Disneyland vs. Disney World: Which Is Right for Your Trip?

When you're trying to decide between Disney's two magical resorts, here is what you should consider.

It's the happiest place on earth! Or the most magical place on earth? Those are the taglines for Disneyland vs. Disney World's Magic Kingdom, respectively. A combined 77 million visitors visit the central Florida and Southern California theme parks to see Mickey, Minnie, and a legion of princesses, castles, and fantastical rides.

While it's definitely common to mix up Disney World and Disneyland, the truth is that these theme parks are as different as can be in almost every way. Not only are they located on opposite coasts, but they also vary quite a bit in terms of size, cost, and overall experience.

Disneyland is the older of the two Disney parks. Modeled after Walt Disney's charming midwestern hometown of Marceline, Missouri, it opened in 1955, with just five sections: Main Street, Fantasyland, Adventureland, Frontierland, and Tomorrowland. After Disneyland's successful opening, Walt Disney purchased 43 acres of land in 1965 to build out his second theme park: Disney World. It opened doors in 1971, five years after he passed away.

There are now six Disney resorts around the world: California, Florida, Tokyo, Paris, Hong Kong, and Shanghai. With about 18 million tourists flocking to Disneyland each year, it's the second most visited park in the world—after Walt Disney World, of course, which attracts roughly 58 million annual visitors.

Understanding what distinguishes the two will help you better determine which Disney trip makes sense for you—whether you're planning a quick weekend trip with your significant other or a week-long family vacation with all the kids in tow.

In order to create this list, we compiled info from reputable industry sources, including seasoned travel agents, as well as travel bloggers who specialize in Disneyland and Disney World. We also pulled information directly from both resorts' websites.

Here's how these two popular U.S. Disney resorts stack up.

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What Is the Difference Between Disneyland vs. Disney World?

mickey ferris wheel in disneyland theme park anaheim california
Photo by Tyler Nix on Unsplash

Size

When it comes to Disneyland vs. Disney World, size is no question. Disney World spans a whopping 40 square miles—to put that into perspective, that's the size of San Francisco. Disneyland, on the other hand, only covers about 0.8 square miles.

Location

Both theme parks are set in cities known to be sunny year-round: Disney World is in Orlando, FL, while Disneyland is located in Anaheim, CA—about 30 miles south of Los Angeles. There are plenty of other attractions in both cities.

Cost

So, which theme park tickets are cheaper: Disney World or Disneyland? Disneyland costs less, but not by much. Disney World tickets cost $109 to $189 per day, depending on what date you visit and how many of the parks you plan to visit. Disneyland tickets range from $104 to $143 per day, depending on the date, your age, and how many days you're visiting.

Rides/Attractions

Disneyland features two theme parks—Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park—each with its own restaurants, rides, and attractions. Disney World, on the other hand, encompasses four theme parks: Magic Kingdom Park, Disney's Hollywood Studios, Disney's Animal Kingdom Theme Park, and EPCOT. It also has two water parks. The Magic Kingdom is the most popular theme park, with 12 million annual visitors.

Despite the massive difference in size between the two parks, it's worth noting that they both have roughly the same number of rides: around 50. There's also some crossover—you'll find It's a Small World, Space Mountain, and Pirates of the Caribbean, for example, at both locations.

That said, each park has some unique attractions. Disney World features Matterhorn Bobsleds and the Indiana Jones adventure at Disneyland, and the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Frozen Ever After. It is also home to the breathtaking Cinderella's Castle, which offers majestic photo ops and a one-of-a-kind fairytale dining experience inside.

disney animal kingdom
JHVEPhoto / Shutterstock

Restaurants/Accommodations

Seeing as Walt Disney World Resort is so much bigger than Disneyland Resort, it should come as no surprise that it has a lot more hotels and restaurants to choose from. In fact, there are more than 25 hotels and more than 200 restaurants in Disney World. Disneyland, on the other hand, has three hotels and about 50 restaurants.

Fun fact: It would take 81 years to stay in all the guest rooms that Disney World hotels and resorts have to offer.

"Disney World offers a wider variety of accommodations, ranging from budget to luxury," says Jonathan Weinberg, founder and CEO of HotelSlash. "There's a stay to suit almost any preference or budget. Both Disneyland and Disney World offer a variety of food options, from quick service to fine dining. Both locations also offer unique dining experiences, like character dining, where visitors can eat while meeting their favorite Disney characters."

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Best Time to Visit

Ultimately, though, your choice between Disney resorts may depend on what time of year you're planning to travel. Anaheim, where the Disneyland Resort is located, does tend to get a little cooler during the winter months, with highs in the upper 60s and lows in the mid-40s. Orlando is much hotter in the summer, when it may not be pleasant to wait in line for rides while the sun is blazing.

"Disney World is open year-round, but during the winter months, they don't have many nighttime activities open at Disneyland," Mac Steer, travel expert and owner/director of Simify, explains.

Transportation

Due to its smaller size, transportation isn't really a concern at Disneyland—you can easily get around the park on foot. Still, the park does offer free shuttle services from the parking lot and back, according to travel agent Mary DeSpain. She notes that there's also a Disneyland monorail that runs between Tomorrowland in Disneyland Park and Downtown Disney," adds DeSpain. At the much larger Disney World, you can take advantage of a number of transportation options, including buses, monorails, boats, and even gondolas. Disney World also operates a free shuttle bus from Orlando International Airport called the Disney Magical Express.

Special Events

Both parks offer seasonal events around the holidays, says DeSpain. For example, during wintertime, Disneyland has the Christmas Fantasy Parade and ¡Viva Navidad! Street party while Disney World offers Mickey's Christmas Party featuring real toy soldiers. And in the fall, Disneyland hosts the family-friendly Oogie Boogie Bash and Nightmare Before Christmas Haunted Mansion, while Disney World offers the Boo-To-You Parade and Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party.

Still not sure which park is right for you? Read on for more insight into the differences between Disneyland and Disney World.

Disneyland vs. Disney World: Which is Right for Me?

Mary Poppins smiles at a young child as she leads a line of children in song and dance in front of Cinderella's castle during Disney's 60th Diamond Celebration.
iStock

In order to figure out which park is right for your dream vacation, you'll need to consider a few factors—including your budget and who you're traveling with.

"I recommend Disneyland when my clients have a shorter travel window, a lower budget, or are traveling with small children or people with mobility issues," says Shannon Leyerle, travel advisor at Vacations By Shannon. "The proximity of the hotels and attractions make it a much simpler experience and a more affordable option."

Leyerle suggests staying at Disney's Grand Californian Hotel, where you're not only a five-minute walk from Disneyland, but you also have an exit into Downtown Disney, and a special entrance directly into California Adventure, reserved only for hotel guests.

It's also worth considering how many days you're able to visit for—as Disney World warrants a longer trip given how much there is to do and see.

"You're able to fully enjoy all that Disneyland has to offer in just three days, as opposed to the five or six days I recommend for Disney World," adds Leyerle.

Steer advises visiting Disneyland if you're looking for a more laid-back experience with shorter lines and fewer crowds.

Gavin Doyle, the founder of Mickey Visit and author of Disneyland Secrets, also highly recommends Disneyland to anyone interested in Disney's history. After all, Disney Land opened 16 years earlier than Disney World, in 1955.

"It's the only Disney Park in the world where Walt Disney himself spent time," he tells Best Life.

Susan Joh, a travel expert and Disney blogger, also advises taking into account whether your fellow travelers are fans of any specific movies or characters.

"For example, if you've got a huge Spiderman or Cars fan, it may be worth it to go to Disneyland," she explains. "If you have a Toy Story fan, Hollywood Studios at Disney World would be a must-do as there is an entire land dedicated to Toy Story."

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FAQ

A Walt Disney World arch gate on the road in Orlando, Florida, USA.
JHVEPhoto / iStock

Why is Disneyland less popular than Disney World?

Disneyland is less popular than Disney World mainly because of its size. Disney World simply has more to offer in terms of attractions and experiences. There are more themed hotels and resorts to choose from and a wider variety of restaurants to fulfill any craving you might have. This means it's easier to customize your visit according to the needs and preferences of your family or group.

Moreover, Walt Disney World Resort's location, Orlando, is home to an array of other tourist attractions, like SeaWorld and the Universal Orlando Resort.

"At Disney World, you can stay on property for your entire trip and completely forget the outside world," says Leyerie.

That level of immersion can make your trip that much more magical and transportive, according to experts.

Which is better for adults: Disneyland or Disney World?

Across the board, experts agree that Disney World is a better pick for adults. Between the adrenaline-pumping adventure rides at Disney's Hollywood Studios and the ability to eat and drink your way around the world at EPCOT, there's certainly no shortage of things for older visitors to do.

"There are way more thrill rides—the newest ones being TRON and Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind," says Joh. "There are also two golf courses on the property. Disney Springs is fun to hit up to grab a drink, see a Cirque du Soleil show, go bowling, check out food trucks, and go shopping."

Both Disney World and Disneyland offer a range of tasty cocktails—for example, the spiked Dole whip at Disney World's Animal Kingdom, and the frozen margaritas and beer flights at Disneyland's California Adventure Park.

Foodies may want to visit Disney World between July and November when the park hosts the epic Epcot International Food and Wine Festival with a ton of chef-led cooking seminars and tasting events.

Which is less stressful to navigate: Disneyland or Disney World?

Disneyland is far less stressful to navigate, experts say, because of its smaller size. There's no need to coordinate transportation times or deal with complicated maps—everything is walkable and pretty easy to find.

"There are so many things to do and see in Disney World that it can be overwhelming," explains Steer. "The lines also tend to be shorter at Disneyland, and you don't have to worry about getting lost in a theme park that's larger than some cities."

When it comes to Disneyland vs. Disney World, much of it comes down to your preference for size and time of visit. No matter what you choose, Disney fans are in for thrilling experience full of fantasy and wonder.

Rebecca Strong
Rebecca Strong is a Boston-based freelance health/wellness, lifestyle, and travel writer. Read more
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