It’s no secret that there is a bit of a rivalry between the two U.S. Disney Parks. Some swear by annual trips to Walt Disney World because of its size alone. Others are loyal to Disneyland since every detail was hand-picked by Walt himself. Regardless of which camp you fall in, most die-hard Disney fans have to visit both resorts at least once in their lifetimes. Today, a faithful Walt Disney World visitor recounts the biggest differences between the Florida and California parks. While both locations are bursting with magic, the west coast differences are a bit startling to those from the Sunshine State.
1. Park Proximity
Featuring four theme parks, two water parks, over two dozen hotels, and a massive shopping/dining/entertainment district – the entire Walt Disney World resort is the size of San Francisco. It’s enormous. Because of this, Florida visitors are accustomed to taking Disney buses, boats, and monorails to navigate. This travel time has to be accounted for in the daily schedule and it makes park hopping … a bit tricky. On the other hand, both California parks are a stone’s throw away from each other! Upon my first visit, I couldn’t stop gaping when I saw that both park entrances were barely a football field apart. Since I purchased a Park Hopper ticket, I took great joy in skipping between Disneyland and California Adventure at my leisure. Never before had I ever caught the nighttime parade in one park and saw fireworks in another during the same evening. Take it from me. The Park Hopper option is worth the cost in CA.
2. Lack of Character Attendants
When spotting beloved characters in Florida, visitors also see their attendants. These cast members are responsible for escorting characters and ensuring that the meet and greets with guests run smoothly. While walking into Disneyland, I was shocked to see Princess Ariel happily weaving in and out of the crowds. Fearing a mob of children would carry her away, I asked my friend where her ‘bouncer’ was. I then learned that most Disneyland characters are free roaming. While this made it harder to track them down for pictures, I could see why guests liked the authentic feel of literally bumping into a Disney character. (But I still think Florida should keep their character attendants on the payroll…)
3. Old-Fashioned FastPasses
Since 2013, I have grown quite fond of my MagicBand. Since they were rolled out across Walt Disney World, I have been spoiled by this wristband that can somehow store my tickets, hotel key, credit card information, and FastPasses. Unfortunately, this feature hasn’t made it to the west coast. FastPasses can still be reserved and (for a small fee) can even be booked via a Disney smartphone app. The biggest surprise was being able to grab paper FastPasses from actual kiosks. From someone who hadn’t done that in years, this was a blast from Disney past. My strategy for grabbing FastPasses wasa tad sluggish this time around. (After all, I didn’t grow up at this park!) For my next visit, I’ll be mapping out the kiosks.
4. Seasonal Snacking
While the Florida parks do offer seasonal snacks, they are most prevalent at EPCOT festivals or Magic Kingdom Halloween/Christmas parties. At Disneyland, special addition snacks are offered all year-round. As a park that mainly attracts locals, I imagine their food game has to be a little stronger to appease regulars. And it is. Not only was every quick-service restaurant delicious, but the snacks were exceptional. During my visit, I came across green apple churros, Mickey beignets, and fudge-coated macaroon doughnuts. (And remember, I didn’t attend during a special event!) While I’ve always enjoyed Disney World’s goodies, they could stand to take a page out of Disneyland’s recipe book.
I figured that the physical layout of Disneyland would feel a bit ‘off’, but the sensation was even stranger than I imagined. Considering that I can walk through the Magic Kingdom blindfolded, walking into an eerily similar park felt like a waking dream. Things were familiar, but most of the rides weren’t where I expected them to be. All of the lands were so much closer. The castle was gorgeous but much smaller. The shops on Main Street U.S.A. were similar … but not identical. Disneyland is without a doubt, a beautiful and cared-for park, but it had an odd vibe for this Disney World vet. The magic was still present, but the layout familiarity was not. Next time, I’ll remember to pick up a park map.
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6. Loved by Locals, Run by Locals
When interacting with Disney World cast members, it’s always fun to see the different cities, States, and countries on nametags. Seriously. People travel from all over the globe to participate in Disney’s College Program and pursue lifelong careers. While people do travel to California, the cast members are primarily local. Many of the employees have grown up visiting Disneyland regularly and therefore, have a warm hometown pride for their employer. It added a personal, genuine touch that larger parks cannot mimic.
Even though Disney World will always be my favorite resort, I’m glad I experienced this Anaheim gem. Regardless of which park feels like your home away from home, every true fan should experience the whimsy of Walt’s original playground.
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