Blog Post,  Disney World,  Disneyland,  Planning

Disney World Vs. Disneyland

Disney World vs Disneyland: For most of my life, Disney World is the place that I liked to call ‘home’. It just felt right. I felt like I belonged. I never really had the need to visit the other Disney Parks around the world because I was just so happy and comfortable at WDW.

That all changed when my son turned 4 years old and his obsession with the movies Cars took over. Everything was Cars to him! His birthday party theme was Cars, all he wanted to do was play with his Cars toys- he even got a HUGE Cars race track for that Christmas.

Disney World vs Disneyland
Nicole Ellington

That’s when I realized that I needed to ‘give up’ one of my Disney World trips and trade it in for a Disneyland trip.

If you are wondering why that is, this is because Disneyland has an area in their park called Cars Land! I wanted to take my son to see that before he grew out of his Car loving phase.

So off to Disneyland we went!

Okay, enough about my Disneyland back story, now to the real reason you came here- Disney World vs. Disneyland: which one is better?

In this article, I will compare and contrast the similarities and differences between them both.

The Food: Disney World vs. Disneyland

I am going to start with this topic because it’s honestly my favorite topic. Who doesn’t love Disney food?!

Nicole Ellington
  • Dining Plans: Disneyland does NOT have a dining plan, which kind of bummed me out. I love the dining plans at WDW! They make life soo much easier and make it feel more of like al all exclusive vacation.
  • Reservations: I love planning my vacation so much! But it kind of kills me that at WDW, I have to pick out my restaurants 6 MONTHS (180 days) in advance! I mean, technically I don’t NEED to, but if I want to get exactly what I want and not have to settle for seconds, then 180 days it is. I hardly know what I feel like eating tomorrow, let alone 6 months from now. With Disneyland, their dining reservations open up at 2 months (60 days) in advance, which I find much more manageable.
  • Taste: Now this is a tough one. Some of the best food I have ever had was at both Disneyland and Disney World. I will have to admit, although I am not a fan of the churros at Disney World (you can see what I thought about them here, “Most Overrated Foods of WDW”), the churros at Disneyland were amazing! I don’t know what it is. Maybe its west coast weather. Other then that, I think the foods at DL and WDW are both excellent.

The Size: Disney World vs. Disneyland

Depending on what you are looking for out of your vacation will honestly depend on who the winner is of this section. So I will just give what I like and dislike about the size of each. ( Also, if you want to check out the maps of the parks, click here!)

Nicole Ellington
  • Disney World: WDW is HUGE! Like, there is soo much to do that one vacation will not be enough for everything! When we go, we typically go for about 7 days at a time. Even though that might seem like a decent time for a vacation, it doesn’t feel like enough time for WDW, especially since they have 4 main parks and 2 water parks. And even though I have been to WDW more times then I can count, I still haven’t don everything!
    • Likes: You will never get bored! There is always a new ride to ride, a new restaurant to see, or something new to explore! Even if it’s just ‘new to you’ because you just haven’t gotten around to doing it yet.
    • Dislikes: Disney World is so big, that sometimes it can be hard to get around. For example, if I was in Magic Kingdom and wanted to head over to Animal Kingdom, it could take us a good hour!
  • Disneyland: DL has a quaintness to it that I just ADORE. Especially compared to WDW, it is small and calm with only 2 parks. This makes your vacation actually feel like a vacation instead of one crazy whirlwind.
    • Likes: Disneyland only has 2 parks, both of which are rather small compared to WDW. This makes things easier to navigate. Also, if you wanted to leave one park to go to the other, it will take you literally 2 minutes- they are right across from each other! It’s very convenient.
    • Dislikes: I am not so sure if this is a complete dislike, but just something that is different to me. We spent a total of 4 days at DL, but felt like we did everything in 2 and a half days. To us, that was fine because we got to do everything we loved almost twice.
Disneyland Park Sleeping Beauty Castle California
Nicole Ellington

The Price: Disney World vs. Disneyland

This is a tricky one because soo many things factor into this, so I am going based off my own personal experience.

We found Disneyland to be more expensive the Disney World, and this is for a few reasons-

  • Flights: For us, flying into Orlando is cheaper than flying into California. There was also no direct flights from our little airport (that we can usually get someone to drop us off there) to CA, so we had to have the added cost of gas driving to a bigger airport that was farther away, paying the tolls, and then paying to park our car there for the week.
  • Resorts: At Disneyland, there are only 3 ‘on-site’ resorts that are Disney owned and they are in the Delux price category. If you know anything about me, you will know that I am a Value Price category type girl. So we had to stay off-site, which was still more expensive than staying at a Disney World Value resort. We did choose to stay walking distance to Disneyland because we didn’t want to worry about driving in and parking our car every day. I am sure if we stayed farther away the price of our hotel would have been cheaper, but we really wanted to convince of staying close.
  • Tickets: This is where things change. Disneyland tickets are cheaper. Which they should be, because as I said before, Disneyland is much smaller. Below I will show you ticket prices for what it would cost me, my husband, and my 5-year-old son for 4 days worth of tickets to each park. These are just standard tickets, no park hoppers, and no sales.

Disney World-

Disney World vs Disneyland


Disney World vs Disneyland

So as you can see, Disneyland tickets are a couple hundred dollars cheaper.

Downtown Areas: Disney World vs. Disneyland

Both Disney World and Disneyland have a downtown area for shopping, eating and entertaining! They were both called Downtown Disney up until a few years ago when WDW renovated their and changed the name to Disney Springs.

  • Disney Springs- WDW: Disney Springs is beautiful! The architecture is modern but classic. Also, since its upgrade, it has tons of things to do and places to eat! I do find the layout a little odd though. If I haven’t been there in a while, I get a little confused where things are.
  • Downtown Disney- DL: Downtown Disney is simple and classic Disney! This area is much smaller the Disney Springs, which I actually find more manageable and pleasant. Even though it is smaller in size, it still has more than enough places to eat and things to do.

The Characters: Disney World vs. Disneyland

While you’ll find mostly the same characters at Disneyland and Disney World, there is a huge difference in the way the character meet at these parks.

Nicole Ellington
  • Disney World: At WDW, everything is very scheduled. You look on the app, find out the times and place of your favorite character’s meet and greet, go stand in line, and then meet them. While this provides assurance that you will get to meet your favorite character, it does take some of the magic and spontaneity out of it.
  • Disneyland: At Disneyland- sure there are scheduled character meets, but you’ll also find characters just roaming the parks. And this is where the magic TRULY lies. My son bumped into so many characters while walking around the park, it was unbelievable! Donanld stole his sword, and then he had a sword fight with Donald and Goofy! Minnie Mouse held his hand and walked with him for a few minutes! The Evil Queen wanted to know where he got his Dragon Scales from (he had glitter in his hair from Bibbity Bobbity Boutique, but that’s another story for later). Captian Hook wanted to take him somewhere, but my son was to shy (and scared) to follow! All of these character interactions were not from waiting in line, just randomly finding them in the parks. It was truly magical.

The Rides and Fastpass/Maxpass: Disney World vs. Disneyland

There are some rides that only appear in Disneyland, and there are some rides that only appear in Disney World. There are also so rides that appear in both that are EXACTLY the same, and some the just have a slight difference. So let’s take a look at those rides.

  • Space Mountain/Hyperspace Mountain: For years, my favorite ride in the whole wide world was Space Mountian in WDW, but then I went to DL and went on Hyperspace Mountian. The overall ride is very similar, but Hyperspace Mountial blast that classic Star Wars theme song right at the beginning, getting you really excited for the ride!
  • It’s a Small World: There are few differences between WDW and DL It’s a Small World. Some of the bigger ones are that the one in DL starts outside! I found that a lot of the DL rides started outside. I guess that great CA weather allows for that. Another difference is that there are Disney characters inside of the Small World at Disneyland, and they are so adorable!
  • Big Thunder Mountain Railroad: The ride overall is the same and both parks, with slight difference in the tracks.
  • Splash Mountain: The biggest difference that I found with this ride is the boat you sit in. At WDW, you sit next to someone. At DL, its just one person per row.
  • Mad Tea Party: The only major difference with this is that the one in DL is outside and the one in WDW is covered.
  • Star Tours: I didn’t notice any difference.
  • Jungle Cruise: again, I didn’t notice any difference.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: There were some differences in the scenes, but overall it was the same ride.
  • The Haunted Mansion: We went during the christmas season, so the DL ride had a Nightmare Before Christmas overlay. And it was soo much fun!
  • Soarin’, Peter Pan’s Flight, Winnie the Pooh, Little Mermaid, Disney Jr Dance Party, Toy Story Mania: I just lumped these three together because, besides so small differences, they are essentially the same at both parks.

There are two rides that have the same feel, but ate completely different rides.

  • Tower of Terror/ Guardians of the Galaxy Break Out!: Now, for those of you that know their Disney knowledge will know that these both use to be the same exact ride. Recently, Disneyland changed over their Tower of Terror or Guardians of the Galaxy. Personally, I prefer Tower of Terror.
  • Radiator Springs/ Test Track: Both of these rides are basically the same ride/track, just with completely different themes. Disneyland has Radiator Springs in their Cars Land, and Disney World has Test Track in Epcot. Both are equally fun!

Now into Fastpass/Maxpass-

At Disney World, you have access to FastPass on the Disney My Experience App or website. 60 days before your trip if you are a resort guest (or 30 if you are staying off-site), you can schedule 3 rides per day for your trip.

At Disneyland they have the Maxpass / FastPass system. There is no advance planning for this system. Upon arrival at the parks you head to kiosks located outside of rides. You grab a paper FastPass that will tell you when you can head back to the ride. You also have the option of upgrading (for a cost) your tickets to a MaxPass ticket so that you can choose your rides through the Disneyland app on your phone.

Even if you upgrade your tickets to Maxpass, you won’t be able to choose rides until you are actually inside the parks. This made me nervous, as I am so used to planning out or days sooo far in advance! But once we used Maxpass and I got used to it, I fell in love. It’s a great combination of planning and spontaneity.

Disney World vs Disneyland: So what do you think? Is Disney World or Disneyland more your speed? I would love to know in the comments down below! If you have any photos of you or your family at any of the parks, I would love to see them! Tag me at @DisneyDreamCo on Instagram. Also, feel free to share this post on Facebook, Pinterest, or Twitter! Thanks so much!

Disney World vs Disneyland
Disney World vs Disneyland

I'm a lover of all things Disney! I have an adorable son named Andy (after Toy Story), and an amazing hubby named Aaron. For my family and I, Disney isn’t just a hobby or someplace we casually go when on vacation, it's a way of life. We try to go back 'Home' twice a year. My hope for this blog is to help families navigate their crazy, magical times through Disney and reach their Disney Dream!


  • Colleen

    I’ve been to both Disneyland and Disney World several times, and for me, it’s one of those things that falls into the category of “they’re both amazing in their own way.” I love the breakdown of the parks.

  • Ann

    This is really helpful!
    Even though I live closer to the once in Paris (I am from Stockholm Sweden) I do think I would rather go to the one in US 🙂

  • Matt Taylor

    Such a thorough review of each places. I have been to both. I grew up in California, my parents didn’t have a lot of money I think we wend to Disneyland once maybe twice as a family. Now I live in Phoenix, which is an even shorter drive to Disneyland than when I lived in San Jose! lol. But I still haven’t gone. I have been to Disney World once, and we were limited on time so we only went to Epcot. I didn’t really like Epcot. I need to go back to both and better experience them. haha it has been nearly 20 years for each of them since I was there last.

    • Nicole Ellington

      I think its time you give Epcot another try! There is so much to do (and not to mention eat) there! I’m sure you would like it better this time around.

  • Amber

    I like Disneyland so much more! The only down fall for me is that it costs way more to fly to California than it does to drive down Florida. I dont like DIsney food anyways so the meal plans and all that doesn’t bother me.

    • Nicole Ellington

      You don’t like WDW food?!? I don’t think I have ever met anyone who doesn’t like the food there! But I guess there has to be someone! And yes, I agree- flying out to CA for us is also way more expensive the heading to FL.

  • Julie Cao

    I always wonder what are the differences between the Disney World and Disneyland, and now I know, I cannot believe WDW requires restaruant reservation for 180 days in advance.That sounds stressful.

    • Nicole Ellington

      It really can be sometimes! So technically, you can make reservations anytime starting at 180 days, but if you do it later then that, you probably won’t get the restaurant you want or the times you want. Good restaurants and times go very fast!

  • Joy Della Vita

    ” I wanted to take my son to see that before he grew out of his Car loving phase.” aaawww, you’re such a great mom! My parents would have waited until I’m “out of that phase” and never went there with me 😀
    But wow, but Disneyland AND Disney World are SO expensive! Wow!

  • Natalie

    We haven’t jet visited Disney world nor Disneyland. But I kinda looking forward to visit them both. Thanks for your insides. It’s an interesting article and really helpful.

  • Ruth I

    I’ve no particular preference so long as it’s Disney. They are spot on turning back childhood memories. More than happy to try both.

  • Lily

    This is a great list and breakdown of Disneyworld vs Disneyland. I want to continue to go to both as I havent been through all of both parks.

  • Eileen M Loya

    I have never been to Disney World or Disneyland. I wish I could visit any of them (nearest to me is Disneyland Hong Kong) I will not stop hoping, not stop dreaming that one day, I will be able to be at the happiest place on earth!

  • Jenny Bhatia

    I grew up going to Disney World with my family once a year. I always loved it as a kid. My kids aren’t huge fans of the Magic Kingdom, but they love all of the other parks, especially Epcot. Reminds me, I need to plan our next trip to the parks.

  • Keri | Bon Voyage With Kids

    This is a great post. I love that you included the differences in food and characters because I don’t think people would think about that. But having the chance to see roaming characters is a really nice treat! As a former Cast Member, I always love Walt Disney World, but Cars Land at Disneyland is one of the best features in any Disney park (in my opinion.) Great information and very helpful to showcase some of the major differences.

  • Clarice

    I truly enjoyed reading your post. I haven’t been to both resorts as I have only visited the Disney parks in Asia but this is really informative. I also found a lot of similarities with the parks here.

    Anyway, thank you for sharing this and I just can’t wait to visit all the Disney parks all over the world.

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