The biggest difference between the two is really the size of each resort. In disneyland, you will walk a lot and spend some time getting around but not nearly as much as you will in Disney World. In Disneyland the parks are right across from each other, and the downtown disney district and resort hotels are attached to that main hub. The Grand Californian even offers a direct entrance to California Adventure. In WDW you will take a bus, boat, or monorail to get to the four parks, disney springs, and all the resorts. You will spend a lot of time in transit.
With that said, its really amazing how immersive Walt Disney World is! From the moment you land in MCO and hop on to Mickeys Magical Express its like the outside world doesn’t exist. Disneyland is somewhat similar, but you can see outside hotels and Panera Bread from the monorail sometimes.
A difference that is right in your face when you walk in to each park, the castle! The difference between these two american castles is astounding.
Sleeping Beauty Castle is small, pink, and has a simple walkthrough on the inside. It’s particularly beautiful during the holiday season when the top spires are adorned with sparkly snow!
In Magic Kingdom:
Cinderella Castle is blue, overwhelmingly large, hosts shows on a stage in the front, has a full scale princess restaurant inside, and is home to a Cinderella suite for a a lucky few. My favorite difference, was definitely the show stage! It makes such a great stage for fireworks and the raised height makes it easy to see! Im 5″1″ so this is a critical difference 🙂
Another obvious difference is that Disneyland Resort has two parks (DCA + Disneyland) and The Walt Disney World Resort has four plus two water parks (Hollywood Studios + Epcot + Animal Kingdom + Magic Kingdom).
In my opinion it feels like the actual amount of attractions are similar, but in Walt Disney World its just more spread out. For example you have so many “big” attractions stuffed into Disneyland (Matterhorn, The Three Mountains, Indiana Jones, Star Tours) and all those same or similar attractions can be found in WDW, just spread out among four parks. Dont get what I’m saying? I have summarized my theory of comprable attractions below.
Three Mountains/ Three Mountains Magic Kingdom
Matterhorn/ Expedition Everest in Animal Kingdom
Indiana Jones/ Dinosaur in Animal Kingdom
Star Tours/ Star Tours in Hollywood Studios
In California Adventure:
California Screamin/ Rockin Roller Coaster in Hollywood Studios
Goofy’s Sky School/ Primeval Whirl in Animal Kingdom
Grizzly River Run/ Kali River Rapids
Soarin/ Soarin in Epcot
Radiator Springs Racers/ Test Track
Tower Of Terror/ TOT in Hollywood Studios
Unique/Incomparable Attractions WDW:
The People Mover
Seven Dwarves Mine Train
Stitch Great Escape
Unique/Incomparable Attractions Disneyland:
Mickeys Fun Wheel
Luigi’s Rollicking Roadsters
Nemo Submarine Voyage
SPACE AND SPLASH MOUNTAIN:
Space: Space is totally different and which one is “better” seems to be a hot topic among Disney bloggers. Personally I prefer Disneyland’s version. The seating arrangements in disneyland allow you to sit side by side with a friend, whereas in disney world the ride car is similar to the toboggans on the matterhorn. The speakers in disneyland are also behind your head in the ride car, so I found the music to be more consistent than in the magic kingdom. With that said the drops are better (faster, higher, more surprising) in the magic kingdom version. I found that there was a huge difference when you sit in the front of the MK version, the drops and turns were more sudden.
Splash: Imagine that splash is the opposite of space coast to coast. In California its a single log and in Florida its a double log so you can sit with a friend. I prefer splash at Magic Kingdom over disneyland, which is saying a lot because its one of my favorite attractions. You dont get as wet because you sit deeper in the log, which I love! I feel like my pants and shoes always get drenched in Disneyland. I also like the dark drop a lot in the magic kingdom version, although I really have no fact to base my preference on.
THE DINING COST:
The biggest difference? Walt Disney World offers a dining plan with your hotel reservation and Disneyland does not. This makes a huge difference when comparing the cost of visiting the two different parks. Its not that WDW is “cheaper” but in general the dining plan makes it stress free, high value, and more straight forward. Something to note is that the dining plan doesn’t include gratuity or souvenir cups…if you’re into that sort of thing (me!!)
Below is the cost per day for each WDW Dining Plan in 2016
Now when it comes to dining options Walt Disney World takes the cake, there were so many restaurants of all scales that it was overwhelming for me. Some of my favorite experiences form our last trip were Sanaa, Yak and Yeti, and Be Our Guest Restaurant to just name a few. Now on the west coast, dining is expensive but in my opinion worth every penny. Carthay Circle and Blue Bayou are unparalleled experiences, and Goofys Kitchen is classic. If you are deciding between the two resorts, don’t let the dining plan make or break your decision. Disney park food is expensive no matter how you slice it.
THE FASTPASS SYSTEM:
To me this seemed like the biggest difference between the two parks, and ultimately the most daunting as a frequent disneyland-er. In Disneyland you pick up a paper fast pass and then wait for the allotted time frame to ride the attraction. In Disney world you plan all your fastpasses for all your days before you even leave. You can also book additional experiences like character meet and greets and shows with the same fast pass + system
In Florida, everything is loaded onto your magic band bracelet. It serves as your tool to get into your hotel room, use fast passes, pay for meals, and take photos. I definitely think that the magic band system makes your WDW vacation seamless, but the Disneyland experience is simpler and a little easier to understand in many ways.
THE HOTEL COST AND VARIETY:
The Walt Disney World Resort has 34 resorts on property, Disneyland Resort has 3. What does this mean? It means that Florida offers something for every budget, and California serves the luxury travel consumer. Staying on property in WDW starts at around 80$ a night, Disneyland starts at around 300$ for Paradise Pier.
Basically, Disneyland is more expensive and has less on propety options.
With that said, I personally like the resorts in Disneyland just a little bit better. We stayed at The Polynesian in WDW and it was amazing. We think that the Disneyland hotel rooms have a luxury vacation vibe and the WDW resorts are great for large groups. There are similarities in every disney hotel room (hide-a-bed, theming) and every resort is unique so the best way to book is to just try one out! 🙂
Here are some of our favorites in both California and Florida:
THE CHARACHTER INTERACTION:
Characters In The Park:
In my experience the interactions with characters at Disneyland were the kind where you can just “stumble upon” one, wait in a brief line, get a picture and an antidote and then say farewell. In Walt Disney World the characters had definite “spots” where you wait in line to approach them and there was always a photopass cast member ready to scan your band and take a photo. These interactions in Florida seemed brief, quick, and the characters took routine breaks.
Character dining in California also seemed a little more spontaneous. We did a few different character dining experiences at WDW and each one felt a little rushed and uncoordinated.
BUT (!!!!) with that said we are two 21 year olds with no children, characters should give preference to tables with kiddos and this is probably what we experienced. Also, something I loved at Ohana in Florida was that Stitch came with his own photopass cast member.
Photographers are literally everywhere in Walt Disney World which was super handy and made the “memory maker” purchase a great value. We had our picture taken in every park, on every enabled ride, and with tons of characters. We do the same thing in Disneyland, the only difference is the number of photographers available and the access to ride photos.
THE ACTUAL RIDE TIME:
This is just something small, but we noticed that every attraction seemed shorter in WDW. I figure that they want to keep wait times short which is why it felt this way. A great example is Kali River Rapids in Animal Kingdom! It’s Disneyland counterpart, Grizzly River Run has a few big hills and drops whereas Kali had just one. Certain attraction times felt the same (like Splash Mountain) but as a trend, the rides felt shorter in Disney World.
WHAT TO WEAR:
This isn’t a huge difference but I thought I would add it in as a side note! The parks are in SUCH different climates and what works in Disneyland didn’t work so well for me in Walt Disney World. In California, I usually wear a dress, overalls, or shorts and a tee and I always pack a jacket to tie around my waist. It gets hot in Anaheim but its usually a pretty dry heat and cools off big time in the evening. No fuss, no stress.
In Florida; however, the heat is wet and muggy and you sweat like you are in the middle of a 5k race. It rains on and off, your hair tangles, your makeup slides right off. Its a little bit awful. I thought I was just being an Oregonian wuss until it was confirmed by my insta-friend (and Florida local) Allison that no….it really was that hot outside. I sweat so much and felt so gross by the end of the day, that I quickly realized what does me well in Cali wouldn’t cut it in Florida. I wore my lightest shorts and a tank the rest of the trip! Pack your lightest clothes for Orlando and pack layers for Anaheim.
Good lord what a long post! You made it to the end, congratulations 😉
I hope this helps someone planning a trip! I know I would have loved a post or two like this during the planning stage of our recent jaunt to Walt Disney World. Everything listed above is just one girls opinions and experiences. Im sure I missed a ton of details so if you notice something that I forgot, please leave a helpful tip or note in the comments below. That way someone reading can gain from your knowledge where I lacked to elaborate 🙂
And as always you can reference all this info (in addition to my some favorites) on my Disney Travel Guide or my Disney Content Tab. Both are places on this blog that are permanently devoted to all things Disney!
Have a magical week, and magical time on your next Disney vacation.