The big question: Disneyland vs Walt Disney World- which is better?
Now that I’ve returned from my second trip to the Disneyland Resort, I’ve noticed five major differences between Disneyland and Walt Disney World.
Walt Disney World (Florida) is my home park- the park that I travelled to as a child, the park where I worked as a Cast Member, and the park where I got engaged. However, Disneyland (California) is the original park that Walt built, and is the park where I spent my honeymoon. Both coasts hold lots of special memories for me, and both have their negative and positive aspects.
Below you’ll find the five main differences (or at least, the ones that stood out to me) between each park, which will beg the question of which is better- Disneyland, or Walt Disney World?
Now, I have yet to visit the immersive world of Pandora. Yet even so, having worked as a Cast Member there, I think Animal Kingdom is one of the best themed parks at Disney World. There is so much lush greenery that you really feel as if you’ve stepped into a tropical paradise. The savannah on the Kilimanjaro Safaris ride is really impressive. Everything is detailed, right down to the animal prints on the pavements, to the drum beats in Africa, to the prayer flags in Asia. I may be biased, but Animal Kingdom is a beautiful park.
The theming in the other parks is pretty great too, especially at Magic Kingdom. When you step onto Main Street USA and catch sight of the castle, there is just no other feeling like it. You are instantly transported into a world of fantasy. Additionally, there are over 20 resorts on Walt Disney World property, and each one is themed impeccably. A few that stand out are the Polynesian, the Grand Floridian, Wilderness Lodge, and the Art of Animation resorts. When you stay on Disney World property, you know you’re in that Disney bubble.
Disney California Adventure is truly the most beautiful Disney park I’ve ever seen. It’s clean, has wide open spaces, bright colors, and most importantly- it has incredible theming. Paradise Pier and Cars Land (Radiator Springs) are two of the most immersive lands I’ve ever seen in a Disney park. When I turned the corner at DCA and saw the façade for Radiator Springs Racers, I literally gasped. The only other land to make me feel that way has been Diagon Alley at Universal Studios Florida.
I was lucky enough to eat breakfast outside at Flo’s V8 Café, which faces Radiator Springs. I also ate dinner at Ariel’s Grotto, on Paradise Pier. Both dining locations offered amazing views, and gave me ample time to take it all in. I really felt transported to the world of cars, as well as to a magical seaside carnival (albeit a much cleaner carnival than a non-Disney one). I thought I would hate the fact that there was a Ferris Wheel in a Disney park, but Mickey’s Fun Wheel is so pretty and really ties the whole land together.
Therefore, until I get to visit Pandora: The World of Avatar, I think the award for best theming goes to: Disneyland
I thought I would put this one near the top because, as an introvert, it’s really important to me that people at Disney are friendly. Not just the Cast Members (trust me, there can be some snotty ones out there), but the guests as well.
I’m not sure what it is about California, but guests there seem to be a lot more patient. Maybe it’s because the traffic is always bad, and the guests are used to waiting anyway. Or maybe it’s because more locals go to Disneyland (whereas in Disney World, we get more guests from all over the world). Locals and Annual Passholders make up the most of Disneyland guests, and so they’re not in as much of a hurry to cram everything into one day as Disney World guests are.
What I’m trying to say, is that I was surprised by how nice fellow guests at Disneyland were. When I would accidentally bump into someone, they would actually say “it’s alright,” with a smile. During times when someone was holding up the cash register line in front of me, they would turn around and apologize for the wait. When a show let out and everyone headed for the exit, no one ran or tried to ram their strollers into the back of my ankles. Everyone was so kind and patient, and it blew me away.
Guests at Disney World can be rude and pushy. They want to be first for everything, and they don’t mind making you wait. This is their once in a lifetime vacation, they’ve paid thousands of dollars, and nothing is going to spoil their trip. At Disney World, I’ve been body-checked by grandmas more times than I can count. Guests at Disney World seem so entitled, and while not everyone is rude, the majority do tend to act like the world revolves around them.
I know I’ve only been to Disneyland a few times, so take this as a biased opinion, but I was definitely impressed with my fellow park-goers on the west coast- especially during our most recent trip.
Cast Members, on the other hand, seem to be friendlier at Disney World. Again, I may be biased since I did work at Disney World, but CMs there are used to foreign guests and always give exceptional customer service. They put up with a lot from guests, and I rarely see them get angry (at least, not onstage).
At Disneyland, all the Cast Members were polite, but I saw a lot of them with their phones hanging out of their pants’ back pocket, long hair not pulled back, and a lot of gossiping in front of gusts on stage. Maybe this is just me being picky, but as a former Cast Member, it looks like “bad show.” I mean, at Disney World, I got in trouble one day for just leaning on a side post. I can’t even imagine what would happen if I was caught with a cell phone. And sure, I joked with my friends onstage, but only when guests weren’t around, and certainly not when I saw that a guest needed help and was waiting on me. Maybe the rules are more relaxed in California?
Either way, I’m sorry this turned into a bit of a rant, but I must say the winner for this round is a tie:
Guest Friendliness: Disneyland
Cast Member Friendliness: Walt Disney World
Okay, so this one is pretty much a given.
Yes, Disneyland is in Southern California, but it’s about an hour away from Hollywood (at best, depending on traffic). So, if you’re stuck in Anaheim, you really only have Disneyland Park, Disney California Adventure, and Downtown Disney. There are a few hotels on Disneyland property, but I’ve never really had the desire to explore them. Most other sites lie outside Disneyland, such as Universal Hollywood and all the other tourist must-dos.
Disney World is massive. There are 4 theme parks, 2 water parks, 20+ hotels, mini-golf courses, and tons of activities to do at the resort, as well as Disney Springs (which has a movie theater, a bowling alley, and more shopping than you can do in a week). The Orlando area is huge, and Universal Studios Florida, Seaworld, Gatorland, Fun Spot, and many other tourist locations are just a short drive away.
So many activities await at the Animal Kingdom Lodge Resort.
I am a frequent visitor to Disney World, and I still haven’t done everything there is to do on WDW property.
The winner, hands down, is: Disney World
This one, I feel, is also a given. Disney World serves theme park food, plain and simple. I’m talking mostly fries, burgers, chicken nuggets, turkey legs, and churros. Sure, you get a few more exotic options at Animal Kingdom, and Epcot does have the annual International Food and Wine Festival. However, even with the Festival, and all the high-end restaurants at Disney Springs, I’ve never had a meal that’s made me stop and say, “wow.” Nothing impressive, and everything is super expensive. The dole whips are awesome, but I’m not counting those as a “meal.”
Meanwhile, Disneyland has a ton of options. They have mint juleps and beignets. They have interesting restaurants that are perfectly themed (The Blue Bayou) and not too expensive (Jolly Holiday Bakery). All the food Eric and I ate on our most recent trip was delicious, and I didn’t leave a single bite left on my plate at any restaurant we visited. A few of our favorites this trip included breakfast at Flo’s V8 Café, dinner at Ariel’s Grotto, and dinner at Jazz Kitchen in Downtown Disney. Honestly, I was so close to literally licking my plate clean at each restaurant we went to. The quality of food on the west coast is just so much better than Walt Disney World, and I don’t think you’ll find a Disney fan that will disagree.
Secret Menu Neapolitan Shake at Flo’s
Soup at Ariel’s Grotto
New Orlean’s Goodness at Jazz Kitchen
Final food verdict: Disneyland
This one was really difficult. Both parks have amazing shows and attractions. Here’s a quick rundown of the top shows at each park (I know I’ve left some out, don’t attack me):
- World of Color
- Remember…Dreams Come True
- Fantasmic (newer version)
- Main Street Electrical Parade
- Paint the Night (returning soon to California Adventure)
- Mickey’s Soundsational Parade
- Mickey and the Magical Map
- Frozen: Live at the Hyperion
Walt Disney World:
- Happily Ever After
- Once Upon a Time (castle projection show)
- Mickey’s Fantasy Faire
- Festival of Fantasy Parade
- Festival of the Lion King
- Rivers of Light
- Finding Nemo: The Musical
- Illumations: Reflections of Earth
- Fantasmic (older version)
- Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular
- Disney’s Movie Magic
- The Music of Pixar Live
- Beauty and the Beast and The Little Mermaid stage shows at Hollywood Studios
I must say, though I love World of Color and Paint the Night with all my heart, I have to give this one to Disney World. Watching Happily Ever After brought tears to my eyes. Festival of the Lion King never fails to make me happy. And I will never tire of watching the Festival of Fantasy parade and that wonderful, fire-breathing steampunk Maleficent.
Festival of Fantasy Parade
Festival of the Lion King
Disney World’s attractions also top Disneyland’s, in my humble opinion. Yes, they have Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout, Radiator Springs Racers, and the holiday overlays of The Haunted Mansion and It’s a Small World; not to mention, the amazing Indiana Jones Adventure. These are all fantastic rides, and they all leave me smiling ear to ear.
However, Disney World just has more (mostly due to its sheer size). We have a lot of classic dark rides, including two new ones: Frozen Ever After and Ariel’s Undersea Adventure. We have real animals on Kilimanjaro Safaris. Flight of Passage is currently the most innovative attraction Disney has ever made. We have the original Tower of Terror, the People Mover, and Carousel of Progress.
Rhino on Kilimanjaro Safaris
And, now that D23 has come and gone for 2017, we’re about to gain a hell of a lot more rides (and two new lands).
This is not to say that one park’s attractions and shows are necessarily better than the others- I just think Disney World nudges Disneyland out a little on this one. I’m sure Disneyland will grow and expand. But in the meantime, I’ll enjoy my shows and attractions on the east coast. Just…please don’t leave me hate in the comments!
Winner: Disney World
This is my very long way of saying that both parks are wonderful, and deserve the utmost praise. Disneyland and Disney World are both nostalgic and unique in their own ways. They each have their own history and their own die-hard fans. I will continue to visit both, as well as, hopefully, the other Disney parks around the world. While I will always love Disney World the most, Disneyland has quickly become my second home.
It’s a great time to be a Disney fan.
Which park do you like better?
Hugs and Fishes,