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The Differences Between Walt Disney World and Disneyland

Updated on June 5, 2016

Getting There

If you are flying to either location you are in luck. They both offer bus transportation services to and from the airport. However, the Magical Express, the bus that takes guests to and from the airport, is complimentary for guests staying at any of the resorts on Disney property at Walt Disney World. This is not the case in California. There is a small fee to get from the airport to the resorts. However, it is important to note that this bus will also go to the non-Disney hotels around the Disneyland area, where as the Magical Express in Florida only goes to the Disney resorts. Tickets for this bus can be purchased on-line or over the phone before your trip. And trust me, you want to buy them before you go. The price goes up if you don't buy until the day you get there. When I flew into LAX there were a lot of surprised people on the bus with me because they weren't prepared to pay. But, it does say on the Disney website that you will need to pay to ride the Magical Express in California. So, do your research and buy before you go.

Another big difference between the two buses is that the bus in Florida will actually have your luggage brought to your room. All you have to do is put a special tag on your checked bags and Disney takes care of the rest. They will pick up your bags at the airport, load them onto the bus, and after you have checked into your hotel they magically end up in your room. The bus in California will load your bags on and off of the bus for you, but that is it. Though, I will say that I would ride the Magical Express in California again if only for the fact that I don't think I would be able to drive in that crazy traffic.

Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland
Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland
Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kindgom
Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kindgom

The Parks and Resorts

It should go without saying that there are more parks in Florida. There are four theme parks, two water parks, and several other attractions including mini golf and bowling. Not to mention there are many, many different resorts available to guests of all interests and budgets. In California there is Disneyland, California Adventure, and Downtown Disney. There are also only three hotels on Disney property.

One thing that I think the California location has in its favor is its size. In Florida guests have to take bus, a monorail, or boats to the parks. (Though, some lucky few can walk to certain parks.) Some of these bus rides can be twenty minutes or longer. That's kind of a long ride. In California all of the resorts are close enough for guests to walk to the parks. In fact, the Grand Californian even has a 'secret' entrance for guests. No other Disney resort has that feature! I can honestly say that I enjoyed being able to just walk from park to park into my resort.

Walt Disney World does have more to offer guests in the way of resorts. Guests can even camp in a tent if they want to. There are several value resorts, quite a few moderate level resorts, and a lot of deluxe resorts. While in California you only have three to choose from, with Paradise Pier being the cheapest of the three and the Grand Californian the most expensive. Honestly, there isn't too big of a price difference between the three.

Night Shows

Surprisingly there are a lot of night shows in California. Both Disneyland and Walt Disney World have an electric parade that makes its way down Main Street once the sun goes down. Both Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom have a spectacular fireworks display over the castle. Heck you can even watch Fantasmic at the Disney Studios in Florida or over in California. The big difference is Illuminations at EPCOT and the World of Color at California Adventure. If you have read any of my previous Disney parks article then you will already know how much I love Illuminations. But, I'll let you in on a secret: I liked World of Color more. I don't even know how to describe this show with strong enough words. It is simply spectacular. Though, I hear that the new night show at Animal Kingdom will be a rival to the World of Color when it finally premiers.

World of Color: Frozen

The Rides

Alright, so it should be obvious that Walt Disney World is going to have more rides. It only makes sense. It has more parks, not to mention all those parks are of considerable size. So, for now I will only focus on the big differences in rides between the two parks.

The Mad Hatter Tea Cups are outside at Disneyland. At the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World this ride is located under cover. The ride at Disneyland also has a more whimsical feel to it because it is out in the open. But, being undercover is nice for the sudden rain showers that are common in the summer in Florida.

The Haunted Mansion at Walt Disney World is based on a Victorian, while the ride at Disneyland looks at home in the historic district of New Orleans. The ride at Disneyland also is decorated like the Nightmare Before Christmas from Halloween until the New Year. I love the ride in Florida, but the ride in California seemed more historic and a little more creepy.

The Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland is amazing! I highly recommend it if you get the chance to ride it. Sadly, no such ride exists at Walt Disney World. The same goes for the Matterhorn ride.

In Cars Land at California Adventure there is a ride that takes guests through the town of Radiator Springs that is very similar to Test Track at EPCOT. The big difference between the two is that in California two cars run on two tracks and guests race each other.

The Tower of Terror can be found at California Adventure and Disney Studios. There really isn't a big difference between the two.

The submarine ride at Disneyland, based off of Finding Nemo, does not exist at the Magic Kingdom. Though, maybe one day they will add it back to the Magic Kingdom. But, at EPCOT there is a Finding Nemo ride that incorporates real fish from the giant tank at the Seas into the search for Nemo. What out, that song will get stuck in your head.

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The Haunted Mansion at the Magic KingdomThe Haunted Mansion at DisneylandThe submarine ride at Disneyland, now themed for Finding NemoThe monorail going through Disneyland and the Matterhorn
The Haunted Mansion at the Magic Kingdom
The Haunted Mansion at the Magic Kingdom
The Haunted Mansion at Disneyland
The Haunted Mansion at Disneyland
The submarine ride at Disneyland, now themed for Finding Nemo
The submarine ride at Disneyland, now themed for Finding Nemo
The monorail going through Disneyland and the Matterhorn
The monorail going through Disneyland and the Matterhorn

Which would you rather go to?

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The Characters

At Walt Disney World you can expect to wait in long lines, go to specific locations, or even get a fastpass to see the characters. This is not always the case at Disneyland. The Characters at Disneyland roam around freely. Of course, they still have a handler that stays near them. But, it is really something special to see some of the classic Disney characters running around and playing with kids of all ages.

The Lego store at Downtown Disney Disneyland
The Lego store at Downtown Disney Disneyland
The Lego store at Downtown Disney Walt Disney World
The Lego store at Downtown Disney Walt Disney World

Downtown Disney

Both locations have a downtown district. Both have fine dining, trendy stores, and street entertainment. The big difference between the two is the location. The Downtown Disney at Walt Disney World is its own attraction. It is walking distance from on of the resorts, Saratoga Springs Resort and Spa, but all others must use another form of transportation. While at Disneyland the Downtown Disney is merely a few minutes walk from both parks. Not to mention you can enter the Grand Californian right from the middle of Downtown Disney.

Downtown Disney has recently changed to Disney Springs and has had a major face lift. There are now walking bridges from Disney Springs to some of the resorts of hotel circle. There are now also walkways over the lake that make it much easier, and quicker, to get around.

Characters wondering in Disneyland
Characters wondering in Disneyland

Overall

I love both. I think Disneyland is great for people looking for a short vacation. While, Walt Disney World is perfect for people looking for a longer vacation and that extra Disney magic. I would love the chance to go back to California and experience Disneyland again. (Especially sine I was really sick the only time I have ever gone.) I look forward to my family vacation to Walt Disney World every year. The memories I have created at both parks will stay with me for a lifetime.

The experiences I had at both parks were nothing short of magical. I hope to one day create new memories at both Walt Disney World and Disneyland with my own family.

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    • Mike Nolan profile image

      Michael Nolan 2 years ago from Sarasota, FL

      Good article. I wrote a similar one a few weeks ago. I love both parks and each one has their perks.

      https://wanderwisdom.com/travel-destinations/Diffe...

    • Sam Ragui profile image

      Sam Ragui 2 years ago

      The thing is, you could make a similar list for Disneyland, too. There are a lot of special events and temporary entertainment that runs at Disneyland for only a few weekends at a time. It’s not promoted as well, so I assume all but hardcore Disneyland fans and locals don’t hear about it. Also, there are a few things on your list that I wouldn’t exactly consider awesome as compared to Disneyland (such as paying for a Christmas Party when virtually the same thing is free at Disneyland, Fantasmic theater) or have comparable counterparts at Disneyland. Overall, you’re right, there’s more at Walt Disney World. That’s not going to matter for everyone, though, because they won’t spend the time experiencing all of those things. http://tiny.cc/wefysx

    • JulieMProvost profile image

      Julie Provost 3 years ago from Tennessee

      We totally will! There is so much I want to see there!

    • isharkbait profile image
      Author

      isharkbait 3 years ago

      I just loved both places. I love the size of Walt Disney World, it really feels like you have left the real world behind. I loved the casual feel of Disneyland. When you do make it down to Florida plan on a week long stay!

    • JulieMProvost profile image

      Julie Provost 3 years ago from Tennessee

      I gre up 20 minutes from Disneyland so I have been too many times to count. I have never been to Disneyworld but hope to go someday. I know for me DL is really a 1-2 day thing and DW would be a lot longer.

      I would love to see the Magic Kingdom at DW and compare it to DL. Someday :)