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Disneyland vs Disney World

Updated on March 16, 2012

Should I go to Disneyland or Disney World? Are they pretty much the same?

As a veteran of both destinations, I sometimes get asked these questions. Disneyland and Disney World are, in fact, quite different. Here's an overview, noting the similarities and differences between the two Happiest Places on Earth.

"I only hope that we never lose sight of one thing – that it was all started by a mouse." - Walt Disney
"I only hope that we never lose sight of one thing – that it was all started by a mouse." - Walt Disney | Source

The Disneyland Resort

The original Disneyland theme park in Anaheim, California has been expanded to become a multi-day destination. The area now includes a second theme park, Disney's California Adventure, as well as three Disney-owned hotels, and an entertainment and shopping district. The Disneyland park itself sits on about 85 acres, and the entire Disneyland Resort area covers about 510 acres.

Walt Disney World Resort

Disney World - more properly known as the Walt Disney World Resort - covers about 40 square miles (25,000 acres) just outside of Orlando, Florida. The area contains 4 separate theme parks, 2 themed water parks, over 20 themed hotels, a Cirque du Soleil show, and more.

Of course, bigger doesn't necessarily mean better. Each resort has much to offer that the other hasn't. The best way to compare the two is to begin by comparing the Disneyland park to its Florida counterpart, the Magic Kingdom, and then give an overview of what else can be found at each resort.

Meetings with your favorite Disney characters happen at both Disneyland and Magic Kingdom.
Meetings with your favorite Disney characters happen at both Disneyland and Magic Kingdom. | Source

Disneyland vs Magic Kingdom

Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom is quite similar to the original Disneyland. Both have a fairy tale castle at the center (Sleeping Beauty Castle in California, Cinderella Castle in Florida), surrounded by a series of themed areas, or "lands".

Most of the big name attractions such as Space Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Splash Mountain can be found at both parks. Disneyland is a little smaller than the Magic Kingdom, but space is utilized extremely well. Each park has handful of minor attractions not found in the other, but Disneyland has 3 major attractions not found at Walt Disney World:

  • The Indiana Jones Adventure: a thrill ride that puts a motion simulator on top of a moving vehicle.
  • Matterhorn Bobsleds: the classic roller coaster where riders encounter a Yeti.
  • Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage: an update of Disneyland's classic Submarine Voyage ride.

Disneyland also has a few attractions that can be found at Walt Disney World, but in parks other than Magic Kingdom, including Star Tours (a Star Wars-themed motion simulator) and Captain EO (a 3D music movie starring Michael Jackson).

Lands of Disneyland and Magic Kingdom

Moving clockwise, guests encounter the following lands (differences between the parks are noted):

  • Main Street, USA: the visitor's point of entry to the park, modeled after an early 20th century small town. Leads to Sleeping Beauty or Cinderella Castle.

Entrance to Pirates of the Carribean, lit up at night.
Entrance to Pirates of the Carribean, lit up at night. | Source
  • Adventureland: visit exotic, far-off places such as Asia, Africa and the Caribbean. Major attractions: Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean (Disney World), Indiana Jones Adventure (Disneyland).
  • New Orleans Square (Disneyland): based on 19th century New Orleans. Major Attractions: Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean.
  • Frontierland: the American frontier and Old West. Major attractions: Big Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain (Disney World).
  • Critter Country (Disneyland): a woodlands-themed area featuring popular Disney animals. Major attractions: Splash Mountain, Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh.
  • Liberty Square (Disney World): a colonial town at the time of the American Revolution. Major attractions: Haunted Mansion, Hall of Presidents.
  • Fantasyland: rides and attractions mostly geared towards younger children. Major attractions: Dumbo the Flying Elephant, it's a small world, Matterhorn Bobsleds (Disneyland).

Space Mountain
Space Mountain | Source
  • Mickey's Toontown (Disneyland): designed to look like a 1930s-era cartoon. Major Attractions: Gadget's Go Coaster, Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin.
  • Tomorrowland: a "retro-future" themed land. Major attractions: Space Mountain, Star Tours (Disneyland), Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage (Disneyland).

Disney's California Adventure

The second theme park at the Disneyland Resort area, Disney's California Adventure, was actually quite a disappointment when it opened in February, 2001. The park didn't have many attractions, and much of what was there was based on off-the-shelf attractions that could be found at any theme park. Disney has since spent over $1 billion upgrading the park, and the efforts have paid off. California Adventure is now a world-class theme park.

The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is at Disney's California Adventure park, and at The Disney Hollywood Studios park in Florida.
The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is at Disney's California Adventure park, and at The Disney Hollywood Studios park in Florida. | Source
Disney's California Adventure at night.
Disney's California Adventure at night. | Source

Many of the new attractions are proven favorites from Walt Disney World in Florida, including the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Muppet Vision 3-D and Toy Story Midway Mania.

Some attractions unique to the California Adventure park include:

  • California Screamin': a roller coaster built to resemble a classic wooden coaster (in reality a modern steel coaster).
  • Grizzly River Run: a river rapids ride.
  • The Little Mermaid - Ariel's Undersea Adventure: a classic Disney audio-animatronic ride.
  • Radiator Springs Racers: (opening Summer 2012) which utilizes technology originally developed for Epcot's popular Test Track ride.

One of California Adventure's original attractions, Soarin' Over California (which simulates hang-gliding), proved so popular that a version of that ride, titled simply Soarin', is now at Epcot in Florida.

Disneyland Hotels and Downtown Disney

The Disneyland Resort Area also has three Disney-owned hotels (the original Disneyland Hotel, Disney's Paradise Pier, and Disney's Grand Californian), and a shopping, dining and entertainment district, which can be accessed without purchasing a theme park admission, called the Downtown Disney District.

Walking to Disneyland

One unique feature of the Disneyland Resort area is that you can walk from one park to the other, or to anywhere else in the resort area. The area outside the resort is also full of non-Disney hotels and restaurants, many within walking distance.

Walking from one park to another at Disney World, or from your hotel to the theme parks (with a few exceptions) is impossible. Getting from one place to another requires travel by car, bus, monorail or boat. The travel is worth it, as the destinations are magical, but it's something you should be aware of.

Disneyworld's location in Anaheim also means that day trips to other southern California locations, such as the San Diego Zoo or Hollywood, could easily be part of your vacation.

Walt Disney World

Entire books have been written about planning a Walt Disney World vacation (and for Disneyland, for that matter). I can only give an overview here, but links to sources of more information are included at the end.


Epcot is a merging of 2 ideas - technological innovation and cultural diversity. The park covers 300 acres and is divided into two sections, Future World and World Showcase, both of which are laid out as a series of pavilions resembling a world's fair.

Spaceship Earth, one of Walt Disney World's most recognizable attractions.
Spaceship Earth, one of Walt Disney World's most recognizable attractions. | Source

Highlights of Future World include:

  • Spaceship Earth: the geodesic sphere seen at the park's entrance contains a "time machine" which takes guests through a narrated tour of the history of communication, presented as a series of audio-animatronic scenes.
  • Test Track: simulates an automobile testing facility. Riders are put through a rigorous test drive, then taken outdoors for a 65 mph ride.
  • Mission SPACE: a motion simulator/centrifuge ride simulating a rocket blast-off and flight to Mars.

Epcot's World Showcase offers international surprises, such as these French waiter-acrobats.
Epcot's World Showcase offers international surprises, such as these French waiter-acrobats. | Source

World Showcase is made up of 11 pavilions, each containing shops, food, live entertainment, and attractions related to a different nation. Highlights include:

  • Maelstrom: a boat ride featuring vikings and trolls, ending with a short film about the history of Norway.
  • The American Adventure: an audio-animatronics history of America, often preceeded by the Voices of Liberty, an a capella vocal group.
  • Live bands: including Off Kilter, a Celtic rock band, The British Revolution, performing hits from British acts such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and Led Zeppelin, and Mo'Rockin, with an interesting blend of Middle Eastern, African, and American music (performances often include a belly dancer).

Rock 'n' Rollercoaster starring Aerosmith, at Disney's Hollywood Studios.
Rock 'n' Rollercoaster starring Aerosmith, at Disney's Hollywood Studios. | Source

Disney's Hollywood Studios

Disney's Hollywood Studios is based on an idealized version of Hollywood in the 1930s and 1940s.

Highlights here include:

  • The Great Movie Ride: ride through scenes from classic movies, including Casablanca, The Wizard of Oz and Raiders of the Lost Ark.
  • Star Tours: a 3-D motion simulator ride based on Star Wars.
  • Twilight Zone Tower of Terror: an elevator ride inside an eerie hotel plunges riders 13 stories straight down.
  • Rock 'n' Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith: this indoor coaster goes from 0 to 57 mph in 2.8 seconds, and features loops and corkscrews.
  • Live shows: including Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage and the Indiana Jones Stunt Spectacular, among others.

Disney's Animal Kingdom


Covering over 500 acres, Disney's Animal Kingdom is Disney's largest theme park. The park features live animals, displayed in their native habitats, and strongly encourages nature conservation. Animal Kingdom has been accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, meaning it meets AZA's standards for animal management and care.

A giraffe from Killamenjaro Safaris.
A giraffe from Killamenjaro Safaris. | Source

Highlights of the Animal Kingdom include:

  • Killamenjaro Safaris: an outdoor, open vehicle ride through a recreation of Africa, with freely roaming animals including elephants, cheetas, giraffe, lions, gazelle and many others.
  • Pangani Forest Exploration Trail: monkeys, gorillas, okapi and other animals, plus an aviary with many bird species.

Thrill rides include Kali River Rapids, the Expedition Everest coaster, and Dinosaur, a bumpy ride through the Cretaceous era, using ride technology invented for Disneyland's Indiana Jones ride.

The Rest of the World

Walt Disney World also has two nicely-themed water parks (Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach), a sports complex (where the Atlanta Braves go for spring training), and several golf courses. The Florida version of Downtown Disney features a permanently-housed Cirque du Soleil show, La Nouba.

The Disney-operated hotels at Disney World have a greater emphasis on theming than those at the Disneyland Resort. The Polynesian, for example, is based on a south seas theme, and the Boardwalk Inn is based on the boardwalk of early 20th century Ocean City, NJ.

Dreams come true at both Disneyland and Disney World.
Dreams come true at both Disneyland and Disney World. | Source

So, Disneyland or Disney World?

Hopefully this overview makes your Disney vacation planning a little easier. Here are my final recommendations:

  • If you only want to spend a day or two at a theme park, go to Disneyland. If you have a week, go to Disney World.
  • if you don't want to rent a car, or if you'd also like to spend a little time on non-Disney activities during your vacation, go to Disneyland.
  • If you've been to Disney World and think Disneyland wouldn't have much else to offer, think again. Disneyland is a very different experience.

Whichever you choose, you'll have a great vacation!


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    • Doc Sonic profile imageAUTHOR

      Glen Nunes 

      8 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts

      Good eye, Marina. The castle at Disneyland is smaller. Thanks for pointing that out.

    • Marina Lazarevic profile image


      8 years ago from San Francisco, CA

      I feel like Disneyland's castle was much smaller, but it's been a while. Anywho, great comparison of the two parks!

    • Doc Sonic profile imageAUTHOR

      Glen Nunes 

      8 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts

      You're welcome, jaybos. Thank you for coming by and commenting.

    • jaybos profile image


      8 years ago from Utah

      I've always wondered about the differences! This was a great start, and now I know a lot more about Disney World, since I've never technically been there (unless you count when I was there as a toddler). Thanks for the info!

    • Doc Sonic profile imageAUTHOR

      Glen Nunes 

      8 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts

      Alissa, thanks for the comments and the vote up. Much appreciated! Be sure and come back and let us know how you liked Disney World!

    • alissaroberts profile image

      Alissa Roberts 

      8 years ago from Normandy, TN

      A well written hub that will be most useful to anyone deciding between the two. I always thought Disneyland was just a smaller version of Disneyworld but clearly I was wrong. Gosh now I am really going to have to visit both! But first I got to go to Disneyworld because it's the closest for me :) Great job - voted up!

    • Doc Sonic profile imageAUTHOR

      Glen Nunes 

      8 years ago from Cape Cod, Massachusetts

      Thanks Shanna11. You don't need kids to go to Disney, you know!

    • Shanna11 profile image


      8 years ago from Utah

      This whole Hub makes me want kids, and it makes me want to take them to Disneyworld and THEN Disneyland. Absolutely an awesome Hub, and honestly probably one of my favorites. I've always wondered the difference between the two and you make it so clear and simple. Love it!!


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