Disneyland or Disney World – What’s the Difference? Part 3

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Disneyland or Disney WorldDisneyland or Disney World? Welcome back to our four part series, where we will continue to debate this very question. In case you missed it, in part one we took a look at some of the key differences between Disneyland and Disney World in the areas of size and scope, atmosphere, and weather. In part two, we examined the topics of crowds, pricing, and hotels. In part three, let’s continue our side-by-side comparison of Disneyland and Disney World by discussing planning, transportation, and the theme parks.

Planning

 

Disneyland Resort Planning

Planning a trip to Disneyland is a fairly straightforward process. Let’s look at a basic timeline.

  • 12 months or more in advance: This is the time to research where you would like to stay and book a hotel reservation or vacation package.
  • 11 months or less in advance: If you are going to be flying to Disneyland, this is the time to start checking flights and booking one as soon as you find a great deal. Once your flight is reserved, you can book a rental car or make reservations for airport transportation. If you will be driving to Disneyland, this is the time to plan your route and make any hotel reservations that you will need for your journey to and from the resort.
  • 3 months in advance: At this point, it is time to start researching restaurants and tours that interest you and make a list of reservations that you would like to book.
  • 60 days in advance (exactly): This is the day you may begin booking dining reservations. Character Dining, Blue Bayou, and Napa Rose tend to fill up quickly and should be booked as soon as possible. If you did not reserve a vacation package that includes admissions and you plan to purchase your tickets in advance, this is a perfect time in order to allow for shipping. Purchasing admissions early is not a necessity in Disneyland, but it will save you a little bit of time once you arrive.
  • 30 days in advance (exactly): This is the day you may begin booking any tours that you would like to try.
  • 2 weeks in advance: This is a great time to research the attractions offered at Disneyland and California Adventure, make a list of what you would like to experience, and create your personalized touring plans. Also take a few moments to put together a packing list so that you don’t forget anything.
  • 1 week in advance: It’s now time to confirm all of your reservations, print your travel documents, and pack.

TouringPlans logoWalt Disney World Planning

Planning a vacation to Walt Disney World can be quite complex. Let’s take a look at the basic timeline. You will notice some similarities to the Disneyland Resort as well as some additional steps that are exclusive to Disney World.

  • As soon as you start thinking about a trip: The first thing you will want to do is sign up for a My Disney Experience account at Walt Disney World’s official website. There you will be able to book your hotel, dining and tour reservations, purchase and link your admission tickets, book Fastpass+, and customize your MagicBands.
  • 12 months or more in advance: This is the time to research where you would like to stay and book a hotel reservation or vacation package.
  • 11 months or less in advance: If you are going to be flying to Disney World, this is the time to start checking flights and booking one as soon as you find a great deal. Once your flight is reserved, you can book a rental car or make reservations for Disney’s Magical Express. If you will be driving to Disney World, this is the time to plan your route and make any hotel reservations that you will need for your journey to and from the resort.
  • 8 months in advance: At this point, it is time to start researching restaurants and tours that interest you and make a list of reservations that you would like to book.
  • 6 ½ months in advance: This is the time to check the park hours and crowd calendars to determine what days you would like to visit each theme park. It’s a good idea to take your list of most desired reservations and match it up to what day you will be in each park.
  • 180 days in advance (exactly): This is an important day! Today’s the day to book your dining, recreation, and tour reservations. Character dining, Cinderella’s Royal Table, and the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique are just some of the places that can fill up within minutes of the reservation window opening. Grab your list of most wanted reservations and get busy booking them as quickly as possible.
  • 5 months in advance: If you did not book a package that includes theme park tickets, now is the time to research your different ticket options to decide what is best for you. Be sure to use Touring Plan’s Ticket Calculator to help you find the least expensive Disney World admissions.
  • 4 months in advance: It is now time to purchase your admission tickets. Once they arrive, be sure to login to your My Disney Experience account and link them with your hotel and dining reservations.
  • 3 months in advance: At this point, you can begin researching what attractions you would like to visit at Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom and use them to create your personalized touring plans. Because Walt Disney World is so large, it is not possible to see everything in a week or even a month, so be sure to get everyone’s top priorities. This is also the time for guests that will be staying at a Walt Disney World resort hotel to login to their My Disney Experience account and customize their MagicBands. The MagicBand will serve as your Disney’s Magical Express ticket, room key, admission ticket, Fastpass+, PhotoPass, and can be used for purchases.
  • 60 days in advance (exactly): Another important day! Today’s the day for guests staying at a Walt Disney World resort hotel to begin booking Fastpass+. This is Walt Disney World’s ride reservation system that allows you to book a reserved one hour window to enjoy an attraction. You can pre-book Fastpass+ on three different attractions in one theme park per day. These are great to use for the very popular headliner attractions to help minimize your wait in line. This is also the day for guests staying at a Walt Disney World hotel to check into their resort online. This will save time on your day of arrival and allow you to go straight to your room bypassing the front desk.
  • 30 days in advance: This is the day for guests staying off-site to book their Fastpass+.
  • 2 weeks in advance: Take some time to create a packing so that you will have everything you need.
  • 1 week in advance: It’s now time to confirm all of your reservations, print your travel documents, and pack.

Comparing Planning

The planning area is one place where Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World really differ in my opinion. Because of its smaller size, Disneyland doesn’t require as detailed planning. Walt Disney World is so massive and complex that to truly make the most out of your time there, it takes some work in advance. This doesn’t mean that an uber-planner can’t spend hours preparing and researching everything Disneyland Resort has to offer and a laid-back person can’t go to Walt Disney World and wing it. You can certainly approach either of these resorts with as much or with as little prep work as you want to do beyond basic reservations depending on what type of vacation you desire – relaxed or action packed.

Transportation

 

Disneyland MonorailDisneyland Resort Transportation

Disneyland Resort’s smaller size makes this place truly a pedestrian destination. Once you reach the property itself, you can walk to any of the resort hotels, theme parks or Downtown Disney in about 15 minutes or less. The resort does offer tram service from its parking lots as well as the Monorail from Downtown Disney to the Tomorrowland area of Disneyland Park. There is also an airport shuttle called Disneyland Resort Express operated by Gray Line that offers hourly transportation during regular business hours seven days a week for a fee.

Disney World MonorailWalt Disney World Transporation

Due to its massive size, Walt Disney World has an elaborate transportation system. In general, the resort offers tram service from all of its parking lots to its theme parks. If you are staying on-site at a Walt Disney World resort hotel, you will have a variety of ways to get to where you are going including buses, boats, Monorails or on foot depending on your location. There is also an airport shuttle called Disney’s Magical Express that offers transportation to and from the airport free of charge to any guest staying at a Walt Disney World resort hotel. This shuttle service also includes the convenience of bypassing baggage claim and having your luggage delivered directly to your room by using the special luggage tags that will be mailed to you in advance.

Comparing Transportation

When visiting Disneyland, I always feel like transportation is not an issue. Once you survive the traffic getting from the airport to the resort itself, you can basically walk everywhere you want to go. I always like to stay at a hotel that is in walking distance of the resort so I don’t have to deal with the parking lots or trams. At Walt Disney World, everything is much more spread out, so I rely on Disney transportation to get me where I want to go. In general, that means taking one mode of transportation to get to the theme parks and two modes to get from resort to resort. For example, if I am staying at Disney’s Art of Animation Resort and I want to get to Magic Kingdom, I just hop on a bus straight there. However, if I want to get from Disney’s Art of Animation to the Spirit of Aloha Dinner Show at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, I first have to take a bus to Magic Kingdom and then board a boat or Monorail to the Polynesian. This really isn’t as complicated as it sounds, but it is time consuming. You can easily spend thirty to sixty minutes getting to a theme park and 90 plus minutes getting from resort to resort at Walt Disney World which is considerably longer than the travel time between destinations in Disneyland.

The Theme Parks

 

California Adventure at NightDisneyland Resort Theme Parks

Disneyland Resort has two theme parks – Disneyland and Disney California Adventure.

Opened in 1955, Disneyland is the original and only Disney theme park that was designed and built while Walt Disney was still living. Disneyland is divided into eight unique lands; Main Street, U.S.A., New Orleans Square, Frontierland, Critter Country, Adventureland, Mickey’s Toontown, Fantasyland, and Tomorrowland.

Disney California Adventure at Disneyland Resort opened in 2001 and underwent a massive refurbishment that was completed in 2012 with the addition of Cars Land. The park is divided into seven unique lands; Buena Vista Street, Hollywood Land, a bug’s land, Cars Land, Pacific Wharf, Paradise Pier, and Grizzly Peak.

Epcot at NightWalt Disney World Theme Parks

Walt Disney World has four theme parks – Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

Opened in 1971, Magic Kingdom is the original theme park in Walt Disney World and the most popular one at the resort. The park is divided into six unique lands; Main Street, U.S.A., Adventureland, Frontierland, Liberty Square, Fantasyland, and Tomorrowland.

Epcot opened in 1982 and is said to be Walt Disney’s last dream. The park is divided into two areas known as Future World and World Showcase. Future World has two separate sections, Future World West and Future World East, each featuring several attractions. The World Showcase area surrounds a lake and highlights 11 pavilions representing Canada, United Kingdom, France, Morocco, Japan, America, Italy, Germany, China, Norway, and Mexico.

Disney’s Hollywood Studios opened in 1989 and showcases Hollywood’s Golden Age plus movie making magic. The park is divided into seven unique areas; Hollywood Boulevard, Echo Lake, Streets of America, Pixar Place, Mickey Avenue, Animation Courtyard, and Sunset Boulevard.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom opened in 1998 and is currently one of the largest animal theme parks in the world. The park is divided into six unique areas; Oasis, Africa, Discovery Island, Rafiki’s Planet Watch, DinoLand U.S.A., and Asia.

Comparing Theme Parks

When comparing Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World side-by-side, all of the theme parks at both destinations offer the quintessential charm for which Disney is known. Although it only has two parks, Disneyland Resort actually has a few more ride-on type attractions where Disney World is slightly ahead in the number of experience and entertainment options available. As far as the theme parks themselves go, Disneyland Park and Magic Kingdom most resemble one another. Both parks feature their trademark castles in the center with the attraction filled lands surrounding them. Then you have Disney California Adventure which is most similar to Hollywood Studios in Disney World. Disney California Adventure is the clear winner (please feel free to disagree in the comments section 😉 )  between these two parks with its incredible Cars Land and gorgeous World of Color nighttime spectacular. What Disneyland Resort lacks is the wonderful way you can experience rich cultures from around the globe in Epcot’s World Showcase and the truly immersive environment of Disney’s Animal Kingdom where you can explore the lush scenery while learning about the wildlife that calls this park home.

That’s it for part three – see ya real soon for part four!

 

A Tale of Two ResortsLooking for a more in-depth comparison of Disneyland and Disney World? Please check out my new book “A Tale of Two Resorts: Comparing Disneyland and Walt Disney World” by clicking here for more information or to read an excerpt.

Disneyland or Disney World? Please let us know which destination is your favorite and why.
We would love to hear from you!

Kristi Fredericks

Kristi is a lifelong fan of all things Disney and has been visiting the resorts since she was a baby. She is thrilled to share her passion for the Disney parks and feels that there is nothing better than enjoying a Disney vacation with the ones you love. Kristi is the author of "A Tale of Two Resorts: Comparing Disneyland and Walt Disney World" and "501 Ways To Make The Most Of Your Walt Disney World Vacation" and founder of the blog DisneyWorldEnthusiast.com. She can be contacted on Twitter @DWEnthusiast, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/disneyworldenthusiast or by email at disneyworldenthusiast@outlook.com.

7 thoughts on “Disneyland or Disney World – What’s the Difference? Part 3

  • April 23, 2015 at 11:08 am
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    Did Disneyland/DCA last summer. We felt that it lacked that Disney feel that you get when you go to WDW. Not once did we hear a CM say “Have a magical day” or something along those lines. It felt more like a giant amusement park instead of a Disney experience.

    Reply
    • April 28, 2015 at 1:12 am
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      I actually disagree with this comment. I’ve been to both parks (DL and WDW) several times. I have found the exact opposite. the CM’s at DL were much more likely to do something special than WDW.

      Reply
  • April 23, 2015 at 4:32 pm
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    Disneyland’s monorails are much cooler than WDW’s. I wonder if WDW will ever upgrade?

    Reply
    • April 24, 2015 at 12:01 pm
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      “Upgrade” to monorails you can’t stand up in? Don’t think so.

      Disneyland’s monorail is basically another attraction, WDW’s monorail is functioning mass transit.

      Reply
  • April 23, 2015 at 4:53 pm
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    I lived in the midwest and visited WDW a few times a year for 2010-2013, and I now live on the west coast and have visited DLR a few times in the past year plus going back to WDW for a weeklong visit with my nephews.

    For visiting a theme park, I prefer DLR. It’s much easier to walk and get around. That having been said, I live closer to DLR now than I lived to WDW when I was in the midwest and yet I don’t see myself renewing my AP after this year.

    DLR does not have the customer service and overall experience of WDW. What I liked about going to WDW was this feeling of immersion and the guarantee of excellent service from cast members. It felt like an escape. DLR doesn’t have that. The CMs aren’t quite as top notch (it’s hit and miss at least). You can absolutely see why Walt wanted to build WDW in the way he did, because the very nature of DLR means you don’t get the same experience.

    When it comes to the rides, DLR is definitely the superior park. The rides that are ostensibly the same are done better at DLR. The Nightmare Before Christmas overlay at Haunted Mansion is spectacular, even for someone like me who isn’t a huge fan of the movie. Pirates is done better. Big Thunder is better. Soarin’ makes sense. Radiator Springs Racers blows Test Track away (not a perfect comparison, but you definitely feel like they’re sister attractions). DLR has the nostalgic originals that WDW has done away with. DLR doesn’t have FP+, which I consider a big plus (ha). FP+ seems to have ruined WDW, where even C and D attractions with continuous loading now have waits thanks to FP+ slowing up the works.

    Reply
  • April 23, 2015 at 5:26 pm
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    The more and more posts I read, the more I swear there is a “grass is always greener” approach to how nice/helpful/magical CMs are. The CMs are always better where you are not. Or something. (So are bathrooms!)

    Personally I haven’t encountered any measurable change in quality at either resort. Most CMs are great, a couple are clueless, and I’ve thankfully missed the worst. Well some crowd control CMs at both coasts are a mite grumpy, but then I’ve worked crowd control, and eventually you want to smite everyone.

    Reply
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