This is the first question that comes to mind for many people planning their first family “Disney” trip. The next question that follows: Disneyland vs. Disney World, which is better? Plenty of first-timers may not even know there are two different major Disney park destinations to choose from within the United States.
While I can’t definitively say which is “better” across the board, when it comes to Disneyland vs Disney World, they both have their own signature strengths that make either a better fit depending on your family’s vacation style. Casual first-timers may want to dip their toes in the metaphorical Disney waters with a short trip to Disneyland, while super fans will likely enjoy the planning process and amount to experience at Disney World.
What makes one “better” in the Disneyland vs. Disney World debate is what works for your family. Whether the distance to one makes it more budget-friendly, or whether your vacation style leans on one end of the spectrum more than the other, your family’s preferences are what will help you make the right decision.
In-Depth Overview: Disneyland vs Disney World, Which is Better?
To help make your decision, let’s get familiar with the main differences between the two.
Located in Orlando, Florida, Walt Disney World Resort is a significantly larger vacation spot. The resort has four parks, two water parks, and over 30 on-site hotels. Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom (as well as water parks Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach) offer more than enough attractions and experiences to keep you busy for a full week.
On the West Coast, Disneyland Resort is situated in the heart of Anaheim, California. With two parks and three on-site hotels, it doesn’t have quite as much variety as Disney World, but plenty of other charming assets that make it just as enjoyable. Disneyland and Disney California Adventure parks have a quality assortment of rides and entertainment that can all be enjoyed within three or so days.
The first factor to consider is what is most convenient for your family. If you want a shorter vacation, or to combine your Disney trip with other local California activities, Disneyland is your best bet. If you want an immersive vacation that consists of all things Disney from start to finish for a longer trip, Disney World is likely the perfect fit.
Now that we’ve got the basics, let’s get into the details of each park that factor into the decision between Disney World vs. Disneyland. While saying one is “better” for all families is an impossible task, we’ll break down the most important factors to help decide which is better for your family.
Disneyland vs. Disney World: Resort Size and Overall Experience
For the Disney-obsessed, you truly can’t go wrong choosing between Disney World vs. Disneyland. Disney history lovers will love Disneyland’s nostalgia as the original Disney park, and general Disney fans will be swept away by Disney World’s abundance of activities. As first-timers, some families enjoy Disneyland’s smaller, quaint vibes, while others are ready to dive into the action of all four parks at Disney World.
As mentioned above, these two Disney resorts vary greatly in size. Did you know Disney World property is roughly the size of San Francisco? Even for travel experts, it can be a bit overwhelming at times. Because it’s so big and hosts such a large quantity of guests, a trip to Disney World requires quite a bit more planning. Dining reservations are made 180 days in advance, FastPass+ reservations are booked 30-60 days in advance, and with the parks being spread out, you must plan which days you’re spending where.
With that being said, Disney World’s size and popularity lends itself to offering a virtually endless assortment of fun. There’s always something new to enjoy at Disney World at any given time of year, making it a blast to visit time and time again. Epcot hosts a different festival for every season, Magic Kingdom is decked out to celebrate every holiday, and all the parks seem to be offering something new every month! Disney World also compensates for its large size by offering complimentary transportation to take you wherever you need to go within the resort, which is a huge help.
Over in California, Disneyland offers a similar number of pros and cons. The walking distance between Disneyland and California Adventure, in combination with significantly lower crowds, allows much more flexibility in your trip. My family loves that we can plan a “last minute” trip to Disneyland and not have to worry about sacrificing any of our experience due to lack of planning. It’s much easier to get your desired FastPasses and dining reservations day-of without too much strategic preparation. The “go with the flow” mentality makes Disneyland less overwhelming … although I do enjoy the excitement in planning every detail of my family’s Disney World trip. Again, this all depends on your personal preference.
Disneyland vs. Disney World: Cost
Cost is the top consideration when planning a vacation for my family, and no doubt an important one for you too. For many families in the United States, Disney World is a more cost-effective destination thanks to budget airlines flying into Orlando, or because it is within driving distance. However, for my family living in Hawaii, Disneyland is our closest and most cost-effective option. The cost in getting to either Disney World or Disneyland is typically the main differentiator since there is a good spread of hotel options at either and ticket prices are fairly similar.
As far as tickets go, prices don’t differ too much between Disneyland vs. Disney World. Disneyland tickets start at $104 per day, while Disney World tickets start at $109 per day. The good news is that the price per day lowers the longer you stay. For example, a 7-day trip to Disney World boils down ticket prices to about $60 per day. Keep in mind that prices increase for Park Hopper tickets (in order to visit more than one park per day at either location) and depending on the time of year. Oh, and kiddos younger than three are free!
One of the plus sides of Disney World is that there are on-site hotel options for almost any price range, between value and deluxe. One of my family’s favorite hotels, the All-Star Movie Resort, can cost as low as $100 per night depending on season and demand. Over at Disneyland, their on-site hotel options are limited to a much higher budget, so my family typically opts for a nearby “Good Neighbor” hotel, which you can find recommended on Disneyland’s site.
Disneyland vs. Disney World: Attractions and Entertainment
This is the toughest category to “judge” simply because both Disneyland and Disney World have so much to offer. When it comes to Disneyland vs. Disney World attractions and entertainment, the only difference is that Disney World has significantly more since it is so much larger. Aside from that, the rides are equal in excitement and fun, as well as the movies and franchises represented. Don’t worry, you’ll find plenty of character meet-and-greets on either coast! An interesting difference is that Disneyland has more “roaming” character interactions, while Disney World has you queue up to formally meet characters.
A few of the rides have mildly different takes on the same concept, such as Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Splash Mountain, Space Mountain, Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, and It’s a Small World. Disney World and Disneyland each have their own knockout rides and shows as well. Some Disney World highlights include Avatar’s Flight of Passage at Animal Kingdom and the Happily Ever After fireworks show at Magic Kingdom. Our favorites at Disneyland are the Fantasmic nighttime spectacular at Disneyland park and Radiator Springs Racers ride at California Adventure.
Disneyland vs. Disney World: Dining
Dining is one area in which my family significantly favors one destination over the other, and that badge of honor goes to Disneyland. Because Disneyland caters to a smaller demographic at a much lower volume than Disney World, they’re able to offer a greater variety and quality of food. Given its size, Disney World of course has more dining locations, but you’ll find more interesting, worth-your-money cuisine at Disneyland.
Disney World has dining packages available to add on to your vacations, while Disneyland does not. This is mainly a result of the fact that Disney World lends itself to longer trips that require a bit more budget-planning.
Both Disney World and Disneyland offer unique dining experiences such as buffets, dessert parties, and character meals. One “point” for Disney World is that they truly have an experience to fit everyone in the family thanks to the quantity of options available.
Disneyland vs. Disney World: In Conclusion
I know it can be a lot of pressure — especially given the cost of a Disney vacation on either coast — but I promise you can’t go wrong. Disneyland and Disney World are both captivating vacation spots where you’re guaranteed to have an excellent time and make awesome memories. As a family of Disney lovers, we decide where to visit next based on what is most convenient for us and our little one. Good luck planning, and comment below with what you find to be the deciding factor in the Disneyland vs. Disney World debate!