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What's the difference between Disneyland and Walt Disney World?

Updated: Dec 27, 2023

A few weeks ago, a group of agents from Coasters & Castles Travel were invited by Disney to spend a few days at Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California. There was a range of experience within the group; some were just there recently, some had never been and some hadn't been in decades! Everyone though was very eager and excited to experience more in person.

First, a brief history lesson. Disneyland was Walt's first park and opened on July 17, 1955. The park consisted of 5 lands when it first opened; Adventureland, Frontierland, Fantasyland, Tomorrowland and Main Street USA, much like the Magic Kingdom. The Disneyland Hotel was not originally owned or operated by Disney but opened up on October 5, 1955. It was finally purchased by Disney in 1988. In the 1990s Disney started the expansion adding the Downtown Disney shopping and dining district, the Grand Californian Hotel and Spa, purchasing what would become Paradise Pier Hotel and a second theme park California Adventure. By 2001 it was a multi-day resort destination.

And a few facts to get us started!

  • Disneyland is 500 acres compared to Walt Disney World's 43 sq miles.

  • Disneyland has 2 theme parks, Downtown Disney a small shopping and dining district and 3 on property resort hotels.

  • Walt Disney World has 4 theme parks, 2 water parks, Disney Springs a large shopping and dining district and 25 resort hotels.

  • Disneyland Park features 58 attractions where Magic Kingdom has 34


Breakfast at The Plaza

I think we've all heard or even said ourselves; 'It's just a smaller version of Magic Kingdom! Why go all the way across the country to see and do the same things we can do in Orlando?' Well this is false and we are here to tell you why! I've asked the agents who joined me on this familiarization trip to list the differences that stood out to them between Disneyland and Walt Disney World and include their thoughts on each one.

Fireworks and Nighttime Shows

Fireworks at DL have projections on the castle and on the buildings on Main Street like at Walt Disney World. But they also show them on It’s A Small World and over by the River in New Orleans Square. It’s nice because there are so many different areas to watch. It’s spreads the people out so even if it’s crowded by the castle you have other options to watch. Whereas at Walt Disney

World you have to be on Main Street or in front of the castle to see the fireworks and projections. Wondrous Journeys, Disneyland's nighttime fireworks show, has more projections and includes a lot of favorite movies. I still don’t think any fireworks show will be as good as Happily Ever After though. It has a special place in my heart! - Robin Wright

I found that I prefer Walt Disney World's nighttime shows to the shows at Disneyland, the projections on Small World were great but I was underwhelmed by the fireworks. - Chrissie Lograno Weinstein

Fireworks viewing at the Castle is limited and has more obstructed views, but I love that there are 2 alternate viewing locations in Fantasyland and Frontierland, each providing a less crowded option with different perspectives. But being a castle view girl I totally missed the magic of watching the fireworks on the castle and seeing Tink! - Sandy Fardie


We found Genie just wandering around!

The characters at Disneyland are way more interactive! Walking around the park and interacting with the crowd in the parade. It was fun to walk around the parks and find them wandering. The selfies with the wandering characters are my favorite! - Jennifer Chappell

I think one thing that I really liked about Fantasyland in Disneyland was the amount of characters wandering around. That is such a huge perk to see some different characters too! I love they keep going and wandering but will stop for a quick pic without a problem. - Lisa Wainwright

Captain Hook was greeting guests so we asked him to stop for a selfie

I loved that there were so many more character interactions, both in the dining locations and the parks. Not only were there more characters, but the characters were actually more interactive at Disneyland than at WDW as well. - Chrissie Lograno Weinstein

The Character interactions at DL are much better – they really get into their roles. They are also more “magical” because they appear randomly throughout the park and interact with guests. One of the cutest things I saw was Woody grabbing a little girls hand and skipping down the promenade with her on his way to his character greet spot! You also see many different characters, more than you do at WDW. - Sandy Fardie


A graphic of the Disneyland Resort area from the Howard Johnson site

The proximity from Grand Californian, or any of the other two Disney hotels, can’t be beat. The ability to walk right back to the resort from California Adventure was amazing! I kept thinking how invaluable this would be with my young children or my teen who likes to sleep in. - Jennifer Chappell

The entrance to California Adventure from Grand Californian Hotel

The proximity of the 2 parks to each other at DL is awesome. You are not spending a lot of time on transportation. That equates to more park time and less daily steps/miles than at World! It was a huge advantage staying at Grand Californian and walking right into California Adventure Park- Sandy Fardie

I love that the parks, hotels and Downtown Disney are so close! - Donna Standish

No buses are needed in Disneyland! - April Botta

It is 100% worth it to stay on property at a Disneyland hotel. The early park admission was more valuable than at WDW because there were far less people in the park. - Melissa Lenox

Photo Pass

There are not as many photographers at Disneyland stationed thru the park like there are at Disney World. But I was surprised their lines weren’t longer. I do wish they had more pictures on the attractions like Walt Disney World. Most of the older, original attractions do not have photos.- Lisa Wainwright

I love that when you purchase Genie Plus at Disneyland, not only do you get to book select Lightning Lanes but it also includes Memory Maker for the day. The process for linking photos from attractions though is not as simple as Walt Disney World's but hopefully with the introduction of Magic Bands that can change in the future. Currently you have to manually link it in the app and at Buzz Lightyear you had to email it to yourself! - Melissa Lenox

I thought the Photo Pass cast members went above and beyond. They really paid attention to detail and took their time with us. I never felt like we were rushed with any of them. - Lindsey Rusher

Daytime Parade

I really enjoyed the daytime parade, Magic Happens. The floats were fabulous!! - Chrissie Lograno Weinstein

I loved the DL parade better than Walt Disney World. I was also was able to find a great viewing location at the last minute - Sandy Fardie

I LOVED the parade Magic Happens. It was everything a Walt Disney World Parade is but to the max! The music, costumes, performances were all spectacular. The floats were beautiful and unique representations of each of the films. (I've been playing the soundtrack a lot since I've been home!) - Melissa Lenox

Unique Lands

I loved Disneyland's Toon Town and California Adventure's Cars Land and Avengers Campus! They were absolutely amazing and immersive and I'm missing having all 3 of them at Walt Disney World. - Chrissie Lograno Weinstein

Toon town is adorable and a huge reason to visit Disneyland because it's no longer at Magic Kingdom. - Lisa Wainwright

Avengers campus was beyond my expectations! I could have lived there the entire trip! Cars Land was just as cute as I expected it to be. I really loved the Animation Experience too! - Lindsey Rusher

I loved the different lands at Disneyland that don’t exist at Walt Disney World like Cars Land, ToonTown, Pixar Pier, etc. That made the experience unique and fresh. - Sandy Fardie

For me Avengers Campus at California Adventure is a reason to visit alone! Due to the contract between Marvel and Universal, Disney can't put anything Avengers within an Orlando park. (Guardian's of the Galaxy are an exception) so we won't see anything like what Disneyland has anytime soon. Galaxy's Edge is also at Disneyland Park. There's only a few small differences to the one at Hollywood Studios; you can meet Boba Fett and Fenec Shand in Disneyland, Disneyland's milk stand doesn't serve alcohol and the menu's at Oga's Cantina are different. It's amazing to get two of my favorite franchises at one resort! - Melissa Lenox


It was very surreal being in parks that felt SO familiar yet so different! Disneyland's Sleeping Beauty Castle is wonderful, but I 100% missed the feeling of walking down Main Street staring at the castle the whole way and being able to see it from multiple attractions throughout the park. It really bothered me that there was only a finite area around the park to see the castle from!! Even sitting around Main Street there were trees in the 'hub area' that blocked the whole castle from view. - Chrissie Lograno Weinstein

There are more places to sit, relax, and observe your surroundings at Disneyland. - Sandy Fardie

Disneyland definitely has a very nostalgic feel where Disney World does EVERYTHING bigger! - Lindsey Rusher

I love all the outside patio seating they had at Disneyland and that is because of the moderate climate. No one wants to eat outside most of the year in Orlando, it's too hot! Every restaurant had a large outdoor area full of bistro tables. I loved the atmosphere it created and you can't beat that weather. It was chilly in the morning and evening but we were comfortable in a sweatshirt and pants most of the time. There wasn't a lot of sunshine while we were there but it was great not melting in the sun and humidity! - Melissa Lenox

Genie Plus and Magic Bands

Genie+ at DL felt a little less stressful even though you have to enter the park before you purchase and book. It felt like there was more availability throughout the day and attractions didn't sell out early like they do at World. Magic Bands at Disneyland do not offer the same conveniences as at World – e.g. room key; charging to room; tickets (unless you enter them manually each day via the App) photos, etc.- Sandy Fardie

Genie Plus was far les stressful to use at Disneyland. I find you can use it differently than you do at World. You can book an attraction to use right away, then book another, and another. While at World you have to book certain attractions right at 7am if you want to ride them via the Lighting Lane, otherwise you'll have to wait in standby or keep checking back thru the day for an opening. And when you use it that way, you can't book another attraction until later so we were able to use the Lightning Lane A LOT at Disneyland with minimal issues. - Melissa Lenox

Attractions and Similar Lands

A lot of the attractions that can be found at Walt Disney World are also at Disneyland but they are not identical. Honestly when comparing all the similar rides I think I enjoyed all of the Disneyland versions more. - Lindsey Rusher

The layout of Disneyland is so similar to Disney World that you know how to get around easily! And I wish Disney World had an Indiana Jones ride. That was so much fun!- Donna Standish

Small World and Pirates are better in Disneyland. Radiator Springs Racers is just like Test Track and Dinosaur is just like Indy, but Indy is better. The monorail at Disneyland brings you right into Tomorrowland and not just to the front gate so it saves you a lot of time and steps. Sleeping Beauty Castle is much smaller than Cinderella's though.- April Botta

I love the older style attractions that still exist at Disneyland like Snow White's Enchanted Wish, Pinocchio's Daring Journey and Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. The only attractions that remain at World that are similar are Peter Pan's Flight and Winnie the Pooh. There were so many more attractions at Disneyland than at Magic Kingdom. Between all the attractions, shows and characters there was so much to see in 3 days! I wish we had more time. - Melissa Lenox


Experiencing FOMO yet? If so, contact any one of these fabulous travel advisors below at Coasters & Castles Travel!

Jennifer Chappell JChappell@travelcnc.com

Chrissie Lograno Weinstein cweinstein@travelcnc.com

Lindsey Rusher LRusher@travelcnc.com

Melissa Lenox MLenox@travelcnc.com


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