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Ready to plan a toadally magical Disney vacation? You might be weighing the pros and cons of Disney World versus Disneyland, trying to make the right choice for your family. How ever will you choose between the two?! Our hopping guide to Disney World versus Disneyland will help you make this decision. But please don’t stress. You don’t have any bad choices here! There are similarities and differences between the resorts, but both make great vacation destinations. It's the "Most Magical Place on Earth" versus the "Happiest Place on Earth!" We think they are equally magical and hoppy. You really can't go wrong, but here's some help making your Disney decision!
This here is a comparison of Disney World versus Disneyland in 2024. In early 2024, Disney World made big changes. Hop to our post on six exciting updates for 2024 Disney World trips. Both Disney World and Disneyland do things a little differently, especially when it comes to whether park reservations are required or when you can start reserving ride times with Genie+ or individual Lightning Lanes. Don't worry. We'll explain everything so even beginners know what we are talking about!
Besides the recent updates, there are unchangeable, permanent aspects of the parks that might make one destination a better overall choice for your family than the other. And some parks are a better fit for your family based on your interests. We want to focus on those here. (Pssst ... sorry to break it to you, but as your family grows and ages, this will be constantly changing. But that is what keeps the parks fresh and exciting as your kids grow into them or become tall enough to ride new rides.)
Size of the Resort
One of the ways that Disney World and Disneyland differ is in the size of the resorts. Disney World is a huge property in Orlando, Florida, with four theme parks, two water parks and over 30 resort hotel choices. Disney Springs, its shopping and dining district, is a destination in itself. It's more time-consuming to hop from one park to another because they are much more spread out. In Orlando, the Disney "bubble" may be pretty large, but that just means there's more to explore!
Disneyland in Anaheim, California, is tiny in comparison with three hotels, the Downtown Disney District and two theme parks all within a few minutes of walking distance from each other. You can easily hop back and forth between parks on the same day. But even though Disneyland is smaller, you’ll find a lot of the same rides and attractions at Disney World, plus a few unique ones you can't find anywhere else. In fact, Disneyland packs more attractions in its space than Disney World does. Pretty impressive!
The Disney World Resort theme parks include:
The Disneyland Resort theme parks include:
Are you a night owl, or someone who likes to tuck in early? Disneyland is typically open later than the Disney World parks. Disneyland is open until midnight (Disney California Adventure usually closes a little earlier, around 10 p.m.) except during very slow periods or for special events and occasional private parties. The Disney World parks may close a bit earlier, but it truly depends on whether it's the off-season (for instance, Animal Kingdom can close as early as 6 p.m.) or a peak time (EPCOT can typically stay open as late as 11 p.m.). But, Disney World does offer after hours park access to guests of Deluxe Resorts, whereas Disneyland does not. Plus, Disney World has more regular After Hours paid events, whereas Disneyland has a few short-term themed After Dark parties.
Park hours vary per season and park, but one of our favorite times at Disneyland is during the last two hours of the day after the crowds leave. Early risers will fare well at either resort (we also love quiet Disneyland mornings), but those early frogs definitely get the flies and a good jump on their day by arriving early to Disney World. At both Disney World and Disneyland, all on-site hotel guests can use Early Entry enter a theme park 30 minutes before park opening. Disneyland parks alternate hosting Early Entry. At Disney World it's at all of the theme parks.
There are separately ticketed After Hours events at Disney World and Disneyland, with reduced attendance and short attraction times. After Hours parties have special entertainment. These events take place after the park has closed for the night. Disney World has more parties than Disneyland Resort. You can also attend Disney H2O Glow Nights at Typhoon Lagoon, or the holiday-based Mickey’s Not-So Scary Halloween Party or Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party at Magic Kingdom on select nights in fall and winter.
Disneyland After Dark Parties are few and far between, usually about four or five per year, each with a different theme and falling on a rare weeknight in the off-season. The only seasonal party that takes place multiple nights throughout a season is the Disneyland Halloween Party — the Oogie Boogie Bash — at Disney California Adventure. Sweethearts Nite, Star Wars Nite and Pride Nite are returning After Dark parties. In 2024, we also have Disney Channel Night.
Transportation to and Around the Resort
Do you like having a car or prefer taking alternative forms of transportation?
Southern California is the land of the car. While there are city buses and a nearby-ish train station at Disneyland, you’ll probably bring your own car, rent a car or use a rides app to get there. You can take the monorail between Downtown Disney and Disneyland’s Tomorrowland, but you need a park ticket to board the Monorail, and sometimes it’s faster and easier to just walk. All of the Disneyland Resort hotels are within walking distance of the parks. Many off-site hotels are also just as close to the parks. If you aren't within walking distance of Disneyland and do not want to brave SoCal traffic, you may find our post on taking public transportation to Disneyland (and Universal Studios) hopful. If you need a pharmacy, restaurant or shop off property, there are several within walking distance of Disneyland (on the corner of Harbor Blvd. and Katella Ave.).
Disney World has so many complimentary transportation options! You can get by without a car at Disney World. Now that Magical Express has ended, you can pay to take a bus service from the airport to your hotel, and once there, you’ll get around by boat, bus, monorail or Disney Skyliner (depending on your hotel location). Mears continues to provide transportation to Disney World, for a fee. Hop over to our post on Orlando transportation to see all of your options.
Disney World Versus Disneyland Hotels
Disneyland is simpler (which may be easier for indecisive froggies), with three on-site hotels, which are all within walking distance of the theme parks. They all have pools and waterslides and other benefits. There are tons of nearby off-site hotels, with some that are very close to the parks. At Land, it is toadally possible to walk from an off-site hotel to the parks.
Meanwhile, Disney World has many different hotels (we're talking 30+ options), ranging from Deluxe Villas, to Value Resort hotels and campgrounds. You could even split your hotel stay to try out different hotels! Staying on-site comes with perks at World, such as the ability to make individual Lightning Lane reservations as of 7 a.m., whereas other park guests need to enter the park before selecting those rides. Disney hotel guests can make advance dining reservations and enjoy complimentary transportation all around the resort. Taking the place of Extra Magic Hours, the Early Theme Park Entry benefit allows all on-site hotel guests able to enjoy access to ANY theme park 30 minutes early EVERY day. Plus there are a few hotels on the Disney World property that are not Disney-owned, but also come with some of the perks of the Disney hotels, such as Disney Springs area hotels and Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort.
Additionally, Disney hotel guests staying at Deluxe or Disney Deluxe Villa Resort hotels can also take advantage of extended evening hours in select theme parks, on select nights. We took advantage of that during a recent stay at Disney's Animal Kingdom, and it was toadally awesome. We did so much at Magic Kingdom between 11 p.m. and 1 a.m. Plus, if any of you West Coasters are traveling to the East Coast, the late night doesn't feel so late due to the time change. Other hotels such as the Swan and Dolphin also get that late night benefit. On a recent stay at the Swan, we took advantage of extended evening hours at EPCOT. We hit all our favorite rides with no wait.
Hopping news! No matter your destination, you can book discount hotels both on property and nearby for Disney World and Disneyland through Undercover Tourist. Ribbit!
Disney World Versus Disneyland Dining
As you can guess, dining is a much bigger deal at Disney World, with many more hotels and in-park choices. You can make Disney World dining reservations up to 60 days in advance (especially if you wish to dine at Be Our Guest or Cinderella's Royal Table). In the past it was 180 days in advance, and we do not know if that will change or not. However, it's still toadally possible to snag last-minute reservations or find walk-up availability at some of the less popular restaurants.
Disneyland dining reservations are usually a little more low-key, however, demand is higher these days. You can generally book up to 60 days in advance. For some locations, you can book closer to your date and still find plenty of availability. Do your best to book 60 days in advance at 6 a.m. PST, especially for Carthay Circle Restaurant, Blue Bayou, and Traders Sam's. At holiday times, it's best to book as soon as you can. Both resorts offer multiple choices for character dining.
Disney World is generally more crowded than Disneyland, although Disneyland can get crowded, too, at times. Disneyland sees increased crowds around holidays, such as during winter break, the end of March and around Columbus Day, and school breaks, including several weeks in early October. Check out our full posts on the best times to visit Disney World and Disneyland for more details! Opening weeks for new rides, lands and shows bring in the crowds. Locals love to experience anything new. Now that runDisney events are back at Disneyland, those weekends get busy too!
Tools for Skipping the Lines
Nobody likes waiting in long theme park lines, even with toadally cool queues. Lines for attractions, characters, shows or food take away time spent doing other things that are much more fun. Both Disneyland and Disney World offer Genie+, which is an optional paid service that allows park guests to skip the standby lines and select one-hour windows to access the shorter Lightning Lane (former FASTPASS/FastPass+ entrance). Free FASTPASS as we know was retired at each resort.
There are major differences between Genie+ at Disneyland and Disney World. You need a lot more strategy and good timing to use the service at Disney World, where things book up quickly compared to Disneyland, where things have a more relaxed pace. Check out these hopful posts for resort specific information about Genie+ and individual Lightning Lane (yes, both Land and World have a few popular rides that are not on Genie+ that you can purchase Lightning Lane access for individually whether or not you use Genie+):
Guests at Disneyland may purchase Genie+ and make ride selections (starting at $30 per ticket per day) only after they enter the theme park each day. They may buy tickets preloaded with Genie+ for a flat rate of $30 per day), but the service will not be activated until they enter a theme park. There is a pretty good selection of Lightning Passes available throughout the day, depending on crowd levels. When it's time to ride, you'll scan your park ticket, a code from the app or a MagicBand+. PhotoPass photos and augmented reality PhotoPass lenses are included with Genie+ at Disneyland. There are about 21 attractions on Genie+ at Disneyland. Disneyland does not charge tax on Genie+ and individual Lightning Lanes. Disney World does.
At Disney World, Genie+ (cost per ticket varies per day) works in a similar way to Disneyland's version, but park guests can start making selections at 7 a.m., whether or not they have entered a theme park. But things move a lot faster at Disney World and there are not as many selections available later in the day. On-ride PhotoPass photos (but not ones taken by a photographer) and augmented reality filters are included. There are about 40 attractions on the Genie+ at Disney World. You can no longer purchase tickets pre-loaded with Genie+ at Disney World (but you still can at Disneyland). You can purchase each day of your trip in the app, beginning at 12 a.m.
At both resorts, guests can book individual Lightning Lane reservations, one at a time, using the My Disney Experience app or Disneyland app. Popular rides such as Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance may be reserved with an individual Lightning Lane for a separate fee. People can pay for a maximum of one or two individual Lightning Lane rides per day and can only purchase a particular ride once per day. These lines also have a free standby line. As you may have guessed, the individual Lightning Lanes also go faster at Disney World than at Disneyland.
There are other ways to skip the lines. Both resorts offer Single Rider lines, allowing people traveling alone or willing to split their party up a chance to fill in empty seats in exchange for what can be a much shorter wait.
Both resorts also offer Mobile Order as a way to reduce contact and skip the food lines. Hop over to our how-to posts on Disney World Mobile Ordering and Disneyland Mobile Ordering service for the full scoop on which restaurants use it, and how it works. The free Disney Genie planning feature is available on both coasts. It can help you find the shortest wait and set up an itinerary based on what you want to do.
How you meet characters varies between the coasts. You will not encounter Lightning Lanes to meet any characters at Disneyland. There are a few standard meet and greet areas with standby lines, and some general guidelines of where you might find a particular character. But you also get those unexpected and rarer characters who pop up from time to time at Disneyland, and even playful characters who come along and invite you to play a game or take a walk with them. Peter Pan or the Mad Hatter are a few of our favorite characters who like to engage guests in games at Disneyland.
Many of the Disney World characters have more formal meet and greet areas. They may be hidden away inside their buildings rather than out on the street. But there can be surprises from time to time! For instance, Koda from "Brother Bear" has made a surprise appearance at Animal Kingdom on Earth Day. Kevin (from "Up") also walks about the park. You can use Genie+ to reserve character interactions at Disney World, but not at Disneyland.
Disneyland is the original Disney theme park. Walt Disney created it and walked its streets. Walt Disney had an apartment above the fire station next to City Hall. A lamp stays lit in the window above the fire station in his memory. To some Disneyphiles, this makes that original park extra special. You can even take a tour of Walt's apartment and get a photo with the lamp.
You'll still see touches directly from Walt at Disney World, including the Carousel of Progress, which was presented at the World's Fair, as well as the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (aka EPCOT). But Walt, unfortunately, passed away before Disney World was open, leaving his brother, Roy, to finish out the construction of the resort.
Disney World Versus Disneyland Entertainment
Both Disney World and Disneyland offer much magical entertainment. You can expect fireworks shows, Fantasmic! (back at Disneyland as of May 24, 2024) and other nighttime spectaculars at both locations. Fireworks are at Disneyland, Magic Kingdom and EPCOT! But at Disneyland shows only include fireworks on the weekends for most of the year. Fireworks are nightly at Disney World. Fireworks are nightly only during holidays, spring break and summer at Disneyland. Smaller shows and musical acts perform through the parks all day.
Magic Kingdom has a fun character cavalcade as well as the Disney Festival of Fantasy Parade. Disneyland has a Magic Happens parade as well as A Christmas Fantasy Parade at holiday time. During Pixar Fest — April 26 through Aug. 4, 2024 — a new parade takes place in Disney California Adventure. Both destinations offer pop-up entertainment throughout the park, including the Dapper Dans. Mickey's Magical Friendship Faire is back at Cinderella Castle at Disney World.
At Disney California Adventure Park, World of Color has dancing fountains of color, light and projection set to music.
Most of the Disney World theme parks offer nighttime spectaculars, including Fantasmic! Disney's Hollywood Studios usually offers a Frozen Sing-Along and Indiana Jones stunt show. Disney's Animal Kingdom has several shows, including the fan-favorite Festival of the Lion King and Finding Nemo!
Like Chip 'n' Dale, there are a lot of similarities between Disney World and Disneyland. You have the same Disney magic and a lot of the same rides. Magic Kingdom Park and Disneyland Park are the most similar in structure and type of rides. You enter the park to see a Mickey flower mural below the train station, walk down Main Street, U.S.A. toward the castle. Disneyland is home to Sleeping Beauty Castle, and Magic Kingdom has the much taller Cinderella Castle — both castles recently got vibrant new paint jobs. The hub (in front of the castle) has paths that take you to many of the same lands with many of the same rides.
The exterior of Disney’s Hollywood Studios matches that of Disney’s California Adventure. But Hollywood Studios’ Tower of Terror still haunts Hollywood Studios (in a good way), while the original ride has transformed into Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout! at Disney California Adventure. Hollywood Studios is the gateway to a galaxy far, far away, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, whereas the same land can be found at the back of Disneyland Park. You’ll find a lot of similar rides, but they might appear in different parks. Toy Story Land at Hollywood Studios doesn’t exist in California, but Toy Story Midway Mania! can be found in Pixar Pier at Disney California Adventure.
Purchasing tickets is the same at both parks. You can save a lot of money by researching the best tickets for your family. Multi-day tickets save money over single-day tickets. Although multi-day ticket pricing (and park hopping) works a little differently at each destination. You can purchase refundable discount Disneyland Resort and Disney World Resort tickets through Undercover Tourist.
Reservations are no longer a concern at Disney World. At Disneyland, you need to have a valid ticket and make a reservation to visit. At Disneyland you can still purchase theme park tickets loaded with Genie+. Also park hopping is more affordable at Disneyland, especially on multi-day tickets.
Speaking of park hopping, Disney World now has all-day park hopping. For Disneyland, you'll choose your starting park and then as of 11 a.m. you can enter either park.
Rides and Attractions Found at Both Properties
Even though both resorts have a lot of the same classic rides, you may notice minor differences between them.
Rides and attractions you can find at both Disney World and Disneyland include the following (the names and experiences sometimes differ slightly):
Each park has unique rides and even a few lands that set it apart from the other. Here's where you can determine which resort has most of your must-do, dream attractions and shows. That might help you decide which parks to visit. If you are torn, you can always plan to hit the other resort on a future trip. We love having a future Disney vacation to look forward to!
Comparing Unique Rides and Attractions
There are signature must-do rides in each park that cannot be found elsewhere in the U.S. For example, Pandora — the World of Avatar at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is a must-do experience. The signature ride is Avatar Flight of Passage, and the land is toadally worth revisiting at night when it’s all aglow with bioluminescence.
EPCOT and Magic Kingdom each opened frogtastic roller coasters — Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind and TRON Lightcyle/Run respectively.
You can get your kicks on Route 66 in the immersive Cars Land at Disney California Adventure and race through the desert on Radiator Springs Racers. Or hop into the cartoon world in a reimagined Mickey’s Toontown in Disneyland, which now houses its own version of Mickey & Minnie's Runaway Railway, but with a different queue.
Toy Story Land is only found at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, but Disney California Adventure is not without everyone’s favorite toys at Pixar Pier with Toy Story Midway Mania! and Jessie's Critter Carousel (not to mention Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters and Alien Pizza Planet at Disneyland Park).
Are you a "Star Wars" fan? Both Hollywood Studios at Disney World and Disneyland have an almost identical Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge land and Star Tours attraction.
Meanwhile, Disney California Adventure has the new Avengers Campus and the re-themed Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission Breakout! WEB SLINGERS: A Spider-Man Adventure allows guests to sling webs just like Spider-Man. You can catch the Avengers in action, training, going to battle or swinging from building to building. EPCOT has a touch of the Guardians, with the all-new Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind coaster. It's toadally awesome!
Also at EPCOT, eat and drink your way around the World Showcase, featuring unique food, drink and cultural representatives from around the world. EPCOT is also host to four unique festivals each year, each with its own special seminars, concert series and cuisine. Disney California Adventure also has several festivals with food booths and special entertainment.
Disneyland Park attractions not found at Disney World:
Disney California Adventure Park attractions not found at Disney World:
Magic Kingdom attractions not found at Disneyland Resort:
Disney’s Animal Kingdom attractions not found at Disneyland Resort:
Disney’s Hollywood Studios attractions not found at Disneyland Resort:
EPCOT attractions not found at Disneyland Resort:
Let's take a look at your lifestyle and interests to further consider if Disney World or Disneyland might be a better or more economical choice.
How much time do you have to visit?
Disney World, due to its size and number of parks, takes more time to explore than Disneyland. You can take a whole week to explore Disney World, but you can see most of Disneyland Resort in about three days. You can certainly take longer to explore Disneyland if you are visiting during a holiday or festival so you can slow down to enjoy the special entertainment and foods, but three days will get you through all the major attractions and shows.
When can you travel?
Weather can play a role in helping you decide. In summer, Disneyland weather will be less humid and has almost no chance of rain. It's hot and dry from summer into fall. Here is a year-round look at Disneyland weather and what to pack as well as an Orlando weather guide and what to pack when visiting the theme parks.
You can expect heat, humidity and thunderstorms in Disney World during the summer, which is in the middle of Florida's wet season. In the winter, you are probably going to find Disney World a little warmer than Disneyland (although we find Disneyland to be quite comfortable when it’s in the 60s). You might encounter rain at Disneyland from November through March. Disney World is more likely to offer warm weather and less rainfall in the winter months, but if you are coming from, say, Minnesota, then either one will toadally do. (However, it can still reach a low of 40s in Florida if a cold front moves through!)
You'll want to consider park hours, entertainment and events/festivals that may take place during your intended visit. One park may stand out as the better choice, depending on your interests.
Where do you live?
How far you have to travel is one determining factor that can save time and money. We find that many people visit the park that is closest to them. A lot of East Coast and Midwestern folks visit Disney World, whereas Disneyland sees a lot of visitors traveling from the West Coast and Western states. You can find cheaper flights to closer destinations or drive yourself, eliminating the cost of flights and potential rental cars or rides.
What are your other interests outside of the theme parks?
Is your family all about Disney, or do you have diverse travel interests? Disneyland is about 30 minutes from the beach and an hour to an hour and a half from both San Diego and Los Angeles. If you wanted to visit the San Diego Zoo or Hollywood and the beach, Disneyland is in the middle of it all.
In Orlando, you are about an hour from the beach and have other major theme parks close by. You can always go out on a swamp boat tour to see alligators or participate in some of the recreation on property, such as golf, horseback riding or fishing. But if you are all about a week of only Disney and are not interested in other attractions in the area, then Disney World makes a great destination. If you want to explore SoCal and Hollywood, then Disneyland could be a winner.
Are you an advance planner or a spontaneous traveler?
If you plan your vacation a year or more in advance and like having an advance plan for each day of your trip, Disney World is your dream destination and we have all of the Disney World park plans, blog posts and tips to help you.
If you are a more spontaneous person who likes to go with the flow, then Disneyland may be your resort. We also have all of the blog posts and tips for how to maximize your time at Disneyland, as well. But overall, Disneyland is simpler from a planning perspective than Disney World just because it's smaller. But Disney World has gotten easier to visit without reservations or park hopping restrictions. Dining has become more in demand these days, so definitely plan your dining reservations 60 days in advance at either destination.
No matter which coast you visit, you will need to purchase tickets in advance . You do not need a reservation at Disney World. At Disneyland, you may reserve up to 180 days in advance.
Are you interested in special celebrations?
If you hope to visit in 2024, look to see special entertainment, festivals and celebrations taking place to help you plan. Disneyland has the Season of the Force and Pixar Fest hoppening in spring (and into summer for Pixar Fest).
What are your favorite Disney movies and characters?
Some parks feature some movies and characters more than others. Visit the park that will most excite your family. Some of the newest lands are the most immersive.
One thing's for sure: No matter which Disney destination you choose, you're in for a magical trip!
So, have you made a decision? Where do you fall in the Disney World versus Disneyland debate? Feel good about your decision. You have no bad choices here. Wherever you decide to visit, you want to save some green with your favorite froggy friends at Undercover Tourist. Be sure to hop on a jumping deal on discount theme park tickets and hotel stays at or near either resort!
Related: The Disneyland Fan’s Guide to Visiting Disney World
Related: The Disney World Fan’s Guide to Disneyland
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