With this being our very first time going to Disneyland, we thought it best to talk with an expert. We knew Walt Disney World, but this was a totally different park. They are NOT the same.
We decided on Storybook Destinations based on their longtime sponsorship of The Disney Dish Podcast with Jim Hill. We’ve always told friends and family to use a Disney Specialist, so we took our own advice.
We are professionals when it comes to Walt Disney World – traveling up to three or four times a year. We are annual passholders and vacation club members – so using a travel agent on a regular basis doens’t make much sense. We really don’t need help navigating the parks, planning travel, or looking for the best deals. So this was our first time using a Travel Agent…ever!
So this was a whole new world for us. We opted for 5 nights at the Disneyland Hotel and 5 park days ( I know this might sound like overkill but we wanted to experience literally everything (especially the hotel).
And using a travel agent – It was like having a Disney bestie. Audrey helped us find out.. she answered all of my questions and helped us pick the right hotel.
Difference #1 – Disneyland Hotels
At Disneyland there are only three hotels “on property” – the Grand Californian (Deluxe Resort), Disneyland Hotel and Paradise Pier (soon to be Pixar Pier). Paradise Pier was was the least expensive.
There are also a ton of “good neighbor hotels” that are still in walking distance and you can book from the actual website. These hotels are less expensive, but you forgo the feeling of being in the Disney bubble.
When staying at a Good Neighbor Hotel, you find yourself walking on a busy commercial road (on the sidewalk of course).
Since this was our “once-in-a-lifetime” trip, we decided to stay at the Disneyland Hotel – even though it was a bit more expensive than the other options. The Disneyland Hotel is the original hotel that came along with Disneyland in the 50s. Our family loves the history, so we knew this was the right choice. Our family of five booked one room that included two double beds and a day bed. This was plenty big for us.
Walt Disney World has so many more options. If you want to stay in the “bubble”, you have your choice between several dozen – from value to deluxe.
Disneyland has options, but only three are officially branded.
But – the major positive – all Disneyland Resorts are in walking distance to the two theme parks. Only a handful of Disney World resorts have walking paths to parks.
Difference #2 – Air Travel and Timezone Change
Audrey helped us pick the right flights but I was the one that booked them. We decided on Southwest Airlines and because we were flying from the east coast to the west coast, by selecting an early flight, we would get the most out of our day. We were leaving at 5:20 AM EST and would arrive at 8:55 AM PST – that’s with a layover.
I imagine many of you fly to Walt Disney World so the difference might not be that drastic for travel. But for us, who typically drive, this was a bigger (and more expensive) change.
The day of our trip we arrived at the SNA John Wayne airport only 15-20 minute drive to the hotel (used Karmel car service). SNA airport was smaller and pretty easy to navigate. We got a private van for about $120 each way.
We used BabyQuip for the stroller rental. This is like Uber for baby gear. So easy. You rent a stroller from a local and they deliver and pickup the gear.
Difference #3 – Park Tickets
For our 5 day park tickets, we opted to add Genie+ each day for about $25 per day per person (which included Photopass). It was also different because at Walt Disney World you can only purchase Genie+ the day of your visit.
We however, did not get the park hopper because we had so many days in the parks. Everyone says you can do the parks in three days but, again we wanted a slower pace and to enjoy some of the hotel amenities.
Difference #4 – Dining
Leading up the the trip, all we had to worry about was making our dining 60 days out. The travel agent gave us some really good recommendations, and so did my trust friend Google. The cool thing for those of the the east coast they opened dining reservations up at 6:00 AM on west coast time. So I didn’t need to reserve dining until 9:00 AM.
Our agent also said that Disneyland does not drop all of their dining at once. So, just because you don’t get what you want wanted the first day that doesn’t mean that all hope is lost. There is not as much to choose from.. but everyone said to get Blue Bayou which is in New Orleans Square outside the Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Because we were east coast I easily got everything we wanted.
On day two, I got us Carthay Circle in Disney California Adventure, day three Carnation Cafe, day four Wine Country Trattoria, and the last day I ended up cancelling because I wanted an even slower pace.
Difference #5 – Getting to the Parks
This is by far the most dramatic difference of them all. It appeared that most guests staying at a Disney resort or good neighbors resort walked through Downtown Disney to get to their desired park.
Listen, the internet makes it sounds like it’s super tiny. I’ll tell you, it’s not sprawling like Disney Springs but it’s not small either. It was a 10-20 minute walk from the Disneyland Hotel to the gates.
Security is smaller and far more relaxed. They do it how Disney used to do it checking each bag manually and then walking through the metal detector. I don’t think we ever waited in line. We came right out of the hotel, went through security and then we were on our way.
Once you walk to the end of Downtown Disney, both park entrances are right there. Disneyland on the left and California adventure on the right. So weird, right?
Differences 6 – Parks
We did Disneyland on our first day. We walked in and quickly were shocked by how small everything felt compared to Disney World. It felt like everything is super sized in Florida. Don’t get me wrong. It was so charming and magical because it was the original but it did take a few days to get used to it.
Disneyland also crams SO much into a small space. In addition to Fantasyland, Frontierland, Adventureland and Tomorrowland, there is also Critter Country, New Orleans Square, Toontown, and now a Star Wars Land – Galaxy’s Edge.
There are so many classic rides in Fantasyland that we absolutely loved – Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, Alice in Wonderland, Storybook Canals, and so many more.
Disney California Adventure – we really loved this park. It kind of gives off old Hollywood Studios vibes. This land has classic cartoons, Pixar, and Avengers. It sounds like a hodgepodge but it was really nicely done. I especially liked Avenger Campus and the Hollywood Studios portion. Oh and the Incredicoaster was so fun.
If the Radiator Springs Racers are important to you, I suggest doing them with Early Magic Hours – if you are staying on property. The line was insane soon after park opening.
Difference 7 – Monorail
Oh my goodness guys, it is not a form a transpiration there! And it’s also tiny. There are only two stops: Downtown Disney ( which the stop is just steps away from the Disneyland Hotel) and Tomorrowland.
- Pro: Save yourself some steps at the end of the night or if you aren’t rope dropping.
- Con: you have to fold up the stroller and you miss seeing the castle when you walk in the park.
Difference 8 – MagicBand Plus
Your MagicBands aren’t as commonly used in California as they are in Walt Disney World. They don’t work at your resort as your hotel key. But once you link you tickets to your reservations you can use them to get into the park and for your Lightning Lanes.
Difference 9 – PhotoPass
There are not nearly as many photographers roaming around as you see in Walt Disney World. If you want ride attraction photos you need to snap a picture of your photo with your phone to grab the code and then manually link them in the my Disney Experience app. It was kind of a pain in the butt honestly.
Difference 10 – Characters
It’s so much easier yo meet and interact with characters at this Disneyland Parks. They are just roaming around. Sometimes not even with an attendant. You can check the app to see some of who will be out and about and their general vicinity, however there will be some surprises along the way.
I’m addition to the roaming characters there are standard character times and meeting spots as well.
Difference 11 – Merchandise
Okay, if you’re anything like me, I love some good Disney merch. Just be aware the options are far more limited at Disneyland. It seemed like each store almost had identical goods which is not the case at Walt Disney World.
Disneyland Resort is certainly different that Walt Disney World – but not greater than or better than. Just different than.
The hotel and room with spacious, clean and conveniently located. We loved that everything was in walking distance. It was incredible that how easy everything felt. And that might be the biggest difference – convenience. By staying on property, you are able to get into the park early and walk from the hotel. If you decide to buy a parkhopper or Genie+, you can jump back and forth from each park without walking a mile to your car or spending an hour waiting for a monorail or bus. Yes, the park would get busy, but the competition on Genie+ seemed relaxed compared to WDW. Overall, you could tell this was a regional theme park compared to the biggest vacation destination in the world.
I woudl say, if you are considering a trip to Disneyland, go for it. It has all of the magic you get at Walt Disney World…but the magic is just a little different. But, as a Disney Theme Park fan, you won’t regret it voyaging to the “Happiest Place on Earth”.