At the end of May, I visited Disneyland for the first time in almost ten years. As someone who proudly calls Magic Kingdom her home park, I knew that I would spend much of my time in Disneyland comparing it to WDW. I’ve spent a lot of time since coming home trying to give the most objective comparison possible between Disneyland and WDW and my determination of which is the better resort/park. I’ve decided to break this comparison down to a few categories: rides, shows/parades, food, hotels, fastpass experience, and aesthetic/appearance. Let’s dive right in!
Rides: To do this category justice, I have to break it down into two categories: rides that the two parks share and original rides.
Shared Rides: Disneyland and Disneyworld basically share most of their e-tickets including the three mountains (Space, Big Thunder, and Splash), Pirates of the Carribbean, Haunted Mansion, and Jungle Cruise, along with some smaller rides, such as the Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. Some of these experiences are significantly different– Pirates of the Carribbean is significantly longer in Disneyland and much, much creepier. Other rides, like the mountains, are slightly different experiences but if you’ve ridden them a few times, you’ll be sure to notice. Space Mountain, for example, uses different rider cars on the two coastlines and while many enjoy the more traditional car used in Disneyland, I think the experience is far more intense on the bobsled style car at Disneyworld. Other rides, like Jungle Cruise and Haunted Mansion, definitely show which one is the original, with Disneyworld’s versions having the little improvements to make a big splash. There were a few similar rides I didn’t try out, knowing the Disneyland version would make me miss my version at Disneyworld, such as the DL version of astro-orbiter (after riding these with a view of Happily Ever After, I don’t think a smaller and shorter version could ever compare) and Dumbo the Flying Elephant, which lacks the theming of Storybook Circus I love so dearly.
Winner: On the shared rides, I have to give it to Walt Disney World. As they say, second is the best, and Disneyworld definitely benefits from being second to receive most of these rides.
Original Rides: While two parks have so much in common, they also have a lot of original rides. I fell in love with California Adventure and the many original rides the park has to offer, including Mission Breakout and Radiator Springs Racers. Disneyworld also has a plethora of original rides, such as all of its Animal Kingdom offerings and many of its Epcot rides. I have to say I have never been a big Animal Kingdom fan and could easily skip this park when visiting Disneyworld and while I love Epcot, it is not for its ride offerings but rather its ambience in World Showcase. And while I will always say that Magic Kingdom is definitively the world’s best theme park, the many dark rides that Disneyland’s Fantasyland have to offer, such as Alice in Wonderland, do make this land stand out and pop much more than some of Disneyworld’s rides like Seven Dwarves Mine Train.
Winner: In this subcategory, I have to give it to Disneyland. Their exclusive rides are e-ticket attractions that are immersive, creative, and original.
Winner for rides: The two resorts end up in a tie in this category, each winning one subcategory so I will give them each .5
Score: Disneyland .5, Disneyworld .5
Shows/Parades: Both Disneyworld and Disneyland offer many parades and shows throughout the day and night. It is important to note here: Disneyworld has a HUGE advantage. There are four parks– WDW can have one meh parade/show (example: the First Order in Hollywood Studios) and make up for it with another amazing one in another park (like Festival of Fantasy). When I visited Disneyland, the Red Car Trolleys were under renovation so I didn’t get to see them perform (and apparently, the show is permanently closing now) and I missed having a light-hearted show like on Main Street in Magic Kingdom or Hollywood Studios. I loved Disneyland’s parade, but I am a bit partial because I LOVE Mary Poppins and loved seeing her featured. I also want to give Disneyland some points in advance, because the Main Street Electrical Parade (aka my favorite parade of ALL time) is running for a limited time there this summer and I am VERY jealous that the west coast gets this beautiful parade again. Disneyland also wow’ed me with their performance of Frozen, which was truly Broadway levels of good. Frozen was definitely the best show I have ever seen in a Disney park, but Disneyworld offers some great options, with Festival of the Lion King and Finding Nemo the Musical. What loses Disneyland major points was is its nighttime shows in comparison to Disneyworld. World of Color is a beautiful and moving show and I can see how it greatly inspired Happily Ever After, but it didn’t have the full effect that Happily Ever After gives. Also, I found myself wishing they had set the show up in a space more similar to Rivers of Light– if you weren’t in the front for World of Color, you weren’t seeing much. Further, Disneyland’s nighttime offerings had me wanting to fly to Florida immediately. Mickey’s Mix Magic was playing while I was at Disneyland and this firework show did not hold at all when compared to ANY of Disneyworld’s offerings. The show felt like it was pandering to a youthful audience and it lacked true heart to it.
Winner: Disneyworld. While Disneyland shone with its theatrical show of Frozen and its parade offerings, its nighttime offerings really did not their own.
Score: Disneyworld 1.5, Disneyland 0.5
Food: To judge this category fairly, I also will be breaking it up into three subcategories: table service, quick service, and snacks. Table service is worth 0.4 points, quick service is worth 0.3 points, and snacks are worth 0.3 points.
Table Service: Growing up with trips to Disneyworld, there is nothing I love more than a good character meal. With diverse offerings in Florida from 1900 Park Fare to Bon Voyage to Tusker House, there is no shortage of character offerings with great food and a great interactive experience. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said across the country. While at Disneyland, we went to Plaza Inn at Disneyland for breakfast and Goofy’s Kitchen at the Disneyland Hotel for dinner. Plaza Inn was a complete flop– the characters ignored us for the first thirty minutes we were there, the food was bland (the french toast tasted like someone threw a bottle of cinnamon on it and called it a day), and the service was WAY below Disney standards, with it taking thirty minutes before we could get any information about gluten free options for the allergy in our party. Goofy’s Kitchen had much better character interaction but the food was not great. The best things there were the mac and cheese and the chicken fingers. For non-character table service meals, we ate at Carnation Cafe and Lamplight Lounge. While both of these restaurants were good, they lacked a spark that makes restaurants such as Coral Reef, Hacienda San Angel, and Skipper Canteen so special.
Winner: Without a doubt, Disneyworld.
Quick Service: While Disneyland flopped with its sit-down offerings, it shone with its quick service. My first quick service experience here was Tangaroa Terrace, where I got nachos and dumplings. They both were amazing and I returned here for breakfast, where the french toast blew me away. I also stopped at Flo’s in DCA and had their french toast (I REALLY like French Toast, I’m not even sorry for how much french toast I eat) and loved it. I also loved the complete theming at Flo’s. I also had to get Mickey Beignets for an early breakfast and while these tasted more like regular donuts mixed with funnel cake than traditional Beignets, I still thoroughly enjoyed them and very much would get again. My one quick service let-down happened in DCA at the Pacific Wharf, where I ordered potstickers and an orange chicken rice bowl. While the potstickers were delicious (though a small order of only three), the orange chicken rice bowl was far too spicy for my liking and did not have enough orange taste to it. While Disneyworld does have some stand out quick service locations like Satuli in Animal Kingdom and its offerings throughout World Showcase, it typically does not shine in its quick service. If is festival season in Epcot, I may take back that statement but generally, I would stand by it. And though I may have a soft spot for Peco’s, I’m not sure the average tourist would fully agree.
Winner: Disneyland. While Disneyworld has seasonally good quick service offerings, it falls to offer consistently good quick service options throughout all of its parks like Disneyland does.
Snacks: This is by far the hardest category of all to rank. Disney snacks around the world are the absolute best, with the classics like Mickey pretzels and churros and seasonal specials. I loved all the snacks I tried in Disneyland, from the nom nom cookies to the ice cream treats to the Mickey rice krispie treats. I also though love Disneyworld’s snacks, such as the soft serve at Storybook Treats, the changing milkshake at Auntie Galaxy’s, and the numerous treats found around world showcase.
Winner: Truthfully, the two resorts are almost even in my mind in their snack offerings, but having world showcase pulls Disneyworld right over the edge, as it offers such a huge range of snacks to try.
Winner: Overall, Disneyworld wins in food, with better table service and more snack offerings. Disneyland though shines with its quick service.
Score: Disneyworld 2.3, Disneyland 0.8
Hotels: Disneyland offers a very different hotel experience from Disneyworld, with only three Disney-owned-and-operated hotels, compared to the numerous offerings at Disneyworld. For this trip, we chose to stay at the Disneyland Hotel, which is equivalent to a Disneyworld deluxe hotel. The first reaction to the hotel was a bit of surprise– this hotel does not throw Disney magic at you in the same way as Disneyworld deluxe hotels or even the Grand Califorian do. However, little bits of magic are found around the hotel with notes of history. The rooms were beautifully sized and the castle headboard is definitely the star of the hotel. I can say I truly LOVED staying here, but still, the theming definitely fell behind the theming I love at Disneyworld. It didn’t transport me anywhere and seemed confused, with a monorail pool slide but Trader Sam’s tiki bar next to it. The Grand Californian seemed to have a much more cohesive theme, but because I did not stay there and only walked around it, my experience has to be based solely off the Disneyland Hotel.
Winner: The winner is Disneyworld, but I want to give some points to Disneyland because staying at the original Disney hotel truly was a bucket list experience for a big Disney fan like myself, so I’m giving 0.3 points to Disneyland for that nostalgia factor.
Score: Disneyworld 3, Disneyland 1.1
Fastpass Experience: The fastpass experiences are completely different at Disneyland and Disneyworld. Disneyworld uses the Fastpass+ system, where you make three reservations a day in advance. Disneyland uses the original fastpass system, with the option to buy Maxpass so you can make fastpasses on your phone. While Disneyworld lends itself to the ultra-planner, I found Maxpass a much more effective and efficient system. I was consistently able to get fastpasses for everything I wanted to ride, without being stuck to a stringent schedule. I also was not tied into one park, being able to move from fastpass to fastpass in different parks, compared to having to have three in one park at Disneyworld.
Winner: Disneyland, while Maxpass costs extra, it proved worth it.
Score: Disneyworld 3, Disneyland 2.1
Aesthetic/Appearance: This category is probably the most controversial I will rank, as everyone holds their favorite quite close to heart. I think California Adventure is a completely underrated park. I thought this park was truly gorgeous, with Pixar Pier, Cars Land, and Wine Country standing out to me. The park did an amazing job of grasping different areas and truly transporting guests to them. I can’t say I feel the same about Disneyland. Disneyland felt crowded. Tomorrowland felt cramped and closed, Fantasyland felt overrun with small walkways, and the castle, while in beautiful pink, lacked the grandeur I expected. I will say both New Orleans Square and Toontown shone in my eyes as unique and beautiful areas, and I have not visited Galaxy’s Edge so I can’t say how I would feel about that. I felt the parks lacked the beautiful spots like Cinderella’s wishing well or the Italy pavilion in world showcase or Pandora in Animal Kingdom.
Winner: Disneyworld. While Disneyland had its beautiful spots, it lacked the smaller spots of beauty that make Disneyworld such a special space.
Final Score: Disneyworld 4, Disneyland 2.1
If you’re thinking about a Disney trip, you’ll never go wrong but in my opinion, if you’re focused on Disney, book a flight to Orlando. There is so much to do in Disneyworld, you could stay forever and never get a month (I stayed for four months and wish I could go back daily). The resort truly transports you to a magical place. The memories and happiness the place brings are definitely worth the splurge.