Disneyland vs. Disney World: 9 Major Differences to Note Before Traveling

by | Feb 15, 2024 | Disneyland, Disneyland Parks, WDW Blog

Disneyland vs. Disney World: Which is the park for you? Our guide explores how these parks are different — and how they’re the same.

Avid theme park fans can get their dose of Disney magic on both coasts of the U.S., but the experiences are somewhat different. In our guide to Disneyland vs. Disney World, we’ll explore what these dedicated Disney Resorts have in common — and more importantly, how trips to each place are unique.

1. Disneyland vs. Disney World Size: Everything’s Bigger in Florida

The first thing you’ll notice if you’ve been to Disneyland in Anaheim and Walt Disney World in Orlando is the size difference. Disneyland, which opened in 1955 with one single park (today, it has a second park, Disney California Adventure) is so small that you can stay off-property and walk to both parks with ease.

Walt Disney World, on the other hand, is roughly 43 square miles and has double the number of parks (Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom) and more than 25 resort hotels. Plus, Walt Disney World has two water parks and the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. Even Disney World’s shopping center, Disney Springs, is significantly larger than Downtown Disney at Disneyland Resort.

While you might be able to walk to some places at Disney World, you’ll absolutely need to rely on your car, a rideshare service, or Disney World’s transportation system — monorail, buses, Skyliner, and boats galore! — to get around the entire property.

2. Disney World vs. Disneyland Park Hopping: Easier in Anaheim

Because of its smaller size, Disneyland Resort is much more ideal for park hopping. The esplanade that separates the main gate of Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure is roughly 250 feet across.

I’ve started many days at one park, hopped to another for a quick ride or bite to eat, gone back to the first park, and then walked back again for the nighttime entertainment at the other. The walk from one to the other is faster than a trip around World Showcase at EPCOT in Disney World.

Park hopping at Walt Disney World is still worth consideration, especially if you’ve been many times before and are approaching your trip a little more laid-back. But if you’re trying to maximize your time at Disney World, I recommend skipping park hopping. Depending on the transportation you choose, park hopping in Orlando can take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour. If this is a once-in-a-lifetime trip, stay put in a single park each day to make the most of your time.

Still think you’re up for park hopping in Florida? Here’s how to maximize park hopping at Disney World. Just make sure you avoid these common park-hopping mistakes.

3. Disneyland vs. Disney World Restaurants: Who Has the Better Food?

Given its larger size, Walt Disney World has significantly more restaurants than Disneyland, and there’s a much larger emphasis on Table-Service (that is, sit-down) dining at the Florida resort. Dining at Disneyland is more casual; you might just wander until you see a Quick-Service spot that piques your interest.

EPCOT is known as a foodie destination, with four festivals throughout the year serving up delicious eats at festival booths, in addition to its regular selection of restaurants. And if you’re looking for the best resort food at Walt Disney World, stay at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort; it truly is the best Disney hotel for foodies.

Le Cellier at the Canada Pavilion at EPCOT disney pros

Le Cellier at the Canada Pavilion. Photo by Cliff Wang

At Disneyland, food lovers should flock to Disney California Adventure, which has its own set of festivals with an emphasis on food, particularly Asian and Mexican cuisine. One notable dining difference between Disneyland and Disney World: Only Disney World has the Disney Dining Plan.

It’s hard to say which resort has the better food; after all, that really comes down to taste. If you’re hoping to eat the best food at a Disney Park, do your research beforehand. Here are some helpful links to get you started:

Planning a trip around Disney World food can be a monumental task; there’s so much to choose from. And food is just the start of it: You’ve got to pick a hotel, learn how Genie+ works, and prioritize your rides and experiences across four parks. If you need some help, get a copy of our Perfect Park Planning issue of WDW Magazine, packed with great tips to help you plan your next trip.

4. Disney World vs. Disneyland Dining Reservations: It Works a Little Differently

Not only is the food different at Disney World and Disneyland but how you book your Disney dining reservations works a little differently, too.

If you have booked a stay at Walt Disney World, your dining reservations for up to 10 days of your trip open up at the 60-day mark. This gives you an advantage over those not staying on the property, as they can only book reservations 60 days out. If they have a weeklong trip planned but aren’t staying on property, they can only make a dining reservation for day one of their trip at the 60-day mark, and then they’ll have to do the same every day thereafter.

It works the same at Disneyland Resort. No matter where you’re staying (on or off property), you can only make dining reservations 60 days out.

5. Disneyland vs. Disney World Rides: The Ultimate Showdown

Disneyland Park and Magic Kingdom have many of the same rides. Fantasyland classics like Peter Pan’s Flight and “it’s a small world” appear at both parks, as do cult classics like Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, Space Mountain, and Jungle Cruise.

Exterior facade of its a small world at Disneyland v disney world

“it’s a small world” at Disneyland. Photo by Julie de la Fe

That doesn’t mean the rides are identical, however. For instance, “it’s a small world” at Disneyland starts outside and gets a festive overlay each holiday season. In fact, it’s mostly new rides, such as Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, that are essentially the same. Disneyland recently got its version of Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, though the queues are completely different. (Sorry, Disneyland’s is better!)

Given that Disney World has more parks, there are more attractions to experience there. Some of the rides at Disney World without Disneyland counterparts include:

  • Spaceship Earth
  • Test Track
  • Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure
  • Living With the Land
  • Slinky Dog Dash
  • Kilimanjaro Safaris
  • Expedition Everest
  • TRON
  • Seven Dwarfs Mine Train

Disneyland has its own unique rides, too, however, such as:

  • Storybook Canals
  • Snow White’s Enchanted Wish
  • Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride
  • Incredicoaster
  • Pixar Pal-A-Round
  • Radiator Springs Racer
  • WEB SLINGERS

These two resorts also offer a bevy of other types of entertainment, including live shows, which are dramatically different from coast to coast. For instance, only at Walt Disney World can you see Indiana Jones take on epic stunts.

Not sure what to ride at Walt Disney World? Here are a few helpful guides for first-time visitors:

6. Disney World vs. Disneyland Single Rider Lines: Way More in Cali

Lightning Lanes aren’t the only way to get on rides faster at Walt Disney World and Disneyland. And if you’re trying to save money at Walt Disney World, you may want to skip Genie+ altogether. (Here’s how much Genie+ costs, if you’re interested.)

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Single Rider entrance at Expedition Everest. Photo by Morgan Flaherty

Another way to skip the long lines is to use the single rider lines. Not every ride has these, however, and there are way more opportunities for single riders (or groups willing to split up) at Disneyland.

Here’s the full list of single rider lines at Disney World:

  • Test Track (EPCOT)
  • Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster (Hollywood Studios)
  • Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run (Hollywood Studios)
  • Expedition Everest (Animal Kingdom)

And here’s the full list of single rider lines at Disneyland:

    • Matterhorn Bobsleds (Disneyland)
    • Space Mountain (Disneyland)
    • Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run (Disneyland)
    • Goofy’s Sky School (Disney California Adventure)
    • Grizzly River Run (Disney California Adventure)
    • Radiator Springs Racers (Disney California Adventure)
    • Soarin’ (Disney California Adventure)
    • Incredicoaster (Disney California Adventure)
    • WEB SLINGERS (Disney California Adventure)
    • Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue!* (Disney California Adventure)

*This ride has a Buddy Pass, which allows two people to access a shorter line together.

7. Disneyland vs. Disney World Hotels: Way More in Florida

Walt Disney World has more than 25 hotels on the property at three different price levels:

Value hotels like Disney’s Pop Century and the All-Star hotels allow you to stay within the Disney bubble (that is, never leave Disney property) on a budget, though the dining options aren’t as plentiful, they’re usually much louder because of all the families, there may be fewer transportation options, and the amenities in the rooms are not as nice as higher-level resorts.

Moderate hotels are, you guessed it, moderate — a little nicer than the Values but not as nice as the Deluxes. Deluxe hotels offer premium amenities, dining, pools, and experiences. They’re also the most conveniently located.

Walt Disney World also has several Disney Vacation Club hotels, including Disney’s Riviera Resort, which is entirely dedicated to DVC families. In addition, Walt Disney World has its own campground, which has been open since the resort’s inaugural year.

Disneyland Resort, on the other hand, has only three official Disney hotels:

That said, there are plenty of affordable “Good Neighbor” hotels all around Disneyland. While these hotels aren’t operated by Disney, they meet Disney’s strict lodging standards and thus can sell vacation packages to the resort. Walt Disney World also has its own set of Good Neighbor hotels on the property, often at lower rates than Disney-owned and -operated hotels.

Not sure which hotel to book? Get our special resort issue of WDW Magazine, or consider consulting a certified Disney Travel Agent.

8. Disney World vs. Disneyland Genie+: Where Do You Need It More?

Alas, there is no more FastPass at Walt Disney World or Disneyland. Instead, you can use the optional Genie+ service within the My Disney Experience (WDW) or Disneyland (DLR) app.

But just because you know it works at one resort doesn’t mean you’re good to go when you visit the other. How much you’ll spend, when you can start booking rides, and how to get the most out of Genie+ differs at Disneyland and Walt Disney World.

Check out our full guide to Genie+ before purchasing the service on either coast.

9. Disneyland vs. Disney World Castle: Which Is Better?

Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland came first, opening with the park in 1955. Cinderella Castle at Walt Disney World came 16 years later. Both Disney castles are iconic, but they’re also quite different.

Cinderella Caste is significantly larger (and admittedly more awe-inspiring). It stands at 189 feet and has a restaurant inside (Cinderella’s Royal Table). There’s even a suite inside for lucky guests to stay in. There’s also a massive stage in front of the castle.

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Photo by WDW Magazine

Sleeping Beauty Castle is much smaller (only 77 feet), dwarfed by the Matterhorn mountain to its right. That said, the castle is still a sight to behold, and forced perspective does make it appear larger.

Notably, the Magic Kingdom sets off fireworks behind Cinderella Castle every single night the park is open. Disneyland doesn’t set off fireworks every night, though; you’ll need to visit Sleeping Beauty Castle on Friday or Saturday to see it light up with pyrotechnics.

Posts by Timothy Moore

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Timothy Moore is the editorial director of WDW Magazine, DLR Magazine, and DCL Magazine. He has 15 years of experience in storytelling across roles in content marketing, market research, SEO, and journalism. In addition to running an award-winning Disney magazine, Timothy writes travel and finance content for sites like Business Insider, USA Today, and Forbes.
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Authored by
Timothy Moore

Timothy Moore is the editorial director of WDW Magazine, DLR Magazine, and DCL Magazine. He has 15 years of experience in storytelling across roles in content marketing, market research, SEO, and journalism. In addition to running an award-winning Disney magazine, Timothy writes travel and finance content for sites like Business Insider, USA Today, and Forbes.
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