I have visited Walt Disney World in Orlando and Disneyland Resort in California several times and some of the recurring questions I get are: Is it worth going only to the California one? If I’ve been to Orlando, will I be disappointed with the one in California? Have you met one, have you met the other? Here are the posts about Disneyland Resort in California with a list to help you answer those questions:
This is the most obvious, but it has a direct impact on your decision to visit one or the other. Walt Disney World is located in Orlando, Florida and Disneyland Resort in California. Travel time from most places to Florida is much less than to California. There are more flight options to Florida – Orlando, Miami and Tampa, but California now also has a direct flight option to Los Angeles with American Airlines.
Both states are wonderful and there are other travel combination options if you don’t want to be alone at Disney. In Orlando you can not only visit other parks in neighboring cities, but also mend in one of Florida’s cities like Miami, beautiful beaches or even combine it with a flight to New York that takes only 2 two hours. In California you can combine Los Angeles, Anaheim which is where Disney is, with San Diego which is only an hour and a half drive away if you go south or Santa Barbara, Big Sur, Monterey and San Francisco if you go north. Las Vegas is also another very interesting travel option.
One particularity because of the location is that the parks have a very different audience… in Orlando we see more groups of tourists and in California it is notorious how many places visit the park – the famous “annual pass holders”.
Disneyland Resorts in California opened to the public in 1955 with 647,497 m2 and today with the expansions has 1,214,000 m2 . It sounds like a lot, but Walt Disney World in Florida that opened its first park in 1971 is 100 times the size of Disneyland in California. Most of the area in Florida is not built yet, but just for you to have an idea, only Epcot is the size of the whole complex in California and Animal Kingdom is almost twice the size of Epcot. The problem in California is that there is no more space for expansions, while in Florida there is still plenty of space and Disney keeps adding new attractions every year. But the size that for many can be a problem, can be great for those who visit, especially with small children. The logistics in the parks, from one park to another and from the park to the hotel are much easier than in Orlando, since everything is always far from one place to another.
It’s a Small world
- Time to visit
The size we talked about in the previous topic directly influences the number of days to visit Disney. If in California the minimum I would recommend would be 2 nights and 3 days, in Orlando, a minimum of 4 nights is required to visit the basic. If it is in the summer and you want to include water parks in Orlando or do things with more calm, one week is recommended only for the Disney parks, not counting the other parks of Universal, Sea World, Legoland, Kennedy Center and so on. As I mentioned above, this shorter time in California is more due to even the logistics between parks. You can enjoy more days with calm and without running in California.
Orlando certainly has a much bigger choice of hotels than California. Within Disney alone there are more than 35 hotels, 25 of them managed directly by Disney. There are options for all budgets. Here we have a post to help you choose a hotel inside Disney and here is a post with 10 tested and approved hotels in Orlando. In addition, there are many options for renting a house per season in Orlando. Hotels within Disney have several advantages such as transportation to the parks, “magic hour” / magic hours, and facilities with Magic Bands to book Fast Pass+ in advance.
In California, Disneyland Resort has three hotels of its own: Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa which is where we stayed, Disneyland Hotel and Disney Paradise Pier Hotel. The main advantages of being at one of Disney’s hotels is to have an entrance from the hotel directly to the park and earlier access with “magic hour”. Other hotel options in the vicinity include 39 hotels “approved” by Disney as “good neighbors”. There are six hotels where you can walk to the parks and four hotels that are further away but offer free transportation to Disney.
- Meals with characters
In Orlando there are options both in parks and hotels for meals with characters. There are more than 15 options, among them I have already told here about the meal at Chef Mickey and 1900 Park Fare. Luciana Misura told there in her blog about the experience in several of the restaurants in the parks: Hollywood & Vine at Hollywood Studios, The Garden Grill at Epcot, Cinderella’s Royal Table at Magic Kingdom and Tusker House, in Africa, Animal Kingdom.
Breakfast with characters
In California there are five options of Meals with Characters
Ariel’s Grotto at Paradise Pier in Disney California Adventure Park – This is breakfast and lunch for those who want to see the princesses.
Plaza Inn Disneyland Park, Main Street USA – Here the action is led by Minnie and her gang. Tigger and Chi & Dale (Tico & Teco) make appearances at breakfast.
Disney’s PCH Grill Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel – This is what we got time to do since I made the reservations on short notice. There are only characters at breakfast and we found them there: Mickey, Stitch and Goofy.
Goofy’s Kitchen at Disneyland Hotel – They serve breakfast and dinner with Goofy and his friends, which can vary.
StoryTeller’s Cafe at Disney’s Grand Californian Resort and Spa – Chip and Dale (Tico and Teco) and other Disney creatures make an appearance here for lunch and dinner.
- Layout of the parks
In California there are only two parks – Disneyland Park and California Adventures Park, plus Downtown Disney, an area with restaurants and shops. The two parks and Downtown Disney are connected by a common area and to do park hopping is very fast, it takes less than 5 minutes. Although the parks are smaller than in Orlando, there is a very similar amount of attractions.
In Orlando there are 4 theme parks – Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot and Hollywood Studios; 2 water parks – Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon, Downtown Disney that is gaining a super reform and will be renamed to Disney Springs, 25 hotels managed by Disney and dozens of others within the Disney complex that are managed by other companies. As the spaces are larger in Orlando, it also takes more time from one park to the other and from the park to the hotels.
- Unique Attractions
Although many people say that those in Florida parks have no reason to visit those in California I totally disagree. Even in the similar attractions (I’ll make a post with the attractions you have in the two parks coming soon after) there are always small differences and nuances.
Mickey and Minie’s house
Indiana Jones and the Temple of the Forbidden eye – it’s a very cool attraction. The Dinosaur attraction in Animal Kingdom is very similar in terms of experience, but the environment very different.
Pirates of the Caribbean although similar in Orlando is much longer lasting in California.
Columbia does not exist in Orlando but it looks like Mark Twain and Liberty Belle.
Mickey’s Toontown – I almost cried when they closed Toontown in Orlando and with him Mickey and Minnie’s house, which were classics, because in California you can visit their houses and in a much cooler version of what I had in Orlando.
The castle here, smaller in fact, but not less cute is Sleep Beauty’s.
Sleeping Beauty’s Castle
Roger Rabbit’s Cartoon Spin and Toontown Trolle
Mickey and the Magical Map in Fantasyland is also a new show that doesn’t have in Orlando and we loved it.
Finding Nemo – a trip on a submarine that is currently closed for renovations.
California Adventures Park
Cars Land – And only this attraction was worth the whole park to me. The scenery of the city is beautiful, the children, especially car fans will love it. The best part? Radiator Springs racers!!!
Pixar Play Parade with the characters from the movies Toy Story, Finding Nemo, the Incredibles
Hyperion Theater has the Aladdin music show in Hollywood land
Matherhorn Bobslead is a roller coaster in the Fantasyland area
Paradise Pier is one of the areas I liked the most, with a huge Ferris wheel and attractions around reminiscent of the Pacific area in California.
The Boudin Bakery
California Screamin’ (Russian Mountain)
Mickey’s Fun Wheel
Golden Zephyr (gondola that spins in the air)
World of Colors is a beautiful show on water and although many people compare it to Epcot’s Illuminations, it doesn’t really have much to do with it. They are completely different and World of Colors is for me a must-see, one of the great hits of this park.
In the Magic Kingdom most of the attractions have similar in California but there are some that only have in Florida:
Carrousel of Progress
The Magic Carpets of Aladdin
Monsters, Inc. laugh floor
Stitch’s Great Escape
Most of the attractions you will find at Animal Kingdom have no similar in California.
Maharajah Jungle Trek
Flights of Wonder
Rafiki’s Planet Watch
Finding Nemo: The Musical
Festival of the Lion King
Epcot is another park with several attractions that are unique to the park, including World of Showcase, with the countries and restaurants that attract so many people. The whole part of Sea Land is also non-existent in California.
Many of the attractions at Hollywood Studios are spread across the two parks in California, but Aerosmith’s roller coaster is not in California.
Although the two park complexes are Disney and have many attractions in common, the experiences are quite different and I think it is worth visiting them at least once to meet and draw your own conclusions. Some people love each other and hate each other, me and the kids at the end of the day, we have a lot of fun whatever park we are visiting. Deciding which one to visit, be it your first time or not, will depend on several factors and I hope this post has helped to clear up some doubts.
Planning a trip to Orlando? Start here.
See all posts from Orlando
Visit our Orlando Travel Blog
Have you visited both parks? Do you have any questions? Use the comments box.