“Which is better? Disneyland or Disney World?”
It’s a common question Disney fans are asked when they reveal their love of Disney.
Better that, than the all-too-often, and cringeworthy, follow-up of “Which one is Disneyland again? Is that the one in Florida?”
Perhaps I’m overreacting (I almost certainly am), but it kills a little part of me inside each time someone confuses Disneyland with Disney World. And that’s mainly because it assumes the idea that Walt Disney World could be considered on the same plane as Disneyland, that the parks are interchangeable, that one is essentially as good as the other.
And they’re not. Walt Disney World has some pretty great things, but there’s nothing like Disneyland. On this blog I plan to write on a variety of elements within the Disney universe – the parks, the films, the merchandise – but my main focus will always be Disneyland. Walt’s original park holds a dear place in my heart. I’ve been hundreds of times, with friends, with family, and alone.
The judgment of whether Disneyland or Disney World is better is a personal one for many, but in this post I plan to lay out seven objective, irrefutable reasons which explain my stance, and also give you some insight into why I’ve chosen to dedicate my blog, my heart, and a large part of my memory storage to the original, humble park that has sat on 1313 Harbor Blvd in Anaheim since 1955.
Reason #1: Walt’s Touch and that O.G. Style
There’s a reason why people hate on chain restaurants, and groan every time a new reboot of a movie franchise is announced. You can’t beat an original. There is something inherently endearing about the first version of anything. The creators cared more than anything about wanting it to be the best, and still goofs and gaffs were inevitable. Plus, an original has the nostalgia factor.
With every Disney park, you get Disney magic. At Disneyland you also get a distinct Walt magic. It shows up in the subtle lantern above the firehouse (always brightly aflame in his memory), in the originality of areas like New Orleans Square (the last land he worked on) and rides like the Matterhorn (a ride unique to the Anaheim park based on Walt’s trip to Switzerland), and in the entire layout and theming for the park. Walt dreamed up every bit of the original Disneyland, and you can feel that just a little bit more when you’re strolling down Main Street USA in Anaheim than when you’re in the copycat version in Orlando.
Reason #2: More Bang for the Buck in a Single Park
For many visitors, this should be the most compelling reason. Yes, at WDW, there are four different parks, two water parks, a much larger Downtown Disney district, and too many themed hotels to count. (In fact, the WDW complex is so large, that Disney has its own water district, the Reedy Creek Improvement District.)
However, Walt Disney World was built in the sixties, and by this time, the Disney execs were wearing their how-do-we-make-the-most-money-possible hats we’ve all come to expect. With Disneyland, Walt had 85 acres within to work, and the Disney company has continued to cram as many rides into that space as possible, with the number now nearing 50. Magic Kingdom, the park’s equivalent in Florida, is 105 acres.
Yet Magic Kingdom has under 40 attractions. So what are they doing with all that extra space? You can bet they filled it with shops and restaurants. To be fair, the walkways are also roomier in Florida, which is nice for crowded days.
Granted, some people enjoy shopping on their vacations. But when you’re already shelling out $100 a pop to get into a theme park, I expect it to be filled with rides, not more ways for me to spend my money.
Reason #3: Ease of Access/Transportation
Speaking of getting into the park, it’s much, much easier to do that at Disneyland than at WDW. At Disneyland, you can hop off the 5 freeway, drive a few miles up to one of the many parking areas (Mickey & Friends, Downtown Disney, Simba Parking Lot). At this point, you will actually be able to see the park (if you didn’t already catch a glimpse of the Matterhorn or Tower of Terror from the freeway). You then board a tram for a 5-minute ride, and you’re at the security bag check.
In Florida, on the other hand, you drive, you park in a single, immensely large parking lot, and take a tram to the Transportation Center. At this point, you have the option to either ferry or monorail to get to the Magic Kingdom. Yes, I said ferry. The park is still an entire lake away from you at this point.
The ferry goes at ferry speed and the monorail takes a stop at the Disney Contemporary Resort. Essentially, you add a whole other leg to your journey, after you’re already exhausted from the parking. Did I mention that you drive for several minutes after the parking lot entrance before you actually see any parking space?
So that’s just getting there.
What about once you’re in the park? Let’s say you bought a Park Hopper (a wise decision) and you want to visit another park during the day.
At WDW, you have plenty of options. You can ferry back, and hop on the monorail to Epcot. Or take the monorail back, switch to the one heading to Epcot. Oh, you wanted to go somewhere other than Epcot? Sure. Just ferry or monorail back, take the tram to your car, find your car, drive to the other park, and repeat the parking and tram steps. This should only take you 30 – 60 minutes or so. No big deal.
Conversely, at Disneyland, you can literally walk across a plaza from Disneyland to Disney California Adventure. We’re talking less than 5 minutes from gate to gate.
One more thing worth touching on – Disneyland is in the heart of Anaheim, urbanized mostly thanks to Disney. As a result, there are tons of hotels in the blocks immediately surrounding the parks. At WDW, there are also plenty of parks, but unless you’re staying in one of the privileged few across from a park entrance, you’ll need to factor in 20-30 minutes of extra transportation time getting to the park, be it by car, taxi, or shuttle.
Reason #4: California Weather
There’s a reason California will always have better weather than Florida, and it’s called humidity. It may be sunny in the Florida summer months, but it’s that dripping, damp, sweaty kind of sunny. In California, Disneyland will be just as packed with tourists in the summer season, but at least you won’t be at risk of sweating all over each other, thanks to the dry Mediterranean climate.
When it’s not warm in Florida, it can actually get cold, and rainy. California, on the other hand, has much more temperate weather year-round.
Anaheim, CA enjoys 280 sunny days each year. The average high in July is 84 degrees and the average low in January is 47. It sees 13 inches of rain per year.
Orlando, FL enjoys 233 sunny days each year. The average high in July is 92 degrees and the average low in January is 50. It sees 54 inches of rain per year.
Overall, WDW offers a wetter experience than Disneyland, be it due to humidity, sweat, or rain.
Reason #5: Locals
Part of what adds to the Disneyland vibe is the local flavor, which is distinctly missing at the Florida parks where the tourists overwhelm the crowd population.
Locals and Annual Passholders (AP) hold a special place in their heart for Disneyland. It’s not at all unheard of for people to stop by for a few hours after work (something that’s easy to do thanks to the superior ease of access cited in Reason #3). This lends a sense of coolness and relaxation to the park, not to mention the larger sense of a fan community. Locals know each other through meetups and clubs. They get to know the Cast Members.
Having locals around also means that there are significantly more people who know what they’re doing who are typically happy to help out the real tourists, rather than everyone walking around being lost.
Reason #6: Cast Members – California People vs Florida People
Speaking of people, there’s another advantage Disneyland has over WDW, and it’s one that I realize may get me in hot water. Disney park employees are known as Cast Members. This harkens back to Walt’s background in the movie industry, and his vision for Disneyland as a whole to be a cinematic experience.
Cast Members are the ones who put on the “show” that we recognize as Disney magic. This role means they have the power to make or break someone’s trip. Their onboarding is intense and involves graduating from Disney University. Disney puts a lot of thought and effort into dictating how it wants its employees to interact with the public. If they deviate from Disney’s guidance, a cast member can shatter the illusion for park guests.
Before I get started, let me address the issue of bias. I recognize that having grown up in California may make it appear that I would have an inherent bias in favor of Californians. However, I strongly dislike a lot of what Californians are known for, especially the shallow materialism, hence why I moved to Texas.
However… Californians are more efficient than Floridians. Efficiency is a hugely important trait to have in a cast member. Interacting with efficient cast members makes your day at the park run more smoothly.
Some may disagree with me on this. In some ways Florida embodies that southern way of life that moves a little slower, and there are people who find that charming. I can find it charming as well, but in the right situation. Scanning my ticket, loading the ride vehicles to move through the line quickly, and serving me food are not examples of the right situation.
I’ve also had multiple instances at WDW where I’ve dealt with cast members Walt and team would have been embarrassed by. I don’t know if it was that these individuals were just mean, or simply didn’t share the love of Disney (see Reason #5: Locals), but it put a major damper on my experience, enough to take me to City Hall to file a complaint. (Yes, this is a real thing you can do!) At Disneyland, I’ve also been to City Hall a few times to report on cast members, but it’s always been to compliment the awesome job a cast member is doing, or a Jungle Cruise skipper’s rockstar comedic performance.
Reason #7: Other Parks – DCA vs Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom
Before 2012, this reason would have been much more difficult to argue. From its birth until the 2012 revamp, Disney California Adventure was firmly in the half-day park zone. The addition of Cars Land, the remodel of Sunshine Plaza into Buena Vista Street, and the general Disney-fication (and un-Californication) of the park in 2012 has earned it a solid full-day status that is no longer an embarrassment to Disney theme parks.
Meanwhile, on the East Coast, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios are still languishing in half-day status. Epcot is the only other full-day park option at WDW, and it’s mostly a full day of shopping and eating. Also, let’s not forget that the hassle of transportation in Florida (Reason #3) severely cuts into your park time in Florida.
Some Caveats – The Few Things That Florida Does Better
In another attempt to prove I’m not biased, I’ll close by pointing out the few things in Florida that stand out as truly magical.
- Their Space Mountain is the original, and it’s definitely better.
- They still have the Country Bear Jamboree, the beloved childhood attraction which was unjustly removed from Disneyland in 2001 and replaced with the far less superior Winnie the Pooh ride.
- They also have the Carousel of Progress, which is the ultimate ride for any Walt Disney fan, or simply anyone who loves time-travel with a flair for the nostalgic. However, it should be noted that this ride originally debuted at Disneyland Park and was moved to Florida in the mid-1970s, so I believe Disneyland deserves the credit for the ride’s ideation.
- Partly because it has both Space Mountain and the Carousel of Progress, but mostly because they haven’t let it turn into a wasteland of abandoned rides, the Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland is infinitely better than Anaheim’s. This one is a sore point for me because Tomorrowland was my favorite land growing up, and ever since the rehaul in 1998, it’s just been terrible.
So there you have it. 7 reasons why Disneyland beats Walt Disney World. Do you agree with me? Did I leave anything out? Let me know! Think I’ve got it wrong? I’d love to hear from you too. Please share your thoughts in the comments!