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At TPG we cover a lot of Disney related tips and stories and have several Disney “experts” who make the journey to the mouse many times per year. We decided it was time to settle an age-old debate: Disneyland versus Disney World. Which is better? The TPG jury was definitely divided. West Coast-based writer Leslie Harvey makes the case for Disneyland in Anaheim, California, while Walt Disney World superfan Ed Pizzarello enumerates the benefits of the Orlando parks. Read them both and let us know your pick in the comments.
Who needs bigger when you can have better? I grew up in the South, so “Disney” for me meant Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, for much of my life. When I moved to California as a young adult, I quickly found that the original Disney destination — Disneyland in Anaheim, California — was in a league all its own. The easier logistics and more magical history has made Disneyland my favorite Disney resort over the years. Here are seven reasons why Disneyland is superior to Disney World.
1. Disneyland Is the Original
No matter how big Disney World gets, Disneyland will always and forever have the advantage of being first. Anaheim is where Walt’s original vision for a family theme park took shape.
For anyone who loves Disney history, you can sense it at Disneyland. Whether it’s seeing Walt’s actual apartment above the fire station on Main Street USA or sleeping underneath the magical lighted headboards of the Disneyland Hotel, Disneyland is where the Disney legacy comes alive.
Who needs legions of shuttle buses or monorails, ferries and Minnie Vans to tour a theme park? Every time I go to Disney World, I marvel at the enormity of it all — and wonder how much of it is creating some avoidable waste.
At Disneyland, it’s possible to experience an entire vacation where the only method of transportation you need are your own two feet. The two Disneyland parks are directly across from each other, divided only by a small esplanade that takes a minute to walk. Downtown Disney and the three on-property Disneyland hotels are just a few minutes’ stroll away.
Even many off-property hotels are no more than a 10-minute walk from the park gates. That means Disneyland guests can save serious money staying in off-property accommodations without sacrificing convenience. (Here’s a comparison of Disneyland on-site and off-site accommodations.)
That convenience has been clutch for me the past few years as a parent visiting Disneyland with a toddler. Heading back to our hotel for a quick afternoon nap takes so little time. There’s also no waiting for a delayed shuttle bus with a toddler in meltdown mode.
3. Less Planning and More Flexibility
A successful Disney World vacation requires months and months of planning. I don’t like to have to decide where I’m going to eat dinner six months in advance. But that’s exactly what you have to do at Disney World if you want to secure some of the most coveted dining reservations like Cinderella’s Royal Table or Chef Mickey’s. (Here’s a list of the best restaurants in Disney World in 2019.) On-property guests also have to make their FastPass+ reservations 60 days in advance of their check-in date to get the best ride times. I sometimes haven’t even decided whether I’m taking a trip to a Disney destination that far in advance!
Disneyland is an infinitely superior option for travelers who like to plan less and book a vacation closer to their travel date. Dining reservations don’t even open until 60 days in advance. (Here are our top dining picks at Disneyland.) At Disneyland, many signature restaurants even have same-day availability. FastPasses are available the same day and only in the park — no prebooking required. At Disneyland, I feel like I can actually get a vacation rather than spend dozens of hours in advance micromanaging every aspect of my trip.
4. Disneyland’s MaxPass Is Better than Disney World’s FastPass+ By a Mile
The best way to beat the lines at a Disney park is to use a FastPass for the most popular attractions. Disney World uses the FastPass+ system that limits guests to three prebooked reservations a day in a single park. FastPass+ tiers at several parks prevent guests from securing an advanced FastPass for more than one very popular attraction at a time.
At Disneyland, guests can book FastPasses same-day only, meaning all the reservations for the day are available for the taking. Disneyland FastPasses are available either in person at ride kiosks or via smartphones with an addition called MaxPass for $15 per person, per day.
The result is that the Disneyland system allows savvy guests working the system to ride much, much more with MaxPass. I regularly am able to get FastPasses for 10–15 or more attractions in a single day at Disneyland using MaxPass, including nearly all of the E-Ticket attractions in both Disneyland parks like Space Mountain, Thunder Mountain, Radiator Springs Racers or Soarin’. It’s often more than I even have time to ride!
If your focus on a Disney vacation is to ride as much as possible, Disneyland is the place to go. (Here’s a deep dive on how to ride more and wait less at Disneyland.)
5. Better Weather
As the famous lyrics go, “It never rains in Southern California.” Well, it does sometimes but a whole lot less than the infamous afternoon thunderstorms in Central Florida. And it basically never gets as hot and humid in Anaheim as it does during peak summer months in Orlando. In fact, it doesn’t have to be peak summer months — the heat index in Orlando already crossed the 100 degrees threshold this year and it’s still May.
Year-round, the weather at Disneyland is simply more reliable and more consistently pleasant. When you are outside for 12–14+ hours each day and spending a lot of money for the privilege, it’s so much better to know that you can count on the weather to cooperate for more of your vacation.
6. Easier Airport Access
Orlando International Airport (MCO) is probably one of the worst airports in America by several metrics. It’s constantly besieged with long TSA lines and long bag-check lines at every counter. And it’s really the only realistic airport option for visitors headed to Disney World, with the exception of travelers flying Allegiant into the only nearby alternate airport, Orlando Sanford.
Flying to Disneyland is so much easier. There are at least three viable airports for travelers flying to a Disneyland vacation. My favorite, Orange County’s John Wayne Airport (SNA), is no more than a 20-minute and $20 Uber or Lyft ride away. Also very close to Disneyland is Long Beach Airport (LGB), which has plenty of JetBlue service (even for travelers from East Coast destinations).
The third airport option, LAX, isn’t exactly an improvement over MCO for logistics, but travelers can at least avoid LAX if they don’t want the hassle of a bigger airport. LAX also consistently offers cheap fares for travelers coming from around the country. While Orlando flights are often very cheap for East Coasters, flights from elsewhere in the country can be quite expensive into MCO.
7. Unique Disneyland Rides
Last but certainly not least, Disneyland may not have as many rides as Disney World, but it has some unique and iconic can’t-miss attractions. The Matterhorn is one that every Disney fan has to ride. Disneyland also has Indiana Jones and the classic Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride. Over in Disney California Adventure Park, Radiator Springs Racers and the Incredicoaster offer some amazing theming and thrills that can’t be found in Orlando.
Pirates of the Caribbean is longer and more epic in Anaheim than it is in Orlando. Guardians of the Galaxy – MISSION: Breakout! is a radical improvement over the ho-hum Tower of Terror in Orlando. I could go on and on but I’ll just end with this final thought: For three months this summer, only Disneyland is going to have Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.
Who doesn’t want a theme-park vacation with more riding, less heat exhaustion and less planning? Disneyland provides an overall better experience compared to its Florida cousin. If you haven’t been to Disneyland yet, I hope you’ll venture west for your next Disney vacation and experience it. Many of you who enjoy Disney World may become Disneyland converts as I did.
Of course, not everyone agrees with me, so stay tuned for the rebuttal.
Featured image by author.
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