Why Every Disney Fan Should Visit Disneyland
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!
Right on! I’ve been to Disneyland at least 600 times. And Disney World once.
I have to say I really enjoyed Disney World , especially Epcot and Animal Kingdom but the Magic Kingdom was a bit disappointing. Lack of detail and just not as magical as Disneyland. The Pirates of the Caribbean ride at DW was half the ride at Disneyland. However the Haunted Mansion at DW was better than DL.
I have to admit that Disneyland is “home”. They have better shoes, better Fantasyland rides, And there is that quality of magic that the Magic Kingdom just doesn’t have. I think DisneyWorld’s reputation is a bit overblown. Disneyland and the California Adventure are smaller, yes. But SO much more magical.
That being said I will go back to Disneyworld. But my all time favorite is DISNEYLAND!
I am 65 years old and have been going to Disneyland since 1960. I have been going to Disney World since 1990. My honeymoon was at Disney World. Needlessly to say, I have been to both parks many, many, times. Without a doubt I would say Disneyland Park in California is better than Disney World in Orlando. Don’t get me wrong Disney World is fantastic but everything this article says and more is true. If I had only one park to go to, and that would be a tough choice, I would go to Disneyland Park in California. Inside Disneyland park and inside The Magic Kingdom, the Disneyland park is bigger (at least in feel), and there are more attractions. The driving the car ride in Disneyland Park completely blows away the car driving in Disney World. It’s a Small World too. Plus, you don’t have to travel from park to park to see the attractions. The Disney World Animal Adventure park though is far superior than anything like that in Disneyland Park. And there are no water parks in Disneyland. Oh wait a minute, I hope I don’t encourage anyone to go to Disneyland park because it is way too crowded as it is. On second thought stay at Disney World.
I’ll be visiting Disneyland in January and I’m really looking forward to seeing “Walt’s park.” I’ve been there once but I was 10 and don’t remember it all that well. As an adult, I’m a frequent WDW visitor, but Disneyland just that one time.
I was planning on a September visit, but decided I wanted to be there BEFORE Galaxy’s Edge opens with its crowds; I’ll have plenty of chances to see that in Florida later, and I’d rather see Disneyland while it remains at least somewhat closer to its original charm.
I don’t really have an expectation as to how I’ll find it in comparison to WDW but I know I’ll be glad to have seen it however it compares.
Both resorts have their plusses and minuses, but I’ve always felt that the best way to think of it is how much time do you want to spend at Disney. If you want to do four days or less, then I’d go to Disneyland because everything is so close you get much more bang for your time, whereas at Disney World you have to spend much more time navigating all of the transportation and going through security. Obviously WDW is much larger with many more parks and amenities, so if you want to spend a lot of time to see all of those things then you’re best bet is to go to Florida.
Wonder if DL is pushing bloggers to push DL It has been a very common thread in many Disney blogs. Ive tried DL a few times but am done and will stick with WDW Don’t like these blogs trying to make people go to DL if happy stay where you like neither is cheap so don’t try a different one because blog says you should!
It’s hard to say which I like better. Loved DL on last trip. Stayed at Grand Californian and roughly same price as deluxe at WDW. However, checked for this year for October, and it was a lesser room for $750! That’s insane. I think Star Wars prices are coming early. Staff at hotel were not as professional or accommodating as staff at WDW. It was like they couldn’t be bothered. And at those prices, I don’t want or appreciate attitude from some struggling wannabe.
Anyway, since we were there last time in early December, loved the overlay at Mansion and Small World–both much better than WDW. Loved not having a car and walking to everything including Downtown Disney and everything compact. We ate at the bar b q place in DL on one of their last nights–too bad it closed for Star Wars land–it was so good and fun. Ditto on chicken at the Plaza–everything you’ve heard is true–best chicken ever. Wasn’t thrilled with Napa Rose or Cathay Circle however. Reality didn’t match the hype or prices. Liked Pirates better than at WDW. Cars Land is incredible! Saw one of the last performances of Aladdin; it was hilarious. Performers are much better on west coast for obvious reasons.
Afraid of what Star Wars will do to both locations–hotel prices, ticket prices, crowds.
And yes, I think people post who haven’t been there in years. I am so tired of my friends complaining about WDW and they went TWENTY YEARS OR MORE AGO. Complaining about food, etc.–hello, do you think it might have changed in all that time? And these are people who really don’t go anywhere so how would they compare?
I love Disneyland and really enjoyed my one trip to California Adventures. If you are planning on doing other things in the area and therefore renting a car, flying into Ontario can be a lot cheaper. It is really not that far away from the parks. Having lived in SoCal for several years DL was my first park and I have nostalgia for it. Everyone should check it out if able. There are a lot of other things to do once you get there. It is worth renting a car and making a long vacation out of it.
I love them both and i like that they’re similar and different.
Love this. I don’t know why any fan of one coast wouldn’t want to visit the other out of curiosity. I grew up going to DLR and used to live in LA, then did the WDW College Program and similarly fell in love, and visit both frequently. Now, living in Utah, most locals here go to DLR and many aren’t interested in trying WDW. I try to convince them that without having to rent a car, and ability to actually stay on property at a reasonable price is often a comparable cost as a visit to DLR. Would love to see a flip side version of this to showcase the benefits of WDW to staunch Disneylanders (but I realize, in essence, that most of your blog highlights the joys of WDW already)! But a day in any Disney park is better than a regular day.
I’ve given DL 4 tries and will never go there again (the 4th time I was in the area and was talked into going again and wished I didn’t . It was always dirty, staff not into character just putting in time – not helpful not happy, On top there is just not enough there for the money nor the flight – takes way less time and not enough for all ages. WDW we’ve done around 30 times and will continue to go. We now take the grand babies.
I know people who live nearby DL and like it – as a fair type thing- have annual passes and just go for part of a day here and there.
This to me sounds like an opinion of someone who hasn’t gone to Disneyland or hasn’t gone in 20-30 years. I could be wrong but I wonder how you support statements like, not enough for all ages or that it’s dirty.
Comparing it to a fair is uninformed at best.
OK, you are saying I’m lying, so be it. I just asked my husband if he would go to DL ever again and he said no, but would go to WDW at the drop of a hat – by himself even which he has done when away at tournaments with a team at WDW. We really didn’t enjoy it and gave it more than a couple shots – the last time was probably 10 years ago.
Some people dislike WDW as it’s too big and too much to do – I don’t tell them they are lying that is their opinion.
There it is: “10 years ago”
Hes not saying you are lying, hes asking if you can back your points instead of generalising. You were the one who said Im lying out of defensiveness, guess cats out of the bag
Those are good points about the relative cost differences – the flight cost difference being offset by hotel and park tickets. The biggest difference for us is time. Southwest has direct, early-morning flights to MCO, and we can be in a park within 5-6 hours of leaving home. For Disneyland, the flight usually includes a layover so the total time is 11-12 hours instead.
Sorry for posting this here, but I could not find a link to report problems with the site.
Right now the home page indicates that there are 23 comments to this blog post. When I open the post only the two most recent comments are visible, but when I click on “older comments,” only one comment is displayed, which I assume was the first comment posted on 4/2. Also, at that point, the comment count at the top of the page indicates that only one comment has been made to this post. It is almost like I have been taken back to an earlier state of the blog. I have tried this in Chrome and Firefox, with no difference.
I have had this happen to me before, when older comments just are not available. Any thoughts? (Of course, right now replies that are pushed back a page as new comments are posted would not be seen by me, but I will try to monitor this as I am able.) Thanks.
And again, sorry for putting this here, but I wasn’t sure where else to report this sort of thing.
Yeah, this has (unfortunately) been an issue that has appeared from time to time, and I’ve made multiple attempts to solve it, all to no avail.
At this point, I think my next step will be a website redesign, and hopefully that’ll solve the comments issue in the process. Sorry!
Nice article Tom. I agree with you. I find the WDW vs. DL debate silly as both destinations are unique, The history in DL alone is worth the trip for me. I love seeing the remnants of Mine Train through Natures Wonderland in Big Thunder Mountain. I also enjoy the attractions that are only in DL (most of the Fantasyland rides) or better at DL (Pirates).
I also grew up going to WDW pretty regularly – when I visited Disneyland for the first time, my first reactions were something close to, “Man, that castle is tiny” and “Wow I miss the slow build entrance via monorail, etc.” It wasn’t until later that I really fell in love with the park – New Orleans Square, Indiana Jones Adventure, Lincoln, the train, the compactness and walkability of it all…
Going back to WDW afterward was a little bit of a shock. Everything felt BIG – like a slick, moneyed corporation was taking care of your big-deal, big-money vacation for you. Disneyland is often described as “charming,” but the strange thing was that, even though I’ve only been there a couple times, I felt a real sense of OWNERSHIP at Disneyland that I just really never have at WDW. There’s an indescribable quality of the park having been built just for me in a way that’s not quite as true at MK, where the park feels like it was built for a whole crowd of people. I realize it’s hugely irrational, but there it is.
That said, I love Liberty Square and MK’s Jungle Cruise more than is reasonable 😀
Agreed! This is why the only reason that keeps drawing me to WDW is Animal Kingdom! Love this comment 🙂