There are many differences between Disneyland and Walt Disney World … size, FastPasses, Disney resorts, transportation, holidays, entertainment, weather and more.
This post is not about which park is better Disneyland or Walt Disney World because they are both amazing in their own way. Anyone is lucky to get to visit them both. Rather I want to help you understand some of the differences you will find in each park. Disneyland is my home park and will always have my heart, but WDW has lots of things we don’t have on the west coast due to lack of real estate in California. So if you’re like me and you know Disneyland but you’re planning a visit to WDW then this post will help you with you trip! I have compiled a list of many differences below.
Walt Disney World is like it’s own city, some call it the Disney bubble. It is huge and very spread out compared to Disneyland. There’s so much to see and do. Look at the photo above how spread apart each park is, it’s not like walking back and forth from Disneyland to Disney’s California Adventure. Disneyland Resort has 2 parks and Walt Disney World Resort has 4 parks plus 2 water parks.
Stay on property
The Walt Disney World resort is so large and they offer over 25 Disney properties for your vacation. When you’re at Disneyland there are only 3 Disney resorts to choose from. And if you don’t want to pay higher prices you can stay across the street or nearby for less and still be close to the park. But at WDW the Disney resorts are the closest hotels to the parks and vary in prices. They have value, moderate and deluxe resorts ranging in prices from 100’s per night and up. I don’t find it necessary to stay at a Disney property when I’m at Disneyland, but every time I go to WDW I stay at a Disney resort. There are many perks when you stay on property. Disney provides free transportation to the parks from each resort, there are on site dining options, plus fun pools for your non-park day or mid day break. When you book at a Disney resort your transportation from the Orlando airport to your resort on the Magical Express bus is included.
I’m going to include perks that are not being offered at this time due to limited park capacity, but when they resume I will update this post. Disney resort guests can take advantage of early morning or after hours that Disney only offers for resort guests. It’s usually a different park each day. Only resort guests can book their 3 FastPass+’s 60 days prior to their visit unlike non-Disney resort guests who can only book 30 days prior to their visit.
We have stayed on property at the Caribbean Beach resort which is a moderate priced hotel. On my next trip we will stay at Pop Century Resort a value priced resort. Both resorts are on the Skyliner route which is why we chose these resorts, to have another form of transportation. For more information about booking your trip or questions about the different resorts head to this post.
How many days do you need at Walt Disney World?
One of the most frequently asked questions is how many days do I need at Walt Disney World? It’s hard to say because Disneyland is doable in 2-3 days. Whereas WDW is so spread out and there’s so much to do. We were there for 5 days. We basically did one day in each park, but had the option to go hop to another park in the evening for shows. Then on our 5th day we went back to Magic Kingdom and repeated many rides. I felt like 5 days was a good amount but we didn’t see everything. I would have loved more time to explore other resorts, had a rest day to relax at the pool and more time to enjoy Disney Springs.
Make sure you allow for time to get everywhere. It can take an hour to get from your resort to any given park during peak hours. Not gonna lie figuring out transportation can be a little complicated. There are several ways to get to each park by bus, boat, monorail or Skyliner (all free Disney transportation). Or you can drive and park your own car, take Uber, Lyft or call a Minnie van. Use the Disney app to help you figure out transportation as shown in the photo below.
You can also ask a cast member if needed, but after a while you get the hang of it. There is even a boat between Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Epcot. Plus you can collect transportation cards on any mode of transportation throughout the Disney World parks including the monorail and buses too, see photo below!
FastPass vs. FastPass+
FastPasses are different at WDW and have a different name, FastPass+. Disney FastPass+ service allows you to reserve access to select Walt Disney World theme park attractions, entertainment and character greetings in advance. Unlike at Disneyland where you just show up on the day of and go get a FP for each ride or purchase MaxPass. In WDW you book your FastPass+’s 60 days in advance if you’re staying at a Disney resort otherwise you only get a 30 day prior window if you’re staying off site. When you book through Get Away Today they book all your FastPass+’s for you. They get up early on the morning 60 days out so you don’t have to. You can only book 3 FP+’s in the same park per day. Then once you’re at the park and you use them you can get more. Schedule your FP+’s in the morning back to back. Make your first FP+ during the first hour the park is open, but don’t use it until the very end of that hour. Use the first hour to arrive at rope drop and do as much as you can before lines start to build. I can’t stress enough the importance of having reservations before you go, unlike at Disneyland. Take the guessing work out of reserving your FastPass+’s, book with Get Away Today. Learn more here.
Over at Disneyland we can’t make a dining reservation until 60 days before our trip. But when planning a trip to Walt Disney World you have to plan not only what rides you’re going to go on ahead of time, but where you’re going to eat 6 months out.
That’s right you can make dining reservations as early as 180 days before your trip. Now it’s not necessary to do so for every day or every meal, but the hard to snag reservations like Cinderella’s Royal Table or Be Our Guest need to be reserved 180 days out. Just another reason why I book with Get Away Today. They will make your dining reservations for you! Learn more here.
There is so much more land in Orlando to build more theme parks and attractions. WDW is home to some of the best attractions we don’t have room for at Disneyland. Here are a few rides you don’t want to miss on your visit: Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Slinky Dog Dash, Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway (coming to Disneyland 2023), Frozen Ever After, Test Track, Avatar Flight of Passage, Expedition Everest and Kilimanjaro Safaris to name a few! If you want to know about the rides that both Disneyland and WDW have in common head over to this post. I explain which rides are exactly the same, which rides have better queues and more.
Holidays (Halloween and Christmas)
We need to discuss what’s included on each coast when it comes to holidays because they definitely vary and you should know. Halloween is very similar as far as decor and foods offered. Walt Disney World starts their Halloween party in August, way earlier than Disneyland. This is a separate ticketed event in both parks. But you won’t find any characters out in their Halloween outfits during the day at Magic Kingdom. Unlike over at Disneyland you can find villains and the FAB 5 in their Halloween costumes all day long.
The biggest difference is Christmas. Over in Disneyland we don’t have a Christmas party. Your park ticket gives you access to all things Christmas including the Christmas Fantasy Parade, Believe in Holiday Magic Fireworks, It’s a Small World Holiday lighting and all the holiday entertainment. When you visit Walt Disney World you can buy a separate ticket for their Christmas party if you want to see the parade, Christmas entertainment and characters dressed up for the holidays. So just keep that in mind if you plan to visit during Christmas time, most of the entertainment is not included with your regular park ticket.
Walt Disney World is larger and can hold more guests. You will find way more tourists coming to WDW. Whereas over in California they have more annual passholders and locals that visit. Expect longer lines and more crowds when you visit Orlando. You can look at my crowd calendar to Disneyland and it will be very similar as far as the best times to go to avoid as many people. But just go into your vacation knowing there will be lots of people so arrive early to the parks!
Don’t miss the amazing Happily Ever After fireworks show in Magic Kingdom! At Disneyland fireworks don’t happen every night except during the holidays. But at Magic Kingdom they have fireworks EVERY NIGHT. (currently due to safety restrictions and COVID there are no fireworks right now)
Also at Disneyland you have to wait for hours to get a good spot, well there’s so much more space to view the fireworks at Magic Kingdom. We only arrived 30 minutes before the show and had a great spot right in front of the castle.
Disneyland is home to the original castle. Sleeping Beauty’s castle is smaller. Anyone can go up inside the castle and walk through. Over in Walt Disney World, Cinderella’s castle is bigger at the Magic Kingdom. You can’t go inside the castle unless you have a coveted dining reservation at the character meet and greet, Cinderella’s Royal Table. If you have a reservation you can eat inside and meet the princesses.
What are MagicBands?
We don’t have MagicBands over in Disneyland. I get asked all the time do you think we are going to get them? I don’t think so, as a matter of fact starting in 2021 WDW will no longer provide MagicBands for free with your resort booking. Starting in 2021 Disney will unveil a new offering as part of the My Disney Experience app that will bring features of a MagicBand to your smart device. It sounds like WDW will work more like Disneyland and use the app for everything at the parks. Currently at WDW the MagicBand comes preloaded with your park tickets on it and gives you access to your resort room. You can add your form of payment to it and just tap your MagicBand and pay for everything in the parks. It really is a fun gadget, but not necessary in order to go to WDW.
California has pretty moderate temps with a dry heat and it rarely rains. Be prepared over in Florida for the VERY humid hot summers with downpours out of nowhere. Always be prepared for rain and check the weather frequently. Bring a fan and cooling towels in the summer.
Disney California Adventure is home to one of the best Imagineered lands in all the parks, Carsland. I’m always amazed at all the work Imagineers put into that land. Likewise you must visit Pandora – The World of Avatar in Disney’s Animal Kingdom. It’s out of this world breathtaking! Make sure you visit during the day and again at night time!
Disney Springs vs. Downtown Disney
Over in CA we have Downtown Disney. It’s like one street of shopping and eating. Well Disney Springs is similar with the types of shops and restaurants except on steroids. Disney Springs is a HUGE outdoor mall type setting with lots to explore and EAT! There is transportation to Disney Springs from each resort.
These are just some more obvious differences between each coast. Like always if you have questions you can comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Be sure to pin this post to your Disney planning board.