disneyland that’s unlike anything in Florida.
Honestly, the sooner the better on that one. In recent years, we’ve noticed some of the quaint charms of Walt Disney’s park have started to fade, replaced by a resort destination becoming increasingly reminiscent of Walt Disney World in terms of vibe. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, and Disneyland becoming a resort destination will have a lot of positives for the park. It’s just a different tone, and one that feels like its moving away from its historic legacy.
When Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens, it’s unlike that quaintness will be felt again for several years (if ever). Not only does this Star Wars land have a different scope and scale than the rest of the park (that some, including me, would argue is out of place in Disneyland), but it’s going to draw hordes of new guests. Even the places that retain their charm and sense of history won’t feel like it in 2019 and beyond because they’ll be packed with people.
In any case, Walt Disney’s legacy at Disneyland should be enough of a reason to plan a visit to Disneyland. In case it’s not, we come to the second reason to visit: Disneyland (the park) has a staggering attraction line-up, with almost every version of attractions that are offered in both Walt Disney World and Disneyland being somewhat better to substantially better at Disneyland.
Pirates of the Caribbean is longer, and the added duration makes it arguably the best Disney attraction in the world. It’s a small world has a beautiful outdoor facade and includes subtle and well done (that’s right!) Disney characters. Indiana Jones Adventure puts the Animal Kingdom attraction with the same bloodlines to shame. The Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage puts the enjoyable Epcot attraction to shame. The list goes on and on.
Despite there only being two parks to Walt Disney World’s four, Disneyland is packed with attractions, being the most ride-dense park in the United States. While many regard Walt Disney World Resort as two full day parks and two half day parks, by contrast, Disneyland Resort is one two day park and one full day park. Seriously, the attraction line-up is really that solid at Disneyland Resort.
Over at Disney California Adventure, there’s the flagship Cars Land, which is reason-enough for anyone with Cars-obsessed kids to pack the bags for the West Coast. There’s also lesser-publicized but enjoyable attractions unique to that park, like Grizzly River Run, Frozen: Live at the Hyperion, and Red Car Trolleys.
There’s also Pixar Pier (if you’re starting to plan now, it’ll likely be open by the time you visit), Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout, and ‘a bug’s land.’ Then there’s the superlative way every evening ends, with World of Color, arguably the most awe-inspiring nighttime spectacular in the United States.
Third, planning. Or rather, lack thereof. Has Walt Disney World planning become overwhelming, frustrating, or downright tedious for you? Well, you’re in luck, because Disneyland Resort does not require much beyond having a rough itinerary and showing up.
There is no FastPass+ (there is MaxPass, but it’s same-day only). Advance Dining Reservations aren’t really a thing, and most of the time restaurants have availability a few days ahead of time or even the same day (we almost never make reservations). You don’t have to fret about transportation, upcharges, and other logistics because it’s mostly as simple as getting up, walking from your off-site hotel room to the parks, and going about your day.
For better or for worse, this more laid-back style of Disneyland is due to the large local audience, almost none of whom plan their post-work arrivals to the parks. The “good” of this is the lack of planning, as well as the superior seasonal offerings and upkeep of the parks.
The bad of this is the crushing effect Annual Passholders can have on operations. I don’t know if you’ve heard of it, but nearby Los Angeles is a somewhat large town, and that coupled with its outlying county and Orange County means the pool of potential local guests on any given day at Disneyland Resort is significantly larger than it is at Walt Disney World.
This is why going when most APs are blocked out is a savvy strategy, as is going early in the morning, or at times when local kids are in schools. (There’s another upside in this: unlike Walt Disney World, Disneyland still does have an off-season, and there’s a more pronounced difference between slow days at Disneyland than at Walt Disney World.)
Finally, hotels. This is another mixed bag. With its smaller footprint, there one real flaw to Disneyland: it is encroached upon by the real world far too much. However, if you can get past this, you can actually use it to your advantage. Even when we had to fly out to California to visit, we rarely stayed on-site at Disneyland because the off-site hotels are all so close, and because there aren’t the same perks to staying on-site at Disneyland.
While we love Disney’s Grand Californian, which has an entrance into DCA, its price can eclipse $500 per night. Disneyland Hotel is usually less expensive and we are also big fans of it, although it’s not as close as the Grand Californian. Paradise Pier Hotel is barely a Disney hotel, so it’s out of the question.
You can find hotels along Harbor Boulevard that are a 5-10 minute walk to Disneyland–closer than 2 of Disneyland’s 3 official hotels–and most are in the $100-150/night range. (The only hotel within walking distance of Magic Kingdom is Disney’s Contemporary Resort, and it’s exponentially more expensive.) While these prices have increased since Cars Land opened and are sure to climb further once Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge debuts, Walt Disney World hotel prices have also been steadily climbing.
This savings in price on the hotel (and rental car, which you won’t need) alone make up for any increase in the price of airfare. From our experience, airfare is about 25% more expensive to Anaheim than it is to Orlando, but obviously your mileage may vary on that depending upon your starting location. Food is slightly more expensive in Disneyland (and significantly “more better”), but park tickets are cheaper. Overall, our trips to Disneyland are usually around the same price as a trip to Walt Disney World of a comparable length.
In all honesty, though, comparing Disneyland and Walt Disney World isn’t that easy. It’s like comparing two of your children. Yeah, in the back of your mind, you secretly prefer one over the other (kidding, parents), but it’s a tough comparison because you love them both. It’s probably a comparison you shouldn’t even make since both resorts are so different. You simply need to experience both.
Because of all these additional attractions and offerings, it’s easy to turn a trip to Disneyland’s two parks into a vacation. If you’re able to spend two or three days at the Magic Kingdom and Epcot, you will easily be able to spend three or four days at Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure. Back when we used to vacation at Disneyland, we could easily spend five days in the parks and not do it all.
For us, Disneyland Resort was the perfect long-weekend destination, whereas it’s very difficult to do Walt Disney World in a long weekend. We found that if we only had 4 days to do a trip, Disneyland was the much better choice for efficiently spending that time and having a satisfying visit.
This is because you will have less wasted time at Disneyland. Want to park hop? Instead of spending 45 minutes waiting on a bus or monorail, you spend less than 5 minutes walking across the Esplanade to the other park. Dinner reservations at the resort’s nicest restaurant? Instead of catching two buses to Jiko or taking an Uber, you walk five minutes to Napa Rose in Disney’s Grand California Resort & Spa. You only ever need one form of transportation on a Disneyland vacation: your feet.
If you have more vacation time than that, and are worried that Disneyland Resort won’t be enough, we have good news: there is a lot to do in Southern California besides Disneyland. We can quibble over whether Walt Disney World or Disneyland is the superior resort choice, but I think it’s very difficult to make a compelling argument that Florida beats California as a vacation destination.
While we like Orlando well-enough, it’s not a place most people would visit were it not for the theme parks. California is a different story. From Los Angeles to the beach cities to National Parks to yes, even other theme parks, California is a much more compelling vacation destination than Florida. Even the sunshine is better in California: it comes without humidity, and almost never in liquid form.
The comparisons don’t end there, and if you’re reading about them in more depth, check out our “Walt Disney World v. Disneyland” post debating the pros and cons of each. If you’ve never been to either Walt Disney World or Disneyland Resort, it’s a good place to start as we attempt to weigh the strengths and weaknesses of each in a (hopefully) unbiased manner. It should give you a good idea of which will be better for your family’s vacation.
If you’re preparing for a Disneyland trip, check out our other planning posts, including how to save money on Disneyland tickets, our Disney packing tips, tips for booking a hotel (off-site or on-site), where to dine, and a number of other things, check out our comprehensive Disneyland Vacation Planning Guide!
If you’ve visited both, do you enjoy Disneyland for its own unique selling points, or do you remain a Walt Disney World loyalist? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment of the strengths of Disneyland? Other reasons WDW fans should visit California? Any questions? Hearing feedback about your experiences is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts or questions below in the comments!