Disneyland vs. Disney World: The Magic Kingdom and Disneyland Park Part I
As I’ve said before in this Disneyland vs. Disney World series, Disney never does the same thing twice! It’s a common misconception that Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom and the Disneyland Park are basically the same experience but on different coasts. That is absolutely not true! Even though Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom was inspired after the original Disneyland Park, it was never intended to be a carbon copy. Both parks offer their own exclusive attractions, restaurants, character interactions, style, and overall experience. Of course, that gives rise to the question of which park is truly the best? That’s the question I intend to answer in perhaps the most ambitious installment of Disneyland vs. Disney World: The Magic Kingdom and Disneyland Park Part I.
Due to the scope of this topic, the first part of this article will compare the two parks on categories such as characters, attractions, and dining. The second installment will compare the different themed lands represented at both parks and determine which one is the best!
So you know I have to talk about the castles. As we all have our loyalties, comparing the two is always controversial. Still, the castles are not just the parks’ icons, but also their centerpieces, and each offers something unique to park guests. Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle has the distinction of being Disney’s original castle standing at 77 feet tall. It features the charming Sleeping Beauty Castle Walkthrough, a personal favorite of mine, with scenes and effects that tell the Sleeping Beauty story.
The design of the Magic Kingdom’s Cinderella Castle is very different than Disneyland’s and is a whopping 189 feet tall! While it doesn’t offer an attraction, Cinderella Castle does house Cinderella’s Royal Table and the exclusive Cinderella Castle Suite. Now I love Sleeping Beauty Castle for its history, its intimacy, and sense of accessibility. However, the grandeur of Cinderella Castle, the ability to dine with princesses inside its halls overlooking Fantasyland, and that view down Main Street, U.S.A. makes it the winner of this category.
Winner: Magic Kingdom
Let’s start with WiFi, shall we? The Magic Kingdom offers free WiFi. In fact, there’s free WiFi throughout most of the Walt Disney World Parks. But at Disneyland… Yeah. No such luck. Walt Disney World also offers MagicBands. It’s a soft plastic band that contains a guest’s ticket, credit card, dining reservations, PhotoPass info, and their FastPass+ reservations which can be made in advance online or on the MyDisneyExperience App. This new amenity was met with criticism at the start, but I love the luxury of having all I need on my wrist and getting into the park is so much faster!
The Magic Kingdom offers three free modes of transportation in the form of bus, monorail, and boat. But then again, this is necessary as the park sits on the Seven Seas Lagoon and can’t be reached by personal car. Now the Disneyland Park does not sit on the shore of a lake but across a spacious esplanade from Disney California Adventure, which is so convenient for Annual Passholders and those with Park Hoppers. Still, Disneyland guests have to park at a parking garage and either walk or take a tram to reach the esplanade.
Finally, both parks offer early entry into the parks. Disneyland offers Magic Mornings on select days for Disneyland Resort Guests with a valid 3+ day ticket while Walt Disney World offers Extra Magic Hours on certain days which could be early entry or extended nighttime park hours. Another difference is Extra Magic Hours are only for guests staying at Disney World Resorts. Tip: Magic Kingdom usually offers Extra Magic Hours Wednesdays and Fridays.
Winner: Magic Kingdom
Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom offers two main parades each day. The three o’clock afternoon parade, Festival of Fantasy, debuted in 2014 with fantastically detailed floats celebrating characters represented in Fantasyland. The star of the parade is a steampunk Maleficent dragon that actually breathes fire!
The Main Street Electrical Parade is the Magic Kingdom’s nighttime parade and is a classic in that it originally debuted at Disneyland in 1972! The Magic Kingdom obtained its own version in 1977, which ran off and on in the park through the years. But in 2010, it was reintroduced again and has been offered ever since. Disneyland’s current nighttime parade, Paint the Night, debuted only last year for Disneyland’s 60th Anniversary to rave reviews and offers incredible new lighting effects! It also pays tribute to the Main Street Electrical Parade through its soundtrack, which includes the classic parade’s famous theme song, “Baroque Hoedown.”
The Disneyland Park also offers Mickey’s Soundsational Parade in the afternoon. Each float is themed after a particular musical instrument or style with the lead float featuring Mickey Mouse playing the drums. I mean, he really plays the drums. It’s fantastic! Like Festival of Fantasy, this parade also showcases some amazingly themed floats so detailed and imaginative that one viewing is never enough.
So this category was a difficult one for me. I LOVE Festival of Fantasy at the Magic Kingdom, but Mickey’s Soundsational Parade coupled with Paint the Night gives Disneyland the edge in this comparison.
Winner: Disneyland Park
Interacting with characters is a huge part of any Disney Park experience, but I’ve noticed the Disneyland Park offers characters that rarely seen at the Magic Kingdom and vice versa. At the Magic Kingdom, guests can meet with Stitch from Lilo and Stitch, the Tremaine Family from Cinderella, and Gaston from Beauty and the Beast. But at Disneyland, guests meet with the Evil Queen from Snow White and Seven Dwarfs, Dr. Facilier and Louis from The Princess and the Frog, Captain Hook and Mr. Smee from Peter Pan, and Bert and the penguins from Mary Poppins.
Meeting characters is also different at both parks. At the Magic Kingdom, it’s difficult to meet characters as they typically can only be found at the end of a maintained line. But at Disneyland, many characters roam about and more free to interact with guests.
Winner: Disneyland Park
The Disneyland Park and Magic Kingdom both offer attractions that can’t be found at the other. For instance, the Disneyland Park has the Matterhorn Bobsleds, Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, Storybook Land Canal Boats, and several Fantasyland dark rides. The Magic Kingdom, however, offers classic attractions Disneyland no longer has, such as the PeopleMover, Carousel of Progress, Swiss Family Robinson Treehouse, and the Country Bear Jamboree.
Now about the attractions both parks share, Disney isn’t in the business of duplicates. Many share a few variations, if not a very different experience altogether. There isn’t space in a single article to compare each version; but overall, I think Disneyland wins this one. I prefer Disneyland’s headliners to the Magic Kingdom’s, particularly Space Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.
Winner: Disneyland Park
All guests at a Disney Park will spend some time in a line or queue; and for me, the difference in queues were one of the most noticeable between Disneyland and the Magic Kingdom. At Disneyland, the queues are mostly uncovered and much more narrow. This first is due to the beautiful Southern California weather, while rain can be an almost daily occurrence at the Magic Kingdom; but the second is due to the park’s overall lack of space. Overall, I prefer the Magic Kingdom’s queues for extra personal space and the additional theming that comes with a covered line or queue.
Winner: Magic Kingdom
Dining at the Magic Kingdom is an event to be planned for while dining at the Disneyland Park is more of a casual affair. Many Magic Kingdom restaurants are difficult to set foot into without an advanced dining reservation, but there is a reason for that. Restaurants such as Cinderella’s Royal Table, Be Our Guest, the Jungle Navigation Co. Skipper Canteen, and Liberty Tree Tavern deliver an immersive experience and fantastic theming.
Disneyland restaurants aren’t quite as strong on theming or immersion, as most of their restaurants offer a considerable amount of outdoor seating, but they do deliver in regards to food! Disneyland is famous for its Monte Cristo Sandwich, Mint Juleps, Mickey-shaped Beignets, gumbo, and fried chicken. If this category was about menus only, Disneyland would easily capture the win. But after factoring in the Magic Kingdom’s variety of restaurants, the experiences they offer, and their own yummy menus, I believe the Magic Kingdom just tips the scale.
Winner: Magic Kingdom
So which coast boasts the best park? For Disneyland vs. Disney World: The Magic Kingdom and Disneyland Park Part I, the Magic Kingdom holds a slight lead. But remember, there’s no winner yet! Part II will compare the different lands that make up the Disneyland Park and the Magic Kingdom. Do you agree? Is the Magic Kingdom the worthy winner so far, or does Disneyland deserve more credit?
19 thoughts on “Disneyland vs. Disney World: The Magic Kingdom and Disneyland Park Part I”
I agree with everything except dining. While Magic Kingdom has beautifully themed restaurants, the food for me is just OK. Where as food in Disneyland is fantastic! Counter service and snacks seem to be so much better there. Even the Dole Whips are better. Come on MK, get some mini umbrellas would ya!
Because of your DL vs. WDW series, I decided that I just HAD to see Disneyland at least once, and I’m so excited to be going in September! My one reservation is at Cafe Orleans so I can have the Monte Cristo sandwich. I love all the restaurants in WDW, but from my research, counter service dining is much better at DL. Thanks so much for all the information!
The Monte Cristo is a very large sandwich. It is delicious, but also a giant deep fried belly bomb. I would recommend sharing so you can continue to sample treats throughout Disneyland. Enjoy your trip! September is a great time to visit!
So glad to hear you’re going to Disneyland for the first time and that this series played a role! I’m sure you will love it, and you made a good choice in making a reservation for Café Orleans. It’s my favorite and I strongly recommend their Pommes Frites. They’re amazing!
The thing with these comparisons is that you’ll never convince stalwarts of either park that the other park might be superior. The important point is that they are *different* and both worth a visit if you can swing it.
That said, I think the dining evaluation should have given more weight to consistency. If you can’t get into Be Our Guest and your budget won’t accommodate Liberty Tree Tavern or the Skipper Canteen, what’s left in Magic Kingdom is pretty mediocre with some bright spots. My guess is that because Disneyland Park sees a lot more traffic from locals, they’ve wisely decided to go for consistency to keep people from leaving the park to eat.
I think this is a good point. We were in Disneyland last week, and picked up a breakfast burrito at the counter service in Tomorrowland. It wasn’t just okay, or edible, it was good! Real egg, chorizo, pico, soft tortilla. The food in Disneyland is consistently better than it has to be.
I’ve been to WDW many times, DL one visit, it was nice, but maybe i’m just used to the bigger MK that I didn’t enjoy it as much. A lot of the “Dark” rides are very repetative and get boring. I’m probably in the minority, but prefer the MK Space much better. Also, I thought the Matterhorn Bobsleds were one of the worst rides ever. I couldn’t wait to try it, but never want to ride again.
Best part about DL for me was being able to hop over to CA with a short walk, which is also a big reason I’m spending more time at Universal than WDW these days, among many other issues I have with Disney.
You prefer Florida’s Space Mountain, but think Matterhorn is one of the worst rides ever? Given that they’re both herky-jerky old coasters with incredibly similar ride vehicles, what features make Florida’s Space Mtn better than CA’s AND make the Matterhorn terrible?
Space may seem herky jerky to some, not so much to me, plus it’s faster with some nice drops and I like the sound and dark.
Matterhorn is very herky jerky, plus Extremely Boring. I found no thrilling speed or drops or turns, just Blah.
I’d have to agree with Andy on this. Having ridden WDW’s Space Mountain many times (the first time just a few months after it opened), I’ve gotten to the point where I feel like it’s more a rough ride that beats you up rather than a truly exciting ride. I mean, you’re there, you feel it wouldn’t be right to skip it – but you absolutely know it’s going to jerk you around to the point of having a headache afterward. In contrast, when I had a visit to Disneyland a couple of years ago, I rode Space Mountain there, and found what I had read was quite true – it is far smoother there than at WDW – feels fast, exciting, but not jerky. I screwed up on FASTPASS timing so only got the one ride on it, but really enjoyed that one ride.
On the same trip, I was looking forward to the Matterhorn on this recent trip more than almost anything (the one ride I really remembered from a single visit there as a young kid) – and while I still enjoyed it, I was disappointed to find how rough and jerky it was – kind of like WDW’s Space Mountain. I’m hoping to get back to DL again in the hopefully not too distant future – lots of great things to do, all within walking distance of each other!
It’s best to quote legendary Imagineer Tony Baxter, who has often said that Disney World is the most spectacular while Disneyland is the most elegant.
Correction – Tony said that Disneyland is the most charming, not elegant. Sorry.
I’m so glad to see this article. I’ve been to Disneyland several times. I just returned from my first WDW trip last month. I’m trying to plan for next year and I’m completely torn which way to go.
My comparison is very similar to yours, but I have a few more categories. WDW has so many more shows. I didn’t get to see the all. Disneyland weather is better, that’s huge for me. No corn dog cart in WDW, boy I missed those corn dogs, but I agree WDW wins the food category. I can afford to stay on property in Florida. I loved that Disney bubble, but it’s so nice to walk across the street to BWPPI. I loved my magic band. I would miss planning all the ADR’s & fastpasses, but I have to admit it was stressful at times.
Yep, I’m really torn. I can’t wait for part 2. Maybe then I can decide.
It’s certainly a hard call, and I will hopefully get Part II published soon!
That’s interesting about the wifi! We’re going to Disneyland for the first time next month after several visits to WDW. I had just assumed that there would be free wifi everywhere at Disneyland and DCA as well. I guess I had better bump up my data plan so that I can use the Lines app all day long, every day during our visit!
Funny, my son and I were doing this on our way to WDW a couple of weeks ago, although more along the lines of what I guess Part 2 will be, comparing land to land. I agree with your ratings except dining. Like someone else said, the counter service is much better at Disneyland. And while Magic Kingdom has some good table service restaurants, I absolutely HATE having to make ADRs months in advance if I want to enjoy them. Another advantage Disneyland has over Magic Kingdom in the amenities category is lack of FP+. It was so great when we were in Disneyland back in February to be able to get the old paper FP for as many rides as we wanted, to get multiple FPs for Indiana Jones, and to not have to decide months in advance what we were going to ride at what time on what day.
Back in the day when you had to use an E-ticket to ride Space Mountain, we would spend hours taking in the sites on Main Street after our ticket book was empty. Unfortunately, Main Street at the Magic Kingdom is only one big store. You can still watch them make candy and watch Steamboat Willie at Disneyland. I’ve only been to Disneyland a few times but it reminds me of the Magic Kingdom of my youth.
We go to Disneyland once a year or so, but just got back from our second trip to WDW. I think the Magic Kingdom food is a ton better than Disneyland, and I loved the MagicBands and FP+ once I figured out how to make it work best for our family. I had a few FP+s for Space Mountain and totally agree with what someone alluded to above – it was the HORRIBLE bumpiness of the Matterhorn, but in the dark. I hated it so much that I cancelled my other FP+s for it for the trip. But each park has its own special things, so I guess I’ll have to continue to try to visit both as much as possible!
I think this is really pointless- no park is the better park. Because they are both different, and special in their own ways, you really can’t say one park is better than the other.