Why Every Walt Disney World Veteran Should Visit Disneyland

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Disneyland EntranceThere is a lot of spirited debate in the Disney community comparing Walt Disney World to Disneyland Resort, with passionate opinions on both sides of the issue. Indeed, there have been plenty of articles comparing the two parks on this site and others, and our very own Savannah Sanders has an ongoing series comparing attractions at the two resorts.  

The following is objectively true: Disneyland is smaller, has fewer parks, fewer hotels, and fewer restaurants than Walt Disney World, and versions of most of the major Disneyland attractions can also be experienced in Orlando. Accordingly, a common misconception seems to have developed among Walt Disney World veterans that Disneyland is a “lesser” park and there’s no reason to go when you could go to Walt Disney World instead. The oft-cited fact that “Walt walked there” isn’t enough to convince them to try out the original park.

The reality, however, is that the World’s smaller, older sibling has merit — a lot of merit, in fact — and is very worthy of a visit. Moreover, far from providing you with an excuse to skip Disneyland, your familiarity with Walt Disney World makes it an even better destination than for someone who had never been to either park. I’m going to take this a step further, however, and tell you that if you’re an Orlando veteran, you need to get to Anaheim and take in the original at some point for reasons that have nothing to do with which place is “better” or the footsteps of one Walter Elias Disney.  

To be clear, this will not be a post about which resort is “better.” Just so you understand where I’m coming from and that this isn’t rampant homerism, I don’t live geographically close to either park. I’ve been going to Orlando for years, however, so I think of Walt Disney World as my “home” and Disneyland Resort as somewhere I “visit,” and if asked which I like better, I would pick Walt Disney World. For me, the reason is pretty simple — when I’m in a Disney park, it probably means that I’m on a multi-day vacation, and to me, Walt Disney World is a more complete vacation destination. On the flip side, however, if I only had one day to spend in a single Disney park, I’d pick Disneyland Park, so this is not a condescending, “C’mon everyone, let’s play with Disneyland for a little while.”

OK, so you’re a Disney World veteran that has read this far, and you want to know why you should bother going to a smaller, older resort. Join me after the jump!

 

It Is Instantly Familiar

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Disneyland uses the familiar hub and spoke layout, and the major lands are where you expect them to be.

If you’ve spent a fair amount of time at Disney World, and the Magic Kingdom in particular, Disneyland is going to be immediately familiar to you, which is great from a planning standpoint. There are plenty of differences — Savannah does a great series exploring these differences, in fact — but it’s close enough that you’re not going to walk in and have to flip open a map to have a general sense of where the headliners and lands are. Indeed, if you’re the sort of person that doesn’t need a map to make your way around the Magic Kingdom, you’ll be buzzing around Disneyland Park in short order the same way. I once heard someone describe it as if you woke up one morning and someone had rearranged the furniture in your home and repainted the walls while you slept — it’s the stuff you know and love, but things are a little different. The point is, you’ll be acclimated to it in no time.  That leads to…

Lots Of Great Surprises

Fireworks Over Sleeping Beauty CastleHere is the thing that is so awesome about Disneyland for a Disney World vet — the fact that it is so familiar lays the groundwork for tons of great little surprises during your first trip. I’ll try to keep this as spoiler free as possible to preserve that bit of magic for you (although caution, minor one ahead), but there are tons of moments where a Disneyland attraction will diverge from what you’re used to. I remember my reaction the first time I saw the fireworks at Disneyland. The show gets underway, and my thoughts unfold roughly as follows: “Hey, there’s Tinkerbell, just like in Orlando, except she’s coming from the side and OH SWEET FANCY MOTHER OF PEARL SHE’S STILL FLYING AROUND WHILE THE FIREWORKS ARE GOING OFF!!!”  Suffice it to say, it was a great surprise…  

Remember when you first started going to Walt Disney World and you’d have those great little “Oh, wow!” moments of surprise and wonder? As you become more experienced with the parks, those moments tend to happen less and less frequently, but they can and will happen again the first time you go to Disneyland as a WDW vet!

Get More Done Quicker

One common knock on Disneyland is that it is “so much smaller” than Walt Disney World, but this can actually be a blessing. It is small in size, but it is dense. Its Fantasyland takes up significantly less space than the Magic Kingdom’s version, but there are a ton of attractions in that space. They have literally stacked attractions on top of each other — Alice in Wonderland is essentially upstairs from Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, for example — so there’s very little wasted space. Everywhere you turn, there’s something to do. Park-hopping is also easy at Disneyland — Disney’s California Adventure is literally so close that there are parts of Disneyland Park where you are closer to DCA than you are to other parts of the park you’re in!  

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Line-filler Toy Story Midway Mania doesn’t generate near the same lines at Disney’s California Adventure

There also seems to be a functional cap upon how long the lines can get. Most Walt Disney World guests are there for their once-in-a-great-while trip, and if the line at Soarin’ is 180 minutes, well, many people just wait 180 minutes. In contrast, the overwhelming majority of Disneyland visitors are locals, and many of them are Passholders that have ample opportunity to experience these attractions. As such, the appetite to wait more than an hour for most things is just not there — if the lines are obnoxious, people just do something else. Would it surprise you to learn that the line at Soarin’ Over California rarely exceeds 50 minutes and they don’t even bother to offer FastPass for Toy Story Midway Mania!?

The net result is that there is very little wasted time at Disneyland, and you can get a lot done in a short amount of time. Indeed, they don’t even sell tickets for more than 5 days at a time, and I suspect that part of the reason is that you can get your Disney fix and then some in that time at Disneyland. It makes it perfect for a quick trip.  

Lifestyler

Even wonder what it would be like to be a so-called “lifestyler,” where you more or less live in the Disney bubble? Well, they don’t really have a Disney bubble out west the way we do in Florida, but you most definitely have people that make Disney a significant part of their lives — lots of them. DisneyBounding is much more common out west, and the Social Club phenomenon is something that really doesn’t exist at Walt Disney World at all.  The point is, Disneyland locals LOVE their park, and it creates a unique energy as compared to the World, which tends to be populated more by vacationers.  

Corndogs

Disneyland has crazy good corn dogs. You should eat one right now.

Did I Mention That Walt Walked There?

OK, OK, I promised that this wouldn’t be the reason for you Disney World vets to visit, but since you’re going anyway, this is a pretty cool perk.  The truth is, Disneyland does have a ton of history, their version of Pirates and a bunch of other rides are better than ours, and Cars Land is worth the hype. Disneyland is a wonderful destination and even though it may be a bit different than what you’re used to, it is most definitely worth a visit.  Go!

James Rosemergy

When not planning for or traveling to Walt Disney World with his beautiful wife and impossibly adorable daughter, James practices law in St. Louis. He also really likes cheese -- and loathes kale. He can be found on twitter at @jrtoastyman.

28 thoughts on “Why Every Walt Disney World Veteran Should Visit Disneyland

    • November 25, 2015 at 10:11 am
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      You got me! In fairness, they are insanely good! :))

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  • November 25, 2015 at 11:01 am
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    I was surprised by the number of churros stands…and fewer strollers.

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    • November 25, 2015 at 11:04 am
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      Oh yeah, they are everywhere out there, and that is a good thing. Wish they had more in WDW, in fact.

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  • November 25, 2015 at 11:42 am
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    We visited DLR for the first time ever this past summer on the way back from an Aulani vacation. The wife and I liked it so much we upgraded to annual pass and are returning next Saturday for a week for our anniversary! We hit WDW usually a couple times a year, but really enjoyed DL and CA. In March, we are back to our WDW visits again though. Love the fast park hopping and still have as many attractions. And, Radiator Springs Racers spoils Test Track forever now!

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    • November 25, 2015 at 1:35 pm
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      Yeah, Radiator Springs spoils Test Track, and Indiana Jones spoils Dinosaur. I enjoy Dinosaur, but when you see what can be done with that ride system, it’s hard not to be a little jealous…

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  • November 25, 2015 at 12:01 pm
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    I get the flip-side of this conversation. I’m a SoCal resident and DLR pass holder/veteran. My family’s 4th trip to WDW is this Christmas and people here often ask why we’d fly to Florida when we can just drive up the freeway to “the one” in our own backyard. They don’t understand the sheer expansiveness or destination vacation-ness of WDW and the level of planning it takes for a successful WDW vacation. When I tell them you choose your fast passes up to 60 days in advance, or make all your ADRs as soon as you book your trip, they look at me like I’m crazy. People here are used to hopping in a car last minute, grabbing one of those corn dogs and a Mickey ice cream bar from a stand on their way to the rides and call it a day.

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    • November 25, 2015 at 1:38 pm
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      It’s definitely a different process. The first time we went to Disneyland, it felt odd to pass all of those planning milestones (e.g., 180 days for ADRs) without doing anything. Kept feeling like we were missing something, but it’s just not necessary…

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  • November 25, 2015 at 12:05 pm
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    I just got back from Disney World. I loved the resorts, and the food, but as far as parks go, Disneyland wins hands down for me. I couldn’t believe how long everything took to do at Disney World! Just getting to the park was an hour long process, instead of our 10 minute walk to Disneyland. Epcot was especially bad to walk across. Way too spread out for my liking. I also missed my churros and corn dogs, but Ohana and glazed pecans mostly made up for that. Haha

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    • November 25, 2015 at 2:04 pm
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      Yeah, this is more or less why I indicated that I liked WDW better as a complete vacation destination — focusing not just on the parks, but on having some nice meals, hanging out at the pool, etc. — but if I only had a day, I’d go to Disneyland. It’s very dense, and you can accomplish a ton in very little time if your primary focus is experiencing attractions.

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  • November 25, 2015 at 12:17 pm
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    Don’t forget the beignets!

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    • November 25, 2015 at 1:56 pm
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      appropriate that they are right by Haunted Mansion, too, as my hands are often a ghostly white (i.e., covered in powdered sugar) while I’m eating one while in line!

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  • November 25, 2015 at 12:37 pm
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    So glad for this article! We are lifelong WDW people, but are planning our FIRST trip to DL/CA this summer! Now I can’t wait even more!

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  • November 25, 2015 at 12:54 pm
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    pros: it’s never hot and humid, World of color, Pirates, cars land, park hopping is super close, Lots of areas for small children, tink and dumbo fireworks, celeb sightings (I met Amy Adams)…
    Oh, and you can rent a condo and walk to the park/downtown disney!

    Cons: handful of just awful rides (toad, storybook), the staff is lazier since its more locals, not many continuous load rides, not many restaurants.

    Totally going back for a corn dog! We don’t get overly excited for corn dogs, but the fact that James came home and wrote an article about it, now I HAVE to try one.

    Disneyland is worth checking out for sure!!

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    • November 25, 2015 at 1:33 pm
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      Please forgive my wife for what some of you may view as blaspheme with respect to Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, but as much as I love Disneyland, that is one thing I don’t get, either. I mean(spoiler alert), you go to HELL, for Pete’s sake! Oh well, to each their own… :))

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      • November 25, 2015 at 3:11 pm
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        I stand by my statement. Mr. Toad’s certainly made for great conversation afterward, while Storybook left me flat out mad. I couldn’t wait to float through the whale’s mouth and that was the end of the excitement. Waited 45 minutes in line to float by mini villages? Grab a picture by the whale’s mouth and spend the rest of the time I just saved you catching a cute show or hanging out at Minnie’s House!

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        • November 29, 2015 at 12:43 pm
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          I think the secret for the Storybook Land Canal Boats is to go late at night when the line has died down and the little villages are lit up and feel very magical. It’s my favorite ride to end the night on!

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    • November 25, 2015 at 5:13 pm
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      The Paint the Night parade is definitely another pro!

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  • November 25, 2015 at 2:58 pm
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    I recently was in Irvine, CA on business and decided to take my chances with a 3-day pass knowing that I could only go for a few hours each night after work.
    I have to agree with your “Local Energy” point – There is (was for me anyway) a more relaxed atmosphere with less “drama” through out the parks. Think of it as visiting any park near your house for an after-dinner stroll… Individuals, couples, and yes, families, strolling through the park at a slower pace. Everyone seemed to be just kind of taking it all in with a lesser sense of urgency about whether to go on a ride or not.
    Obviously, this was not Christmas week or July 4, but there was something most enjoyable about NOT having to feel like you (and others around you) had to do everything in one visit.

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    • November 25, 2015 at 4:16 pm
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      This is a great point. Crazy though it may seem to those used to WDW, many Disneyland locals treat Disneyland Park like an actual PARK — it’s a place to pop in for a while to relax, see friends, maybe ride a couple of things and leave. That’s not to say it can’t get crowded and crazy, but there isn’t the same urgency about the attractions as there is in Orlando.

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  • November 25, 2015 at 5:10 pm
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    I completely agree witb all of this, we are WDW regulars who went to Disneyland last year for the first time. The charm, the sense of history, the relaxed locals attitude all wone me over. I can’t wait to get back. We stayed at the Best Western Park Place, it was fabulous to literally walk across the street and be there.
    I like the food choices better there, just some many more options, though it’s getter better at WDW. I agree on the corn dogs and I don’t normally like corn dogs. We tried the ones at DL and DCA for research purposes of course.
    And I think it would be worth it to go later in the year for the holiday overlays we’ll never get to see on the East coast. We went in the fall specifically for that reason.
    I loved DL so much, I don’t think I could choose a favorite between the two resorts. Like you mentioned, it depends on the purpose of the trip which I’d pick.

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    • November 25, 2015 at 8:10 pm
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      DW and I were in DLR for 5 nights last July. Loved everything except the Best Western Park Place Inn. It was old, dated, unclean. It would bring us down, and make us not want to return to our room. I bit the bullet after three nights and moved to the Disneyland Hotel. What a contrast.

      BTW it was hotter and more uncomfortable on our WDW trip on the 7-11th of this month than last July in CA.

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      • November 25, 2015 at 8:45 pm
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        We were there September 2014 and the room we were in was clearly freshly renovated. Maybe they were only part way through fixing up the rooms?

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  • November 25, 2015 at 7:41 pm
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    While I love Disney World, Disneyland Park would be my preference over the Magic Kingdom. It was put best by Tony Baxter in the way that he designed Big Thunder for each park. Big Thunder in Disneyland is based on Bryce National Park because Bryce is charming. Tony said that while the Magic Kingdom is truly spectacular, Disneyland is charming. You don’t just walk in Walt’s footsteps in Disneyland, you feel his presence.

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  • November 25, 2015 at 10:01 pm
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    I fortunately visited both parks and had a wonderful family vacation at each park. I see no need to pick a favorite or to disparge either park. If both were exactly the same it would be silly.
    Thanks for an enjoyable article!

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  • November 26, 2015 at 12:44 am
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    The biggest thing I noticed were the roaming characters. It’s so much more fun to come across a character, than waiting to meet them. I also felt like it was a pilgrimage to see the park Walt built. Seeing the light lit in the firehouse were he stayed, Pirates of the Caribbean and Club 33.

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    • November 26, 2015 at 10:09 am
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      This was a great surprise for us, too. We just came upon The Evil Queen from Snow White by that fountain to the right of the castle, just standing there by herself, no handler or anything. She hung with us for a while before anyone else even came up! It was surreal

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  • November 26, 2015 at 8:56 am
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    I’m a WDW local, it’s my home… but Disneyland is best, hands down. Hubs and I are flying out tonight for a five day visit!

    Reply

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