It has been a long time between posts for me. Never since I started this blog have I only made one post for an entire month, but my personal life left little time for leisure throughout the month of June. Without getting into too much detail, I spent the end of June and the start of July honeymooning in Disneyland: The Happiest Place on Earth. As a dweller of the east coast, I have been fortunate enough to vacation in Disney World several times as both a kid and adult (it’s actually where I “popped the question” to my now wife) but I had never left the east coast for the west and visited the original park, Disneyland.
Growing up, Disneyland was sold to me as the lesser Disney World. As such, I never had any desire to really see Disneyland if Disney World was better. When vacationing at Disney World, the cast members there love sharing the fact that the entire Disneyland park (and the new park, California Adventure) could fit inside the parking lot of Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. The common thing I heard from people who had been to both was that Disneyland was something to do on a weekend, while Disney World was a destination worthy of a week’s investment. Recently though I became interested in the historical aspect of Disneyland. As many know, Disneyland was the original park and its construction was orchestrated by Walt Disney himself, while Disney World was in the early planning stages when Disney passed away in 1966. And while many attractions are shared between the two resorts, Disneyland does have a few unique rides and also still has some of the older rides that have vanished from Disney World over the years. When it came time to settle on a honeymoon, going back to Disney World was certainly an option for my wife and I but we both had a desire to do something at least a little different. It seemed like the right time to hop on a plane bound for California and check out the original and see for ourselves which was best. In the end, we came to find the two were comparable, but also different enough to possess their own charm. It didn’t seem right to necessarily pit the two against each other, which is why this post is merely a comparison and not a contest. After a week (with a five day park hopper pass) at the Disneyland Resort, this is the impression it left upon me:
The first thing that comes to mind when comparing the two resorts is size. Disneyland started off as one theme park with Sleeping Beauty’s castle serving as the central hub for park goers looking to experience the wonder of Fantasyland, the thrill of Adventureland, and the mystique of Tomorrowland. Since 2001, California Adventure has existed opposite Disneyland on the site of the original Disneyland parking lot. Loosely inspired by Disney World’s Hollywood Studios park, California Adventure is home to Pixar and the unique Paradise Pier and Cars Land attractions. Disneyland covers approximately 160 acres with California Adventure an additional 67 acres. By comparison, Disney World’s four parks and several hotels occupy 40 square miles, with the Magic Kingdom totaling 107 acres, Hollywood Studios 135, Epcot 300, and Animal Kingdom a whopping 500 acres. There are also two water parks at Disney World and both have a Downtown Disney area but it should be clear that it’s an apples and oranges comparison when it comes to size.
The size of Disney World was the main draw for Disney as he wanted an area with limitless potential. As a result, Disney World still has tremendous room for expansion should the need or desire arrive while Disneyland is basically locked in. The added size means more room for guests and more variety, but it also means a heavier reliance on transportation. Get used to waiting in lines for a bus at Disney World, while Disneyland’s compact size means everything, including most hotels, is within walking distance. The size of each resort is both a pro and a con, and Disney World at least gives patrons multiple options for park hopping via the shuttle lines, monorail, or ferry boats (the only exception being Animal Kingdom, which is basically isolated from the other three parks). I love the variety of Disney World, but I also really loved going back and forth between Disneyland and California Adventure throughout the day, gaming the fast pass system or just trying to avoid whichever park was more crowded.
Rides and Attractions
The size of both resorts is obviously of no consequence if there’s nothing worth seeing and experiencing at the parks. To make comparing the two easy, many rides are duplicated across the parks while some of the seemingly unique rides share the same technology or format as a ride at the other park.
Disneyland and The Magic Kingdom are the easiest to compare as The Magic Kingdom is essentially the sister park to Disneyland. They have the same layout and general design with a castle serving as the central hub of everything. In Disneyland, it’s Sleeping Beauty Castle while The Magic Kingdom is home to the colossal Cinderella’s Castle. Cinderella’s Castle is the representation of the size difference between the two resorts as it dwarfs Sleeping Beauty Castle. When it comes to the surrounding lands, the only major difference is the northern most land at each. In Disneyland there’s Mickey’s Toon Town while Disney World boasts a larger version of Fantasyland (and at one point in time, had its own Toon Town). Originally, many of the classic Disneyland dark rides existed at Disney World, such as Snow White’s Scary Adventure and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. These have been replaced at Disney World in favor of an additional Dumbo ride, a small Goofy coaster, and the new Seven Dwarves Mine Train, a ride unique to Disney World.
The dark rides are mostly for kids. As an adult, I find myself only riding them to escape the heat. Between the two parks, the only one to really leave an impression on me is the Disneyland version of Peter Pan’s Flight which seemed faster and appeared to be kept in better shape than its Disney World counterpart. Disneyland has some unique dark rides such as the Monsters Inc. ride and Alice in Wonderland, but none are difference makers. As for the rides the two parks share, I prefer Splash Mountain at Disney World to the one at Disneyland. Disney World’s version has a bigger car and a bigger drop at the end. Disney World’s Space Mountain is a bit better, though I’m personally not a fan of the ride. A lot of people prefer Disneyland’s version of Pirates of the Caribbean, but I don’t find either ride compelling. Disneyland has a newly refurbished Big Thunder Mountain that’s noticeably smoother than Disney World’s, and therefore better. The original Tower of Terror at Disney World is a more immersive ride experience, but I actually preferred the shorter and quick to the point version at California Adventure. Disneyland also has the superior version of Buzz Lightyear thanks to the non-mounted gun, though both versions of Buzz pale in comparison to Toy Story Mania, which is the same experience at each park.
The unique rides offer the best way for the two parks to stand out. I haven’t been on the newest ride at Disney World, the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, but it does look pretty rad. A unique ride at Disneyland that I wasn’t able to experience is the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage due to an expansive refurbishment going on right now. The ride is a rebranding of the old submarine ride that also existed at Disney World and was pretty hokey, so I can’t say with any certainty that it’s a worthwhile experience. Seemingly unique rides like the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland, exist at Disney World but under a different theme, in this case the DINOSAUR ride at Animal Kingdom. Of the two, I prefer Indy but the experience is pretty comparable. Another one is Epcot’s Test Track, which basically exists at Cars Land as Radiator Springs Racers. Again, if given the choice between the two, I’ll take the Disneyland version because of the fun theme though Test Track offers a bit more thrills than its counterpart and both are awesome. The two resorts also each sport their own roller coaster: California Screamin’ at California Adventure and Rock n’ Roller Coaster at Hollywood Studios. Both start off with a bang and contain sharp turns and an inverted loop. The Rock n’ Roller Coaster is indoors and features an Aerosmith theme while Screamin’ is outdoors, is longer, and overlooks the Paradise Pier area. Of the two, again I side with Disneyland as California Screamin’ offers the overall better experience. And for some reason it’s not very popular and boasts consistently short wait times. Animal Kingdom has the safari ride which is obviously an experience unique to that park. It also has the Expedition Everest ride which also does not have a Disneyland counterpart and is a pretty thrilling experience.
Both parks feature shows and fireworks displays to entertain guests when they’re not eating or enjoying the rides. Every night at Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, there’s “Wishes” the fireworks show. It’s a love letter to the Disney films of old (and some new) that will stir the emotions of anyone with fond memories for such films. The outdoor spectacular “Fantasmic” at Hollywood Studios is something to be seen if you’re a kid or adult. One part water show, one part broadway, and one part fireworks, it’s probably the best thing going at either resort. Not to be outdone, Disneyland has the Magical Fireworks each night which are entertaining but not quite on the same level as “Wishes.” Disneyland also has its own version of “Fantasmic,” but without a dedicated amphitheater setting, it’s not as grand, but gets the job done. California Adventure boasts “The Wonderful World of Color” which is basically a laser water show out in front of Mickey’s Fun Wheel. It’s unique and pretty neat to experience, and the special Glow With the Show edition of the famous Mickey Ear Hat is a fun, albeit pricey, addition to the experience. It’s not quite on the same level as “Fantasmic,” but is something visitors to Disneyland should go out of their way to experience at least once.
One huge difference between the two resorts is the Fast Pass system. At Disneyland, patrons are able to visit kiosks throughout the parks and essentially reserve time in the future to experience a certain ride or attraction. For most rides, it means avoiding a line and returning to the attraction in an hour or so (for the mega-popular Radiator Springs Racers, it may mean returning to the ride in several hours) at no additional cost. The downside to this is that only certain rides are equipped for Fast Pass with some popular rides like The Matterhorn or Toy Story left off. The system was in place at Disney World for years until recently when Disney introduced the Magic Band and Fast Pass Plus. Basically, now park goers decide before they even enter the park what rides they want to fast pass and for when. The downside is that each person gets only three fast passes per day so if you want to experience an entire park in a day you’re going to have to wait in some uncomfortable lines. Especially if you have kids that want to go on Peter Pan, Dumbo, It’s a Small World, Splash Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, etc. On one hand, it’s convenient to be able to decide ahead of time what rides you want to go on (you can also make changes at the locations in the park or via a smart phone app), but only having three and being limited to one park per day kind of sucks. It would be nice if they added one or two more, or at least let you spread the three across parks, but I don’t know if Disney really has any incentive to do so (aside from the potential to sell more park hoppers).
Dining and Accommodations
Disney World, being true to its name, is expansive and boasts numerous Disney brand hotels. It’s one of the main advantages the resort has over Disneyland for The Walt Disney Company was able to control all of the land surrounding the parks. By contrast, Disneyland is literally surrounded by tons of hotels, all but three are independently owned by non-Disney corporations. For the consumer, this means some very reasonably priced rooms, but a lack of Disney flair.
Even though Disney owns nearly all of the hotels in Disney World, it is possible to stay onsite without breaking the bank. The “value” hotels are fairly priced and offer free transportation to the park via shuttle. The moderate and premium resorts will make a dent on your wallet, but offer better locations and grounds. Conversely, if you want to stay at a Disney hotel at Disneyland expect to pay, at minimum, $300 a night for a bland room. I did stay at the Disneyland Hotel, and even though I can freely admit it’s overpriced, it is a really great hotel for Disney fans. Nearly everything in the hotel room is adorned with a Mickey Mouse head and the swimming pool boasts a monorail themed water slide. Ultimately, a room usually just ends up being a place to sleep but if you want to go nuts both resorts have plenty to offer, but Disneyland on the cheap pretty much can’t be done at a Disney hotel.
While I feel both resorts compare quite favorably with one another in most areas, one they do not on is dining. As far as dining and food go, Disney World is hands-down the better experience and that’s almost entirely due to Epcot. Both resorts offer the same old stuff in the parks and at the hotels, but Epcot’s World Showcase is the only place where you can sample all kinds of different cuisine and get a stiff drink too. California Adventure offers beer, wine, and frozen margaritas, but both the wife and I found the margaritas and mixed drinks to be a little on the weak side. By contrast, even hint at Epcot’s La Hacienda that you want a little kick to your margarita and you’ll be going home in a wheelbarrow. My wife and I very much enjoyed Disneyland, but on more than one occasion we both voiced our disappointment at the lack of an Epcot.
In the end, Disney is Disney and if you like the Disney experience you’ll love Disney World and Disneyland. It’s charming and familiar and both feature a lot of the same rides, attractions, merchandise, and so on. If you just want to go and enjoy the rides, you’ll have a blast but if you only have a day to spend there then Disneyland will let you see more. If you’re interested in the history of Disney, both parks offer very well done tours including Disneyland’s Walk in Walt’s Footsteps which takes you inside Walt Disney’s private apartment atop the Main Street firehouse. Disneyland will also provide the more casual experience, with cast members heading to and from work a common site outside the park. Disney World will go the extra mile to make you feel as if you’ve left the country and entered another world. The workers seem more devoted to maintaining the illusion at Disney World and it definitely attracts a more diverse workforce. My wife and I will never forget the dinner and waitress who served us at Be Our Guest following our engagement at Disney World. She was superb!
Because I live in the northeast, Disney World will likely be my preferred destination for a Disney vacation for as long as I live here. It’s more of a destination and it’s designed to be seen and experienced in a week as opposed to a weekend. That’s a not a slight against Disneyland, they just serve different purposes. I loved my Disneyland experience and I recommend anyone who loves Disney and has never been there to make the trip out to California. See and experience where it all started, just know you’ll probably only need a three day pass (with park hopper) as opposed to a five day one. And if you’ve never been to either resort, well then I just feel sorry for you.