14 Major Differences Between Walt Disney World and Disneyland

Partners Statue in front of the recently rehabbed Sleeping Beauty's Castle (Photo via Eric Bowman)
Lauren Bowman
by Lauren Bowman
Last updated: 11:00 PM ET, Fri June 7, 2019

Walt Disney World and Disneyland

If you've spent your entire life only going to either Walt Disney World or Disneyland, you're in for a treat the first time you visit the other. Obviously there are similarities between both of the parks, but there are also a good amount of differences as well. It's not to say that one is better than the other, but it's nice to have a bit of a heads-up when considering your first visit.

Four vs. Two

The most obvious difference is the sheer size difference between Walt Disney World and Disneyland. Walt Disney World has four different theme parks to choose from-Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Disney's Hollywood Studios and Disney's Animal Kingdom-while Disneyland only has two-Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure Park. There are also two water theme parks at Walt Disney World. There are twenty-five Disney World hotels to chose from, while there are only three official Disneyland Resort Hotels. There is a Downtown Disney nearby each park in Orlando and Anaheim.

Cinderella's Castle vs. Sleeping Beauty's Castle

The centerpiece at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World is Cinderella's Castle. Towering at 189 feet-because if it was one foot taller, it would need a red blinking light to alert airplanes-the castle has twenty-seven towers. In comparison, Sleeping Beauty's Castle at Disneyland sits at a mere seventy-seven feet. Just recently the castle was unveiled after its planned $300,000 renovation. Guests can walk through a walkway at the base of each castle, but at Cinderella's Castle, visitors also have the option to dine at a sit-down restaurant located inside the castle.

Food Options

Although both parks offer the familiar food favorites, like churros, corndogs, Mickey pretzels and the loved popcorn buckets, there are many items that can only be found at one park or the other, including the stuffed cones from Cars Land at Disney's California Adventure or the specialty eggrolls found at a food cart in Adventureland at Magic Kingdom. It's best to scope out all the mouthwatering treats on Instagram, so you don't miss out-or fill up before finding the perfect dish.


At either park, you'll see tons of your favorite Disney characters. The Disney app for each park will help you to locate where your favorite character is. I found there to be more sightings or characters just walking around interacting with guests at Disneyland. Most of the characters at Walt Disney World are normally contained within their own themed pavilion with queues for visitors. At any given point, there are most likely more characters available for a meet and greet at Walt Disney World but that's just due to the size difference in the two parks.

Themed Lands

Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World and Disneyland have many of the same themed areas-Main Street, U.S.A., Adventureland, Frontierland, Fanstasyland and Tomorrowland. They even have many of the same rides-Pirates of the Caribbean, Haunted Mansion, Big Thunder Railroad, Splash Mountain, It's a Small World, Space Mountain and more. But, that doesn't mean that the rides are exactly the same. From a change in the waiting areas to the actual rides being different, it's important to ride everything to see these sometimes subtle differences.

Plus there are tons of different lands offered at each-like Pixar Pier, Cars Land and New Orleans Square in Anaheim and Liberty Square, all the themed areas to Disney's Animal Kingdom and Toy Story Land in Orlando.

Time Commitment

To see everything each resort has to offer, there is a noticeable time difference. The expansive Walt Disney World has 9,000 acres of developed space, while Disneyland only has 510 acres. While both offer Park Hopper passes, only Disneyland can really be seen within a day. It's better to give yourself multiple days to really get the true experience of Walt Disney World.

FastPass+ vs. MaxPass and Paper FastPass

One of the most notable differences in the parks is the use of FastPass+ vs. MaxPass. At Walt Disney World Resort, everything is contained to your My Disney Experience App and magic band. Guests are allowed to make FastPass+ selections up to 60 days prior to arrival if you're staying at a Walt Disney World hotel, and you are given three selections per day.

At Disneyland, guests can either opt to pay extra ($15) for the MaxPass pass that will give you access to Fast Pass selections from the Disneyland app, but you won't be able to start making selections until you are inside the park. Disneyland also offers guests the free option of paper FastPass tickets. Near many rides are kiosks that you just need to scan your park ticket at. A paper FastPass will print out with the time for you to return to the ride, but guests can only receive one ride FastPass at a time.

Magic Bands

Walt Disney World offers guests the convenience of Magic Bands. If you're staying at a Walt Disney World Hotel, you'll be given the option to pick a solid color magic band prior to your visit, or you can order a specialty band from the Disney Store. The band links with your My Disney Experience App, showing all hotel reservations, park tickets, dining reservations and FastPass+ selections. Just tap the band to enter into your hotel room, gain access to the parks, to use your FastPass+, and to keep track of any photos with PhotoPass. What's more, you can even use it to pay for meals and souvenirs throughout the resort. At this time, Disneyland does not use Magic Bands.

Night Shows & Parades

There are parades and night shows at both Walt Disney World and Disneyland. But in true Disney fashion, don't expect them to be the same. And although both castles feature a projection show and fireworks, Disneyland Forever, which airs on Sleeping Beauty's Castle, is not scheduled to return to the park until June 7.

Special Events

Throughout the year, Walt Disney World and Disneyland celebrate the holidays in different ways. Although both get decked out for Halloween and Christmas, the decorations can vary greatly. At Disneyland, the Haunted Mansion ride gets a whole Nightmare Before Christmas overlay, while-sadly-the one at Walt Disney World does not.

With such a large resort, production for Walt Disney World's Christmas celebration is a year-round affair that employs 43 full-time employees and involves the offsite storage of warehouses totaling 160,000 square feet.

It's always important to check the Walt Disney World and Disneyland calendars because although they may host similar events like the Food and Wine Festival, they are actually held at different times of the year.

Different Demographic

One of the biggest differences I noticed with my recent visit to Disneyland was the demographic-I saw a lot more Millennials. While Disney is obviously for people of all ages, it was interesting to see more people my own age. Of course, Walt Disney World has its fair share, but the ratio of families to millennials always seems to weigh more on the family side.

Plus, at every food service station at Disneyland I was asked if I was an Annual Passholder or not, which led me to believe that they have just that many more Annual Passholders (yes I understand that APs receive discounts at Disneyland, it's just that I'm usually not asked this at Walt Disney World).

Strollers and Motorized Scooters

Because of the different dominant demographic, there were far fewer strollers and motorized scooters at Disneyland. That's not to say there weren't any, it just seemed like the number was greatly reduced.

Star Wars Galaxy's Edge

One of the most important differences in Walt Disney World and Disneyland this summer is the opening of Star Wars Galaxy's Edge. While Disneyland opened the land at the end of May, Walt Disney World does not plan to debut the new area, located at Disney's Hollywood Studios, until the end of August.


Parking and transportation vary greatly between Walt Disney World and Disneyland, and the main reason is due to the sheer magnitude of Walt Disney World. At Disneyland, you can have a Lyft or Uber driver drop you off mere feet from the park entrance. And you can park hop between the two parks with ease.

At Walt Disney World, a system of buses, monorails, sky gondolas and even water transportation is in place to take you from one area to another. Sometimes it can even take a half hour or more to hop from park to park. But it makes sense when you consider the fact that Walt Disney World is spread out over 25,000 acres.

While they're both amazing parks everyone should see, guests will find many differences between the two.

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Helping leisure selling travel agents successfully manage their at-home business.

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Laurence Pinckney

Laurence Pinckney

CEO of Zenbiz Travel, LLC

About Me