Walt Disney World in Florida consists of four theme parks, a couple of water parks, around two dozen on-property hotels, almost too many restaurants to count and is the size of San Francisco. By contrast, Disneyland in California has just two parks, three hotels and fits in a much smaller geographical area in the middle of Anaheim. And while it does have some new rides, it’s also home to many classic attractions from the 1950s.
And just as I’d never ever have a favorite between my two kids, I don’t think I could crown a true queen between the “Happiest Place on Earth” (Disneyland) and the “Most Magical Place on Earth” (Disney World), as I enjoy the heck out of both.
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However, while Walt Disney World has the obvious edge on paper between the two with its size and breadth of offerings, don’t count out the original in Disneyland when deciding where to enjoy your next Disney vacation.
If you are deciding between these two Disney parks, here are five ways that Disneyland is actually better than Disney World.
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It’s much easier to park hop
If I am traveling with my kids, I virtually never park hop at Disney World. It’s just too big of a logistical headache to be worth it with little ones most of the time.
While there are a couple of Disney World parks that are easier to pair together than the others (namely Magic Kingdom and Epcot on the monorail or Epcot and Hollywood Studios by walking, boats or via the Skyliner), none of those park pairings can hold a candle to how easy it is to get between Disneyland Park and Disney’s California Adventure.
A mere 100 yards separate the entrances of Disneyland and California Adventure. This means you can enjoy Cars Land and Avenger’s Campus in the morning at California Adventure and then head to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, Pirates of the Caribbean and Space Mountain at Disneyland in the evening without regretting over-extending yourself the next day.
Additionally, you can actually push your Disney rented stroller between the two parks, which is a small thing, but also a great perk for those with little ones.
Related: Everything you need to know about visiting Disneyland
It’s easy to save money staying off-property
Because Disneyland is in the middle of an actual city — instead of essentially being its own city — you have the ability to stay off Disney property without trading away as much as you do at Disney World. There are dozens of hotels you can stay at in Anaheim and still be within a simple 15-minute walk to both Disneyland parks.
While there are also higher-end options such as a new J.W. Marriott and a Westin, rates at some of the mid-tier nearby hotels start at just $100 – $200 per night, or you can use points and save your cash. As an example, on many nights, you can use a Marriott 35,000-point certificate that comes with many mid-tier Marriott credit cards and stay at the Fairfield Inn by Marriott Anaheim Resort. That hotel is just a 10-minute walk from the parks and you even pass affordable food options such as McDonald’s and Panera along the way.
Can you do that same sort of thing at Disney World? I think not.
While Disney World has more on-property lodging choices at different price points than Disneyland, Disneyland blows Disney World away when it comes to a wealth of simple, nearby off-property options that don’t take you too far away from the magic.
Related: The best hotels at Disney World
Disneyland has some of the better rides
Yes, Disney World just opened the Ratatouille attraction at Epcot and Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway in Hollywood Studios. Disney World is also home to Pandora: Flight of Passage and will eventually get Tron and Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, all of which don’t exist at Disneyland.
However, the new Avenger’s Campus and Cars Land are unique to Disneyland and some rides that exist at both Disneyland and Disney World are actually better in California.
For example, Pirates of the Caribbean and Space Mountain are unquestionably better at Disneyland than Disney World. Pirates is longer and (spoiler alert) has two drops while Space Mountain lets you sit two across, making it a better bet with younger kids than the Disney World version.
The Haunted Mansion in Anaheim, especially during its seasonal Nightmare Before Christmas overlay, is also much better than its Florida counterpoint.
I’d also argue that while Tower of Terror is a great classic at Disney World, the redo of the attraction at Disneyland with a Guardians of the Galaxy theme and music is probably more enjoyable for most younger visitors than the old abandoned hotel motif in Florida.
Outside of the duplicates, Radiator Springs Racers is unique to Disneyland and an absolute must-ride. Indiana Jones is also a great attraction only found in California. And while it’s a must-ride in a very different type of category, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride is a crazy relic at Disneyland from a different era. The “kids” ride literally ends with you in hell. It’s wild — and worth experiencing if only to end the adventure scratching your head.
Related: How to use points to buy Disney tickets
You don’t need to have gone to Central Florida to know it is (very) hot and (very) humid for at least half the year. It’s not just uncomfortable, but the heat can get dangerous when you are walking 10 miles a day if you aren’t making a conscious effort to keep yourself and your kids hydrated.
And on top of that, during those hot, summer months there are thunderstorms most afternoons at Disney World.
This not only causes some problems in the parks but also at the airport when it comes time to fly in and out. According to the site Best Places, it rains 114 days a year in Orlando with an average high in the summer of 92. There are an average of 95 days per year when the temperature is over 90 degrees. And since it rains so much and it’s hot, it’s often going to be muggy.
Southern California, however? Different story.
There is only an average of 35 days of rain each year in Anaheim with an average summer high of 84. On average, there are only 29 days per year when the temperature goes over 90 degrees making it much more likely to not feel like a melting Mickey Bar at Disneyland than Disney World.
Oogie Boogie Bash is outstanding
Having just returned from Oogie Boogie Bash at Disneyland, I can confidently say that California knows how to throw a Halloween party.
I am jealous that the seasonal party doesn’t happen at our more frequent destination, Disney World. Granted, things are still a bit weird with special Halloween and Christmas-themed parties at the parks due to COVID, but I’ve been to the regular Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party at Disney World, and while it’s fun and cute, Oogie Boogie Bash was better in so many ways.
The Oogie Boogie party is longer than its Disney World party cousin, the treats were great (and even included fruit!), but most importantly the villain encounters were top-notch, the parade was the perfect balance of fun but spooky, Villians Cove was a perfect way to appeal to those in teen years and beyond and multiple rides had seasonal overlays, which made it feel more special.
The odds it will be cool enough on an October evening in Anaheim to wear a fun costume to the party are also much better than at Disney World, just in case you were planning to dress up.
I love Walt Disney World and make it there far more frequently than out to California and Disneyland, so this isn’t coming from someone who is overtly Team Disneyland. The truth is these parks are simultaneously so similar and so very different.
I’d never be able to choose a favorite, but I can say if you love Disney World and have yet to visit Disneyland, you should make a point to rectify that error. From eating in Blue Bayou as the Pirates of the Caribbean boats go by, to enjoying beignets in New Orleans Square to the manageable size of everything, Disneyland isn’t just for California residents, it is a park that any Disney fan should experience.
Featured image by author
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