There are many differences between Disneyland and Walt Disney World … size, 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.Disney resort guests can take advantage of early morning entry 30 minutes prior to off-site guests at any theme park. In addition they offer after hours (2 hours after park closing) for resort guests staying at a Deluxe resort on two different night currently. Your travel agent at Get Away Today can give you more details on this offer. Only on-site resort guests can book their first Disney Genie+ selection at 7 a.m. unlike non-Disney resort guests who can only book as soon as they scan into the park.
We have stayed on property at the Caribbean Beach resort which is a moderate priced hotel and 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!
Disney Genie+ replaced FastPass+
The Genie is a new feature in the My Disney Experience app. For an overview of Disney Genie+ read this post. It works similar to FastPass+ in that it’s the new way to skip to the front of the line. In Walt Disney World Resort it costs $15 per person per day with access to 40+ attractions. At Walt Disney World you can purchase Disney Genie+ starting at midnight from your app unlike at Disneyland. All guests can make their first selection starting at 7 a.m. from anywhere. And if you’re staying at a Disney resort you get the advantage to purchase Lightning Lane individual attractions starting at 7 a.m. and off-site guests not until the park opens. I will be testing and using Disney Genie+ at Walt Disney World in May. In the meantime, here is how it works at Disneyland and it’s the same as far as the process with the exception of the things mentioned above.
You can start booking dining reservations 60 days before your trip. Reservations can be very hard to get in Walt Disney World. I recommend using a company called Mouse Dining. You can set up FREE dining alerts for the places you’d like to eat.
Now it’s not necessary to reserve a spot 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 60 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, Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, 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. 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 fireworks show in Magic Kingdom – Disney Enchantment! At Disneyland fireworks don’t happen every night except during the holidays. But at Magic Kingdom they have fireworks EVERY NIGHT.
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. 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. Download the Dark Sky Weather app for your trip. 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. And like I said earlier it’s not a contest. Both coasts have amazing unique things to offer, so book a trip to BOTH!
Be sure to pin this post to your Disney planning board.