Disney World vs. Disneyland: What’s the Difference?

Disney World Magic Kingdom Cinderella Castle

Whereas Disneyland features the Sleeping Beauty Castle, the Magic Kingdom is home to Cinderella’s Castle.

I live in Calgary and have parents who snowbird it down to California every year, which means that we’ve already hit Disneyland a couple of times. Disneyland holds a special place in my heart — not only did I have some great family vacations down there when I was a kid, but the first time I went with my own family my now nine-year-old daughter was five and seeing her interact with her favourite princesses and just experience the wonder of Disney remains one of the most magical experiences our family has ever encountered. Even my cynical husband became a Disney convert on that trip, and that’s saying a lot.

So, when we traveled to Florida for the first time this January to visit some extended family, checking out Disney World seemed like a no-brainer. Whereas the California site has two parks — Disneyland and California Adventure Park — the Disney World site includes four theme parks, two water parks, the Downtown Disney area and 30 different resort hotel options. It’s MASSIVE! Like Disneyland, there are park hopper ticketing options which make it more affordable to hit more than one theme park, but the distance from, say, Epcot to the Magic Kingdom isn’t as convenient as the quick hop from Disneyland to the California Adventure Park, so I wouldn’t advise trying to do more than one park in a single day. To get the full Disney World experience you really need to book a more lengthy stay, however since this was a quick trip during a family visit, we only had a single day to spend at Disney.

A tranquil moment at the Magic Kingdom

That, coupled wit the fact we were with a group of 11 people, led to the decision to just hit the Magic Kingdom and skip Epcot, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom. I’d been told that the Magic Kingdom is almost exactly like Disneyland and while that is largely true, there are some interesting differences.

Walking around the Magic Kingdom was actually a bit of a head trip after being so familiar with Disneyland — there are enough similarities that I felt like I was somewhere I’d been before, but just when I’d expect to turn a corner and see a certain attraction, I would quickly be reminded that I was in a different park. Most of the most popular rides are relatively the same such as Pirates of the Caribbean, It’s a Small World, the Haunted Mansion, Peter Pan’s Flight & Space Mountain. The facades are often quite different and the layout of the park is similar, but not exactly the same. There are fewer rides at the Magic Kingdom, and  many of the old school Disneyland rides (the Casey Jr. Circus Train, Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Snow White’s Scary Adventure) are missing. There are also some rides at the Magic Kingdom that you won’t find at Disneyland, including the Magic Carpets of Aladdin, Stitch’s Great Escape, and Under the Sea — The Journey of the Little Mermaid (though there is a similar Ariel ride at the California Adventure Park). One other major difference is that the Magic Kingdom does not include the Mickey’s Toontown or Critter Country areas and instead of the New Orleans Square, the Magic Kingdom has the similar-but-different Liberty Square. Also, it’s important to note that the hugely popular Star Wars elements at Disneyland are not at the Magic Kingdom, though you can check out the Star Tours attraction at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

Fantasyland at the Magic Kingdom at Disney World

The facade of the It’s a Small World ride at the Magic Kingdom is quite different than that at Disneyland.

One other thing to note: the Magic Kingdom is currently renovating the Fantasyland area, which is part of the reason that there are fewer rides. When that expansion opens there will be some new attractions, including a Seven Dwarves Mine Train.

The bottom line? I find that for a single day visit, I prefer Disneyland to the Magic Kingdom just based on the amount of rides and my affection for the more old school elements in the original Fantasyland. That said, I have no complaints about my Magic Kingdom experience — most of my favourite attractions were just as great as they are at the California park, and the entertainment, parades, characters, and fireworks are just as magical. I’ve also put a longer trip to Disney World on my bucket list — I think staying at a Disney Resort Hotel and checking out all four parks is likely the pinnacle of what any Disney enthusiast could ever hope for. The great thing about any Disney park is that your experience can be as simple or extensive as you choose to make it (usually based on time and money, of course), but with Disney’s attention to detail and dedication to creating magic, I have never been disappointed.

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