If you ask a west coaster, they will always say Disneyland is better. If you ask an east coaster, they will always say Disney World is better. Here is the thing: that is comparing apples and oranges because they are two very different experiences!
Personally, I would go to Disney World in a heartbeat over Disneyland, setting all factors aside. I grew up going to Disneyland and have visited WDW a handful of times, but for me it is so much more fun to visit World! Don’t get me wrong, I love love love Disneyland as well. Disneyland is so iconically classic and that is something that WDW will never have.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of the population cannot go on a vacation after setting all factors aside. Let’s look at these factors now:
Let’s address the elephant in the room, because we all are aware cost is probably the biggest determining factor when visiting a Disney park. Between flights, hotels, food, transportation, merchandise, tickets, the $$$ can get sky high. But there are ways to definitely save money.
Disneyland | I have found that flights from where I live are cheaper to LAX than to MCO and I usually will snag a flight round trip for $150. Hotel’s tend to have cheaper options because the appeal of staying on property is not nearly as high as WDW. It is easier to bring food into the parks and eat around the resort rather than in (but who would want to miss out on Disney food?!) And finally, park tickets are cheaper.
Disney World | Take what I said above, and add a cost to each of those. Flights are typically $300-$500 round trip to begin with. I always will stay on Disney property if finances allow it because of the benefits, but that means I am usually going to spend more on a hotel as well as be there longer. And I don’t bring in food as often as I do in Disneyland, because it is easier to simply eat at the parks. Add in park tickets, and the price jumps quite a bit from a Disneyland vacation.
Winner | Here is the catch, I could spend equal amounts of money on a Disney trip at either park, but the reality is Disneyland will always be a cheaper option for me. I can get away with less days at the park, which means less food costs, less hotel nights, and less park tickets. To really experience Disney World, I want to go for at least 4 days minimum to the parks. Disneyland I can get away with 2-3 and see everything I want, even with 10/10 crowd levels.
Disneyland | I have a confession to make: I have never stayed on property at Disneyland. I simply have not been able to afford it or could not justify the cost to myself. As long as I can walk to the park, the other benefits they offer do not appeal to me enough. That means I generally stay right around property either at the Marriott’s or another cheap hotel option (Hotel Menage, Castle Inn & Suites). As far as hotel options go, Disneyland has three options ranging in luxury and price. In the future, once I have stayed at all of them, I can do a comparison but there is a current gap in my Disney knowledge.
Disney World | For me, a huge part of any Disney World vacation is staying at a Walt Disney World Resort. There is something incredibly special about being transported onto property and never leaving until it is time to go home. The resorts they have are incredibly detailed and add to the experience as a whole. And not to mention the benefits of staying on property! The magical express (free airport transportation), Magic Bands and their use as a hotel guest, extra magic hours, first dibs on reservations for food and fastpasses, and the ease of transportation within the resort to name a few are so worth it to me. The other great appeal is the three tiered option of hotels in regards to pricing. There really is something for anyone’s Disney budget. Value, moderate, and deluxe categories all have wonderful options within them. I have stayed at all three and would be happy to stay at any of them again to make sure I stayed on property.
Winner | Disney World will always win here for me. If I picked a Disney vacation based only on the hotel, I would always go with Disney World.
Disneyland | Disneyland has two parks and Downtown Disney. There is the Disneyland Park (Magic Kingdom) and Disney’s California Adventure Park, literally a 2 minute walk from each other. My feet are a lot more happy when I visit Disneyland, there is a lot less walking involved. There are great parades, nighttime entertainment, and rides to experience between the two parks. Characters typically walk around and there is much more “streetmosphere” than other parks. There is also the classic feel you get when you visit Disneyland.
Disney World | Disney World is massive, I’m not even exaggerating. The entire property is larger than the city of San Francisco. A lot of people do not understand that when they visit, thinking they can walk from park to park. This is quite untrue and almost impossible to do (except EPCOT to DHS). Within property, you have four theme parks, two water parks, two golf courses, two mini golf courses, and Disney Springs. There is no denying that there is a lot more to do at Disney World within the parks. It also includes three unique parks which are no where else in the world.
Winner | I will go with Disney World again on this one. The many unique rides, shows, and parades that are in Disney World make the park a better experience for me. You will be so exhausted by the end of the day and not want to ever walk again, but yet you wake up the next day and do it all over again!
Disneyland | Disney food is so important in my life, not exaggerating at all. I crave various Disney foods all the time. When I visit Disneyland, I typically try to focus on eating at quick-service locations because they are all so unique and delicious. There are also great sit-down options, but in Disneyland I like to spend my time on rides and experiencing the park, so quick-service food allows a quick bite to eat and then I can move onto the next exciting thing.
Disney World | Disney World sit down restaurants are most definitely better than quick-service options in Disney World. And more importantly, when you are walking all day in humidity and hot temperatures, sitting down and enjoying a meal is a nice relaxing break and a way to revitalize. There are amazingly unique restaurants here such as Be Our Guest, Cinderella’s Royal Table, and 50’s Prime Time Cafe. Quick service food is good, but very repetitive among restaurants.
Winner | This is a tie for me actually. If we are talking the best quick-service option, I will always say Disneyland. If we are talking the best sit-down options, Disney World wins, absolutely. But in reality, you are getting great food no matter what park you visit.
Disneyland | Unique experiences at a park are not always factored in, but I think it is worth mentioning. Disneyland has tours, parties, and unique rides that are not available at any other park (Cars Land, I’m talking to you). These unique experiences are great add-ons to any Disney trip, but my favorite add on is Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. Another fun event Disneyland celebrates is Disney Viva Navidad, which no other park has.
Disney World | Similar to Disneyland, World has many tours, parties and unique rides as well. With the addition of Pandora and Festival of the Arts Event in EPCOT this year, it has become even more diverse in its unique experiences. At any given time, there is something special going on at the Disney World resort. Between Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Parties, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Parties, Food and Wine Festival, and so many more, unique experiences are never far away. Where else can you scuba dive with Mickey?
Winner | Disney World takes this one by storm in my humble opinion, but I know many people will not agree with me for one important reason: Disneyland as a whole is unique because it is the only park Walt himself set foot in. I wholeheartedly agree with that which is why I continually go back to Disneyland.
So where should you visit then? The question you need to ask yourself is “what do you want to experience?” because that answer is different for every single person. I could tell you Disney World is better but Kat would say Disneyland is better. You need to really decide what you are hoping to get from your experience and then start planning from there. No matter what you decide, your trip will be as magical as you want it to be. Every single trip I take is nothing short of wonderful and magical. Being in a Disney park, surrounded by magic and imagination is an experience unique to every single person. Find what makes your heart happy and focus on that as you visit a Disney park.