Disney World vs. Disneyland: The Ultimate Showdown

photo-2It’s no secret that I’ve been to Disney World more times than I can count. My first visit probably dates back to when I was an infant. This past May though, at the Tinker Bell Half Marathon weekend, I took my VERY FIRST trip to Disneyland. It was exciting and confusing all at the same time. I definitely enjoyed seeing so many new things, but admittedly I did get lost a few times. It wasn’t exactly the same experience as Disney World, but it did have its own unique attractions and features that made it worthwhile.

So which park is better? My first instinct is to yell “DISNEY WORLD!” at the top of my lungs, but that is probably a biased response based on my magical childhood memories of Disney World vacations. The truth is, there are good reasons to visit both places. Whether you are deciding on runDisney races in California vs. Florida or just making plans for a family vacation, here are some of the big differences between Disney World and Disneyland that really stuck out to me.

1. Disney’s Magical Express: This is a free shuttle service that is provided from Orlando International Airport to the Walt Disney World resort. It will take you directly to your hotel, and it plays fun Disney videos along the way. This service does not exist at Disneyland, which makes the commute from airport to hotel a little less magical. You will need to call an uber, a taxi, or rent a car upon arriving at the airport.


Photo courtesy of Disney.com

2. Variety of Parks: At Disney World, you can visit Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom and a couple water parks. Disney transportation is provided to take you from park to park. In California, you can visit Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure. The two park entrances are right across from each other so you can easily park hop back and forth. Obviously, Disney World has more variety and more things to do – from Animal Kingdom safaris to the Epcot World Showcase and even a simple monorail ride. However, Disney’s California Adventure does have quite a few unique places that you can’t find at the Walt Disney World resort. Some especially unique things include Paradise Pier and Cars Land.


Paradise Pier in Disneyland

3. “It’s a Small World”:  Seriously you guys, if you need one huge reason to go to Disneyland, this is it.  The “It’s a Small World” ride in Disneyland makes the Disney World version look like a joke. It is hands down the happiest thing I’ve ever experienced. It has to be at least four times the size. The outside of it is so beautiful that I felt the urge to take a picture every single time we passed it.


“It’s a Small World” in Disneyland

4. The Shows: It could just be me, but I thought the shows in Disneyland were much better than Disney World. Maybe it’s because of its proximity to Hollywood, but I was really impressed. This isn’t to say that the shows at Disney World are bad. I really love the Beauty and the Beast show in Hollywood Studios and the Lion King show in Animal Kingdom, but Disneyland takes the lead on this one. The Aladdin show in California Adventure is HILARIOUS. The Genie had me laughing out loud every five minutes. In Disneyland, I enjoyed Mickey and the Magical Map so much that I saw it twice.

5. The Castles: You cannot go to Disneyland expecting the same Cinderella Castle experience that you get in Disney World. It is MUCH smaller. And it belongs to Sleeping Beauty. Enough said.

6. Resort Transportation: The process of getting from your hotel to the parks is completely different in Disneyland. There are only a few Disney owned hotels, and these are in close walking proximity to the park. Even some of the non-Disney hotels are close enough to walk. Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel has its very own park entrance connected to the building (but it’s a very pricey hotel). In Disney World, if you stay at a Disney hotel you can get to all the parks and resorts by free shuttle service.

7. Pirates of the Caribbean: I put this one on here because I really felt like the ride was a different experience in Disneyland. During the ride, you do see a few different things along with some familiar scenes, but what really felt different was the ride setup. Walt Disney’s Dream Suite is right above the ride which makes it feel really special. There is also a restaurant called Blue Bayou that’s inside the ride. It makes the whole opening scene of the ride really unique and worth visiting.


Blue Bayou – photo courtesy of Disney.com

8. Fireworks: In my opinion, nothing is quite as magnificent as the fireworks displays over Cinderella Castle in Disney World. I’m also a big fan of Illuminations in Epcot. When it comes to fireworks, they are just bigger and better in Disney World. There are WAY more fireworks shows and they are way more often. Although, in Disneyland’s defense, there is a really cool fountain and light show called World of Color. Unfortunately, depending on drought conditions, fireworks are cancelled way more often in Disneyland (forest fires are NOT magical). Disney World is always ready to go with any situation. One time I was there for Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and it was pouring down rain. Not only did the fireworks still happen, but they started right on time.

9. Character Appearances: There were way more character appearances in Disneyland and they were very spontaneous. In Disney World, I feel like taking your photo with a character always involves a Fastpass or some extremely long line. In Disneyland, I just ran into Minnie and Mickey right at the front of the park, and I saw someone else just spontaneously run up to Cinderella and take a selfie.


Hanging out with the ultimate power couple in Disneyland

10. Celebrity Sightings: I can’t finish off this list without mentioning that Disneyland has far more celebrity sightings than Disney World. Melanie ran into Seth Green once, and we ran into Kathryn Hahn in May. Also, I think Britney Spears was there this weekend recreating her Oops I Did It Again album cover with her sons. 

To sum all this up, you really just have to visit both places. You can’t expect the experience to be the same, but you just haven’t seen every bit of Disney magic until you’ve been coast to coast. What do you think is the biggest different between the two? Send us a tweet @runsintutus!



  1. Hi Amanda
    Just discovered your site and I’m loving it!
    I’m a die-hard WDW girl and just traveled to DL for the 1st time for the Tink half too. I thought you’re analysis is spot on. Especially Its a Small World (my family thought I was crazy because I loved it so much) and the amazing shows at DL. I actually prefer the Sleeping Beauty castle now – I thought it was so sweet & fairytale-perfect, plus the walk-through was just so cool we did it 3 times over the course of the trip!
    Can’t wait to explore your blog further!

  2. runsintutus says:

    Thanks Stacey!! We called the Sleeping Beauty castle her “summer house” since it’s a little smaller 🙂

  3. I have to say I’m partial to Disney World, but Disneyland will always hold a special place in my heart, because I had the chance to visit it first. And because it was a work trip, where my host was the head of PR for Disney, I had a much more magical experience than the general guest. In fact, I even got to visit Walt’s apartment, which is located above the firehouse on Main Street! Next time your there, check it out, you can see the lamp in the window, which he used to light when he was staying there. Now they keep it on all the time as a tribute!