Considering a Disney trip but not sure which one is right for you? While there are some similarities, there are far more differences when comparing Walt Disney World vs Disneyland.
Disneyland has the advantage of being Walt’s original Magic Kingdom. Without Disneyland, there would be no Walt Disney World. Walt prided himself in making Disneyland the best it would be.
But, Walt Disney World has something that even Disneyland can’t compete with. It’s the ultimate Vacation destination. When you step inside Walt Disney World, immersion takes over and the rest of the world ceases to exist.
Some like to compare these two coasts in terms of best vs worse. But, I don’t like doing that.
Each coast is unique in their own special way. So, I like to appreciate them for what they are instead of criticizing them for what they lack.
Walt Disney World vs Disneyland
I certainly don’t expect everyone to be Disney experts. Everyone has their own preferences and interests. And I respect that.
But, if there’s one thing that you don’t say to a Disney fan, it’s that Walt Disney World and Disneyland are the same thing.
Perhaps it’s just a pet peeve of mine. After all, it’s my job to help families, such as yourself, choose the right Disney destination for you.
But, if you have ever said the dreaded words, “Walt Disney World and Disneyland are the same thing,” prepare from some backlash. Because these two Resorts could not be any more different!
Walt Disney World Is Much Bigger
Anyone who has ever visited both coasts will tell you that the biggest difference is the land that each Resort sits on.
Despite how popular Disneyland is, it still retains that “hometown Park” feeling. And that largely has to do with its small footprint.
The Disneyland Resort consists of 2 Theme Parks, Downtown Disney, and 3 Hotels.
Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure is located right next to each other, so Park Hopping is a breeze. And Downtown Disney is within walking distance to the Parks and their Hotels, so there is no need for transportation.
However, the monorail does give Disneyland a nice “Disney” touch.
Walt Disney World
Walt Disney World is 40 square miles. Comparing that to major cities, it’s roughly the size of San Francisco.
Because of its size, the Walt Disney World Resort has 4 Theme Parks, 2 Water Parks, Disney Springs, more than a 25 Hotels, Golf Courses, Pet Care Center, ESPN Wide World of Sports, etc… You get the picture.
With a Resort this large, transportation is a must. Walt Disney World does make getting around easier by providing many different options. Free transportation includes buses, monorails, ferries, and now the Disney Skyliner. For a paid option, Minnie Vans are also an option.
Walt Disney World also provides free transportation from the Orlando International Airport (MCO) as a Perk.
Even The Same Attractions are Different
Although we’re focusing on Walt Disney World vs Disneyland, there are some things that these two Resorts have in common. They actually share some of the same attractions.
But, any diehard Disney fan will tell you that two rides are not always created equal.
Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean is much longer and features a second drop that you won’t find in Florida.
And Splash Mountain, another iconic attraction, has their differences, as well. Not only are the log flumes different, even the music is changed to better fit the area the attractions are located in.
Even a simple boat ride, like It’s A Small World, is much different in Disneyland than it is in Walt Disney World.
Between the length of the attractions to the ride vehicles and theming, sometimes it’s hard to even consider them the same attraction.
Fastpass and Fastpass+
Both systems give you the ability to “skip the line,” so you can get on the attractions faster than waiting in the standby queue.
But, there is a big difference in how they operate and how you get them.
Disneyland still uses Fastpass. This is the older system that requires you to walk to each attraction, picking up paper FastPasses the day you arrive to the Parks.
Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure has gotten an update since they started introducing FastPass into the Parks. A few years ago, they added MaxPass, which gives Guests the ability to grab FastPasses on the Disneyland App, instead of walking to each attraction.
But, even with this addition, it’s still a big difference from Fastpass+ in Walt Disney World.
For one, MaxPass is an upcharge. Currently, MaxPass costs $15 per day, per Guest. While you don’t need to purchase MaxPass for everyone in your family, it’s still a big difference from the system used in Florida.
Walt Disney World
Walt Disney World uses these wonderful tools called MagicBands, as well as the updated system, Fastpass+.
The overall idea is the same. But, planning is completely different.
While MaxPass, in Disneyland, charges Guests for the convenience of making FastPasses on their phone, Walt Disney World’s version is free.
But, the biggest difference is the amount of planning that goes into planning out your day.
Through the My Disney Experience App, you’re able to grab FastPasses up to 60 days ahead of time, if you’re staying at a Disney Resort. If you’re staying off Disney property, your window doesn’t up until 30 days prior to check in.
With Guests booking FastPasses so far in advance, it’s harder to plan last minute vacations than it is in Disneyland.
There’s nothing quite like staying at a Disney Resort. After all, no one gives the same level of detail and magic quite like Disney.
However, no offense to Disneyland, the benefits of staying at a Walt Disney World Resort far exceed those of staying in a Disneyland Resort.
Magic Morning / Extra Magic Hours
Disneyland Guests, who have purchased at least a 3-day ticket, receive one Magic Morning Early Admission to Disneyland. This Perk get you into the Park one hour before the scheduled open.
While Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge is not open during this time, it’s a great time to get into the Park early to take some photos, ride attractions, and do a little shopping with less crowds.
Walt Disney World
Extra Magic Hours
Walt Disney World has its own Extra Magic Hours. But, unlike Disnyland, there is no limit as to how many times you can use this Perk.
Depending on the the day, one of Walt Disney World’s Theme Parks will participate in hosting either a morning or a nighttime Extra Magic Hour Event. They do change every day, so I recommend checking Walt Disney World’s Calendar before you start planning out your days.
Disney’s Magical Express is pretty amazing. I would also say that it’s the biggest benefit to staying on Disney property.
Guests traveling to Orlando International Airport (MCO) benefit from this completely free ride to your Resort. Since Disney also provivides free transportation throughout Walt Disney World, there really is no need to rent a car.
If you do want to venture of Disney property for a day, you are able to rent a car on Walt Disney World property. Not only does it save you money by not having to rent a car for however long you’re at Walt Disney World, you don’t pay for Disney’s overnight parking fees, as long as you return the car the same day.
In addition to getting a free ride, you don’t even have to worry about picking your luggage up from baggage claim. Disney can take care of that for you. Your luggage will “magically” appear in your room later on in the day.
Advanced Dining Reservations
While everyone gets the benefit of being able to book your Dining Reservations 180 days ahead of time, there is an additional benefit when you stay on property.
Disney Resort Guests are able to book Dining Reservations for their entire trip as soon as their window opens 180 days before check in.
We just recently wrote a whole post about Advanced Dining Reservations, so if you’re interested I suggest checking it out.
As we said earlier, being able to book FastPasses 30 days ahead of non-Disney Resort Guests is a huge benefit.
While staying on Disney property still guarantee that you will get every FastPass that you’re looking for, the earlier you can start booking, the better your chances are.
Free Parking at the Theme Parks
If you will have a vehicle and you prefer to drive yourself to the Parks, you get the added benefit of Free Parking at the Theme Parks. This is a savings of $25+ per day.
But, before you see this as a major win, remember that you will have to pay for overnight self-parking at your Resort. But, the good news is that unless you’re staying at a Deluxe Resort, Overnight Parking is less than the $25 you’d spend at the Theme Parks. So, you still save a little bit of money.
Each Resort Has Its Own Magic
In some ways, comparing Walt Disney World vs Disneyland is almost like comparing apples to oranges.
Each Resort has something that makes it special. If you’re looking for an intimate Park with lots of history, then Disneyland is for you.
However, if you’re looking for a true Vacation Destination, then the Walt Disney World Resort is the place for you.
But, even if you have a “Home” Resort, there are so many reasons to visit the opposite coast.
There are Disneyland Passholders that love traveling to Walt Disney World to see Spaceship Earth just as much as Walt Disney World Passholders travel to Disneyland to get a glimpse at Walt’s original Disney Castle.
These two Resorts were never meant to be mirror images of each other. And I am so happy they aren’t. Because if they were, there would be no reason to travel.