For folks who live on either the East or West Coasts, deciding whether to vacation at Disneyland or Walt Disney World isn’t too hard – they generally go to whichever park is closest. But for those of us living in the middle of the country, we really can access either park pretty easily which then presents a dilemma: which Disney Park to visit to express our Disney Side???
I grew up on the East Coast in Connecticut, so my first trip to the land of the Mouse was to Walt Disney World and I loved it. Once I got married, moved to Wisconsin, and started my own family, we started looking at where we might go for vacation and I automatically defaulted to Walt Disney World, since that’s where I had been. My husband, who spent time at Disneyland when he was stationed in CA with the Marines was excited about seeing a new place, so off we went.
We enjoyed Disney World so much that we returned two more times the following years. After our first trip, we scheduled two weeks in Florida for the following trips since we had trouble squeezing everything into the one week during our first visit. This spring, we had the chance to experience Disneyland while attending the Disney Social Media Moms Conference. This really gave me a great perspective on what unique characteristics each park has.
Having been to both parks, I am often asked by those planning their family vacations which I recommend. I always reply “It depends” because it really does depend on what you are looking for in your vacation.
First, I should start off by saying that whichever park you visit, your experience will be stellar. All Disney experiences (and I include the Disney cruises in this statement as well) include top notch customer service, helpful and friendly employees, and all of the small touches that you would never expect but then miss if you go anywhere else. Both parks offer that signature experience of feeling like you have entered a magical world where anything can happen.
Here are five questions I think can help you narrow down which Disney park you would like to visit.
How much time do you have?
Disneyland is considerably smaller and more compact (Disneyland Park, California Adventure, Downtown Disney, and the resort hotels are all in the same area) while Walt Disney World has four separate parks (not counting the two water parks!) and is quite spread out – in fact it is over 47 times larger in square miles than Disneyland. There are more things to do and more travel time between them at Disney World. If you just have a few days, I feel like Disneyland is the perfect size. If you have an extended vacation where you will have time to explore every nuance and corner, then Disney World will provide plenty to keep you busy.
How old are the children you will be bringing?
Both parks offer rides for kids of all ages. I only consider ages when looking at the amount of walking that is involved in visiting all of the rides you will want to make sure you hit. I wore my pedometer on both trips and noticed I hit almost triple the daily steps when we were at Walt Disney World than at Disneyland. Of course, strollers are available at both parks and we actually rented one at Disney World during our first trip, just because it was a lot of walking for our then 3 year old. (They are the best strollers I’ve ever used and would have bought one if they had been selling them – seriously!)
Will you have transportation?
Of course, the ultimate Disney experience includes staying at a Disney resort hotel. If that is the case, you don’t have to worry about a thing – Disney will get you where you want to go in style! But not everyone does stay on property and that is something to consider. Does your lodging provide transportation to and from the park? At Disneyland, once you are in the park, you are all set. You can easily walk to wherever you might want to go – both theme parks and Downtown Disney. If you are visiting Walt Disney World, it might be a little more of a challenge if you want to park-hop or visit Downtown Disney without a vehicle. It can absolutely be done, but it is something to consider, especially if you have little ones in tow.
Is there a specific movie or ride your family really want to see?
Both parks have some of the signature rides we all think of when we think Disney – Space Mountain, It’s A Small World, Dumbo the Flying Elephant, etc. Of course, if you are big Disney fans like we are, it’s fun to note some of the subtle differences between the same rides at both parks. But if your son is the world’s biggest Cars fan, you might want to head to Disneyland where Cars Land provides one of the most incredible movie-themed experiences you will ever have. My son rode the Radiator Springs Racers ride eight times in a row. It really is that cool.
Is humidity a concern for you?
I am not going to pretend to knowledgeable about weather beyond my own basic experiences, but I found the weather at Disneyland much more pleasant than at Disney World mainly because I hate humidity. While neither location can promise perfect weather every day, if you are visiting in the summer (when many families are) keep in mind that Disney World is set in more of a tropical climate where humidity is high and temps can reach upwards of 90 degrees. We visited in November and only had a few hot, humid days. Disneyland has more of a Mediterranean climate where the cool, damp air off of the Pacific can keep temps lower and provide some cloud cover. We visited Disneyland in mid-April and had very dry, comfortable days.
Whether you choose to spend your vacation at Walt Disney World in Florida or Disneyland in California, you really can’t go wrong. The differences I’ve pointed out here are really minor when you look at the big picture of the overall experience. My honest recommendation is visit both parks if you are able – each has its own personality and charm. And be sure to stop back after your visits and tell me which park you prefer and why!