Being roughly halfway between the two, it makes it easy to go either way for a vacation. Instead of trying to focus on a list of pros and cons for each resort, trying to crown one superior, hopefully this post will help those people who are trying to decide which one would be a better vacation for them. I'm going to focus on the pros of each resort, trying to outline those factors that will help you decide in favor of either location.
A Sense of History - Disneyland will be celebrating its 63 birthday this year. It is the original theme park and a pioneer in this industry. You can still ride many of the opening day attractions. Walking through the park, you can still see Walt's footsteps. There is a greater sense of history that can be truly appreciated in the park, from opening day attractions to 1964 World's Fair marvels, to modern classics. The park was well restored for its 50th anniversary and well maintained since then.
Walking Distance - The Disneyland Resort is an extremely walk-able resort. There are only two parks, with their gates directly across from each other. Three Disney owned hotels that are closely grouped together and a Downtown Disney shopping area with shopping and dining between the hotels and the parks. If you step outside the Disney property, there are many additional (cheaper) hotels within a five to ten minute walk from the park gates. This is a very important point for us, because with two small children, it makes it much easier to pop out of the park at nap time and then pop back in when they are awake without it turning into a several hour ordeal.
A Great Long Weekend - Because of the smaller size for the resort, it makes the Disneyland Resort a great long weekend trip. At Disney World, you always feel you need more time to see everything. At Disneyland, you can see both parks and enjoy Downtown Disney all in three to four leisurely days (and even possible in two full days). If you are time-crunched for a trip, Disneyland becomes a great option.
An Amazing Attraction Count - Despite the smaller park count and overall footprint, the Disneyland Resort still packs a wallop in terms of attraction count. Though the Disneyland Resort only has two parks to Walt Disney World's four parks, Disneyland and California Adventure only come up around four to five attractions shy of the four parks at the Walt Disney World Resort. Because of its space limitations, Disneyland has very unique utilization and small form attractions, which have the added bonus of keeping most attraction wait times very reasonable.
Unique Experiences - Disneyland has several unique attractions when compared to Walt Disney World. First in the Disneyland Park proper, there are the following Disneyland specific attractions:
- Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln
- The Main Street Cinema
- Indiana Jones Adventure
- Tarzan's Treehouse (though similar to the Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse)
- The Sailing Ship Columbia
- Pinocchio's Daring Adventure
- Mr. Toad's Wild Ride
- Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
- Storybookland Canal Boats
- Casey Jr.
- Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin
- Matterhorn Bobsleds
- Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage (similar to the Seas with Nemo and Friends ride, but vastly differnt in ride mechanism)
- The Red Car Trolley
- Mike and Sulley to the Rescue
- Frozen (the theatrical show in the Hyperion)
- Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout
- Heimlich's Chew Chew Train (currently; closing soon)
- Flik's Fun Flyers (currently; closing soon)
- Francis' Lady Bug Boogie (currently; closing soon)
- Tuck and Roll's Drive'Em Buggies (currently; closing soon)
- Mater's Junkyard Jamboree
- Luigi's Rollickin' Roadsters
- Radiator Springs Racers
- Boudin Bakery Tour
- The Incredi-Coaster
- Inside Out Mood Swings (opening soon)
- Mickey's Fun Wheel
- Silly Symphony Swings
- Goofy's Sky School
- Jumpin' Jellyfish
- Redwood Challenge Area
- Grizzly River Run
Seasonal Overlays - Finally, one of my favorite extras at the Disneyland Resort are the seasonal overlays that are applied in the Halloween and Christmas celebrations. While Walt Disney World does decorate the parks to celebrate the season and offers appropriate parades and shows during their celebrations, Disneyland takes it up a notch by also adding seasonal overlays to favorite attractions, often completely transforming them into a unique new experience. During Halloween, the Haunted Mansion gets a Nightmare Before Christmas overlay, becoming the Haunted Mansion Holiday. Space Mountain gets a new story line of being chased by a rogue galaxy in Space Mountain: Ghost Galaxy. California Adventure joined in the fun this past year with Mater's JamBOOree and Luigi's Honkin' Haul-O-Ween.
During Christmas, even more is updated. Haunted Mansion Holiday stays. it's a small world holiday sees millions of Christmas lights and Jingle Bells/Deck the Halls added to the soundtrack (this is actually my favorite version of this ride - it's an amazing transformation). The Jungle Cruise gets Christmas decorations strung throughout the ride and a lot of fruitcake jokes to become the Jingle Cruise. Even the Storybookland Canal Boats get miniature wreaths and decorations on their miniature homes. Mater's and Luigi's became Mater's Jingle Jamboree and Luigi's Joy to the Whirl.
Walt Disney World:
Size and Scope - Walt described his Florida project as having the "blessing of size." And at 43 square miles, Walt Disney World definitely has the blessing of size. This puts the resort at roughly the size of San Francisco and twice the size of Manhattan. This has allowed Walt Disney World to include four theme parks, two water parks, and thirty-four hotels and resorts, in addition to a wide variety of recreational activities. And there is still plenty of room for expansion.
A Greater Variety - Just focusing on the theme park experiences for a minute, the four parks allow for a greater exploration of themes and attractions than the two at Disneyland. In addition to the Magic Kingdom which is similar to Disneyland, you have EPCOT which explores further explores the scientific achievements of today and a variety of world cultures and architecture. At Disney Hollywood Studios, you have a celebration of entertainment, with a bit of exploration of movie-making magic. And at Animal Kingdom you have an exploration of man's interaction with the animal world in both hyper-realistic and overly fantastic settings.
The hotels at Disney World also provide a great variety in them and scope. There are lightly themed motels and there are highly themed, expansive resorts, all providing an almost tailor made option for your particular needs.
And that's not even beginning to discuss everything beyond the parks and hotels.
Unique Experiences - Disney World has several unique attractions compared to Disneyland. First, within the Magic Kingdom, there are the following unique rides and attractions:
- Magic Carpets of Aladdin
- Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse (though very similar to Tarzan's Treehouse)
- Country Bear Jamboree
- The Hall of Presidents
- Mickey's Philharmagic
- Enchanted Tales with Belle
- Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
- Monster's Inc. Laugh Floor
- Tomorrowland Transit Authority Peoplemover
- Stitch's Great Escape* (seasonal to closed)
- Tron coaster (announced and in construction)
- Spaceship Earth
- The Seas with Nemo & Friends (similar to the Finding Nemo submarine voyage but with a vastly different ride mechanism)
- Living With The Land
- Journey Into Imagination With Figment
- Guardians of the Galaxy Energy attraction (announced and in construction)
- Mission: Space
- Test Track
- Grand Fiesta Tour with the Three Caballeros
- Frozen Ever After
- Reflections of China
- The American Adventure
- Impressions de France
- Ratatouille Kitchen Calamity (announced and in construction)
- O Canada!
- The Tower of Terror
- Rock 'n' Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith
- Beauty and the Beast - Live on Stage
- Mickey's Runaway Railway (announced and in construction)
- For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-A-Long Celebration
- Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular
- Muppet*Vision 3D
- Alien Swirling Saucers (opening soon)
- Slinky Dog Dash (opening soon)
- Voyage of the Little Mermaid
- It's Tough to Be a Bug (now unique, since the Disney California Adventure version has closed)
- Avatar Flight of Passage
- Na'vi River Journey
- Festival of the Lion King
- Kilimanjaro Safaris
- Gorilla Falls Exploration Trail
- Rafiki's Planet Watch and Conservation Station
- Wildlife Express Train
- UP! A Great Bird Adventure
- Maharajah Jungle Trek
- Kali River Rapids
- Expedition: Everest - Legend of the Forbidden Mountain
- Finding Nemo - The Musical
- Primeval Whirl
- TriceraTop Spin
- The Boneyard
- Along with several animal exhibits.
The Vacation Kingdom of the World - In the early years of Walt Disney World, promotional material referred to the resort as "the vacation kingdom of the world." This was to emphasize the great number of things to do beyond the theme parks. There are two water parks. There is a large shopping and dining district with a tethered balloon ride and a new Cirque du Soleil show in development. There are four golf courses (three 18-hole and one 9-hole) and two miniature golf courses. There are five spas for massages and relaxation. There is a campground with opportunities to ride in horse drawn carriages or go horseback riding. You can see the Braves in spring training. You can rent bicycles or jog one of the many trails. You can rent water craft and go water skiing, tubing or parasailing. You could have an amazing vacation without ever stepping foot in a theme park, all within your interests.
A Planner's Dream - If you like to have your vacation planned out completely, Disney World is a good fit for you. With advanced dining reservations and the Fast Pass+ system, you can have each day nearly completely planned well before you ever arrive at the resort. You are able to make dining reservations up to 180 days in advance and are able to make ride and attraction Fast Pass reservations up to 60 days in advance. For large groups and absolutely cannot miss experiences, these options are incredibly valuable.
Disney World is also utilizing advanced planning and payment in ways that can allow you to have an almost fully pre-paid experience. You can add a dining plan option to your vacation, allowing for upfront payment of the dining, so that your experience in the parks and resort is completely taken care of. If you time it right, you can often get the dining package "free" as part of the overall vacation package (in reality it's not free, but absorbed by paying full rack rate for the hotel, instead of the typical hotel discounts). You can add on Memory Maker for photo downloads including PhotoPass photographer shots and attraction photos. With your hotel, tickets, dining, and photographs taken care of ahead of time, you would potentially only need souvenir money on the actual vacation (and you can put that on a Disney gift card).
The Disney Bubble - One of the greatest assets of the Walt Disney World resort is the Disney bubble. In Florida, you can have a complete Disney experience from the moment you arrive to when you leave, without the intrusions of the outside world. In California, while the parks and resort do amazing work to create the fantasy world they have designed, the reality of being surrounded by the city of Anaheim often becomes very apparent, with anything from visual intrusions in the park of power lines or non-Disney properties, to the reality of stepping right outside the park gate onto Harbor Boulevard. In Florida, thanks to the blessing of size, you can be completely contained in Disney property from start to finish.
If you arrive by plane, you can take Disney's Magical Express from the airport to the resort, skipping the baggage claim area and letting the service bring luggage right to your hotel room. You can stay in one of the twenty-eight Disney owned and operated hotels and resorts. You can travel via Disney bus, boat, or monorail (and soon the Disney Skyliner Gondola) to the Disney parks or Disney Springs shopping area. If you want to get somewhere on property faster, you can even utilize the Disney Minnie Vans uber-like ride share. You can be as completely immersed in the fantasy as you desire to be.
I hope this overview of the two properties has been helpful in showing the pros for each resort. I love talking about this, so if you want any more insight or help with planning, please let me know. Leave a comment below or send me a message. I'm adding a contact me option to the home page.