Disclaimer: These posts are coming from the perspective of someone who has visited Walt Disney World Resort (WDW) many times throughout her life and recently had the pleasure of experiencing Disneyland Resort (DLR) as an adult. Although I do have many fond memories of my childhood at WDW, I’ve made many new memories at DLR that I value just as much. I’m not attempting to “pick my favorite child”. I simply want to share some of my own personal observations and opinions. I adore both DLR and WDW. All of the points in these posts are based on my experiences only. There are undoubtedly outliers in every situation, so any time I make a general statement about either resort, please understand that I don’t believe that statement is ALWAYS true.
Here we go!
Since I believe each resort deserves its own post, I’ve split this into two parts. In Part 1, I will discuss the “Top 8 Disneyland Resort Wins” in the battle of the resorts. In Part 2, I will discuss the opposite: “Top 8 Walt Disney World Resort Wins”.
Part 1: Top 8 Disneyland Resort Wins
This is pretty straight-forward. With DLR having two parks and the Downtown Disney area all in close proximity of each other, park-hopping is very easy. At WDW, you have to allow 30 to 45 minutes to park hop if you have your own vehicle or 45 to 60 minutes if you’re relying on WDW transportation. At DLR, we’re talking a 3 minute walk (or less) from the entrance of Disneyland Park to the entrance of Disney California Adventure (DCA). Click here for a 360 panorama from the esplanade; you can see how close the entrances are to each other. Also, the security check is shared between both parks at DLR, so you only have to go through it once and can hop between parks freely without having to get your bag(s) checked again. Also, because of the space restraints at DLR, the attractions are condensed to a much smaller area than WDW. It’s much easier to experience ten headliner attractions between two parks in one day at DLR than it is to experience the same number between two or more parks at WDW.
Although WDW does offer Fastpasses (and Fastpass+) at more attractions than DLR, I generally prefer DLR’s Fastpass system. First, the FP’s are not “connected” between parks, so you can hold a FP in DCA and Disneyland simultaneously. Also there are a few FP attractions that are not connected to the other FP attractions in the same park so you can hold those simultaneously, as well. And although less available FP attractions might feel like you’re more likely to experience longer waits, it should make the standby lines shorter. It seems counterintuitive but when an attraction offers FP, it increases the standby lines which can make it difficult to experience all the headliners without really long wait times.
3. Nighttime Spectaculars
It’s difficult for me to discuss nighttime spectaculars objectively. In general, I don’t tend to enjoy parades and fireworks. I do, however, appreciate large-scale nighttime spectaculars with good production value. The DLR version of Fantasmic is superior to the WDW version. The only aspect of the WDW version that I enjoy more than the DLR version, is the dedicated theater with plenty of seating. It can sometimes be difficult to find a good vantage point to view Fantasmic at DLR, but the location and sets are much more impressive at DLR. After seeing the DLR version of Fantasmic, the WDW version seems like a less expensive imitation. The finale scene at WDW is almost depressing with the small vessel floating by that is supposed to emulate the Mark Twain.
Then there’s World of Color at Disney California Adventure. WDW does not have its own version of this show, so DLR is the clear winner. The closest comparison to WoC at WDW might be Illuminations: Reflections of Earth in Epcot, but they’re really not related. Yes, Illuminations has an incredible sound track and story, but World of Color is much more exciting, in my opinion. The technology used on the Earth Globe in Illuminations is dated and desperately needs an update; it’s difficult to see the Globe and therefore even more difficult to fully understand the story. World of Color is simple in its story but exceptional in its execution. The combination of projected images, music, lights, pyrotechnics, and water is what makes this show so remarkable. It is current (for now) and appeals to all ages.
4. Counter Service Restaurants
Altogether, I have had better experiences with the counter service restaurants at DLR than at WDW. WDW is notorious for homogenizing menus – especially with counter service locations. While this decreases WDW’s operational costs, it makes it a little more difficult for guests to find menu items that are special. At DLR, the counter service restaurants offer a wider variety of menus. And in my opinion, most of the meals they serve seem fresher and less processed. Maybe I’ve just been lucky, but I’ve never had a bad counter service meal at DLR. I’ve had plenty of mediocre (or even bad) counter service meals at WDW.
5. Unique Attractions
DLR has several attractions that are unique to the west coast (Note: I apologize if I have missed any. Some attractions have an east coast relative that provides a similar experience):
Disneyland Park – Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln, Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, Alice in Wonderland, Casey Jr. Circus Train, Matterhorn Bobsleds, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Pinocchio’s Daring Journey, Sleeping Beauty Castle Walkthrough, Snow White’s Scary Adventures, Storybook Land Canal Boats, Sailing Ship Columbia, Indiana Jones Adventure: Temple of the Forbidden Eye, Tarzan’s Treehouse, Davy Crockett’s Explorer Canoes, Big Thunder Ranch, Pirates Lair on Tom Sawyer Island, New Orleans Square (the themed area), Critter Country (the themed area), Mickey’s Toontown (the entire land) including Chip ‘n Dale’s Treehouse, Donald’s Boat, Gadget’s Go Coaster, Goofy’s Playhouse, Mickey’s House, Minnie’s House, and Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin, Mickey’s Soundsational Parade, Remember Dreams Come True, and Magical.
Disney California Adventure – Red Car Trolley, a bug’s land (minus It’s Tough to Be a Bug) including Flik’s Flyers, Francis’ Ladybug Boogie, Heimlich’s Chew Chew Train, and Tuck and Roll’s Drive’Em Buggies, Disney’s Aladdin: A Musical Spectacular, Monsters, Inc. Mike & Sulley to the Rescue, Cars Land (the entire land) including Radiator Springs Racers, Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree, and Luigi’s Flying Tires, Grizzly River Run, Redwood Creek Challenge Trail, Walt Disney Imagineering Blue Sky Cellar, Paradise Pier (minus The Little Mermaid: Ariel’s Undersea Adventure and Toy Story Midway Mania) including California Screamin’, Golden Zephyr, Goofy’s Sky School, Jumpin’ Jellyfish, King Triton’s Carousel of the Sea, Mickey’s Fun Wheel, Silly Symphony Swings, Pixar Play Parade, and World of Color.
6. Attraction Comparisons
Besides the attractions that are unique to the west coast, DLR has several attractions that I believe are the better version of its sister attraction at WDW.
Space Mountain – The Disneyland Park version is much smoother than the Magic Kingdom version. Also, the seats are in a two-by-two configuration, so you can enjoy the ride with a friend.
Disneyland Railroad – the Grand Canyon and Primeval World dioramas do not exist in Magic Kingdom.
“it’s a small world” – the façade and exterior queue are in all their original Mary Blair form. Florida’s weather does not lend itself to many exterior queues, so the beautiful façade is hidden. Also, the Disneyland Park version includes modern-day Disney characters in doll form.
Pirates of the Caribbean – The Disneyland version has more scenes, more drops, and a restaurant inside the attraction.
Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters – You can remove your laser from the holster which is more fun than a stationary laser.
Mad Tea Party – This attraction looks gorgeous in the evening with the colorful lanterns open to the night sky.
Peter Pan’s Flight – The starry room (which doesn’t exist in the WDW version) is very pretty.
Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room – Disneyland’s version has a magical fountain in the center of the room and is Walt’s original iteration of the attraction.
Overall, Southern California has much nicer and more predictable weather than Central Florida. The annual average precipitation for Orlando is about three to four times higher than Anaheim’s annual average. Lower humidity and less rainfall at DLR allows for more exterior queues, exposed attractions, and outdoor seating.
8. Holiday Overlays
Because DLR is visited by many locals, the Walt Disney Company is forced to create worthwhile experiences to keep locals visiting year-round. Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy, Haunted Mansion Holiday, and “it’s a small world” Holiday are attraction overlays that encourage locals (and out-of-town guests) to visit the resort outside of the summer months.
What have I missed? Does Disneyland Resort win in other areas? Do you agree with the Top 8 Disneyland Resort Wins? Please share in the comments section!
Next week I will share Part 2: Top 8 Walt Disney World Resort Wins.
I am not affiliated with the Walt Disney Company. All thoughts and opinions are my own.