Disney World vs. Disneyland: How to Decide

We began dreaming of a Disney family vacation with our children as soon as they were born;  long before they could walk, talk or enjoy all that the park gates hold.   

In 2016 our family moved from the midwest to the west coast and suddenly California is our backyard.  We didn’t know anyone or our surroundings so we spent the first 6 months exploring, both the local area and the state.  One of our first stops was Disneyland. The kids were a bit younger than we had planned for their first Disney experience but it was an easy trip so we ventured south to Anaheim.   We loved it! For the first day we went to California Adventure Park. It is such an amazing park divided into locations such as Cars Land, Pixar Pier and more. So many characters and experiences.   Day two we went to Disneyland Park. It is the classic park with Main Street, Sleeping Beauty’s castle and classic rides such as It’s a Small World, Peter Pan’s Flight and Soaring. The nighttime parade, Fantasmic, was wonderful to see from the viewing spot we found in Fantasyland.

Many years before we moved to California we knew we would have an 2019 event in Orlando that would provide us the opportunity of taking our kids to Disney World.  Our travel dates were going to fall over the week of spring break for half of the country and now I worked in the travel business so I had a plan! I knew when to make reservations: hotel reservations, fast pass reservations and dining reservations.  We were prepared. I would recommend staying at a Disney property in Orlando to have easier access to the parks. We filled our days with rides, a safari, animals, shows and highlights such as a character breakfast in Cinderella’s castle, front row at the Tree of Life and the kids transformation into a princess and knight.  A great time was had by all!

Which to choose? 

Disneyland

The original: Opened in 1955

Timeframe: Disneyland can be done in a long weekend with just two parks: Disneyland Park and California Adventure.  You can find both park entrances across from each other right next to Downtown Disney. Downtown Disney has a handful of restaurants, a movie theater, the World of Disney Store, Lego Store and more.  

Best way to get there:  Fly into John Wayne Airport (airport code SNA) and arrange transportation to your hotel.  

Other parks:  Universal Studios Hollywood is 35 mile drive north west to Hollywood.  

Where to stay: Disneyland has 3 on property resorts all within walking distance + good neighbor hotels in the area.  

How to get to the parks:  Both parks and downtown disney are within walking distance of Disney properties and many good neighbor hotels. 

Disney World 

Bigger: Opened in 1971 on 25,000 acres

Timeframe:  Five to eight days.  Disney has 4 parks: Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and Epcot plus Disney Springs and water parks spread over an area comparable in size to San Francisco.  

Best way to get there: Fly into Orlando International Airport (airport code MCO) and take the complimentary Magic Express transportation to your disney resort (Disney resorts only). 

Other parks: Universal Studios Orlando and Islands of Adventure is a short 7.5 miles away and includes two parks.  

Where to stay: With over 20 resorts Disney World has many options rated value, moderate and deluxe.    

How to get to the parks: Disney World has a monorail, skyliner (gondola) coming late 2019, boats and buses between resort hotels.  It just depends on where you decide to stay as to which method of transportation you will take to the different parks. 

With new or updated experiences such as Guardians of the Galaxy, Pandora, Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge & Jurassic World Disney is always updating the experience.  From castles, rides, characters, boutiques, dining and fun no matter which you pick it will be a magical vacation!  

Beyond the parks: Don’t forget about these adventures with Disney magic: The Disney Cruise Line, Disney’s Aulani Resort in Hawaii and Adventures by Disney with several international destinations.

~ Lauren Johnson

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