Disneyland vs. Disney World (Is One “Better” than the Other?)

As someone who’s been to Disney World no less than 17 times, going to Disneyland the first time made me realize it was a completely different animal – still, I learned some tips & tricks to make this beauty & the beast less intimidating.


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For those of you who have read my blog before, you may have gotten the hint that I’m pretty into Disney.  For those of you who are new here – just read my tagline: along with food and matte lipstick, I’m kind of a Disney fanatic (aka I literally have a tattoo of Cinderella Castle on my left wrist).

I’ve already done a post about surviving Disney World, but after 22 years and 17 trips to WDW in Orlando, prior to last week, I surprisingly had never made it to Disneyland in California.  If you follow me on Instagram, you might have seen my plethora of posts about it, such as the one below:

Before I begin this post, let me just say that Walt Disney World (WDW) and Disneyland, although cut from the same stone, are two completely different works.  Disneyland, aka the OG, was built in 1955 under the supervision of Walt Disney himself and is one of two parks that make up the Disneyland Resort located in Anaheim, California, with the second park being Disney California Adventure.  Along with the two theme parks, the Disneyland Resort is compromised of three hotels and Downtown Disney, which is a shopping, dining, and entertainment complex.

WDW is not a park itself, but a resort featuring four parks, the first being Magic Kingdom, which was opened in 1971.  After Magic Kingdom, EPCOT (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow) opened in 1982, Hollywood Studios (formerly MGM) opened in 1989, and finally Animal Kingdom opened in 1998.  Not only does WDW have twice the amount of theme parks, but it also has an additional two waterparks, 27 themed resort hotels, nine non-Disney hotels, a few golf courses, a camping resort, and Disney Springs (formerly Downtown Disney).

To put things into size perspective, according to Disneyology, Disneyland Resort is 510 acres, and WDW Resort is 25,000 acres.  Yeah.  She did that.

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I might be a little biased because I grew up with WDW; my home resort is the Beach Club and my favorite park is EPCOT, so to me, WDW is basically like Disneyland’s cooler younger sibling who took the world by storm.

Still, although she is small, she is mighty: Disneyland Resort is a really cool experience of its own and features a few rides that aren’t in WDW.  There are a few key differences, of which I’ll explain below:

1.) FastPasses & Park Tickets

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Above is an ~ancient~ picture from 2014 of my MagicBand, which was introduced in 2013 to WDW.  This bracelet serves as your park ticket, room key, FastPass+ reservation, and more.  According to Travelingmom.com, Disney made further upgrades to MagicBands in early 2017 – the ~new & improved~ version, dubbed MagicBand 2 (creative, I know), has a slightly modified design.

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“My Disney Experience” app

Remember the FastPass+ thing I just mentioned? That’s exclusive to WDW.  All you have to do is link your park admission to your account and voila! The cool thing about it is that you don’t necessarily have to be at the ride to get the FastPass – all you have to do is download the app and you can make up to three reservations per day.

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MaxPass on the Disneyland Resort app

Disneyland Resort has an entirely different system.  My park ticket was the old-fashioned paper ones that made me feel kind of nostalgic, and FastPasses are still largely retrieved at the kiosks next to the rides.  There is a more technologically-advanced way to obtain these FastPasses for the tech-inclined or just plain lazy (like me): Disneyland debuted their “MaxPass” on July 19 of this year with which, similar to FastPass+, you can schedule FastPasses right on your mobile device by downloading the Disneyland app.  You also get unlimited PhotoPass downloads, which is think is really cool.  Currently, MaxPass is an additional $10 a day per ticket, but I think it’s actually worth it.

2.) The Castles

Cinderella Castle is located in Magic Kingdom in WDW and Sleeping Beauty Castle in located in Disneyland in Disneyland Resort.  This, I already knew.  What I didn’t know was how tiny Sleeping Beauty Castle would be!

With Cinderella Castle, you have pretty good visibility right from the entrance of Main Street.  With Sleeping Beauty Castle, you almost have to walk all the way up just to get a good picture of it! In the Instagram above I’m basically all the way down Main Street, and Sleeping Beauty Castle still looks so tiny!

According to Google, Cinderella Castle is 183 feet (56 m) tall, while Sleeping Beauty Castle is 77 feet (23 m) tall, so Cinderella Castle is literally more than twice the size of Sleeping Beauty Castle.  Cinderella Castle also houses a restaurant (Cinderella’s Royal Table) and an entire suite, while Sleeping Beauty Castle is basically just an icon.  I guess this makes sense from a land perspective – Walt Disney was so much more limited on space for the original opening of Disneyland, hence the attractiveness of all the land he could get in Orlando to open WDW.

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Source: Mousekaholic

Mouskaholic actually notes the differences between the castles (and the parks in general!) and has a cool image (which I’ve put above) of the two castle next to each other.

3. The Dining Experience

At WDW, you can make food reservations 180 days in advance, which is EXTREMELY needed because reservations fill up quickly there.  If you want to go to a sit down restaurant, such as Be Our Guest in Magic Kingdom, you need to get a reservation as it’s nearly impossible to just walk in – especially during the popular Fourth of July season.

Being accustomed to this at WDW, I was nervous when I found out that we didn’t have any reservations at Disneyland, but I quickly found out this wasn’t such a big deal.  Compared to WDW, Disneyland has so much more of a “chill” dining experience with the majority of their dining being quick service counters.  Just by looking on their respective websites, 18 out of 41 restaurants at Magic Kingdom are Table Service, leaving the remaining 23 quick service, while just 9 out of 40 restaurants at Disneyland are Table Service with the remaining 31 being quick service.

My personal view on this difference is that it just seems like a huge part of the whole WDW experience is dining – there are just under 400 restaurants at WDW in total and when I look back on all of my visits there, I remember all my dining experiences.  Since nobody asked, my personal favorite table service restaurants are Be Our Guest in MK and Le Cellier and Teppan Edo in EPCOT.

In Disneyland, while I did miss this aspect, I will say that it saved us a lot on time.  I usually stay in WDW for around 12 days, and since I’ve been going there for so long, I already know where to go and what to do, which leaves me a decent amount of down time.  I typically spend the first half of my day in the pool and go to whatever park I have my dinner reservation at at night because I can afford the leisure time, whereas my trip to Disneyland only lasted five days, and since it was my first trip, everything was packed in there.  It was more convenient in Disneyland to grab something quickly and then go off to do whatever it is we were doing next than to go through the whole process of sitting down at a restaurant and ordering a full course.

4.) The Ride Photos

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Cash these hands

The cool thing about the Disneyland MaxPass is that, as I said, it includes PhotoPasses.  PhotoPasses are both the pictures that the photographers around the park take of you and the “attraction photos” you get on the rides, such as the one above.

I thought this was really cool at first – in WDW, I ~unfortunately~ know where all the ride photos are taken now, which means I can pose for each and every one, but it kind of takes the fun out of the whole candid aspect of the ride.  In Disneyland, since I don’t really know where the photos are (although you can kind of easily guess, such as at the highest drop on Guardians of the Galaxy or the top of the drop of Splash Mountain), I thought it might be cool to actually see the fear in my eyes for once.

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Me looking at myself in the mirror.

Now, at WDW, a lot of the rides have cameras on them, so I was expecting to cash in with ride photos at Disneyland also.  It wasn’t until I was surprised that there wasn’t a ride photo at a prime moment in the Indiana Jones ride that I asked a cast member, who said there are only a few rides that have the photos on them.  According to the website, there are only five rides in Disneyland that have attraction photos:

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WHY SO FEW?

This was a #bummer, but we made sure to get the most bang for our buck by hitting up all the photographers we saw.

If you’re in WDW and want a similar photo deal, you can always go the Memory Maker route.  According to the website, “Memory Maker is an incredible new way to enjoy unlimited digital Disney PhotoPass photos captured at hundreds of locations throughout Walt Disney World Resort—including select attraction and dining locations. The photos are conveniently connected to your online Disney account with a touch of your MagicBand or card.

Pricing for this is one lump sum and looks a little more expensive (there are packages for $169 and $199); however, if you stay longer and/or you hit up all the photographers and go on all the rides with photos, I personally think it pays for itself.

According to Disney Addicts, the full list of rides with photos is the following:

Magic Kingdom 

  • Splash Mountain
  • Space Mountain
  • Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin
  • Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
  • Enchanted Tales with Belle (this is an interactive performance not a ride but everyone who participates gets some nice snaps with Belle)

Epcot

  • Test Track

Hollywood Studios

  • Tower of Terror
  • Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster

Animal Kingdom

  • Dinosaur
  • Expedition Everest

Because I’m me and I love Excel and being extra as hell, let’s do some math here!  If you’re not here for the math, just skip ahead… 😦

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I was one of the few people who actually enjoyed managerial accounting (financial was another story), so let’s look at this and break down some of the costs here.  For WDW, the price of its photo package is a fixed cost (red) because the total price you end up paying doesn’t depend on how many members are in your party or how long you’re saying – it’s just one lump sum you pay.  For Disneyland, the price is a variable cost (green) because it’s based per day and per member, so the total cost is dependent on how many people you’re with and how many days you’re staying.

Because the total price is fixed for WDW, your price per day and price per person becomes variable, because they depend on the number of days and number of people are involved.  On the flip side, because the total price for Disneyland is variable to begin with, the price per day and the price per person doesn’t change due to the fact that those are the basis for the total cost to begin with.

I’ve also included a price per ride in there, which is the total price divided by the number of ride available.  This price is dependent on the number of photo rides, so I’ve called that a variable cost.

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If you’re still with me, let’s take a look at the first “situation.”  For argument’s sake, I put “12 days” as the length of stay because that’s how long my family typically stays in WDW.  I also put “4” for the number of members because that’s how many members are in my own family.  You can see that if the WDW photo package worked like the Disneyland one currently does, we’d be paying a lot more in total, even though the price per day and per person are technically lower.  With the actual system in place, you’re also paying a lot less per ride photo because there are more rides available and the original total price is less.  Ride photos are typically around $13, which makes it a little concerning that we would technically pay almost $100 the way the Disneyland system works… #yikes

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In the second scenario, let’s say you’re staying the amount of time, but you’re alone (Sad!).  Your total price in this case would be lower at Disneyland, and you’d be paying what looks like an extremely high price/person at WDW.  Still, you’d be paying more “per ride” for your photos just based on the nature of the parks.

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In the third scenario, I put “5 days” because that’s how long my family stayed in Disneyland and “4 people” because again, that’s my family size.  Similar to scenario 1, the total price is higher, as is the actual price per ride.  I guess the price/ride doesn’t seem as bad when you rationalize that ride photos aren’t the only photos included in the photo breakdown (I was too lazy to find out how many photographers are placed in each park), but it still seems pretty high.

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Finally, in the fourth scenario, I went the loner route again with the 5 days.  This is the most economical option from the Disneyland perspective as you’re only paying $50 total since it’s just you, so maybe money can buy you happiness, or at least friends.

TL;DR: because of the ~variable properties~ of the Disneyland photo system, unless you travel alone and/or for a shorter time period, it may end up costing you more than the current photo system at WDW.  For my family, scenario 1 really puts things into perspective because that’s our typical outing to WDW.  I guess if you were really into it for the photos you could try to “hack” the system and only have one person buy the MaxPass option, but that just seems like a headache because then the other members of your family would have to get their FastPasses the old-fashioned way.

5.) The Rides

I promise I’m done with math! While in Disneyland, I realized that while some rides are found both there and in WDW (such as Pirates of the Caribbean, Splash Mountain, and Space Mountain), they’re also still pretty different.

For example – Pirates of the Caribbean in Magic Kingdom seems much more based on the movie itself, while PotC in Disneyland seems more “old school,” which makes a lot of sense since Disneyland came first and that’s what the movie itself was actually based on.  For Splash Mountain, in Disneyland, it’s a single-seater flume, while in Magic Kingdom, it’s two per bench.  Inversely, Space Mountain in Disneyland is two per bench while it’s a single seater in Magic Kingdom.  After its update, I found that Soarin’ was the most similar ride between the two of them with the only difference being you don’t stop in WDW in the Disneyland version.  The Haunted Mansion exists in both MK and Disneyland and the ride itself is pretty similar; however MK’s Haunted Mansion is more Victorian-style with an interactive graveyard, and Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion is Louisiana plantation-style and doesn’t have the “fun” graveyard that I actually really hate because it still scares me.

Completely different rides also exist! Disneyland has an awesome Indiana Jones ride that I wish was somewhere in WDW, and I missed having the Rockn’ Rollercoaster that’s in Hollywood Studios in Disneyland.  Still, there are some rides in each park that are similar, although not identical – the Radiator Springs Racers ride in California Adventure is reminiscent of Test Track in EPCOT and California Screamin’ in California Adventure is a good outdoor substitute to Rockn’ Rollercoaster.


I can’t really compare the experiences in terms of the resort life itself because I didn’t actually stay at a Disney property in Disneyland (I stayed at a Marriott across the street), but it did seem like you get less of an immersive experience in Disneyland just because there isn’t an actual “campus.”  In WDW there’s a clear division between what’s Disney and what’s just plain ol’ Orlando because WDW is actually sectioned off from the rest of the world and you enter through their own version of the pearly gates.  By contrast, I was shocked at how there are no “gates” for Disneyland – WDW is truly its own world, while Disneyland’s “reach” ends when you cross the street.

My overall impression of Disneyland just from the area and the number of hotels they have is that it’s more of a day trip type deal – because there are only two parks and it’s smaller, five days was definitely enough for my family to hit up everything we wanted to.  WDW is definitely more of a “destination” because there is twice the number of parks that are all larger in size and there’s so much more to do within Disney’s walls.

Overall, to me, visiting Disneyland was like being fluent in a language but suddenly encountering some dialect that’s slightly different than the language you know.  In terms of preference, I would say that I do admit to still prefering WDW, but that’s because I know I have a very obvious bias.  Being from the northeast, WDW is also a lot easier to travel to because not only is it located in the same time zone, but the flight is half the length as to Disneyland.

Still, as a Disney fan, Disneyland was cool to see because it made me appreciate where it all came from.  One of my family’s favorite “rides” to visit in Magic Kingdom is the Carousel of Progress, and seeing where it all began allowed me to see just how far it’s progressed.  Disneyland was like a nostalgic step back into the past from the horse-drawn trolleys to the ragtime piano and I think it’s important to always look back while you keep moving forward.

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6 thoughts on “Disneyland vs. Disney World (Is One “Better” than the Other?)

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