Walt Disney World vs. Disneyland

The Age Old Question…

If you’ve ever been to both Walt Disney World and Disneyland, you know that there are a lot of noticeable similarities and differences between the two. Therefor, Disney and theme park enthusiasts constantly debate amongst each other over what resort is better. There are many pros and cons for both Disney properties, and to talk about all of them would take a very, very long time. To keep this article brief yet substantial, we’re going to judge both resorts in 5 categories: Attractions, Entertainment, Dining, Overall Atmosphere, and Hotels. Whoever wins the most categories is the best Disney Resort, according to us.

1. Attractions

Walt Disney World features four different theme parks, which are the Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. Therefor, they have so many different rides to offer. Some are duplicates or slightly altered versions of Disneyland attractions, such as Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain, Jungle Cruise, and many others. There’s also a few attractions that use similar ride mechanics as Disneyland rides but have different themes and layouts (i.e. Dinosaur at AK vs. Indiana Jones at DL). Finally, WDW also has various completely original and unique attractions that can’t be found at Disneyland, such as Seven Dwarves Mine Train, Expedition Everest, and Flight of Passage. Sadly, the park does have some duds and average rides that are completely skippable such as Imagination with Figment and Primeval Whirl. There’s also some mediocre filler rides such as Aladdin’s Magic Carpets, The Seas with Nemo & Friends, and the Tomorrowland Speedway that are also pretty skippable.

On the other hand, Disneyland only has the self titled park and Disney’s California Adventure. This obviously means that they have less attractions at the resort, but that definitely doesn’t mean they automatically lose this category. They have the aforementioned similar rides at WDW, as well as the similar ride mechanics with different themes. The thing about those similar rides though is that, for the most part, they’re so much better than their WDW counterparts. Indiana Jones is better than Dinosaur, Radiator Springs Racers is better than Test Track, and Guardians of the Galaxy is better than Tower of Terror (yes it is, don’t get triggered). Even a lot of the rides that are almost completely similar are better at Disneyland. The Space Mountain, Pirates, Haunted Mansion, Big Thunder Mountain and Winnie the Pooh are all miles better than the WDW versions. The park also has a decent amount of unique attractions such as Incredicoaster, Roger Rabbit’s Cartoon Spin and Matterhorn Bobsleds.

At the end of the day though, Walt Disney World kind of outshines Disneyland with the stellar unique attractions that they have to offer. Expedition Everest, Slinky Dog Dash and Kilimanjaro Safari are amazing, and there simply isn’t a Disney attraction in America that’s better than Flight of Passage. Also, I haven’t mentioned the Tomorrowland Transit Authority People Mover, which is an excellent hidden gem at WDW that doesn’t get nearly enough appreciation as it should. It’s really hard for me to not give the point to Disneyland for having stellar attractions like Indiana Jones and Guardians of the Galaxy, but at the end of the day I’d rather ride Avatar or Everest than anything at Disneyland.

WDW – 1 / DL – 0

2. Entertainment

This is honestly much easier to decide than the Attractions category. Both resorts have a lot to offer as far as shows and parades, so either option will give guests a great time. Walt Disney World has shows like Fantasmic!, Rivers of Light, and Illuminations: Reflections of Earth. They also have the Festival of Fantasy Parade and the Move It! Shake It! Dance Party. Disneyland offers things like World of Color and the vastly superior Fantasmic! that makes WDW’s look like trash. However, NOTHING at either resort comes ANYWHERE close to Happily Ever After at the Magic Kingdom. The projection/firework show hybrid is easily the best entertainment option at any Disney park in the U.S., and is probably the best thing at Walt Disney World right now (even better than Flight of Passage). Happily Ever After alone gives WDW the win.

WDW – 2 / DL – 0

3. Dining

Both Disney resorts offer excellent food selection, as well as some duds and awful restaurant experiences. I’m not even close to eating at every restaurant at either resort, but I’d say I’ve eaten at enough restaurants to form a decent opinion. Walt Disney World has lots of excellent restaurants with good food and unique theming. Yak n Yeti, Boma, Be Our Guest, California Grill, and Skipper Canteen are just a few examples. Their counter service options aren’t that bad either, with some fun places to eat like Gaston’s Tavern, Cosmic Rays, and Andy’s Lunchbox. Sadly, there are also some restaurants that have awful reputations or are kind of average. The famous one to call out is Hollywood & Vine, which apparently has nasty food (I’ve never tried it, which is probably a good thing). Restaurants like Akerhaus, Satu’li Canteen, and Chef Mickey’s are overrated and painfully mediocre. Luckily, the sheer amount of restaurants offered on property guarantees that everyone will be able to find something to love.

Disneyland blows it out of the water though. They might not have the quantity of restaurants that WDW has, but they make up for it by offering some of the best quality dining experiences one could ask for. Places like Blue Bayou, Ariel’s Grotto, and Plaza Inn are all excellent selections. Also, it always seems like the presentation of food is so much better at Land than World. This could just be a personal opinion, and I guess it doesn’t matter that much, but everything I’ve ate at Disneyland has always looked better than at WDW. The taste of everything has always been fantastic too. Again, it might just be personal preference, but I’d rather dine at Disneyland. Walt Disney World definitely does get props though for their vastly superior shopping district restaurants at Disney Springs (Downtown Disney District at DL doesn’t have much to offer).

WDW – 2 / DL – 1

4. Overall Atmosphere

This is a bit of a smaller category, but a meaningful one nonetheless. Walt Disney World and Disneyland have pretty different feels to them when you visit. Because WDW is much, much bigger than DL, it definitely feels more open and expansive. The fact that it has 4 different parks, two water parks, a vast number of hotels and lots of transportation options truly makes it feel like you are in a world separated from the rest of civilization.

Disneyland might not be as big as world and kind of landlocked, but that doesn’t mean it’s worse than World. In fact, I’d say it’s better. The problem with WDW is its so incredibly popular and draws in millions of tourists who don’t know how to navigate or behave in a theme park. This isn’t saying the people who visit WDW are primarily “dumb”, just that they’re not very knowledgable or relaxed while visiting. Disneyland also attracts a lot of oblivious tourists, but not nearly as many as Walt Disney World. A good chunk of people who visit Disneyland are locals, which gives the park a friendly, comforting atmosphere. I guarantee you’ll see more people with smiles on their faces at Disneyland than you will at World, which I’d say is enough to give Disneyland the point for this one.

WDW – 2 / DL – 2

5. Hotels

Disneyland and Walt Disney World are both giant tourist destinations that you have to spend multiple days at to fully appreciate. Because of this, it can be inferred that the hotels you will stay at overnight are kind of important. Disneyland offers three on property hotels (Grand Californian, Disneyland Hotel, and Paradise Pier). These are all considered “deluxe” hotels, and are all pretty expensive to stay at for multiple nights. I’ve only stayed at the Grand Californian before, but I must say it is easily one of my favorite Disney resorts ever. I’ve heard really good things about the Disneyland Hotel too. All 3 resorts are within walking distance of both parks, and Grand Californian even features its own exclusive entrance to Disney’s California Adventure. However, if all 3 resorts are too expensive for you to stay at, there is another option. Disney provides a long list of nearby partner hotels that are a lot cheaper and, for the most part, are pretty good quality. I have actually stayed at one of their partner hotels before (the Hyatt House, I believe), and it was actually a very enjoyable stay. The walk to the parks only took about 10 minutes, and the rooms and amenities were very clean. Obviously, the off-site resorts lack a bit of the Disney charm, but they’re still an excellent alternative.

Walt Disney World is the exact opposite in the best way possible. The resort has an overabundance of land, which means they have 20+ hotels available to stay at with a few more in the works right now. These hotels range from value (budget style), to moderate (slightly more expensive), to deluxe (very expensive), which gives everyone going to Disney an option no matter what money they have to spend. All of the resorts offer a fun theme and a boatload of Disney charm, which is something the off-property Disneyland hotels can’t compete with. Sure, it’s impossible to walk from any hotel to all 4 WDW theme parks, but Disney provides some form of transportation at each resort to make traveling to the parks a breeze. Disneyland does offer some great places to stay, but it has nothing on the sheer quantity and quality of the Walt Disney World resorts.

WINNER: WDW

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