There 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
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
Here 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!
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.
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.
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!