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Disneyland vs. Walt Disney World


Since I recently had the opportunity to visit Disneyland for the first time after visiting Walt Disney World countless times (truly…I worked and lived there and have visited more times than I can count), so many people said to me, “I can’t wait to hear your comparison!” Well friends, its time, and here’s what I can tell you:

They don’t compare.

They are two completely different vacation destinations and while there is a natural tendency to compare one to the other and they certainly share similarities, overall, its apples and oranges.

Starting with the obvious: Size. Disneyland Resort has 2 parks, 3 resorts, and a Downtown Disney area. When Disneyland opened in 1955, it was just the original park, and over time as they were able to acquire more of the surrounding land, they turned the parking lot into Disney California Adventure and built parking structures about a mile from the parks. The Disneyland Resort is very landlocked with little room for expansion. Yes, this means there probably won’t be an Animal Kingdom park added to Disneyland Resort anytime soon, but what it also means is that Disneyland is extremely walkable! If you have a Park Hopper and Genie+, you can be in Disneyland park, grab a Lightning Lane for Radiator Springs Racers in California Adventure, and make the walk in less than 10 minutes—which for those of us familiar with Epcot, we know you can’t even cross that one park in 10 minutes!

Walt Disney World on the other hand, covers 47 square miles in Central Florida. When Walt and Roy started thinking about where to put their next park and landed on “The Florida Project” it was because they would have the blessing of space to grow, something they didn’t have in California. Did you know that even with 4 theme parks, 2 water parks, Disney Springs and 23 resorts, Walt Disney World’s land is only about 10% developed? While you CAN walk from Epcot to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, it’s not the short 3-minute walk from park to park in California and on a hot, humid Florida day…it wouldn’t be a lot of fun.

Next up: MagicBand functionality. At Disneyland Resort, only MagicBand+ work, and what they do is pretty limited. You can tap them for Lightning Lane and DAS returns, and they have “magic” abilities around the parks, lighting up and vibrating during the nighttime shows and other places around the parks and Downtown Disney. They also allow you to participate in Bounty Hunts in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.

At Walt Disney World, you can use MagicBands and MagicBand+ to unlock your Disney resort room, charge back to your resort account, for Lightning Lane and DAS returns, and MagicBand+ will also have those magical abilities and Bounty Hunting capabilities on the East Coast as well. I personally really appreciate the room key and charging features, so I need Disneyland to catch up on that immediately!

Also different: Genie+. Love it or hate it, it seems like Genie+ is here to stay. It functions slightly differently at the two resorts. At Walt Disney World, if you’ve purchased Genie+, you can start booking Lightning Lanes at 7am. At Disneyland, you can’t start reserving times until you’ve entered your first park of the day. (Note that park hopping on the West Coast starts at 11am, whereas in Florida, you have to wait until 2pm…which is actually 11am in Disneyland…hmm…coincidence or….?)

Mobile order is available and works the same at both destinations.

Attractions: Disneyland and Walt Disney World share many of the same rides and shows, but even though they are the “same,” they are not the same in most cases. There are very few absolute copy-cat attractions. Mickey’s PhilharMagic and Soarin’ are available at both, unchanged, and so is Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway—but even this ride has entirely different queue experiences with Disney’s Hollywood Studio’s version being set in the Chinese Theater that formerly housed the Great Movie Ride and Disneyland’s version being in the fictional El-Capitoon Theater in Toontown. Other rides that the two destinations share, like Pirates of the Caribbean, the Haunted Mansion, Space Mountain, and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad are the same…ish, but each have characteristics that make them special to their parks.

FOOD! Finally, the topic we care about the most! Disneyland has fewer table service restaurants than Walt Disney World. Their quick service locations serve food on real plates with real silverware, which seems much more sustainable and Earth-friendly. There are incredibly unique snacks to be found at Disneyland, I think more so than Walt Disney World. (Looking at you, Matterhorn Macaroon. I had one and should have bought 41 more, they were that good.) 

So as you can see, there is no way to definitively say which destination is better because both Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World are unique and special in their own ways. If you’ve visited both resorts, what other differences did you notice?

Jill Voliva
Jill loves traveling anywhere, especially anywhere Disney! You can email Jill at


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