The best of Disneyland is really a question of the best of entertainment, rides, food and fun in the realm of amusement parks. Nevertheless, it’s younger sister park, Walt Disney World, seems to always give it a run for its money.
Comparing these two Resorts is difficult. For one, where you were born influences your opinion. Two, your preference in style of attraction is an influence. Three, your tolerance for different climates is a factor.
Overall, though, the impression either park leaves on you will be one that lasts. The impression of the magic and the memories will stay there for life.
As such, Disneyland is my preferred park. I’m a SoCal native who grew up going to the Anaheim resort at least once a year, and the minute I was old enough and could afford an Annual Pass, I bought one. I’ve been to the Orlando Resort, and I found that there were exciting new experiences that made it worth the trip. However, my heart still yearns for Disneyland, the one true classic in the mix of all things Disney.
While personal opinion is nice, having a rationale is better. In this article, I aim to provide ample reasons as to why I find Disneyland superior to Disney World.
No matter which park you prefer, I hope these awesome ways Disneyland is great inspire you to indulge in a visit!
Disneyland is the Original Park
On July 17, 1955, the gates of Disneyland Park in Anaheim, California opened to the public. It was then that Walt Disney dedicated his life work to all the visitors there on opening day and preserved it for many future generations to come: “Disneyland is your land. … Disneyland is dedicated to the ideals, the dreams and the hard facts that have created America…with the hope that it will be a source of joy and inspiration to all the world.”
Since that day, it has served millions of people of all ages from every corner of the globe!
According to History by A&E, the original park is 160 acres. Despite the size, the park has continued to serve millions of Guests. Currently, the park hosts more than 14 million Guests annually.
Walt Disney World Resort opened its gates to the public in October 1971. It was always intended to be the bigger resort as Walt started buying thousands of acres of land as early as 1964. While it was known that Disneyland had changed the game for theme parks forever, Walt wanted World to be more than a theme park.
In 1965, he did announce that the new theme park would be “bigger and better than Disneyland.” However, what is often overlooked is that the “better” component was actually about the on-site planned community. EPCOT (now written as Epcot for that portion of the park) was a design from Walt that was meant to be an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow — “a city of tomorrow” for people to live harmoniously and build their best lives.
Unfortunately, Walt’s design never came to fruition. After his death in 1966, the company took liberties to turn the entire parkland bought by Walt into several theme parks that could be connected by roads, trains and even boats.
It is this little tidbit that really bothers many of us die-hard Disnerds: World represents what could have been from Walt’s imagination and innovation. Instead, we have an over-sized replica of the original theme park (Magic Kingdom) and several new parks that have opened to take up the remaining space that EPCOT should have fulfilled.
Basically, Disneyland surpasses Disney World just on the sheer premise upon which it was built. Walt wanted to have a place not only for his children and future grandchildren but for all children and their families. He was inspired by imagination. He gave the world a single, keystone place where imagination would always thrive.
Better Weather in Anaheim
In general, California is known for being particularly sunny with blue skies. Southern California tends to have low humidity, even during the summer, and few rainy days throughout the year.
Florida, on the other hand, is notoriously muggy and humid. While many people do flock to the peninsula to enjoy warm beaches, it is a different kind of heat. In Orlando, particularly, there is a lot of (former) swampland, and so the weather is often reflective of that environment.
In both cases, there are “better” seasons and “worse” seasons.
The winters in both regions are relatively mild, especially when compared with the rest of the nation. While there may be rain or particularly “cold” days (low 50’s), the average temperatures sit in the 70s for both Anaheim and Orlando.
The summer season, however, is arguably better in Anaheim. Again, the mugginess of Orlando makes getting around the parks that much harder. Anaheim, while still warm, tends to experience dry heats that are more bearable. Factor in that you will walk less within the Anaheim Resort, and you guarantee yourself an easier day in the summer sun.
Disneyland Rides are Better
While Disney World is significantly larger and houses more attractions (about 60 attractions currently available in DLR versus about 70 attractions in DWR), the original is hard to beat. Even the Orlando Sentinel, a newspaper that often spouts praise for Disney World, identified in 2015 that the number of attractions and separate parks does not make the East Coast rendition better.
World has more separated parks than Land. It has one more roller coaster, two full water parks, a dozen more live stage shows, an extra parade or dance party and… well, that’s all that is has “more” of, actually.
Disneyland still has more “unique” attractions in the two parks overall. The biggest perk of going to World is that you can walk into Pandora of Avatar, and the only reason they built it there is Orlando has a lot more space for Disney to buy up and use. In fact, considering the physical sizes of the two parks, it seems you get more bang for your buck with the original park! Check out their comparison.
Delving a bit deeper into rides, consider some of the attractions and rides the two parks share:
- Autopia/Tomorrowland Speedway
- Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters
- Haunted Mansion
- “it’s a small world”
- Pirates of the Caribbean
- Space Mountain
- Soarin’ Around the World
Of these, the original designs emerged at Disneyland.
Autopia is a classic that was remade as the Tomorrowland Speedway. “it’s a small world” was originally designed for the 1964 World Fair and brought back to Disneyland, and the version at Disney World is basically a knock-off from that. Pirates of the Caribbean was literally designed for Disneyland to replace an earlier ride, and the space it utilizes is incredibly unique to the park as it drops down under New Orleans Square (which used to be a separate water attraction above ground per original maps of the park).
The technology that was used to create these fan favorites was truly ground-breaking the first time it was done. What has been remade at Disney World is really just a marketing ploy to ensure guests to either park have “similar” experiences. Ultimately, though, how do you beat the original?
For more comparisons of rides between the two worlds, check out this piece from Touring Plans.
Back to a bit of the originality argument, looking at the original Disneyland rides offers insight into what the park intended to do in 1955. Walt brought the silver screen and the stories his company told to life. It epitomized magic in a less-than-magical world.
To date, here are the standing 1955 Original Rides:
- Case Jr. Circus Train
- Disneyland Railroad
- Dumbo the Flying Elephant
- Jungle Cruise
- King Arthur Carrousel
- Mad Tea Party
- Main Street Cinema
- Main Street Vehicles
- Mark Twain Riverboat
- Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride
- Peter Pan’s Flight
- Snow White’s Scary Adventures
- Storybook Land Canal Boats
While these rides have been renovated and updated for various safety standards over the years, they have all stayed true to their original tracks and storylines. Add to that list several more “classic” rides that emerged pre-Disney World, and you get:
- Astro Orbiter
- Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
- Country Bear Jamboree (unfortunately discontinued at DLR)
- Haunted Mansion
- “it’s a small world”
- Matterhorn Bobsleds
- Pirates of the Caribbean
- Space Mountain
- Splash Mountain
- Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room
That is a good chunk of attractions in Disneyland that are truly classic to the park!
When compared to Disney World, the list of additional classic rides is actually quite short. Plus, it doesn’t include all of the 1955 Original Rides. Moreover, several of the attractions, like The American Adventure and The Hall of Presidents mimic attractions already hosted in DLR. The American Adventure is a take on stage performances hosted at The Golden Horseshoe in Frontierland. The Hall of Presidents expounded on Walt’s original (and favorite) Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln on Main Street.
As such, the number of original and classic rides at Disneyland is greater per capita than those at Disney World. For many, this makes it better!
Everything in Disneyland is Easier to Access
When you consider that Walt wanted to build a city in Orlando, Florida, it’s not really a surprise to learn that Walt Disney World Resort is an astounding 43 square miles. That is 43 square miles of parks, attractions, roadways, canals and more. It’s also the amount of walking or driving you’ll do on a visit to the resort, making a multi-day excursion necessary to see it all!
Disneyland, on the other hand, is only .25 square miles. Given that it started with a mere 160 acres of land, and it’s proximity to the Los Angeles metropolis, that’s not too surprising. Plus, the park was intended to be just that — a theme park.
So, the biggest debate here is simply, “does bigger mean better?”
For me, that answer is a hard no.
As already discussed, the number of attractions between the parks is not really enough to make World a significant gain in terms of getting bang for your buck. Boil it down to the number of attractions in the Magic Kingdom alone compared to Disneyland Park alone, and it’s easy to see why the original is better.
More than that, though, is the sheer amount of transportation that is needed to see and do everything!
I’ll agree that World is meant to be part of a longer vacation. In fact, in order to touch on each of the parks within it, you would have to stay for a few days. This, however, makes it a generally more costly experience for families as well as a longer day for Guests.
At Disneyland, you can easily end up walking five miles in a day. Especially if you bounce between the parks, walk into the park (don’t take the tram or a shuttle), never get on the Monorail when going back to one of the hotels or into the Downtown District, etc. I’ve done it several times, and it does really hurt your feet in the end.
Nonetheless, the times I’ve been to World, along with the stories I’ve heard from friends and read online, seem a lot worse. Because everything is so spread out, Guests who want to Park Hop and get the most for their investment often spend about a quarter of their trip walking or riding some form of transportation to and from the separate parks. Add this to the time your spending in queues, and you’ve dedicated nearly half of your day to being away from attractions!
Now, we can all agree that at either Resort, Guests are bound to wait in line. Sometimes that takes up more of the day than people want. However, Disneyland has enough attractions — meaning rides, shows, character meet and greets, entertainment centers and shopping — within actual walking distance to make the day feel busier and therefore more engaging.
The sheer proximity between elements of Disneyland allows Guests to interact more directly with the park. There is more to do in less space, filling up your time a lot more. Disney World simply cannot offer that as a whole. The only comparable experience, which is arguably not a full experience, is to do one or two days at the “big” parks like Magic Kingdom and Epcot.
Downtown Disney is a Perk
In a similar strain of “easy access,” it’s important to talk about how great the Downtown Disney District is in Anaheim.
Downtown Disney is basically a high-end strip mall that encompasses restaurants, shopping and hotels. These entities are all vetted by the Disney Corp. to ensure Guests to the Resort have a great experience no matter where they play, shop and eat.
Let’s start with the array of restaurants.
Without getting into the nitty-gritty details, there are half a dozen restaurants along a single strip in Downtown. Choose from Italian (Naples Ristorante), Latin (Tortilla Joe’s), American (Black Tap Craft Burgers & Shakes and Ballast Point Brewing Co.) or Cajun (Jazz Kitchen) for amazing flavors, delightful adult beverages, sweet treats, great ambiance, fun entertainment — really, all of them provide a great opportunity for a good time! Plus, if you are looking for quick bites, you have big-name options like Jamba Juice and Starbucks, making any meal easy to grab on the go as you hustle between parks and hotels.
Talking about hotels, Downtown Disney is home to the entrance to the original Disneyland Hotel as well as the acclaimed Grand Californian Hotel & Spa. Even if you aren’t staying at these locations, you can visit them!
Note that pools and other amenities are for guests only; nonetheless, just going in to learn about the architecture and history of these lodges is really quite impressive. Stop in at Disneyland Hotel for a history lesson on the emergence of the Resort. Wander through the lobby of the Grand Californian for impressive notes on California and its arts and crafts movement.
Beyond simply visiting the hotels, you can dine in one of their many accessible restaurants. Because they are connected to Downtown, getting to famed Steakhouse 55 or Napa Rose is a cinch! Just be sure to book your reservations ahead of time.
If you are a guest of the hotels, you’re not only that much closer to the park (avoiding the chaos of parking in Mikey & Friends Parking Lot or Toy Story Lot), but you also get more perks! From an extra Magic Hour at one park the morning of your stay to preferred reservation access at several dining establishments both in the park and in Downtown, living in the magic truly comes to life when you opt for a fully Disney vacation.
Lastly, the shopping in Downton Disney makes everyone from out-of-town visitors to SoCal locals happy. Big brands like Sephora, Pandora and Sanuk have large shops open to the public. Disney-only brands, including World of Disney and The Dress Shop, also debut in Downtown. Plus, brands that typically do not have their own stores, like Volcom, have dedicated storefronts!
With the ease of access to this region as well as its accessibility to the parks (did I mention the Monorail picks you up and takes you into Tomorrowland with a valid park ticket?), you really could not ask for a more inclusive Disney experience. You don’t just visit the parks; you visit the Resort on every journey.
Walt’s Apartment (and His Dream Realized)
Perhaps it’s simply the nostalgia of it all, but Disneyland is truly Walt’s dream come to life. He and his family literally lived in the park on occasion, and their apartment still happily overlooks the start of Main Street, U.S.A. and all of the Guests and Cast Members who gather in Disneyland each day.
Walt’s apartment is located above the Disneyland Fire Station at the top of Main Street. You’ll know you have found it when you find a Victorian-era lamp lit above the town. This light is meant to signify to all Cast Members and Guests Walt’s own presence as he still watches over his Happiest Place on Earth.
If that moment alone doesn’t bring a tear to your eye, what will?!
The truth of the matter is that Disneyland, in most ways, is the ideal amusement park Walt dreamt up and created. Yes, there have been many changes over the decades. And, yes, some of those changes may not be as perfect as what Walt may have envisioned.
Nonetheless, the original Anaheim Resort has kept the intention, basic foundation and design of Disneyland the same as what Walt and his first Imagineers laid out pre-1955.
Think about where the lands are located. New additions have not infringed on original planning; instead, additional space was bought to increase the size of the Resort without detracting from the initial layout.
Think about the number of rides that have remained, particularly in Fantasyland, which is rumored to have been Walt’s favorite place in the park. Consider in that land the significance of King Arthur’s Carrousel in the heart of Fantasyland just beyond Sleeping Castle’s gates — Walt had it built with his daughter’s favorite carrousel from (Los Angeles-local) Griffith Park in mind.
In every attraction and path throughout Disneyland, homage is paid to Walt Disney. While Disney World has had the same intention, it simply never had the same opportunity.
Sadly, Walt Disney passed in 1966, more than five years before Magic Kingdom had a chance to open its gates to the public. Because of this, he did not have final input on ideas nor implementation for attractions. Although many of his ideas were brought to life in the Florida park, they were those borrowed from his original developments in California.
Moreover, Magic Kingdom grew into a larger theme park without realizing Walt’s true fantasy for the land. Again, Epcot was meant to be a community. Yes, Walt did want to build a bigger and better amusement park, but he also wanted to set an example for the children of tomorrow with a new type of community. This dream, in particular, was not realized, and it is a big nostalgic letdown in the context of “what could have been.”
Even more heartbreaking than Walt not giving his seal of approval on Disney World is the fact that he never stepped foot in the park. Some may argue that this doesn’t matter because his dream became a reality beyond him; however, there is something to be said about his permanent presence in Disneyland that makes it just a little more magical.
Where you walk in Disneyland, Walt walked. Down Main Street. Through the shops. Into the Castle. Onto an original attraction. All of these places were touched by Walt in some way beyond his imagination. That power to make the imagined come to life is what makes Disneyland so special.
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