Disneyland vs. Disney World: Which is the better park to visit?

Jul 25, 2022

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Florida‘s Walt Disney World Resort, roughly the same geographic size as San Francisco, consists of four theme parks, a couple of water parks, around two dozen on-property hotels and almost too many restaurants to count. By contrast, California‘s Disneyland Resort features just two theme parks, three hotels and a more limited but still solid selection of eateries nestled within a much smaller area in central Anaheim.

While both properties have some newer rides, several classic attractions from the 1950s (for Disneyland) and 1970s (for Disney World) can still be found at the parks. Additionally, you’ll discover special events only available at Disney World or Disneyland, plus a couple more park-specific details that help differentiate each property from other Disney locations.

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Disneyland. (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

With so many similarities and differences between the two U.S. parks, you may struggle to determine which one is best for your family. Fortunately, we’re here to help.

To aid in your decision, we’ve compiled this guide comparing the two parks in several key areas. Here’s how Disney World and Disneyland stack up against one another. May the best teacups win.

In This Post

Rides

Disney World just opened the Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind and Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure attractions in a reimagined Epcot, and there are also the still-pretty-new Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway in Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Avatar Flight of Passage in Disney’s Animal Kingdom.

Not to mention, Tron Lightcycle / Run will eventually be up and running at the Magic Kingdom, too.

(Photo by Kent Phillips/Disney)

None of these attractions are currently at or planned for Disneyland … for now. However, Disneyland does have Avengers Campus and Cars Land, two entire areas you’ll only find at this West Coast property.

Additionally, multiple 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. 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 significantly better than its Florida counterpoint.

I’d argue that while The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror is a great classic at Disney World, the redo of the attraction at Disneyland with a “Guardians of the Galaxy” theme is probably more enjoyable for most younger visitors than the creepy, old abandoned hotel motif in Florida, too.

Outside of the duplicates, Radiator Springs Racers is unique to Disneyland and is, without question, a can’t-miss ride. In fact, it is one of the best Disney attractions at any park.

Indiana Jones Adventure is also a great attraction only found in California.

And while it’s a bit of a head-scratcher, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride at Disneyland is worth checking out as well. The quirky “kids” ride from another era literally ends with you in hell. It’s wild — and worth riding if only to end the adventure confused about what it is you just experienced.

The recent opening of Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind at Disney World makes this a closer race than it was even a few months ago (and it’s entirely possible we need to revisit when Tron Lightcycle / Run opens). For now, though, we have to say that, overall, the best attractions are available at Disneyland.

Winner: Disneyland

Related: It’s true, Disneyland can be better than Disney World — here are 5 times it wins out

Location

You don’t need to visit Central Florida to know that it is very hot and very humid for at least half the year.

The extreme temperatures (think: above 90 degrees) are not only uncomfortable. The heat can get dangerous, especially at the parks when you are walking 10 miles a day. If you are not making a conscious effort to keep your family hydrated, you can easily suffer from heat cramps, heat exhaustion or heatstroke.

You need neck fans in Florida. (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

On top of that, the hot summer months are when afternoon thunderstorms regularly occur, so you may find yourself caught in a downpour while visiting Disney World. This can also cause problems at the airport when it comes time to fly in and out.

However, Southern California is an entirely different story.

With far fewer chances for rain each year and a dry heat that rarely sees temperatures climb above the mid-80s, Disneyland benefits from much more comfortable conditions for spending hours upon hours outdoors. You’ll no doubt feel less like a melting Mickey Bar at Disneyland than you will at Disney World.

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Given the overall better conditions in Anaheim, we have to give the best location distinction to Disneyland.

Winner: Disneyland

Hotels

As previously mentioned, Disney World has a couple of dozen themed resorts on-site, such as Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, while Disneyland only has three official hotels. Of the three at Disneyland, two were in major need of renovations until recently.

Disney’s Contemporary Resort. (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Despite the lack of official Disney options at Disneyland because of the resort’s location in the middle of an actual city, you’ll find dozens of hotels that are no more than 15 minutes away from both Disneyland parks when walking. As a result, you don’t feel like you’re making major sacrifices when staying off Disney property here while you do at Disney World.

While higher-end options like a new JW Marriott and a Westin are available by Disneyland, more affordable properties can be found in Anaheim, too. In fact, some of the mid-tier hotels in the area offer standard rooms for between $150 and $200 per night. Many also participate in loyalty programs, so you can use points to save on lodging.

For example, on many nights, you can use a Marriott Bonvoy 35,000-point certificate (which comes with many mid-tier Marriott credit cards) to stay at the Fairfield Anaheim Resort. This hotel is just a 10-minute walk from the parks and is conveniently located next to a number of affordable food options, including a McDonald’s and a Panera Bread.

At Disney World, there are the on-site Walt Disney World Swan, Walt Disney World Dolphin and Walt Disney World Swan Reserve resorts, which are also part of the Marriott family, but these properties are going to cost you at least 50,000 Marriott Bonvoy points per night.

Although Disney World has more on-property lodging with fun themes at different price points than Disneyland, the latter blows Disney World away when it comes to its wealth of simple off-property options that don’t leave you feeling too far from the magic.

Because the two properties excel in one accommodation category but not the other, this one is a closer race than you may initially assume. However, we have to ultimately give the edge to Disney World due to its sheer volume of memorable options.

Winner: Disney World

Related: These are the best hotels at Disney World

Size

While Disney World is a whopping 27,000-plus acres, Disneyland only occupies 500 acres, making it significantly smaller than its East Coast counterpart. In fact, the size difference is so stark that you could fit about 50 Disneylands inside the Disney World complex.

Despite its tighter footprint, Disneyland manages to offer two theme parks: Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park. Meanwhile, Disney World features four sprawling theme parks: the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios — plus two water parks. Both properties also have themed hotels and a shopping and dining district, though the latter at Disney World is several times the size of the one at Disneyland.

Disneyland in Anaheim. (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

So which is the better option when it comes to having a magical Disney vacation: the massive resort with more to do or the more compact property that is easier to navigate? The answer will depend on what you value most, but there are pros and cons to each.

If you want to make the most of your day(s) at the parks, Disneyland is the way to go, as that resort’s park-hopping experience is infinitely easier since no bus transfers are required.

You’ll find the separate entrances for both Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park a mere 100 yards away from each other, meaning you can enjoy Cars Land and the Avengers Campus in the morning before walking next door to round out your day with Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, Pirates of the Caribbean and Space Mountain. Not to mention, you can push your Disney stroller rental from one Disneyland park to the other, which is a small but superb perk for those with little ones.

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

While there are some Disney World parks that are easy to visit together in one day (namely, Epcot with the Magic Kingdom or Disney’s Hollywood Studios), none of those park pairings come close to being as convenient to get between as Disneyland Park and Disney’s California Adventure Park due to the need to take Disney transportation or walk a greater distance to venture from one Disney World Park to another.

I personally find the more manageable size of Disneyland to be a huge advantage the West Coast location has over Disney World, but having so many entertainment options at your disposal at Disney World is clearly not a bad thing either. So, I’m calling this one a tie.

Winner: Tie

Related: It’s a changed world after all: 9 things you must know if you’re heading to Disney World

Restaurants

Unlike Disney rides, which tend to be duplicated at both Disney World and Disneyland, Disney restaurants are often unique to the particular park you’re visiting. The only real crossover between Disneyland’s restaurants and Disney World’s restaurants is Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar, which is a can’t-miss venue at both U.S. resorts.

When it comes to dining at Disneyland, you’ll find several noteworthy options. There’s TPG-favorite Blue Bayou Restaurant, which is located right in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, providing the perfect setting for savoring tasty Cajun-inspired fare. For a gourmet meal, you can dine at Carthay Circle Restaurant or Napa Rose, two upscale options that draw inspiration from California. On the other end of the budget spectrum, you’ll discover churros, a Disney classic that tastes 10 times better at Disneyland.

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

As for dining at Disney World, the resort’s scale really helps give it a significant edge over its West Coast counterpart. Some of the East Coast location’s best restaurants include epic bites and drinks at the Nomad Lounge at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, a fabulous character breakfast at Disney’s Riviera Resort and elevated seasonal dishes at California Grill at Disney’s Contemporary Resort. Victoria & Albert’s, a highly regarded fine-dining venue at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, is also slated to reopen by the end of July.

Because Disney World offers such a wide array of culinary options, from the country-themed restaurants of Epcot to the immersive atmospheres of venues like Be Our Guest Restaurant at the Magic Kingdom, it’s the clear winner when it comes to dining.

Winner: Disney World

Related: The best restaurants for outdoor dining at Disney World

Cost

Tickets to get into the actual parks cost about the same on both coasts. For single-day, single-park tickets, you can expect to pay $109 to $159 when visiting Disney World or $104 to $164 when visiting Disneyland.

Each property uses variable pricing, meaning exact rates for tickets vary by date. Your per-day costs decrease the more days you visit (especially after the third day), and adding on park hopping increases the rates at both parks.

There are a couple of factors that typically make one resort cost more than the other, though.

Disney-owned and -operated hotels at Disney World start at $150 per night for some of the value properties like the All-Star hotels, while the few Disney-affiliated hotels available at Disneyland rarely cost less than $350 per night.

Family suite at Disney's All-Star Resort
Disney’s All-Star Music Resort. (Photo by Tarah Chieffi/The Points Guy)

Additionally, the average flight cost to Orlando is generally less than what you’ll spend flying to Anaheim or Los Angeles, and ground transportation is often cheaper and more plentiful in Florida — even in a post-Magical Express world — thanks to affordable airport bus services.

So while this is another close race, especially given the abundance of off-property hotels available within walking distance of Disneyland, we have to give Disney World the win here, as a trip to Florida for a family theme park vacation is often going to cost less than one to California.

Winner: Disney World

Related: How to use points to pay for Disney tickets

Genie+ availability

Both Disneyland and Disney World have rolled out a paid FastPass replacement program called Genie+.

Costing $15 per person, per day at Disney World and $20 per person, per day at Disneyland, Genie+ can certainly help you avoid spending some unnecessary time in lines, but it has a few quirks and drawbacks. Namely, you may need to wake up before 7 a.m. if you want to snag spots in certain Lightning Lanes — and it can cause you to be glued to your phone throughout the day.

That said, those are largely Disney World problems.

The Lightning Lane entrance allows you to bypass the standby line. (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

At Disneyland, the rules and Lightning Lane demand are noticeably different from what you’ll find in Florida. You can’t book individual rides using Genie+ at Disneyland until you are in the park. This means no 7 a.m. wake-up call and booking from your hotel bed is required, though you will need to be up and in the park early to start reserving Lightning Lanes.

Given the generally more laid-back and less competitive nature of Genie+ at Disneyland, we deem it the winner in this category.

Winner: Disneyland

Related: How I rode 26 attractions at Disneyland using Genie+

Special events

When it comes to fun festivities, California certainly knows how to party.

Having been to the Oogie Boogie Bash at Disneyland last year, which I enjoyed so much that I booked it again this year, I can confidently say that the property with the best special events is hands-down Disneyland.

I’ve been to Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party at Disney World, and while it was cute and entertaining, Disneyland’s Oogie Boogie Bash was better in so many ways.

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

To start, Disneyland’s Oogie Boogie Bash was longer than its Disney World party cousin — at least, in recent years. Not to mention, the treats were great (and even included fruit) and the parade was the right balance of fun and spooky. Villains Grove was the perfect place for teens and older kids, too, as it offered some excellent villain encounters when we needed a break from the thrilling rides with seasonal overlays, which made the whole experience feel that much more special.

An added bonus is the weather. In California, the odds are better that it will be cool enough on an October evening to wear a costume to the party, so you won’t overheat in your attire like you may at Disney World.

There are other seasonal celebrations (think: food and wine events, Christmas parties and more) at both parks that may tip the scales differently for you, but Disneyland’s hosting of one of our favorites, the Oogie Boogie Bash, makes it our preferred location for special events.

Winner: Disneyland

Bottom line

Walt Disney World is my most visited park, and of the two, it is probably the one that more out-of-state families plan a big vacation to than Disneyland. You can easily enjoy a weeklong vacation at Disney World and not see and experience it all thanks, in part, to its plethora of hotels and restaurants.

Copper Creek Villas & Cabins at Disney World. (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

If you want to have an action-packed week full of new things to try, Disney World is probably the better option of the two, especially if you’re trying to save a little money. But if you prefer the classic charm and magic of Disney, Disneyland is likely the property you’ll find most appealing — and manageable.

Choosing a favorite property would be like choosing a favorite child. I simply can’t say I love one over the other. What I can state with certainty, though, is the need to visit both. If you love Disney World and have yet to visit Disneyland (or vice versa), you should make a point to rectify that error.

Whether you’re chomping on churros while dancing with Disney villains at Disneyland or riding the new Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind and staying in a “Moana”-themed room at Disney World, you’ll have an incredible vacation unlike any other.

Featured photos by AaronP/Bauer-Griffin/GC Images and Kent Phillips/ABC/Getty Images.

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