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Disneyland vs. Disney World


Aside from being on opposite ends of the country, there are numerable differences between Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Many first-time Disney-ers might imagine that the parks are more or less the same on both coasts, but the reality is that they offer a vastly different vacation experiences. I’ve never been to the Disneyland California park, but I’m going to provide you with some facts on each resort so that you can understand the differences and decide for yourself which one would best fit your trip.

It’s important to note, first of all, that Disneyland California is actually the original—Walt founded the park in Anaheim in 1955. As such, it contains the first versions of attractions synonymous with the Disney name: It’s a Small World After All, Space Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean, etc.. Still, after Disneyland was built, Walt turned his attention to a much larger endeavor called “The Florida Project,” which would ultimately become the massive resort that is Walt Disney World in Orlando today.

This leads us to our first difference: size. Disneyland has two main parks, Disneyland and Disneyland California Adventure, with the former functioning as a Magic Kingdom type park (featuring Main Street USA, Fronteirland, etc.). Getting from park to park can be done on foot, though there is a functioning railroad and monorail system. Disney World, on the other hand, has four parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios), as well as two water parks and twenty five hotels. The resort as a whole is enormous, and as such getting from park to park can sometimes be challenging. Disney World offers the traditional monorail system as well as buses and water taxis.

While we prefer the all-inclusiveness of Walt Disney World, getting from place to place can be a challenge, and can result in a lot of wasted time. If you’re going for an extended period, Disney World will probably give you more bang for your buck—but if you’re interested in smaller day or weekend trips, Disneyland might be your better bet.

The next major difference between the parks is the attractions. This doesn’t necessarily apply to just rides—as mentioned before, many of the staples exist in both parks. The real discrepancies here fall more in line with the experiences that are offered at each park. For example, two of Disneyland’s major draws, Indiana Jones and Radiator Springs (Cars Land), are unparalleled or simply don’t exist at all in Disney World. Conversely, World Showcase in Epcot is an enormous dining/attraction experience that won’t be found in Disneyland. Many draws of Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios can’t be found there, either.

Also falling under the general umbrella of attractions are nighttime shows. Disney World offers Wishes and IllumiNations (both of which are discussed in great detail on this blog) while Disneyland features Dreams Come True and World of Color. The former is a similar castle show to Wishes, and the latter is a water show that surrounds Disneyland’s famous ferris wheel. Preference here is based on personal taste, so you might consider researching some of the shows on YouTube before deciding.

The final major difference that this post will cover is theme. This can probably be best represented in the parks’ major landmarks. Walt Disney World is best recognized by the grandiose Cinderella’s Castle (and, to a lesser extent, Epcot’s giant golf ball and Animal Kingdom’s Tree of Life). Disneyland, on the other hand, is represented by Sleeping Beauty’s Castle (which, let’s be honest, has nothing on Cinderella) and the ferris wheel. While Disneyland focuses more on original Disney storylines and attractions, Disney World branches out to include themes like connecting cultures (Epcot) and understanding life around us (Animal Kingdom).

In the end, which park you choose really just depends on your preference (as well as travel convenience and vacation specifics). I’m (clearly) partial to Disney World, but many people that write about this topic will tell you that you’ll likely be more favorable to whichever park you experience first. But either way, you can’t really go wrong.

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Booking with a Discount

Several times per year, Disney vacationers can book their trip and choose to either apply a room discount or receive a free dining plan. This promotion usually runs seasonally (it is now currently active for summer) barring specific “blackout” dates during which the discounts cannot be applied. It’s generally a good plan to wait for these discounts to become available before booking, because they can save you a lot of money. But how do you know which one to choose?

Below is a breakdown of prices from a Value, Moderate, and Deluxe hotel comparing the savings of the room discount and the free dining plan during the summer season.


If you’re staying at a Value or Moderate resort, the Dining Plan could wind up saving you more money per night. Keep in mind, however, that Value resorts are only offered the Quick Service Dining Plan, which may not help as much as you think. Read more about the different types of dining plans here.

If you’re booking a deluxe room, applying the 30% room discount is usually the better buy. However, it is still worth researching the dining plans available and determining whether or not applying one would best suit your vacation.


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The Disney Dining Plan


The Disney Dining Plan can be purchased as part of you vacation package, and is a method of budgeting your expenses that will provide you with tokens (stored on your MagicBand) that can be redeemed for various meals and snacks throughout the parks. There are different tiers of the plan that are paired with certain hotels, and during particular dates throughout the year, the Dining Plan is offered for free. How does this work? Let’s take a look:

The Tiers

Quick Service Plan: includes two counter-service meals and one snack per day at $42/day; offered for free with Value resort rooms

Standard Dining Plan: includes one counter-service meal, one sit-down meal, and one snack per day at $60/day; offered for free with Moderate and Deluxe resort rooms

Deluxe Dining Plan: three meals (either counter-service or sit-down) and two snacks per day at $110/day; not offered for free


The three types of meals offered (counter-service, sit-down, and snacks) can be purchased at specific types of restaurants. Counter-service are your fast food type places, like Casey’s Corner, Gaston’s Tavern, and Liberty Inn. On the plan, you would generally pick up lunch at one of these spots. Sit-down meals are your fancier restaurants, and you would ideally use these for nice dinners. They can be redeemed at places like 50’s Prime Time Cafe, Mama Melrose, and Le Cellier Steakhouse. Snacks can be purchased at kiosks throughout the parks.

Because tokens are not affected by price, you can use one to purchase an entree that costs any amount. That is to say, a sit-down restaurant token could be used to buy a $15 salad, or a $25 steak. In this way, if you utilize the tokens effectively and manage your meals beforehand, the Dining Plan can wind up saving you a lot of money. This isn’t always the case though, and poor planning might make the plan not worth it in the end. It all depends on how you can budget your tokens. Look into where you would like to eat beforehand to determine whether or not the Dining Plan would work for your trip.

The free promotion can be a good thing to take advantage of, but remember that selecting it for your trip would mean that you cannot receive the room discount offered at the same time—look for another post coming soon about knowing which discount to apply.


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Epcot Overview


Devised by Walt himself during the park’s earliest days, EPCOT (Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow) was designed to highlight not only the many cultures of the world, but to show how we can all come together to build a better future. As such, the park is split into two distinct sections: World Showcase and Future World. Both unique themes stay true to Walt’s vision while forming one cohesive experience, making Epcot one of the most revolutionary aspects of Disney World.


World Showcase

In an effort to bring together the world’s many cultures, Disney highlights 11 countries at Epcot, where unique cuisine, architecture, and language make up the different areas of World Showcase. In one convenient and diverse location, you can explore the culture of Mexico, Norway, China, Germany, Italy, the U.S., Japan, Morocco, France, the United Kingdom, and Canada. Each designated pavilion is run by cast members indigenous to the country, and features immersive dining and entertaining experiences. Certain places, like Norway and Mexico, even have attractions dedicated to telling the history of their countries!


Sticking around for the night? Don’t miss IllumiNations, the fireworks spectacular that takes place on the lake in the middle of World Showcase. The show tells the story of Earth with a globe on the surface of the water, reflecting powerful and beautiful images of the history of humanity. Vacationers of all ages will be amazed as each country of World Showcase goes dark, only to illuminate and celebrate their culture as the music swells. This is one show you just can’t miss!

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Future World

Best known for the enormous golf ball-shaped landmark, Future World is just a step away from the center of World Showcase, and features some of the coolest attractions that Disney has to offer. Thrill-seekers will want to try out Test Track, which has been recently renovated to send guests on a ride like never before, allowing them to design their own car and then take it for a test spin on both an indoor and outdoor track. Looking for something a little more laid-back? Consider the ever-popular Soarin’, a high-flying ride that uses spectacular technology to take guests along the California coast line. For the classic Epcot experience, you’ll want to head inside the park’s famous landmark for an out-of-this-world adventure on Spaceship Earth, or its sister ride, Mission Space. Both are experiences unlike anything else on Disney property.


Images courtesy of and


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Crowds & Weather

When choosing the dates of your Disney World vacation, it is important to keep in mind both the Florida climate and the potential crowd level during that time of year. Certain factors (like special events and celebrity visits) can vastly change park attendance from one day to the next. Similarly, though Florida is always traditionally warm, hurricanes and heat waves can easily impact a vacation. Therefore, it is beneficial to choose dates based on your needs in terms of both crowds and weather. Below is a breakdown of the calendar year to help you decide when to visit Disney.


– Weather
Average High: 71
Average Low: 49
Typically considered the coldest month
Very little rain
– Crowds
Traditionally low
Exceptions include the Marathon (1/10 – 1/12) and MLK weekend (1/17 – 1/20)
Best times to stay are the weeks of 1/17 and 1/24 (feature low crowds, good weather, and low prices)


– Weather
Average High: 74
Average Low: 52
– Crowds
Traditionally low
Exceptions include Presidents’ Weekend and Valentine’s Day (2/14 – 2/17)
Best time to stay is early in the month


– Weather
Average High: 78
Average Low: 56
Typically one of the driest months
– Crowds
Traditionally high in the middle and end of the month due to Spring Break
Prices rise during this time
Best time to stay is early in the month
* Features the Flower and Garden Festival


– Weather
Average High: 83
Average Low: 60
Considered one of the most pleasant months
– Crowds
Traditionally high crowds and high prices
Best time to visit is 4/6 – 4/12 (lowest prices and crowd level of the month)
* Features the Flower and Garden Festival


– Weather
Average High: 88
Average Low: 66
Considered one of the driest months
– Crowds
Traditionally low early in the month, steadily raising towards beginning of summer
Best time to visit is from 5/1 – 5/15 (features lower crowds and better weather)
* Features the Flower and Garden Festival


– Weather
Average High: 91
Average Low: 72
Considered one of the wettest months
– Crowds
Traditionally above average to high as the month goes on
Weekends are typically more crowded due to “Star Wars” events in Hollywood Studios
Best time to visit is 6/1 – 6/8 (lower crowds and better weather)


– Weather
Average High: 92
Average Low: 74
Considered one of the hottest months with high chances of rain
– Crowds
Traditionally one of the most crowded months
July 4th weekend is extremely busy
Best time to visit is near the end of the month


– Weather
Average High: 92
Average Low: 74
Considered one of the hottest months and is part of hurricane season
Thunderstorms are common
– Crowds
Traditionally one of the most crowded months
Crowds taper off towards end of the month
Best time to visit is 8/24 and onward


– Weather
Average High: 93
Average Low: 73
Considered just as hot as the summer months
Thunderstorms are common
– Crowds
Traditionally has the lowest park attendance
Only exception is Labor Day Weekend
Best time to visit is middle of the month
* Features Disney Dining Plan
* Epcot Food & Wine Festival begins 9/26
* Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party begins 9/9


– Weather
Average High: 85
Average Low: 66
Low chance of precipitation
– Crowds
Traditionally moderate crowds
Best time to visit is after 10/26 (lower prices, cooler weather)
* Features Epcot Food & Wine Festival
* Features Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party


– Weather
Average High: 79
Average Low: 59
Considered one of the driest months
– Crowds
Traditionally low to moderate crowds
Exceptions include “Jersey Week” (11/6 – 11/10) and Thanksgiving (11/23 – 11/29)
Best time to visit is week of 11/17
* Features beginning of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party


– Weather
Average High: 73
Average Low: 52
Considered one of the coolest months
– Crowds
Traditionally high as the month goes on
Last two weeks have the highest crowds all year
Best times to visit are the weeks of 12/1 and 12/8
* Features Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party

While this basic outline has hopefully been helpful, there are still many factors to consider when picking your dates, and I recommend checking out a day-by-day crowd calendar before making your final decision. Personally, I would suggest dates in early May or mid November. I have experienced the parks during both of these time frames, and have found that they were ideal in terms of weather and crowds. May was a little hotter than expected, but very manageable in terms of crowds, and made a wonderful spring trip. November temperatures were as close to perfect as could be (though it rained often in the mornings) and crowds were very low right up until the weekend before Thanksgiving.

No matter what time of year you choose, be sure to make the most of your Disney vacation. Visit some of the other planning pages to help you decide where you might like to stay while on your trip, and get a glimpse at what you might see while you’re there!

Information adapted from and

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