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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 made 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.
Coke versus Pepsi. Ginger versus Mary Ann. Rolling Stones or Grateful Dead. M&Ms or Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. (Reese’s. Every time.) These are debates that have raged for decades. Disney purists differ on Disneyland vs. Disney World, but I have eight good reasons you should head for Orlando over the California coast.
1. More Parks Means More Fun
Disney World has four theme parks versus just two at Disneyland. Each park has very distinctive themes.
With four parks, Disney World can be a weeklong family vacation without feeling like overkill. Magic Kingdom has all the traditional rides I remember as a kid, but Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom each make their own adventure.
Each park can tie up a full day, or even two (unless you’re a nut like Summer Hull and I who tried to ride every ride in all four parks in one day). Disney World has also done a great job of weaving technology into the parks. Whether it’s the treasure hunt called A Pirate’s Adventure: Treasures of the Seven Seas or crime-solving in Epcot using the new Play Disney Parks app, there’s plenty to keep a variety of parkgoers occupied.
2. More New Attractions
More parks means more space for jaw-dropping new attractions. Both Disneyland and Disney World are getting plenty more Star Wars with the opening of Galaxy’s Edge. Beyond that, Disney World has so much more to offer. Pandora – The World of Avatar is one of the most awe-inspiring lands at any of the Disney parks. Avatar Flight of Passage finds its home there and is stunning in its lifelike representation of a ride on the back of a banshee.
The new Toy Story Land in Hollywood Studios, where you can enjoy Early Morning Magic, features the incredible Slinky Dog Dash, a roller coaster built for kids and adults alike.
Seven Dwarfs Mine Train may just be the smoothest roller coaster out there. And there’s more excitement to come with Epcot getting its own version of Ratatouille, the popular attraction from Disneyland Paris. This isn’t a knock on the fabulous Radiator Springs Racers at Disneyland in California. But the variety of new attractions continues to put Disney World ahead of Disneyland when it comes to cutting-edge entertainment.
3. Epcot: Where Disney Grows Up
Epcot is so unique that it is a whole separate reason to find Disney World superior to Disneyland. Disney World has added multiple festivals to Epcot over the years, but the original mystique is still there with an emphasis on imagination. It starts with a little purple dragon named Figment who’s been around since the beginning. The World Showcase introduces the food, smells, shows and, yes, souvenirs from faraway lands. Interwoven into Epcot are favorite rides like Soarin’ Around the World, Test Track and Frozen Ever After.
Disney World hit on a stroke of genius when it added two festivals to Epcot. The International Flower and Garden Festival runs during spring and the International Food and Wine Festival begins as summer starts to fade away. These festivals used to occupy slower times in the parks, but they’ve become their own attractions, especially for adults.
In both cases, Epcot rolls out a special menu, featured in more than a dozen kiosks throughout the World Showcase. Think tapas-style dining and drinking while you walk, all focused on the various cuisines of the countries featured in Epcot. Intricate topiaries of Disney characters abound during the spring. Yes, Disneyland has some of its own food and wine events, but not with the immersive backdrops to match the cuisine.
With the Guardians of the Galaxy attraction due to open in 2021, there’s more entertainment to come to Epcot. Let’s just hope there are no plans to get rid of that little purple dragon. If Disney was started by a mouse, Epcot was started by Figment.
4. Disney World Hotels Are Awesome
Themes, theme, themes — and all at different price points. Dating back to 1971 when Disney’s Contemporary Resort and Polynesian Village Resort opened for business, Disney World has continued to offer unique hotels. It’s pretty cool to sit at Chef Mickey’s in the Contemporary Resort and hear the whisper of the monorail as it slices through the atrium above you. But Disney World goes way beyond the Contemporary.
How about a giraffe a few feet from your balcony at Animal Kingdom Lodge? A log cabin at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort, where you can rent a golf cart to cruise around (or ride a horse through the trail system). The Treehouse Villas are one of our favorites, buried in their own little jungle. There are even a couple of “normal” hotels on Disney World property, such as the Dolphin and Swan, where you can redeem your Marriott points for free nights and then walk or take a boat to a couple of the parks.
All told, there are more than 20 resorts that are part of the Disney World system. (And that doesn’t even include the Star Wars-themed hotel currently under development.)
All of the hotels are connected to the Disney World theme parks in a variety of ways. There are the “monorail resorts,” Disney’s Contemporary Resort, Polynesian Village Resort and Grand Floridian Resort & Spa (with a couple of DVC properties thrown in for good measure). Buses abound from places like Saratoga Springs and Animal Kingdom Lodge. A few hotels, such as the Dolphin and Swan, Wilderness Lodge and Fort Wilderness, have water access to select parks. And we’ll soon see the Skyliner grace the skies from resorts like Caribbean Beach and Art of Animation. All of those connections make it easier to get to the parks when it’s time to venture out.
Disneyland has a couple of on-property hotels, but they are all expensive ($400 to $600+ most nights) and the theming options are nowhere near as extensive.
5. The “Everything Else”
Walt Disney bought an incredible amount of land when he was envisioning Disney World. It allows Disney World to offer so much more than Disneyland, which is bursting at the seams. In Orlando, Disney Springs is a huge hub of shopping, dining and experiences for when you don’t feel like hanging out in a theme park. Besides movie theaters and a bowling alley, you’ll find a four-story Coke store and, later this year, the NBA Experience as well as a new Cirque du Soleil show.
Disney World also sports two waterparks, Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon (here’s the essential guide to Disney waterparks), plus a few miniature golf courses. You’ll also find a few full golf courses, camping and horseback riding and even boat rentals on Bay Lake.
In short, it’s easy to go to Disney World and not set foot in a theme park for an entire week, although a Disney World trip wouldn’t really be complete without some park time.
6. FastPass+/Magic Bands
Disney World and Disneyland have very different FastPass systems. Disneyland’s electronic version, MaxPass, is not free but is highly recommended to avoid long lines. Disney World plays by a different (and better) set of rules, though Leslie says otherwise in her post. For starters, FastPass+ is included in the price of admission at Disney World. Currently, MaxPass will set you back an additional $15 per ticket, per day.
For those who plan ahead, Disney World allows you to start making FastPass+ reservations up to 60 days ahead of time if you’re staying at a Disney World resort hotel. That means you can select the most popular rides early, though you’ll still sometimes need a bit of luck. You’ll also be able to select a total of three rides ahead of time for each day you plan to be in the parks.
While Disneyland’s MaxPass makes it much easier to get FastPasses than using the kiosks, you can still only hold one pass at a time. Additionally, once you use your first three FastPasses at Disney World, you can keep requesting new FastPasses one at a time until they sell out. Except on the very busiest of days, like Christmas and New Year’s, you’ll virtually always find additional FastPass opportunities after your first three are used up. Our family has had days where we score more than 10 daily FastPasses for the entire group.
The versatility of FastPass+ at Disney World allows you to lock up all the rides that are must-have attractions for your family. Magic Bands that you wear on your wrist help make FastPass+ more seamless. These bands hold your park tickets and can also be used to charge items to your room. They’re also used to reference any photos you have taken by Disney’s roving photographers. One tap makes the world easier! Disneyland has no such magic.
Colorful Magic Bands are included at no extra charge with a Disney resort stay and help the entire experience feel very effortless since you don’t need a ticket, credit card or key card.
7. Magical Express
It’s not just the Magic Bands that are a seamless experience at Disney World. When you make your reservation at a Disney World hotel, you’ll also receive special luggage tags in the mail. Place these on your suitcase and you can bypass baggage claim when your flight lands at Orlando International Airport. Just head to the Magical Express Bus loading area and a cast member will help you find the bus headed to your resort. Your luggage will follow the same day — though it can be a few hours for your bags to arrive, so plan accordingly.
The price for this service? It’s included when you stay on-site at Disney World. There’s no such equivalent out in California.
8. The Disney Bubble
Some people scoff at the term “Disney Bubble,” but it’s a real thing. Cast members are trained to take care of your needs. Disney resorts engage kids in the Disney theme before you ever set foot in a park. The transportation network is meant to get you easily where you want to go. You can spend an entire vacation without leaving Disney World property. Purchase a big souvenir and don’t want to lug it around the parks all day? Don’t worry, they can have it sent back to your hotel room.
From Mickey Waffles at breakfast to fireworks from a hotel balcony, the Disney Bubble helps elevate a special vacation to something magical.
My friend Leslie has told you about the original Disneyland — and Matterhorn, Radiator Springs Racers and more are total gems. I get it. Our family loves Disneyland and we recommend you plan a visit.
But Disney World just offers too much for her to claim a win here. Even if you don’t like Mickey Mouse (how can that be?), Disney World offers so much for so many. Both parks get Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge in 2019. But only Disney World will (eventually) get the ultra-hyped Star Wars hotel and a new Guardians of the Galaxy enclosed roller coaster. Plus a Tron roller coaster. And a new Mediterranean-themed hotel, gondolas as transportation and… you get the idea.
If we’ve convinced you, don’t miss these Walt Disney World trip-planning resources:
- TPG’s Ultimate Guide to Walt Disney World Resort
- The Top 5 Tips for Disney World First-Timers
- 10 Ways to Save Money at Disney World
- The Best Restaurants in Disney World in 2019
- The Essential Guide to Disney Waterparks
- How to Eat Healthy at Disney World
- Disney World Without Kids: 10 Ways to Enjoy an Adult Trip to Disney
- What to Do When It Rains at Disney World
- Save Money By Renting Disney Vacation Club Points
Featured image by Todd Anderson/Disney Parks via Getty Images
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