Wondering what a first trip to Disneyland is like from a Disney World fan’s perspective? We’re sharing our best tips for visiting.
Disneyland Resort in California: Home to the original Disney park, the park Walt himself walked, rode, ate, and found happiness. Walt Disney World in Florida: The biggest of all the Disney resorts with four theme parks, two waterparks, and over 25 resort hotels. It’s the resort Walt dreamed of.
As someone who lives outside of Chicago, I never really have had a home park, but have visited Disney World 19 times over the last 41 years. In September of 2023, I was able to take my first visit to Disneyland in California and despite devouring books about the food by Jamie Nelson and Marcy Corriker Smothers and reading all the back issues of DLR Magazine, there were 21 happy and magical surprises I learned on this trip.
21 Tips I Learned from My First Trip to Disneyland Resort
Why 21? Those Disneyland fans out there might get it. Check out the end of the blog for why 21.
1. You feel the history. Disneyland just hits differently.
You don’t have to go on a ride to find that vintage smell, it’s all around in Disneyland. There are so many artifacts everywhere with stories behind almost every building and object on Main Street, U.S.A. The lamp posts from St. Louis, the special lightbulb at Refreshment Corner, and the artifacts in Main Street Cinema.
The ultimate moment is visiting Walt and Lillian’s apartment. It is a feast for all your Disney history-loving senses – the smell of the older building, the sound of the creaky floors, all of the black and white photos dotted around. If you are a fan of Disney history, Walt’s Main Street Story Tour, the tour you get to visit Walt and Lillian’s apartment, can make your trip the happiest.
2. Walk with Walt at Disneyland.
Ride rides Walt rode, eat at restaurants he loved, spot a garbage can he had specifically placed at the distance it took him from purchasing the hot dog to eating it.
3. But be careful while you’re walking down Main Street…
Your journey down Main Street, U.S.A. in Walt Disney World is like playing bumper cars, dodging the people stopping for Castle pics, and trying not to get hit by a stroller when you stop to take your selfie. In Disneyland, you have to pay extra close attention because there are also the Main Street Vehicles cruising down the street. You get used to hearing those horns.
And yes, the castle at Magic Kingdom is a lot bigger!
4. Overall Disneyland Resort is so much smaller.
Walt Disney World has 25+ hotels, four parks, water parks, Disney Springs, and more. Disneyland Resort has two parks, Downtown Disney, and just three Disney resorts: Disneyland Hotel, Disney’s Grand Californian Adventure, and Disney’s Paradise Pier.
For example, to walk from my room in Fantasy Tower at The Disneyland hotel to “its a small world” in Disneyland was about 0.9 miles. T walk around the entire World Showcase at EPCOT is about 1.2 miles. Ask your feet at the end of the day what a difference that little bit makes!
5. The Main Source of Transportation is You
Boats, bus, monorail, Skyliner, Minnie Vans – there are a lot of ways to get around at Disney World. The transport at Disney World is almost as memorable as a Mickey hug. At Disneyland Resort, your primary source of getting around is you.
6. Disneyland and DCA are Right Across from Each Other
I’d read up on how close the parks are, but in real life, they are just so close. For all you Walt Disney World goers, imagine if the main gates of Magic Kingdom and EPCOT were across a courtyard that’s about the size of the hub in Magic Kingdom.
7 . See a Whole New World on Tours
Both resorts have tours but despite all the trips to Walt Disney World, Disneyland was the first time I took a Disney park tour: the Celebrating Disney100 tour and Walt’s Main Street Tour. The Disney100 tour was available for a short time. It took guests on a walking tour through both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure (DCA) and was full of unforgettable moments.
Walt’s Main Street Story Tour is how guests can visit Walt and Lillian’s apartment. Walt Disney World is bursting with tours for so many interests – trains, Utilidors, gardening, elephants, art.
8. Disneyland is Truly a Locals’ Park.
At Walt Disney World most of the folks are there on a vacation. You’ll find some locals but mostly it’s folks visiting from other states and countries and are there for multiple days. Disneyland and DCA are local parks. Locals visit for the day, pop in on a day off, or bring the family on a weekend day.
Some locals will just swing in to buy shoes or grab dinner at Downtown Disney. As a visitor, this means you have experts everywhere!
9. Cast Members are Often Local and Huge Disney Fans
For quite a few of the Disneyland Cast Members I talked to, Disneyland was where they went as a hangout. It was a must visit on days off of school and they often visited as a family. When they were young it was the hangout, almost like the mall. My Tour Guide for Walt’s Main Street Story dreamed of working at DL since he was a child and being a tour guide is like a dream job.
With the close proximity of Walt Disney Studios and Disney Imagineering, you can also spot executives and other folks you see on all those amazing Disney+ documentaries.
10. Far Fewer Attraction Photos at Disneyland
Disneyland has a lot of older rides with only four current attractions offering ride photos. Without the use of the MagicBand, it can also be tricky to get them, like on Radiator Springs Racers. When Tiana’s Bayou Adventure opens it will go up to five.
Over at Walt Disney World, the list is up to fourteen attractions with photos, and with the Magic Band, they usually automatically appear in your My Disney Experience App.
11. See Disney Classics in “it’s a small world”
Seeing Disney characters in “it’s a small world” made me giddy like a little kid.
It’s like playing Where’s Waldo while you try not to sing along. Aladdin, Lilo & Stitch, Toy Story, and Cinderella are just a few of the Disney movies with characters in the ride.
12. Characters at Disneyland Wander and Wear Festive Costumes
Love planning your Disney vacation? Do you pour over spreadsheets and have each hour mapped out? Well, then meeting characters at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure may just drive you a bit wacky.
There are some specific meet and greets with scheduled times and there are of course character meals. But a lot of characters just wander around or pop out around Main Street, U.S.A. for a bit, and then different ones may come out next.
The planner in me wanted to go in the app and see who I could see, what they would be wearing, and when and you can’t quite do that. At Disney World, you can meet Mickey in four different outfits on a fairly regular schedule that you can see in the My Disney Experience app. It makes the planner in me happy. But having a random chat with the Queen of Hearts wandering through Fantasyland at DL or seeing Clarabelle Cow blow a kiss in her Halloween costume is pretty magical.
13. Exclusive Content Without the Mickey’s Party for Halloween….
You don’t need to buy a special ticket to Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween party to go on attraction overlays or to see the characters in their Halloween costumes at Disneyland. Haunted Mansion Holiday runs all day every day, and Guardians of the Galaxy Monsters After Dark starts around 4 to 5 PM daily.
Certain characters get new Halloween costumes every year and you can meet them on Main Street, U.S.A. throughout the day, with no party ticket required. My favorite Halloween surprise was the Haunted Mansion overlay at the Disneyland Hotel. Beware of the hitchhiking ghosts in the elevator.
14. And Christmas…
This is the same at Christmas. For no additional cost, Disneyland has a lot to do during the most wonderful time of the year:
- it’s a small world holiday overlay
- Luigi is dancing to a Joy to the Whirl overlay
- Cars Land gets dolled up for the holidays
- Characters in their holiday best
- Festive nighttime shows play even on non-party nights
And those are just to name a few!
Down in Florida, they have Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party but you can get a lot of merry and bright that is included in admission with a few attraction overlays, gingerbread houses in resorts, nighttime and stage shows, and the EPCOT International Festival of the Holidays.
Characters in festive gear tend to be party or character meal exclusive but no ticket is needed to see the amazing gingerbread displays at the resorts.
Tip: When at Disneyland during Halloween or the holiday season, character meets in some places will just be characters in their costumes, not the standard look they have the rest of the year. So if you’re there in late September-December and want to meet Buena Vista Mickey, you’re out of luck.
15. Festivals and Cultural Celebrations
EPCOT in Walt Disney World is the festival park. Between the Festival of the Arts in January and February, the Flower and Garden Festival in March through July, the Food and Wine Festival from July through November, and the Festival of the Holidays in November and December, there are only a few weeks of the year with no festivals at EPCOT.
16. Oogie Boogie is Definitely NOT not-so-scary…
There are a lot more villains and especially on the Villian Treat Trail, it’s a little scary. Judge Doom was kinda terrifying. and Sid looks freakishly like the cartoon. The villain treat trails are epic and that alone was worth the party for me. The actors embrace the characters so well, and can even ad-lib.
17. MagicBands Aren’t Really a Thing at Disneyland
Make sure you have a portable charger because just about everything is on the My Disney Experience app, not a MagicBand. At Disney World the MagicBand is more than just a fashion accessory, it’s your way to avoid carrying a wallet.
18. Disneyland Doesn’t Have Fireworks Every Night.
It’s only when the Florida weather is angry that Walt Disney World doesn’t have at least one, if not a few nighttime shows with fireworks, but that’s not always the case at Disneyland. So make sure to check your daily showtimes!
19. Galaxy’s Edge is in Disneyland Park
I honestly found this a bit weird. Fans would have lost it if they said Galaxy’s Edge was going in Magic Kingdom. It seemed like it would have fit more in DCA, which I felt was the most like Hollywood Studios at Disney World.
Hollywood Studios feels the most like the “franchise” park with Toy Story Land, Galaxy’s Edge, the ever decreasing in size Muppet Area. This is similar to DCA with Avengers Campus, Cars Land, Pixar Pier, and San Fransokyo Square.
20. Fewer Dining Options
The food is one of my favorite parts of a Disney vacation. So much so that I wrote an entire book about the food at Walt Disney World. Disney has so many delicious options for every kind of dining – character meals, signature dining, and more. 404 dining options according to the Disney World website.
Disneyland Resort comes in with fewer options at 128 but I will say I preferred the quick service options in Disneyland and Disney California Adventure as opposed to the options in Magic Kingdom.
There are so many food options from that region of California in both the parks. The karaage-inspired chicken sandwich and the San Fransokyo-style street corn were delicious standouts.
21. The Churros
In tribute to my Disney bestie Jamie. My churros at Walt Disney World have always been a bit on the soggy side. There is a lot of different speculation about why (technique, water, local flavor) the Disneyland churro is just better.
It’s crunchy on the outside and light on the inside with just the right punches of cinnamon flavor. It’s so crisp you can break it in half.
Why 21 Disneyland Tips?
There are quite a few numbers of significance at Disneyland Resort: 1313, 33, 1955, 1401, 1901, just to name a few. Then there’s 21, for 21 Royal Disneyland. This location was originally created to be a bigger apartment for Walt and Lillian inside New Orleans Square. Today it’s a private event venue named after its location on 21 Royal Street.