A Guide to Disneyland for the Walt Disney World Traveler
A Brief Overview of Disneyland Resort for the Walt Disney World Traveler
Are you a Walt Disney World traveler wondering if Disneyland Resort in California is worth the trip? Is Disneyland Resort just a smaller version of Walt Disney World Resort? Is there anything different there?
If you have been wondering about Disneyland versus Walt Disney World, this post is for you.
While Disneyland is similar to Walt Disney World it is not a carbon copy. In fact, it’s just the opposite. Disneyland is the authentic original Disney Park (and theme park of any kind for that matter), so it is actually the trendsetter. I would highly recommend a Disneyland Resort vacation for anyone who is pondering the trip.
How similar is Disneyland to Walt Disney World?
Walt Disney World covers a massive amount of space (approximately 43 square miles), which was by design after Walt Disney quickly realized that limited space in Anaheim meant limited ability to bring his dreams to life, among other reasons. But with massive size comes a few trade-offs in terms of distance between parks, resorts, attractions, dining and so on. Most Disney World fans love it for this very reason — there is so much to see and do that it seems we will never be done exploring this magical world. However, I think most of us would also have to admit that we have had more than a few frustrations on occasion waiting for buses that never arrive, or trying to figure out a bus route back to wherever we came from. Or how to get from where we are, to where we want to go next (not always easy). Sometimes you can’t even get on a bus because it is so overcrowded. It’s very true that Walt Disney World is bigger than many cities, so transportation around Walt Disney World can be a pain at times (even though they have an impressive transit network).
Disneyland Resort, on the other hand, is small by comparison. But it doesn’t feel small–in fact it feels just right in many ways. If you stay at one of the three Disney onsite resort hotels (the Grand Californian is highly recommended for a luxury experience), you can basically make your way around without ever having to step onboard any transportation at all.
Disneyland Resort is comprised of six main elements: three Disney hotels (Disneyland Hotel, Disney’s Paradise Pier hotel and Disney’s Grand Californian Resort and Spa), a Downtown Disney District, Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park. All of this is in close proximity; in fact the entrances to each park are mere steps from each other across a pedestrian boulevard. Hotel guests travel through the Downtown Disney District to get to the park entrance area (there are also a large number of “Friendly Neighbor” hotels just outside the official Disney property if you prefer to stay offsite). So all of this feels very comfortable because everything is close-at-hand and easy to navigate. There are no transportation problems and the potential for family members hitting the Disney wall (having meltdowns) is much lower as a result, when compared to Walt Disney World.
The monorail loop at Disneyland is more of a fun experience versus being a practical or necessary mode of transportation. Much different than the monorail system at Walt Disney World. If the monorail goes down at Walt Disney World, travel chaos ensues. If the monorail goes down at Disneyland, hardly anyone would even notice.
As mentioned above, Disneyland Resort has two parks: Disneyland Park (the original Disney park) and Disney California Adventure.
Disneyland Park is the model upon which the Magic Kingdom was created in Walt Disney World; however, Disneyland Park is different enough from the Florida Magic Kingdom that it is a lot of fun to explore even for the seasoned veteran of Walt Disney World Resort. Consider this: if you have never been to Disneyland and you think that you would be able to walk into this park and know your way around (based on the Magic Kingdom layout), you would be wrong. Aside from Main Street U.S.A. (and even that has its differences), the park layout is not identical and there are a few unique areas within the park to explore and enjoy.
Disneyland Park is truly amazing to me. It is the first park I ever visited, back when Walt was still alive and before Walt Disney World ever opened.
There is so much original history here and there are so many hidden gems in terms of long lost favorites that it has a unique nostalgic feel all its own. If you are a long-time visitor to Walt Disney World, you will be happy to relive childhood memories and introduce old favorites to your family. These include things like Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, a Submarine Voyage (20,000 Leagues Under the Seas reborn as Finding Nemo), Toon Town with Mickey’s house and Minnie’s house, and many other great attractions now gone from Walt Disney World Resort. They are all here in their glory to enjoy and relive once again.
One of my personal favorites is the Magic Shop on Main Street U.S.A. Yes, you will still find it here in Disneyland. Growing up visiting the Magic Kingdom in Florida, I looked forward to that Magic Shop more than anything else. I was sad when it disappeared from Main Street U.S.A. at Walt Disney World many years ago, but I know that I can still relive those memories at Disneyland Park in Anaheim.
The same, but different…
There are other great things here as well. In fact, even the attractions that are the same are still a little different. It’s a Small World in Disneyland Park is the original attraction built for the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. It boards outdoors and you will have a very different experience here (of course the song will still be stuck in your head). Space Mountain here is different as well. Personally I prefer the Magic Kingdom version because it is a bit more “thrilling,” but it is fun to compare the differences. The Disneyland version has a lower height requirement, you sit side-by-side in the cars and there are no sudden hills and valleys. Pirates of the Caribbean, on the hand, is a superior experience to the Disney World version. It is much longer, has a few more thrills, and there is also a restaurant situated right inside the attraction. Blue Bayou Restaurant overlooks the boarding area of Pirates of the Caribbean and is well worth a meal for the ambiance alone (it can be a tough reservation to get, so book ahead).
The entire New Orleans Square area (where Pirates of the Caribbean and the Haunted Mansion are located) is one of the best Imagineered locations in any Disney Park. You really feel like you are in an authentic other world. There is nothing like it at the Magic Kingdom. From the outside, The Haunted Mansion is an entirely different mansion than what you see in Florida, yet it is more of a familiar friend on the inside. Sleeping Beauty Castle anchors this park and although it smaller than Cinderella Castle and you cannot dine inside this castle, you can take a pretty nice walk through it and see the story of Sleeping Beauty retold in a very unique manner.
For true Disney fans, the history of the park is worth the trip alone. Attractions like the Matterhorn Bobsleds are unique and while the coaster is a little dated it still represents the rich history of this park and is worth a ride.
In the window above the Firehall garage on Main Street you will see a light burning to represent the memory of the man who started it all. This room was the apartment that Walt Disney built for himself inside the park and it is said that parts of the apartment have been left untouched since his death. Disney history buffs will get a warm feeling (and may just shed a tear) when they see this in person.
A Different Atmosphere
One final note about this park that you may notice is that the atmosphere and general mood of the guests seem to be much more laid back than what you typically find at Walt Disney World in Florida. You may notice Disney characters often without obvious Cast Member handlers nearby (we saw Cinderella managing her own line-up during a recent visit) and one of the “shocking” experiences for us was how the crowd sat down on the pavement in the hub to watch the fireworks over Sleeping Beauty Castle at night. The first time I saw everyone sitting I thought to myself: there’s no way they are all going to be sitting nicely once the show starts. Then, I was quite surprised to see that they did, in fact, remain seated for the entire show. I said to my wife “this would never happen in the Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom!” Can you imagine?
Speaking of the fireworks show, Tinkerbell’s flight is truly something to see at Disneyland. She does a lot more than the straight line that she flies in the Magic Kingdom in Florida (must be that refreshing West Coast air). In addition, Dumbo joins the spectacle for a flight of his own. A very good family experience and unique to what you may be used to seeing.
Disney California Adventure
Across the way at Disney California Adventure Park you will find an extremely well designed Disney Park. In fact, in my opinion this is my favorite overall Disney Park in North America, if I had to pick just one. This park has grown and changed over the years (like all Disney Parks), but the current version is truly inspiring.
As a Walt Disney World visitor here, your reaction may very well be to notice the Disney Imagineers have taken the best of almost everything and put it into one park. That would be a fair assessment. Plus there are many unique and new things here that you won’t find anywhere else and that are truly worth the trip west all on their own.
Let’s start with what is similar. In Disney California Adventure you will find the original Soarin’ (the attraction, not the film–the Soarin’ Over California attraction opened here several years before Soarin’ was later added to Epcot). You will also find recently revamped Hollywood Tower of Terror, which is now Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout. I feel that the change was a good decision because I used to give the nod to TOT in Florida anyway, and I prefer less duplication among all the parks. Also in Disney California Adventure are Disney Junior Live on Stage, It’s Tough To Be A Bug, Ariel’s Undersea Adventure, and Toy Story Mania! In Grizzly River Run we have a tweak on Kali River Rapids from Disney’s Animal Kingdom park (but be prepared to get more wet on this version).
The differences and unique parts of this park is where it really shines for Walt Disney World travelers making their first visit here. The much-touted Cars Land really is very well done. Even if you are not a huge fan of the Cars movies, this area is so well done that you will want to explore all of it. Radiator Springs Racers is the big draw and you must get a FastPass if you can. This attraction is the West Coast version of TestTrack, but in my opinion it is far superior in every way. A winner. Also in Cars Land is Tow Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree. It is much more fun than it looks and you and your children will love it. Another great thing is how Lightning McQueen and Tow Mater drive around the streets of Cars Land to greet folks. That’s right, the full size versions of these Disney stars motoring along the roadways (slowly, of course) to say hello and stop for photos.
Pixar Pier (formerly Paradise Pier) is another unique area and often the poster child for the park. This is my personal favourite area within Disney California Adventure. Pixar Pier is a Disney version of an old-style seaside theme park, complete with carnival games and that exhibition-style feeling. If you are a fan of the Rock’n’Roller Coaster, get ready for the new Incredicoaster. Picture an outdoor version with all of the best qualities of the Hollywood Studios classic. This one is too close to call — I love both of these coasters. Mickey’s Fun Wheel may look like a regular carnival ferris wheel, but there are some great thrills built into this one (there are special bags available inside each car for a reason–choose a non-swinging car if you are at all prone to motion sickness). Ride the Fun Wheel after dark if you can for the best experience. And tucked in the corner is another hidden gem in Goofy’s Sky School. This is no Barnstormer! If you like the Wild Mouse type of ride, you will love Goofy’s Sky School, which actually has a higher height requirement than Space Mountain at Disneyland Park across the way. Follow the screams and ride it after dark for a few extra thrills.
Disneyland is worth the trip for any Disney World traveler
There is so much more to see and do at Disneyland Resort, that I would have to write a guidebook to cover it all (and there are plenty of those already). The point is that Disneyland Resort is a unique and exciting Disney Parks experience — particularly for those who have only visited Walt Disney World Resort in Florida. If you have been debating whether or not it is worth visiting, the answer is a resounding yes. Due to its more compact nature, you may not need to spend a full week here.
If you’re planning a California vacation to Disneyland, consider extended your stay with a California beach vacation. I have two related posts with sample itineraries to California beach resort:
- a Disneyland and Coronado California vacation and
- a Disneyland and Huntington Beach California vacation.
Planning a Disneyland Vacation?
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Mike Belobradic: The Finer Side of Disney Travel
Luxury Travel Blogger – Deluxe Disney Travel Specialist