Disneyland vs. Disney World: How to choose which resort is right for you (2024)

A Disney vacation finds its way onto most travel bucket lists at some point, and if you’re ready to start planning yours, you’ll probably be faced with one big decision upfront: Disneyland vs. Disney World.

Unless you live very close to either the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California, or Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida, you’ll want to check out all that’s unique about both destinations before choosing where to head for your Disney trip.

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Depending on your interests — Do you love Star Wars, Marvel or Pixar? Is a great pool or immersive hotel your top priority? — one of America’s two Disney destinations may clearly be a better choice for you. Here’s how to decide which House of Mouse is best for your big trip.

Disneyland vs. Disney World: Visit Disneyland if …

You’re Short on Time

With two theme parks — Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure — just a stone’s throw apart and the Downtown Disney District and Disneyland Resort’s three hotels all within walking distance, you can get a lot more done in a hurry at Disneyland without wasting time on transportation.

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To really maximize your time, get Park Hopper Tickets (which allow you to move freely between the two parks each day) and purchase Disney Genie+. The latter feature is Disney’s replacement for the old FastPass+ and MaxPass services, and gives you Lightning Lane access and the opportunity to bypass the standby lines on many of Disneyland’s most popular rides.

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You’re a Disney History Buff

A cultural icon since it opened on July 17, 1955, Disneyland isn’t just a vacation destination, it’s a piece of modern American history.

Take a nostalgic stroll past Walt Disney’s apartment, which sits above the fire station where a lamp still shines in the window for the park’s beloved founder, then meander back in time down turn-of-the-century Main Street, U.S.A. Ride iconic opening-day attractions like Jungle Cruise, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride and Peter Pan’s Flight, classic boat rides like Pirates of the Caribbean and It’s a Small World, and the park’s most famous thrill rides, like Matterhorn Bobsleds, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Space Mountain.

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You Love Seeing Characters

Once the hallmark of a Disney vacation, character meet-and-greets have been some of the slowest offerings to return to normal operations at Disney’s theme parks during the COVID-19 era. Although you still can’t get as close to your favorite characters as you used to, Disneyland and Disney California Adventure both take the cake over Walt Disney World when it comes to the plethora of character appearances that happen all day long throughout both parks.

While you can’t get those hugs or autographs you might remember, you can still interact with characters — including many unique and rare favorites — and they’ll pose for plenty of photos with you (only slightly distanced).

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You’re a Marvel Fan

If the Marvel Cinematic Universe is your jam, Avengers Campus at Disney California Adventure is the place to assemble. Opened in June 2021, this new land buzzes with energy (and that iconic Avengers soundtrack) and teems with characters and entertainment. Aspiring superheroes can get training tips from the Dora Milaje warriors from “Black Panther,” watch Spidey soar through the air in a spectacular stunt show, visit Dr. Strange’s mysterious Ancient Sanctum and spot countless other MCU characters.

Rides include the new all-ages Web Slingers: A Spider-Man Adventure and the fan-favorite Guardians of the Galaxy — Mission: Breakout. You can also grab a bite at Pym Test Kitchen (warning, parts of your meal may be super-sized or super-small, depending on how Hank Pym’s experiments are going!).

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You Love Pixar Movies — Especially ‘Cars’

Disney California Adventure Park is home to one of Disney’s most impressive and immersive lands at any Disney theme park in the world. Cars Land so perfectly recreates Radiator Springs, the setting for the first of Pixar’s “Cars” films, you’ll swear you’ve stepped into the film. You can meet Lightning McQueen and Mater, chow down on Chicken “Fenders” at Flo’s V8 Cafe and ride Radiator Springs Racers, one of the most impressive rides Disney has ever imagineered.

Around the corner from Cars Land, Pixar Pier is another spot at Disney California Adventure for lovers of the beloved studio. Ride the thrilling Incredicoaster, play 3D carnival games on Toy Story Midway Mania or take an aerial spin on the Inside Out Emotional Whirlwind and enjoy a meal at Lamplight Lounge. The Pixar-themed restaurant serves great food and Pixar-themed co*cktails and is packed with Easter eggs from the movies at every turn.

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Disneyland vs. Disney World: Visit Walt Disney World if…

You’re a Planner

With four theme parks, two water parks, more than 25 Disney resort hotels and countless restaurants and experiences to choose from, planning a trip to Walt Disney World means making a lot more decisions. But, if you’re a planner at heart, that’s part of the fun! In fact, research has shown that the process of planning a vacation can actually boost your mental health.

Disney World’s Disney Park Pass reservation system requires guests to book a reservation for the first park they plan to visit each day, and dining reservations open up 60 days in advance, so you’ll have lots of decisions and plans to make long before your plane touches down in Orlando. Note: Disneyland also requires theme park reservations and dining reservations are also highly recommended, but with fewer hotels, restaurants and theme parks to manage, there are far fewer factors to consider there.

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You Want to Stay Immersed All Trip Long

At roughly 40 square miles — nearly the size of San Francisco! — Walt Disney World is one massive, magical playground. From the moment you pass under the resort’s iconic gates, you’re “on property” and very firmly on vacation. In stark contrast to Disneyland — where moments after leaving the park gates you can find yourself staring down chain restaurants, liquor stores and urban hubbub — you could travel for miles after leaving Disney World’s Magic Kingdom Park and remain in the Disney World bubble.

And with so many hotels, restaurants and entertainment options on Walt Disney World’s property, you truly don’t need to leave until it’s time to go home. Palm trees, beautiful grounds and resorts, consistent signage and diligent theming all help to solidify the feeling that you’re in a special place, far removed from the stifling atmosphere of the everyday.

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You Want to Stay at a Themed Disney Hotel

This is a big one for travelers on a budget. While Disneyland Resort does have three official Disney hotels, each with its own immersive theming, even the lowest-tier Disneyland option, Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel, is liable to break the bank at most times of year. On the flip side, Walt Disney World boasts more than eight times as many hotels, with options for every budget.

Choose from Value-, Moderate- or Deluxe-tier resorts, all with their own elaborate theming and plenty of Disney touches, from the Pop Century Resort and Art of Animation Resort at the Value level, to the Port Orleans Resort and Caribbean Beach Resort at the Moderate level, to the Polynesian Village Resort, Riviera Resort and Wilderness Lodge at the Deluxe tier. Every Disney World resort features themed pools and dining options and includes transportation to and from the parks.

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YouLove Star Wars

If you’ve always dreamed of traveling to a galaxy far, far away, this is the vacation destination you’re looking for. Both Disneyland and Walt Disney World are home to the epically immersive new land, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, and Disney’s most ambitious attraction ever created, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. But diehard fans will want to take their experience truly out of this world by adding a two-night experience aboard Disney World’s Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser.

Way more than a simple hotel, Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser gives guests the illusion that they’re on a “space cruise” on the Halcyon starcruiser. Guests blast off on their adventure to a galaxy far, far away via a “launch pod” and will spend two days and two nights channeling their inner Light or Dark Side as they rub shoulders with members of the Resistance and First Order. The immersive itinerary includes live entertainment, lightsaber training, role playing, elaborate themed dining and a special excursion to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disney’s Hollywood Studios park.

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You Want to Visit Truly Unique Parks

While Disney parks around the globe feature their own versions of the Magic Kingdom, with its castle centerpiece and iconic themed lands, two of Walt Disney World’s four theme parks, EPCOT and Disney’s Animal Kingdom, offer experiences you won’t find at any other Disney resort.

EPCOT’s World Showcase takes guests on a trip around the world, with immersive pavilions representing different countries and cultures through architecture, food and drinks, entertainment and even rides like the brand new Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure in EPCOT’s France pavilion.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom, meanwhile, is one of Disney’s most beautiful theme parks, with breathtaking areas representing Asia, Africa, the mythical Pandora from “Avatar” and more. Animal lovers can’t miss Kilimanjaro Safaris, an open-air excursion on an African savanna packed with real animals. This is the closest you’ll get to an African safari without needing a passport.

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You Want to Do More Than Just Visit Theme Parks

Walt Disney World has so much to offer beyond the resort’s four theme parks that you could easily fill a vacation with activities without ever setting foot in a theme park. Walt Disney World is home to four stunning golf courses, including one, Lake Buena Vista Golf Course, that backs right up to two of Disney World’s Deluxe resorts, Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa and Disney’s Old Key West Resort, so hardcore golfers may want to consider a stay at one of those. You can also practice your putts at Fantasia Gardens and Fairways Miniature Golf and Winter Summerland Miniature Golf.

To beat the Florida heat while logging theme park-level thrills, guests can visit one of Disney World’s two elaborately themed water parks, Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon Water Park and Disney’s Blizzard Beach Water Park. Guests can ride a chairlift up the “mountain” before plunging down Summit Plummit at Blizzard Beach or hone their surfing skills in North America’s largest wave pool at Typhoon Lagoon. The all-ages water parks feature numerous family-friendly water slides and other attractions to keep everyone cool and happy.

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You’re Into Long-Distance Running

Whether you’re a hardcore runner or just want something to train for, runDisney offers four action-packed race weekends at Walt Disney World. Featuring events ranging from a 5K to a full marathon, there’s a distance for every athlete. Themed races feature music, entertainment and character stops along the way and participants get bragworthy race shirts and finisher medals.

You could easily plan a trip to the resort around one of the races, giving you a great, built-in way to celebrate your achievement in a meaningful way.

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Which is your favorite in the age-old debate of Disneyland vs. Disney World?

Brooke Geiger McDonald is a theme park journalist covering all things Disney and Universal. When she’s notscreaming on the newest roller coasteror critiquing the cheese served with herMickey pretzel, she’s busy breaking the latest theme park news onTwitterandInstagram.

Disneyland vs. Disney World: How to choose which resort is right for you (2024)


How to choose between Disneyland and Disney World? ›

Disneyland is smaller, features fewer theme parks and hotels and costs less than Walt Disney World. Walt Disney World is a sprawling complex that encompasses four theme parks, more than two dozen hotels and other attractions to boot.

Which is less crowded Disneyland or Disney World? ›

Disney World is generally more crowded than Disneyland, although Disneyland can get crowded, too, at times. Disneyland sees increased crowds around holidays, such as during winter break, the end of March and around Columbus Day, and school breaks, including several weeks in early October.

Is Disney better in Florida or California? ›

For a longer trip complete with luxury accommodation and visits to multiple parks, Walt Disney World in Orlando might be your best bet. If you live on or near the West Coast and you're looking for a short getaway teeming with nostalgia, Disneyland is the way to go.

What is at Disney World that is not at Disneyland? ›

Lay of the Land

It is interesting to note that there are some lands which are exclusive to each park. Liberty Square can only be found at Walt Disney World while Critter Country, Mickey's Toontown and New Orleans Square are all unique to Disneyland Park. In general, both parks have a similar look and feel.

What is the biggest difference between Disneyland and Disney World? ›

Size matters. Another major difference between Disneyland and Disney World is size. According to Parksavers.com, Disneyland spans about 500 acres; Disney World covers more than 43 square miles of land, making Disney World much larger.

Is it worth going to Disneyland if you have been to Disney World? ›

While Disney is known to have overpriced tickets, at least at Disney World, there are so many things to do for all different ages that makes the ticket well worth it. Disneyland, although it has two parks, is extremely tiny in comparison. Meanwhile, the tickets are priced just as high with no justification.

What days are Disneyland not crowded? ›

You can check the Hours & Events Calendar prior to your trip, there are some nights that Disney California Adventure Park is open until 10:00 PM, and Disneyland Park is open until 12:00 AM! My final recommendation is to try to visit the parks on a Tuesday or Wednesday during the middle of the week.

What time of year is Disney not crowded? ›

The best months to visit Disney World when it's less crowded are typically January, February, late April, early May, September, and early November. These times tend to have lower attendance because they fall outside of major holidays and school vacation periods.

Should I take my kids to Disneyland or Disney World? ›

Disneyland is the original park and is, in my opinion, a better option for young kids. It's such a magical place to visit as a parent – there is truly nothing better than watching your kids watch a parade for the first time. I stared at their smiling faces and don't know that I've ever felt happier.

Why is Disneyland Florida so expensive? ›

In its 2023 annual report, released in November, Disney cited “recent inflationary conditions” as the reason behind some of its increased costs. However, the report also elucidated some of the House of Mouse's struggles: operating income in the company's entertainment division plummeted 32% between 2022 and 2023.

What is the best Disney park for adults? ›

NerdWallet considers Epcot to be the best Walt Disney World park for adults, with Disney's Hollywood Studios as a solid contender. Epcot stands out if you're looking to imbibe at the World Showcase area.

Which is better, Disneyland or Disney World? ›

Many people will tell you that Disney World is the winner — that's simply because the property has so much to offer in terms of attractions, entertainment, food and accommodations. Disneyland is great for those who want to spend a day or two at the parks, just to get a weekend filled with Disney magic and fun.

Is there a secret side of Disney World? ›

There are hundreds of hidden Disney secrets in and around the parks, like Hidden Mickeys, secret doors, and a whole underground network below The Magic Kingdom. Add fun to your visit and travel like a Disney insider as you keep an eye out for some of them.

Which is older, Disneyland or Disney World? ›

Disneyland in Anaheim, California was the very first of Disney's theme parks. It opened on July 17, 1955. Walt Disney World near Orlando, Florida (consisting of just the Magic Kingdom and two resorts at the time) opened on October 1, 1971.

What is the difference between Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom? ›

Magic Kingdom was the first park built in Disney World. It was built to be a "copy" of Disneyland. The difference being that the Disney company finally had the space that Walt always wanted when he built Disneyland.

Is Disneyland and Disney World two different things? ›

While it all started at Disneyland Resort in California where today guests can walk between its two theme parks, entertainment district and resorts, Walt Disney World Resort in Florida spans over 43 square miles of fun that's connected by internal transportation systems.

Do Disney World tickets work for Disneyland? ›

There is not one ticket or pass that you could purchase for admission into both Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World Resort.


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