Ah, the age old question. Disneyland (California) or Disney World? Land or World? When comparing the two parks in the US in its entirety, I would have to actually say I wouldn’t rank one over the other. Yes they are very similar but they are also very different that I wouldn’t prefer one park over the other. I enjoy visiting both. There are pros and cons to each park; what one lacks, the other makes up for and vice versa. They each have their own strengths and weaknesses. And they both shine on their own.
But for those who have never been to either or even just one of them, let’s go over the differences.
The big difference between the two parks is that Disneyland has two parks while Disney World has 4 main theme parks as well as 2 water parks. Both have a main "Magic Kingdom" park that’s central to all the parks globally with a Main Street USA layout beginning that leads to the big castle and branches out into the different ‘worlds'. Disneyland has a Disney California Adventure park that’s unique to just California, and Disney World has Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and Epcot in addition to Magic Kingdom. Disney World is obviously a bigger resort so everything is more spread out so it takes some time getting from your resort/hotel to the parking structure or transportation system before you finally get to the park. Disneyland being a much smaller park, has both parks right across from each other making park hopping extremely easy and convenient. You only go through security once and then after those gates, you can park hop back and forth as often as you want. I literally went back and forth from Disneyland to California Adventure 4 times in the same day as I did shoots, met up with friends, did my own thing and met up with them again. At Disney World, park hopping takes a bit of time having to head out of one park and wait for transportation to arrive to another and then checking into another park having to go through security all over again and then waiting on line to swipe in. This might be inconvenient to those who can’t bear to be on their feet all day and those who have limited time in the parks to begin with but want to hit up all their favorite spots.
Disney World is the home of Cinderella’s castle, while Disneyland is home to one of Sleeping Beauty’s castles (I say this because the Paris castle has a totally different look and style but is also a Sleeping Beauty castle). Cinderella’s castle is taller and MUCH bigger, allowing the fireworks and projections to look better, in my opinion, but the Sleeping Beauty castle holds it own as well in the fact that you can walk through all day and night and even go in it as an attraction to 'walk through’ her story. Unfortunately on this visit the castle was closed for renovations but last time I was here I was able to walk through dressed as Briar Rose and it was so enchantingly haunting and beautiful. Cinderella’s castle you can walk through the drawbridge only at certain times during the day as they close it down for various shows, parades and fireworks throughout the day and you’ll have to find alternate routes around the castle. You also can not walk into the castle unless you have a dining reservation which are hard to obtain (but not impossible!) for Cinderella’s Royal Table, or win a chance at the Cinderella suite (this is pretty much impossible unless you have cancer or have a really good hookup with Disney. Like you have to pretty much be related to Mickey Mouse himself.)
In addition to the Cinderella castle though, Magic Kingdom has the Beast’s castle as well, with a beautiful Be Our Guest restaurant. Inside we have 3 gorgeous dining rooms from the movie itself; the West wing, the library and the absolutely stunning big ballroom which is the largest of the 3 rooms but the hardest to get seated in because it is so popular. It’s one of my favorite places to eat in all of the Disneys.
There are many rides that both resorts share but a few that Disneyland is better at. For example, both have It’s A Small World and Haunted Mansion. But in my honest opinion, I think Disneyland excels better at both these rides than Disney World. The Small World area before you get on the ride is so much more photogenic and cute with its better photo spot ops, and the ride itself is better and cuter with Disney characters spread throughout. The Haunted Mansion gets a Nightmare Before Christmas overlay for Halloween through Christmas season, complete with a room that smells like gingerbread as you pass through on the ride! The Pirates of the Caribbean ride is also better in Disneyland, in my opinion with more dramatic and thrilling drops. Being a local park, they can take the time to pay more attention to detail and have more exclusives.
There are also a lot of rides that are special to each park, making each park unique. In Disneyland, you have all the rides in Fantasyland like Alice in Wonderland, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Snow White, Pinocchio, the Dumbo train and Storybook Land Canals. Disneyland also houses the Matterhorn ride and one of my particular favorites, the Indiana Jones ride. They also have a Toontown area with a Roger Rabbit ride, and Mickey and Minnie’s house. Alice’s spinning teacups ride is in both parks but Disneyland has theirs out in the open without shade which can be a good or bad thing. It makes for a much cuter photo, but depending on the weather that day, it can be terrible if it’s too hot and sunny or a rainy downpour. I had good luck with the weather and found it extraordinarily cute for a photo op.
In California Adventure, they also have the Incredicoaster and the iconic Mickey Fun Wheel. A lot of the rides in this park is obviously unique to this park as California Adventure is not duplicated anywhere else. The Cars ride is supposed to be a parallel to Epcot’s Test Track but honestly I found it better than Test Track! I loved it despite waiting on a nearly 2 hour line. I also love their Monsters Inc ride, it is so incredibly cute.
They also have the Guardians of the Galaxy Ride which is actually just the Tower of Terror made over, but honestly, it’s a scarier ride in my opinion since it has more drops and more unpredictable drops (each ride is slightly different, some drop more often than others.).
I visited on a weekend, and on past visits I visited on busy Halloween events (weekends and holidays are busiest and more crowded) and yet I think I experienced much shorter lines and wait times in Disneyland than I ever did at Disney World as well. Their MaxPass system is different from the Fast Pass system in Disney World too which I think slightly helps. In Disney World, you can book your fast passes 30-60 days in advance (60 for those with hotel stay reservations, 30 for just ticket holders) and there is a tier system, allowing you only to book up to a max of 3 passes per park per day. They are also available to every ticket holder at no extra charge.
In Disneyland, you have to pay extra for Max Pass(which actually isn’t that much more), but you can’t book in advance. You can only start booking your fast passes once you scan your ticket into the park. And there is no max as long as fast passes are still available. There is only a time limit in between each booking. But it still worked out because I was able to snag a fast pass for almost every ride in the park. The Max Pass also includes unlimited photo downloads for the entire day which is a great value for those who love Disney photopass photographers to capture their group photos. In Disney World, photopass is an additional charge and much more expensive, but it does include all photos during your entire trip, not just one day. But remember! At both parks, you can also ask the photopass photographer to take photos for you on your own camera and cell phone if you don’t want to buy the extra service cause #brokelife. There’s no shame in this. I do it all the time and ask them to take on my cellphone for instant posting. And they’re happy to do it for you.
I’m not going to go over the rides that Disney World has different compared to Disneyland since this post is more about what Disneyland has in general. Besides, the World has 4 parks total so that alone is a LOT more rides to list, if we go over each park in Disney World individually. This is mostly supposed to be about Disneyland’s strengths in comparison to Disney World.
I’ve honestly only done character meet and greets in Disney World but I do find that Disneyland has more unique characters out and about! I saw Cruella De Vil and Alice with the Mad Hatter just casually walking around interacting with guests on this trip, which I thought was really great. It adds to the Disney magic to just have characters strolling about instead of in a central room with everyone lining up like a soup kitchen. I also spotted some Marvel superheros in Disney California Adventure as well as Mr. and Mrs. Incredible. In this aspect, no one park is better, but you’ll have to visit them all to collect all the characters. I do find Disney dining wtih characters the best though if you don’t want to wait in line or chase the characters down who don’t have a central spot they wait at for photo ops. and Disney World does a much better job in this aspect as they have more character dining available.
Speaking of dining, in terms of table service dining, Disney World does a much better job with its offerings. There are MANY options, with different cuisines, breakfast, lunch and dinner, price points, with and without characters. At Disneyland I did not find many table service options at all. There are a few scattered quick service stops throughout and then a LOT of snack counters. So if you’re looking for a filling meal, there are not a lot of options, honestly. In Disneyland, I snacked more than anything. Which isn’t a terrible thing unless you’re really hungry and looking for something more filling. On this trip, I was with a group of 8 friends which I used to my advantage to gram everything each person grabbed every time we made a snack stop. It helped me live out my gram dreams as well as keep down costs as it was divided amongst us as we shared treats. I also did find that Disneyland had more unique treats available than Disney World with the Pixar Pier Parfait being my favorite. It was lemon soft serve on top of a blue slushie. The lemon soft serve was like an Italian ice perfectly paired with the slushie so it was amazing and refreshing on a hot summery day. Only Disneyland has Mickey beignets available in the park as well. In Disney World, you have to travel to a different hotel resort to experience them, which might be inconvenient for you having to navigate and transfer buses to and from each park and then back to your own hotel if you’re not staying at the Port Orleans resort.
In terms of merchandise, I do find that both parks have merchandise exclusive to their respective parks and with different availabilities in stock. The Infinity Gauntlet that was sold out in Disney World was in ample supply in Disney California Adventure. People were lining up to buy it like hotcakes and even at 8pm they still had plenty left in stock. I also found a cute snack bracelet that I did not see anywhere at all on my Disney World trip a few months prior. I also wore a pair of lollipop Minnie ears that day to the Disneyland park that my friend had gifted me from a Disney World trip, which I found was not yet available in Disneyland as many parkgoers were asking me where I got my ears from. A week after I left, I found out they finally brought them to the Disneyland parks for guests to purchase. The parks do no operate with the same merchandise availability at the same time, they are released independently of each other. Which is good and bad. Bad for collectors, but cool to feel like you have something exclusive when the other park has not yet received it.
All in all, the gist of it is this: what Disneyland lacks in what the World has collectively in its 4 parks, it makes up for by having a lot to offer condensed into its one small park. This is especially great when you look at it bang for your buck wise. You can get a lot done in one park, as oppose to having to have admission for all 4 parks and then travel to all of them individually as you check off your Disney bucket list. I love Disneyland in its own right and will continue to visit it every time I find myself in California. The charm of this small old park has definitely worked its magic on me!