As a native Floridian, I'm a Disney World veteran. Seriously, I know the parks like the back of my hand and can make my way through Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom like a strategic ninja in just a few hours. However, my first time to Disneyland was an entirely different story. We didn't do a lot of planning or research beforehand because I just kept hearing how much easier, smaller, and quicker everything was at Disneyland versus Disney World. I figured we'd wing it and be fine… boy was I wrong! So today I'm sharing the post I wish I would've read before visiting Disneyland for the first time at a Walt Disney World veteran! Oh and did I mention this was our baby's first Disney trip!?? If traveling with a baby, definitely put together a Disney itinerary in advance to maximize your time!
Also quick note: when I refer to Disneyland, I'm talking about Disneyland and California Adventure park and when I say Disney World I'm talking about Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Epcot, and Animal Kingdom!
In this post I'm going to share a few key differences for visiting Disneyland versus Disney World, what rides are must do's at Disneyland, ties for Disney World, skips, and Disneyland specific! Oh and at the end of the post, I'll include a few extra specific baby tips for Disney! This post also contains affiliate links.
First Time To Disneyland: What I Wish I Knew As A Disney World Veteran
Location / accommodations at Disneyland versus Disney World
While both parks are located in wonderfully sunny areas, that's about all they have in common. Disney World is acres bigger! From what I've read, it seems like Disneyland was built first in 1955, and a sea of hotels popped up around it to take advantage of the tourism. However Walt Disney learned his lesson and when he built Disney World a decade later, he bought up like 40+ miles of the surrounding area to ensure that you really are transported into this magical world.
With that said, the sprawling grounds of Disney World mean that your best bet for convenient accommodations are going to be Disney World hotels. Whereas Disneyland you are in a sea of hotel options within walking distance. Seriously, we were able to walk from our hotel to Disneyland and headed back for a midday nap for the baby with ease!
Transportation at Disneyland versus Disney World
At Disneyland you can walk to the park and between parks (they are literally across a courtyard of ticketing centers!) in a matter of minutes. You can also easily drive and park and either walk from the parking garage or take a tram to the park entrances. Everything is very easy and very convenient.
At Disney World, it's an entirely different game. I'm not an expert on how it works flying into Orlando International Airport (#FloridaNative), but I hear they make it SO easy to just take a shuttle to your Disney Resort.
As far as getting around the parks, it depends on which one and where you stay. Disney Resorts (and some surrounding non-Disney hotels) offer complimentary shuttles to the parks. Between parks there are shuttles, monorails and ferries. You can also take a ride sharing service, but this isn't always going to be much quicker.
Because of Disney World's sprawling campus, expect to spend a bit of time traveling to your destination. Only a select few Disney hotels will put you are a park entrance in 5-10 minutes and that will only do it for one park, which doesn't take into account all the other Disney World parks! Budget at least 45 minutes to an hour for park hopping. Transportation around Disney World is probably an entirely different post, but that's the highlight reel!
Disneyland vs. Disney World Rides: What You Need To Know As A First Timer
So the two theme parks actually have 11 shared rides but they aren't all identical! In fact, I asked on IG while I was at Disneyland what I needed to know about the rides and was surprised to hear how many preferred the Disneyland alternatives to Disney World! So here's what I wish I knew before heading to Disneyland as a Disney World veteran in choosing which rides were must do's and skips!
Must do at Disneyland as a Disney World Veteran:
Pirates of the Caribbean
Collectively this is the ride you HAVE to do at Disneyland. While the outside/line situation I think is better at Disney World, the ride itself is more enjoyable at Disneyland.
The Haunted Mansion
Another massive win for Disneyland! So this could just be because we went in October so the Disneyland Haunted Mansion was decked out in a “Nightmare Before Christmas” Theme that I've NEVER seen at the Magic Kingdom location. It looks like typically the rides are the exact same, but I just love the New Orleans flair to the exterior of the Haunted Mansion at Disneyland and again, NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS! Legit, felt like a kid all over again!
Similar to Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain is pretty similar at both parks. However people seem to prefer the storyline at Disneyland over Disney World and the creepy song that builds the suspense right before the drop. Also, similar to the Space Mountain rider situation, you're sat side-by-side at Disneyland versus the single rider flume at Disney World. We skipped because I didn't want to risk getting wet.
It's a Small World
Hands down the winner here is Disneyland. It's so much cleaner looking (Disney World looks a little run down IMO) and there are special hidden cameos of Disney movie classic characters hidden in the countries.
Tied for doing at Disneyland or at Disney World:
So this is subjective, while they are pretty similar, many would say Disneyland's is better because it's been updated more recently for a smoother ride. The most noticeable difference to me, was the different seating style and music. Disneyland plays some fun music, whereas Disney World doesn't.
I kind of like the Disney World doesn't though and oddly prefer it. Disney World's version of space mountain reminders me of a sketchy space shuttle on blast off with the rickety track and I love the distant screams of other riders.
Disney World's space mountain seating is a single seater flume style. Meaning you sit by yourself, and have people in front or behind you. Disneyland's space mountain seating has you sitting next to someone in a cart with a few rows of people. Disneyland's seating makes it superior obviously since more people in a cart means lower wait times, but I think there is something more thrilling about sitting in the first or last row by yourself at Disney World.
General preference: Disneyland
My preference: Disney World
Soarin' Around The World
We skipped this so I can't say much about the ride itself, but I will say Disneyland did a better job of creating a feeling before the ride. At Disney World Soarin' is in almost like a mall food court and just leaves something to be desired – again it makes sense because of Florida weather. Whereas Disneyland's Soarin' is it's own stage designed to look like an airplane hangar.
Disney World is a longer ride overall which means it takes you through more things like a temple and more animals along the way, however Disneyland relies more on the witty commentary of the Disneyland cast (think the Old Movie Ride vibe that used to be at Hollywood Studios), which can make it more enjoyable the the animatronic animals.
Only at Disneyland and not at Disney World:
Cars Land – California Adventure Park
Seriously this entire street is a new favorite of mine at any Disney park I've ever been to! They covered every little detail and the Radiator Springs Racer is a way more fun version of Test Track from Epcot. Definitely make visiting here a top priority.
The “Dark Rides” In Fantasyland at Disneyland
An IG follower sent me this message too late and I missed it all! Apparently Disneyland's Fantasyland is a twisted version compared to Disney World's. Definitely make some time for Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, Snow White's Scary Adventures, and Pinocchio's Daring Journey! I've had countless people tell me since it was a major mistake skipping these! I would personally skip the Winnie the Pooh one though! We did it and it was just a okay and isn't often touted as one of the “must do's” of the more twisted Fantasyland rides.
Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage
I went on this and wish I didn't. Unless you have a kid with you who loves Nemo, I'd skip it. You are put in an underwater “submarine” that's very tight quarters and the window's are kid eye level, so I was bending over all squished. The ride felt long and the submarine felt steamy by the end thanks to the cramped space and everyone's body heat. No thank you!
This was a favorite of mine growing up and Disney World has since phased it out of the park entirely. So needless to say, my inner child felt totally blissed out visiting Minnie's House with my very own daughter.
Guardians of the Galaxy
California Adventure converted their version of the Tower of Terror into this ride and unfortunately I didn't have time and I'm SO disappointed about that (I guess we'll have to go back!). Everyone I talk to says it's even better than Tower of Terror and it's just so entertaining. Since Tower of Terror is my all-time favorite ride in the history of rides (I even did a report on it in middle school), missing out on this feels like the biggest mistake of the trip.
Indiana Jones Adventure
At Disney World's Hollywood Studios we have the Indiana Jones show – which is what I thought this was – BIG mistake! This is actually a ride that everyone told me I ~ once again ~ seriously missed out on at Disneyland.
Again, a meticulously and wonderfully done realm that is a must visit! It's kind of like Disney World's Boardwalk (near the Boardwalk and Beach and Yacht club resorts) meets the new Toy Storyland at Hollywood studios… but way better. The Toy Story Mania ride is the exact same, so maybe skip that, but you have the Incredicoaster, a ferris wheel and so much more here! Highly recommend!
You can get wet on this ride, so I skipped it, but it's supposedly an awesome toboggan-style steel coaster that has some rickety feels like Disney World's Space Mountain!
Rides to skip at Disneyland if you're short on time and have been to Disney World a million times:
Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters
Ugh instead of doing the twisted Fantasyland at Disneyland or Guardians of the Galaxy, I went on one of my favorite rides: Buzz's Astro Blasters. It was the exact same as the one in in Tomorowland at Disney World with one major difference: the laser gun. At Disney World you can just hold the button on your gun down and it is an endless stream of lasers. At Disneyland you have to keep hitting the button for every shot so by the end my finger hurt like crazy and my score was lower than usual and it wasn't a new experience.
Mad Tea Party
The actual ride is the exact same between parks. However, the ride setup is different which is where Disneyland may have an edge but I'm putting it on the skip list if you're pressed for time. At Disneyland the teacups are set under an open sky with lanterns strung above whereas Disney World has a solid roof covering above the lanterns which makes sense since Florida gets way more rain.
I skipped the California version just because this ride sometimes gets me a little motion sick and I heard the Disney World version is better anyway thanks to a better overall storyline and visual experience.
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
I skipped it at Disneyland since we had limited time with the baby and I heard that the Disney World one is better anyway but they are extremely similar.
Tips for visiting Disney with a baby
Wear your baby
If you can, plan to wear your baby and take turns. This was SO easy for getting on and off rides, napping on the go, and just moving around. This is the baby carrier we primarily wore and loved for the multi-directions!
Disney let's you bring in food, so definitely take advantage, just be mindful about where you are allowed to eat it at the parks.
Think about nap time
Our baby was still taking 3 naps a day when we went to Disneyland, so we loved being able to get back to the hotel for one of those at lunch time. The husband and I just ate lunch in our room while she slept. Now that she is on two naps, we are heading to Disney World and are going to do all naps on the go I think. So stay tuned for that!
Phew! Okay so there's all my mistakes and what I wish I knew going to Disneyland for the first time as a Disney World veteran! If you've been to Disneyland and Disney World, I'd love to hear your thoughts! What'd I miss? What do you agree or disagree with?