The United States of America is home to the two most famous Disney Parks in the world—the two that epitomize what it truly means to be a Disney Theme Park and Resort destination. We are, of course, referring to the one and only legendary Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California, and that iconic marvel we know and love as Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida. Both of these destinations reign supreme, having set standards and serving as models for other Disney Parks worldwide to live up to.
Trying to determine whether it was the original Disneyland Resort or the famed Walt Disney World Resort that has been more influential in invoking inspiration across the board is a vastly challenging and debatable argument. Both places helped to revolutionize the distinguishable standards put into place by the Walt Disney Company in its venture to foster family-friendly amusement park attractions that encompass some of their best-loved themes in entertainment. And for both, Walt Disney himself was personally at the forefront serving as the mastermind, conceptualizing such amazing ideas and leading the way into imagination through design and each one’s workability.
Disneyland and Disney World are similar in that they were both the brainchildren of Walt Disney himself and have successfully served as models for all other Disney Parks to follow suit in. And each one continues to be a trendsetter in the ever-evolving theme park and Resort scene to this day. But just as similar as they are to one another, each boasts its own very unique callouts and distinct personal identities. We’re telling you just what some of those distinctions are with this comparative look at the major differences between Disneyland and Walt Disney World Resort.
10. Age as a Number
Disneyland has more than a decade and a half in seniority over Walt Disney World Resort. The original Disneyland Park opened to the public on July 17, 1955, with Walt Disney himself personally supervising all the ins and outs from start to finish. Walt Disney World Resort debuted back on October 1, 1971. Sadly, Walt Disney had already passed away by then, while the project was in progress, although he still had a direct hand in visualizing the Park set up for the Magic Kingdom, its rides and attractions, and even revealed plans for his Experimental Prototype Community for Tomorrow—better known as Disney World’s EPCOT.
Another pretty big distinction between Disneyland and Disney World is, of course, each one’s geographic location on the United States map. Disneyland sits on the west coast in Southern California—a state known for being the epicenter of the entertainment industry.
Disney World reigns on the east coast and was built in what was at the time a more unassuming location in sunny Central Florida. Disney bought up far more property and surrounding land for his Disney World venture, learning from his earlier establishment of Disneyland to hinder surrounding development efforts from crowding around.
In short, both American coasts have their own distinct Disney Magic. Each happens to be situated in an area with fair, consistently mild temperatures throughout the year without any major cold fronts or snowy weather conditions. This makes them both year-round operating dream-come-true destinations.
Each of the two destinations features an iconic landmark castle, serving as a symbol of magic and that fairytale concept that dreams come true. In fact, the idea of a castle construct was first formulated in the mind of Walt Disney independently, even before establishing ties to a Disney Entertainment-themed component. The decision to name Disneyland’s castle “Sleeping Beauty Castle” came later, in honor of an upcoming Disney Animation work of the same name that had not yet premiered. Now Sleeping Beauty Castle serves as a breathtaking beacon and marvel, spanning 77 feet high and playing host to a wonderful walk-through Park attraction.
When it came time to bestow Disney World’s Magic Kingdom Park with its own castle, rather than recreating the same exact construction as seen in Disneyland, they decided to give Disney World its own identity and, therefore, its own castle. So, the Walt Disney Company turned to an earlier Disney film classic—Cinderella from 1950 and established what eventually became Cinderella Castle. A much larger marvel than its predecessor, Cinderella Castle stands at 189 feet tall. While not featuring a similar-minded walkthrough attraction, it does house one of Magic Kingdom Park’s most favored themed restaurant experiences and even hides an elite, largely off-limits private suite reserved only for the most exclusive of purposes.
7. On Property Resorts
Because both Disneyland and Disney World remain top-rated destinations that attract countless numbers of out-of-town visitors on a rolling basis throughout the year, each one features its own on-property accommodations—Disney Resorts. Of course, Disney World’s plentiful Resort options greatly outrank Disneyland’s much more limited offerings of just three hotels. They are Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel, and Disneyland Hotel, of course.
In contrast, Walt Disney World Resort presents Guests with a vast and versatile range of lodging options, including Value Resorts, Moderate Resorts, and even Deluxe Resorts (with Deluxe Villas). Camping enthusiasts also take note of Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campgrounds, with options to stay at a campsite setup or even a cabin.
6. Sizing Things Up
Disneyland being a “land,” is naturally much smaller in size than Disney World, which is an entire “world.” To be exact, Disneyland just barely spans more than 500 acres, as opposed to Disney World’s encompassment of over 43 square miles. That means 51 Disneylands could actually fit inside the boundaries of what comprises Walt Disney World Resort.
5. Number of Parks
Because of its size, Walt Disney World Resort contains far more Parks than Disneyland. Disneyland only contains two Parks—the original Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure, which was established just two decades ago.
Disney World, in contrast, boasts Magic Kingdom Park, EPCOT, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom Park. Additionally, there are also two fabulous water parks—Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach. While close in range to some Anaheim area water parks, Disneyland does not hold claim to boasting an on-premises offering for such.
Anyone familiar with Disney Parks understands that the different sections or areas in the Parks are oftentimes known as “lands.” And while many of the same “lands” appear throughout Disneyland’s original Park and Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, the fact that there are more Parks at Disney World means that there are a host of lands unique to that location. Likewise, Disney California Adventure has its own set of specific, incomparable, standout lands as well. Cars Land at California Adventure, for instance, is reason enough to visit Disneyland for an endeavor that Disney World just can’t compete with.
4. Golf Courses
Just as Disney World holds an exclusive advantage over Disneyland in boasting water parks, it also holds more appeal for serious golfers. That’s right, Walt Disney World is home to no less than four professional golf courses, all under Arnold Palmer Management. They are Disney’s Magnolia, Disney’s Palm, Disney’s Oak Trail Course, and Disney’s Lake Buena Vista. Additionally, for those looking to get in a little mini golf, there are Fantasia Gardens and Fairways Miniature, as well as Winter Summerland Miniature Golf.
Guests visiting Disneyland Resort take note that while there are no Disney-designated golf courses, the greater Anaheim area does offer many opportunities to check out such pursuits.
3. Shopping Districts
Both these fabulous Disney Destinations are known for having corresponding social districts connected to them. And once upon a time, both were known as “Downtown Disney.” Following a revitalization of the Disney World version, however, the district was renamed Disney Springs. Disneyland’s version is still Downtown Disney.
As a common trend, things tend to be bigger in Disney World. So, it should come as no surprise to learn that Disney Springs is about three times the size that Downtown Disney is. And while both locations provide an awesome shopping and dining scene, Disney Springs does, in fact, have far more in the way of all the above categories. They also play host to several extras that Downtown Disney doesn’t have the same claim on.
2. Exclusive Attractions
Because they are different theme parks, Disneyland and Disney World both have their own vast abundance of exclusive, one-of-a-kind attractions. Some of the unique callouts at Disney World include Expedition Everest, Avatar Flights of Passage, Spaceship Earth, Rock n’ Rollercoaster, Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, Slinky Dog, Frozen Ever After, and several others. Disneyland’s novelties consist of Matterhorn Bobsleds, Indiana Jones Adventure, Storybook Land Canal Boats, Pinocchio’s Daring Adventure, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, and Radiator Springs Racers, and various others.
Each Park has its own set of shows and spectacles as well. From Disney World’s 3D PhilharMagic show to Disneyland’s nighttime show World of Color and several additional examples, it really is like comparing apples to oranges when you evaluate the value of what each Resort has to offer.
1. Novelties in Classics
While many attractions differ between the two locations, Guests at both Disneyland and Disney World can also enjoy many of the same iconic classics across the board. Disney Park staples of this nature include, but are in no way limited to, “it’s a small world,” Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, the Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Dumbo the Flying Elephant. Even in such instances where the same things exist in both places, Disney stamps each and every manifestation with its own exclusive magical seal, making even repeat attractions uniquely different from other similar incarnations. Just like snowflakes, no two Disney rides, shows, or other alternate attractions are ever identical to any others. Take “it’s a small world,” for instance. At Disney World, the ride is entirely indoors as a dark ride attraction. Disneyland’s version is both inside and outside. And for those who can’t get enough of Disney Easter Eggs, there are many hidden Disney characters intricately placed within the collection of cute kid dolls on display.
Both Disneyland Resort in California and Walt Disney World Resort in Florida remain hailed classics to countless fans throughout North America and, by extension, the entire world. There are no substitutes, equivalents, or exchanges where Disney Theme Park Destinations are concerned, as each one serves as a compliment, rather than a competitor, in the same family of magical Disney distinctions.