Tag Archives: epcot

Doing Disney World with a Genie and a little Lightning

This isn’t the kind of genie that grants wishes.

I don’t post a lot about Disney, at least aside from stuff released by Disney. It’s become impossible to avoid The House of Mouse considering the Disney company owns Marvel, Star Wars, Hulu, 20th Century Television, and so on. I have made frequent additions to The Christmas Spot featuring a Disney special of some kind, but when it comes to the theme parks I have largely stayed quiet. That’s because there’s tons of that out there in the wild. There are plenty of Disney fanatics in the world that have an opinion on the company’s decision to remove Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride in favor of an expanded Fantasyland in Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. There are certainly a ton of Epcot enthusiasts who pine for the days of no character representation at the park featuring the big golf ball and absolutely hate the encroachment of traditional Disney IP into their fake world showcase. There’s just a lot of strong opinions and it all becomes an echo chamber.

My experience with Disney World goes back to the 80s. My parents actually honeymooned at Disney World in the early part of the decade when it was just The Magic Kingdom. They didn’t select that as their destination because they were big time Disney fans, it was just a pretty new experience and it was something they had never done. Plus, there were other things to do in and around Orlando, Florida and they probably didn’t have the money to go someplace more exotic. My parents always knew they wanted to have kids someday, so when they were at Disney World and they saw how kids responded to the characters and attractions they basically made a vow to return with their kids in the future. And they stuck to that, bringing my sister and I in 1988 when I was a mere 4 years old. I obviously can’t remember much from that trip given my age. I remember picking out my own set of Mickey ears and Minnie Mouse playing with my sister’s pig tails at a character breakfast aboard a ship. My parents had such a good time with us that my grandmother felt left out and wanted to experience it too so we got to go back to Disney World a year later. We wouldn’t return again until 1998 when my family wanted to do a big vacation. We stayed onsite, and it was the first trip to Disney we went on where we didn’t go see other, non-Disney, theme parks, we just enjoyed Disney for what it was.

Since meeting my wife over ten years ago now, we’ve been to Disney World six times: three as a couple and three with our own children. We’ve also been to Disneyland once. My wife is a bigger Disney fan than I am when it comes to Disney as a brand and as an attraction. I love the classic shorts and films and appreciate the theme parks. I enjoy how you’re able to feel like you’ve exited reality, to some degree, when setting foot in Disney World. They whisk you away from the airport and take you to your hotel with part of the experience being the music on the bus even changing when you hit the front gate. And unless you rent a car, you don’t ever have to leave. There’s so much to see and experience that it’s really impossible to get it all in during a single visit, which for us has always been a week. We do a five day ticket with park hopper and leave one day open to just enjoy the resort, do some shopping, and get some rest since a Disney vacation is not exactly a relaxing one.

Since I started going with my wife, we’ve seen a lot of changes at the parks. Our first trip coincided with the Fantasyland expansion and the main attraction there, The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, wasn’t even open yet. We stayed at their newest resort, The Art of Animation, because my wife is a big fan of Finding Nemo. When we returned with our children for the first time, the year was 2019. It was a big, family, trip with my parents and sister’s family and we stayed at the Polynesian resort. My family is comfortably middle class, and to afford the trip my aunt came along who is a retired Disney cast member who worked for years at the Disney Store and receives discounts on hotels. Without her, I can’t see staying at the Polynesian, but it was my dad who fell in love with the idea of being on the Monorail. When we brought our kids for the second time, it was just my family of four plus my parents and we stayed at the Pop Century resort. The year was 2021 so COVID protocols were in place. It was also after the construction of the Sky Liner which could take us directly from the hotel to either the Hollywood Studios or Epcot theme parks. With my kids a little bit older for this trip (5 and 6), it made sense to have that kind of access as they were more into the rides at Hollywood Studios and Epcot was just a great park to return to night after night for food and beverages. This most recent trip we took was in January of 2023. It was another big family trip as my sister had her daughter between our trip in 2019 and now so my parents wanted to do one more. We returned to the Polynesian and stayed for a week once more. It was by far the coldest week I’ve ever spent in Florida with the idea of a pool day being laughable as a result, but it was still nicer than the weather in the northeast.

A benefit of going to Disney World in January is that you still get to see the park decorated for Christmas without the Christmas crowds.

This most recent trip was easily the least enjoyable one so far. Part of that is my kids are even older now so the magic has started to fade a bit. My daughter was still excited to give out hugs to Mickey, Donald, and all of the rest, but my son and nephew were less enthused. My niece, who is 2 and into Frozen and Minnie Mouse, had a nice time, but she didn’t have that BIG reaction the other kids had when they were around her age. She was still a ton of fun to observe, but maybe not what was expected. We also had our travel down to Florida interrupted when the FAA grounded all flights the day we were traveling. We left the house at 4:30 in the morning expecting to be in Orlando before noon that day. What ended up happening is our connecting flight was cancelled and we had to get rerouted to Chicago. We ended up taking three flights that day and didn’t get to our hotel room until 3:00 AM. As a result, it felt like we were playing catch-up on our sleep for much of the week and that first day in Disney World was rather short since our kids just couldn’t do a full day after going through that.

That certainly wasn’t the start we envisioned, but we made do. The weather wasn’t perfect, but it’s manageable. What compounded things though were the changes we experienced. The first big one was the discontinuation of Disney’s Magical Express. That was the complimentary bus service that took guests from the airport to Disney property. Interestingly, it was one of the things my kids loved the most about our past trips because they would show Disney shorts on the monitors and there was the aforementioned big deal about hitting Disney property. What a nice perk for guests staying at a Disney hotel just taken away. Now, you have to arrange transportation yourself and wouldn’t you know, the company we hired bailed on us when our flights got all screwed up. We were left scrambling to find a cab that could get 11 people from the airport to the hotel, with luggage, at 2:30 in the morning on a Thursday. It was a nice bit of stress to add to the start of a vacation.

At least this new addition was a good one.

When I went in 1998, there was no such thing as Fast Pass. My family and I endured some incredible lines to get on the most popular rides. We were teens though and my parents were still shy of 40 so we could handle it. When I went with my wife for the first time, we got to benefit from the Fast Pass system. We would go to a ride, get a pass, and return when we were supposed to. It was easy enough to manage and there was plenty to do in between. When we returned in 2019 with our kids, the Fast Pass system had been moved to the app. It required more planning, but my wife is the type that likes to plan out her Disney experiences so it wasn’t much of an adjustment for us. We were able to get our kids onto all of the rides we wanted to experience and overall it worked really well. In 2021, the Fast Pass system was gone. The parks weren’t operating at full capacity due to COVID so it was back to the old line system, and funny enough, it was fine. I don’t think we waited in a line longer than 40 minutes for anything. The longest line was probably Rise of the Resistance, which was brand new at the time, though it also could have been Peter Pan that we waited the longest for. I’ll never understand why that ride always has a crazy line, but it is what it is.

If you’re a Disney fan then you can probably guess where this is going now. For 2023, we got to experience the Genie+ system. Prior to this thing being invented, the Fast Pass system was always part of the experience and included with every park admission. Genie is not. Now, if you want to make sure you get onto a certain ride you have to pay extra. It’s a per ticket fee, and it just gives you the right to book a Fast Pass on Disney’s app. I’d tell you the fee, but it changes from day-to-day depending on how popular a day Disney thinks it’s going to be. I think some days it was 7 bucks per ticket and others it was 12 or 15. Mind you, a ticket to any Disney park these days is well over 100 bucks whether you’re a kid, adult, or senior citizen. Adding to that expense is just asinine. Never mind that you’re going to pay plenty of money to either stay at a resort hotel, park your car, pay for food, and whatever else comes along. Disney is really good at extracting money from its guests, but this is their most naked attempt at doing so. Oh, and if you want to ride the most popular rides you have to pay per ride. Rise of the Resistance and The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train are on the Lightning Pass system, or whatever it’s called, so you get to pay extra. Your Genie+ for the day is only good for some rides. How senior citizens figure this stuff all out must be interesting.

The Polynesian is a remarkably convenient resort to stay at and quite lovely to look at, but not really worth the money.

A lot of these changes occurred under the recently ousted Disney CEO, Bob Chapek. He has been replaced with a returning Bob Iger who has started to undo some of the changes his failed successor made. He has not undone the Genie+ system and I don’t expect him to. And why? Because people use it and pay for it. Let’s face it, for a lot of people Disney World is a once-in-a-decade trip. Maybe even once-in-a-lifetime for some. It sure feels like they’re moving to that with how expensive it’s all become, and if you want to experience as much as you can you’re going to have to bite the bullet and pay for this thing. I try to tell my kids how lucky they are to have been three times already in their short lives, but they’re kids so they can’t even wrap their heads around that. I also told them to make sure they see everything they wanted to see during this trip because I don’t see us returning anytime soon. And we had to skip on some stuff, because you just do. Disney has successfully sapped a lot of my enthusiasm for the parks with these changes. In addition to the added expense is the added time sink. You better get up before 7 AM on your vacation to purchase your Genie+ add-on and start making reservations as soon as possible if you want to get the most bang for your buck. And you probably won’t if you have small kids. I think we only used 2 to 3 Fast Pass selections each day. Our kids can’t go from morning until night at the parks and we didn’t want to run them into the ground since we were there primarily for them.

I don’t know if I would classify myself as a Disney Die-hard. My wife is, and I’m something approaching that. I really enjoyed the parks each time I went, and when the subject of a vacation comes up it was always my default selection because where else am I going to have that much fun with my kids? Leaving at the end of a vacation was always a sad event, but this time I felt none of that. And now I think I’m kind of done. I’m sure I’ll go back someday, but right now I couldn’t even make a guess. If my kids become fans of the brand and its past then maybe we’ll do a trip to Anaheim if they would appreciate seeing where it all began. For now though I feel worn down by Mickey. If I had any advice to share with Bob Iger it would be to keep Disney in reach for those with modest incomes. Stop trying to court the wealthy, which is what it feels like Disney is out to do with crazy additions like the Star Wars hotel experience. And get rid of that stupid Genie! Making people pay extra to skip lines is just creating a multi-class environment. If you must, make aspects of the Fast Pass system exclusive to those who are staying on Disney property like a longer window to book reservations. The system they had in place when they first moved it to the app was pretty great and it didn’t need to be changed. And also get rid of the stupid Lightning Lane. About the only change I thought was a good one was the new virtual queue system for extremely popular rides. That’s where you get into the queue in the morning if you have a reservation for the park the ride is located at, and in this case it was the new ride based on Guardians of the Galaxy. In reality, very little about the queue is virtual since it works like a Fast Pass in that you have a time to show up, but unlike a Fast Pass you’re just getting in line to wait for the ride. I think we waited for close to an hour. Was it worth it? To a point, since it was a new experience and the ride was fun. Would I do it a second time? No. Which is the same answer I’d give to someone who said to me “Hey, you want to go to Disney World in 2024?” And that surprises the hell out of me.

Looking for more Disney content? Here’s just a small sample:

The World and The Land: A Disney Comparison

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…

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24 Hours of Disney+

It’s a bit funny to me what we get excited for in our modern era. If you had told me when I was a kid that people would be geeking out over new phones, subscriptions, and chicken sandwiches I probably would have wanted time to slow down even more than I already did. That’s where…

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Disney’s Best Five Film Run

The Walt Disney Company has been producing animated features for 80 years now. In that time, the company has released 55 films with a 56th on the way later this year and others in development. I’m only talking about the animated ones, because if you add in live-action and all of the films released by…

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Disney and Lego – What Happened?!

lego logoNearly three years ago The Lego Company released just its third ever line of mini figures based on a licensed property. Following two waves of figures based on The Simpsons, Lego turned to an old friend:  Disney. The Disney wave of mini figures contained 18 characters that covered some of Disney’s classic characters like Mickey and Donald, as well as film stars and even a few Pixar characters. A few months later, the wave was supplemented with the unveiling of the massive Cinderella’s Castle from Walt Disney World. The 4,000 piece set was pricey, but also quite impressive. It, along with the other figures, now adorn the mantle over my front door declaring that my home is indeed a Disney home.

I thought we were in for more Disney from Lego, but following that the Disney brand went away. Given that The Simpsons received two waves and two construction sets, I assumed Disney would get the same treatment. Instead, Lego pivoted to showcasing its movies with mini figure waves based on The Lego Movie and The Lego Batman Movie along with waves of generic figures. Disney is an expensive brand, I assume, with characters that necessitate unique sculpts so I’m sure it’s pricier than a lot of other properties Lego could focus on, but I bet it’s also a big seller. Those Disney blind-bagged figures disappeared pretty fast from shelves wherever I saw them. The only place that seemed to maintain stock around me was a local comic shop that sold them for almost twice as much as The Lego Store or big box retailers. As for the castle, I have no idea how that did. It retailed for $350, but a lot of Disney enthusiasts are used to paying top dollar for anything Disney related. It’s still available at Lego’s webstore, so either it didn’t sell out or it’s still being produced. Aside from that, the only other readily available Disney products from Lego include Duplo, Lego Junior, and Lego Friends sets mostly based around Cars, Mickey, and the various Disney princesses.

lego cinderella

Pricey yes, but I would wager most who bought Lego’s take on Cinderella’s Castle from The Magic Kingdom were pretty happy with the end result.

Maybe Disney doesn’t perform as well for Lego as other properties. It would seem the company mostly caters to adolescent males with lots of Marvel and Star Wars sets. It’s possible that crowd looks down on Disney as being too kiddie or something. Whatever the reason, the lack of product feels like a mixed opportunity. Many characters were left out of that initial wave of mini figures and there are so many more landmarks and attractions from Disney parks that would look lovely in Lego form.

In terms of mini figures, the biggest omission from the first wave was Goofy. Goofy is one of Disney’s oldest characters along with Mickey and Minnie. Daisy Duck was likely included in that initial wave as a complement to Donald (and to reuse some of the duck parts), though Disney fans would certainly find Goofy more deserving of inclusion. The Mickey, Donald, and Goofy trio anchored many a cartoon short, and he would have been the most obvious inclusion in a wave two. In addition to Goofy, Pluto went missing as well. He’d look a little odd if done like a bipedal character, but Lego should have found a way to get him in even if it meant just doing a dog figure and single packing him. For The Simpsons, Lego made the pets accessories which also would have sufficed.

duplo goofy

If you want a Lego version of Goofy this is presently your best, and only, choice.

Goofy and Pluto are the only classic characters who went missing, but there were plenty of opportunities for complementary figures to what was released in the first series. Jafar would have made sense given the presence of Aladdin and Genie, and Woody and Jessie made sense given Buzz and the Alien were also included. Want more of The Incredibles? Elastigirl and the kids could have been featured and even Frozone. More classic movies could have also been explored. How about Pinocchio with Jiminy Cricket and Gepetto with Figaro and Cleo? The Beast would be a fun inclusion as would a pairing of Mowgli and Baloo. If they really wanted to go deep, while also reusing some sculpts, the Three Caballeros would certainly get my attention and another easy redo would be another Mickey but in his sorcerer’s attire or in black and white. Lastly, how about some Disney Afternoon figures? Scrooge McDuck, Launchpad, Darkwing Duck, the nephews – all would be welcomed and Lego really could have saved a few bucks if it released three separate figures for the nephews that are essentially just repaints of each other.

A second wave of mini figures would be easy to fill. If anything, there would likely still be characters missing, but things would feel more complete than they are now. As for new sets, oh there would be many contenders, but the most obvious is Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. It would have to be relatively in-scale with Cinderella’s Castle so it would be a smaller set, and thus probably cheaper. The same loving detail would need to go into it though making sure the front of the structure is essentially picture-perfect with rooms around the back stuffed with nods to classic films. Given what was present in Cinderella’s Castle, this one could naturally spotlight other films. Aurora’s room would make sense and maybe a workshop resembling Gepetto’s. A bedroom with little beds in a nod to the Dwarfs’ cottage would be cute, though seven beds would probably be impossible. The only challenge would be not doubling-up on some of the references in the prior set, but that’s a nice problem to have. Cinderella’s Castle came with five mini figures, one of which (Tinker Belle) was exclusive. For this set, repaints of Mickey, Donald, Minnie and Goofy could be included with the exclusive being a dragon to resemble Maleficent.

spaceship earth

Disney’s secret best park would make for an attractive Lego set.

The most obvious set after that would be Spaceship Earth from Epcot. A version of which appears on the Lego Ideas site, but it doesn’t go far enough as a display piece (though I’m still backing it regardless). The designer attempted to build the actual ride, and in order to do so, didn’t create an outside for the spaceship similar to Lego’s take on the Death Star. I think to do it right, half of the set should be covered and textured like the actual Spaceship Earth, with the other hemisphere being uncovered to show the ride. That side could even be relatively flat as it would likely be impossible to make the ride truly resemble the real one. As for an exclusive character to include? None other than Epcot’s original mascot Figment, of course.

Spaceship Earth would be ambitious and probably as expensive as Cinderella’s castle. There are plenty of smaller exhibits from Disney parks that are just as iconic and popular with fans. Space Mountain is certainly unique looking and has been a park fixture for decades now. Splash Mountain would also be unique and fun and the characters associated with the ride would make for obvious mini figure tie-ins. Less ambitious, but no less iconic, would be Dumbo The Flying Elephant. Such a set would be small and probably quite cheap compared with the larger sets, but because of that and its status, it would probably sell quite well. The Haunted Mansion would be another fun one and would present an opportunity to possibly create mini figures based on The Nightmare Before Christmas since those characters are associated with the ride and are a lot better than the ghosts from that awful Eddie Murphy movie based on the attraction.

The only issue with embarking on such a path for Lego would be the demand for more. If they started making multiple sets based on attractions from Disneyland or the Magic Kingdom then fans would probably want more to essentially create a Lego version of the treasured parks. Imagine a Lego Main Street USA with the train station or the fire house with Walt Disney’s apartment over it. Disney enthusiasts would probably devote large portions of their homes to their displays as they layout the main entrance to the park leading to one of the castles in the center. Toon Town, The Matterhorn, The Mad Tea Party – these would be all things fans would suddenly want and Lego would be free to try and meet the demand, or not. Demand is a great problem to have for a manufacturer.

lego toy story 4

Well, at least we have Toy Story 4 sets to look forward to.

Lego and Disney obviously have a relationship and it certainly seems like it’s still pretty strong. It’s possible that Disney is hard to deal with when it comes to their classic characters and attractions. Maybe Disney made a lot of demands of Lego in regards to its take on Cinderella’s Castle. Square-Enix, makers of the Kingdom Hearts games, can certainly attest to how tough it can be to get Disney to approve things as it relates to its characters, Mickey in particular. And there is more Disney to come from the company, just no hint at anything like what I just laid out. Toy Story 4 sets will be arriving this spring which will include reissues of the Buzz Lightyear mini figure from 2016. He’ll be joined by Woody and others so fans who have the old mini figures will be able to at least add to them. And last year there were sets based on The Incredibles 2 so it was possible to add to them as well. Sadly, any sets based on Frozen 2 will likely be in the Lego Friends style, which is fine if that’s what you or your kids like, but they don’t pair all that well with traditional sets and mini figures. I suppose it’s always possible something like Sleeping Beauty Castle could be announced and maybe if there’s a break in Lego movie releases the opportunity for another Disney wave could present itself, but that seems unlikely at this point. For now, fans will have to try to supplement what they have with smaller releases related to new films while hoping something comes through the Lego Ideas contest and dream about what could have been.

UPDATE:  Of course, not long after this post went live Lego announced a new set that, while not from based on a Disney park, is in my wheelhouse:  Steamboat Willie. I considered taking this post in the direction of classic Disney shorts, but wanted to keep it focused on just Disney parks. A Steamboat Willie set is definitely something I’m interested in and I would love more sets based on classic shorts like “Mickey’s Trailer” or “Lonesome Ghosts.” I am guessing more won’t follow as Steamboat Willie is a tie-in with Mickey’s 90th birthday from last fall and that particular short is obviously quite famous and appropriate as a celebratory item. Where as the general public probably doesn’t care about a Mickey set featuring a camper.

UPDATE #2!:  Hot on the heels of the Steamboat Willie announcement comes the surprising announcement of Wave 2 for Disney minifigures! It contains some obvious inclusions like bagged releases of the black and white Minnie and Mickey that will be included with the steamboat. There’s also a Jafar as well as Uncle Scrooge and the nephews. They’re even doing princesses this time as Jasmine, Elsa, and Anna will see release too. Thankfully, they’re skipping out on Toy Story characters since they’ll be coming with the sets for Toy Story 4 this spring. Unfortunately, there is one rather large omission:  WHERE’S GOOFY?!

The World and The Land: A Disney Comparison

orl-disneyland-vs-disney-world-castles-pictureIt 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:


A map of Disney World, Disneyland is said to be able to fit in the Magic Kingdom's parking lot.

A map of Disney World, Disneyland is said to be able to fit in the Magic Kingdom’s parking lot.

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

Disneyland's current biggest attraction:  Radiator Springs Racers.

Disneyland’s current biggest attraction: Radiator Springs Racers.

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.

And here's Disney World's newest ride:  The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.

And here’s Disney World’s newest ride: The Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.

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.

Making its debut in 2013, Disney World's Magic Band is the new fast pass.

Making its debut in 2013, Disney World’s Magic Band is the new fast pass.

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

Epcot; otherwise known as my home away from home.

Epcot; otherwise known as my home away from home.

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.

Final Words

fantasmicIn 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.

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