Disneyland and Walt Disney World rank as the two most popular, most visited theme parks in the entire world. Though there are differences in both, obviously, it really comes down to personal preference and proximity to your home base. If you're thinking of a trip to one or both of these excellent parks and wondering which one may be better for you, read on.
One factor that may sway potential visitors is the sheer size of the parks. Disneyland, while it was the first of the Disney theme parks, is the smaller of the two. The Disneyland space in Anaheim, California is concentrated into two major parks with several distinct zones of fun. On the other hand, Disney World is excitingly massive with four major theme parks and room to spare. The extra parks and room to expand means that there's more for you to see. You can come for a full week and not experience absolutely everything there is to find at Disney World. But, like I said, that doesn't mean it's necessarily better for your group. It all comes down to personal preference.
Again, as Disney World is the larger of the two, it has more attractions. However, it doesn't have the original, classic rides that were created under the direct supervision of Walt Disney himself. Opening in 1955, Disneyland's every design change, every layout, every addition was done under Walt's keen eye. Many of the original rides remain open and popular including the Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean, Dumbo the Flying Elephant, and Snow White's Scary Adventures.
Disney World, and more specifically Magic Kingdom, was envisioned by Walt Disney as "the Florida Project" but he died in 1966 before it could be finished. The park was completed by his brother Roy Disney in 1971. Magic Kingdom was designed to resemble Disneyland and so contains much of the ambiance and attractions that you will still find in California. However, some of the 'classic' rides from California either didn't make it to the opposite coast or were replaced. Snow White's Scary Adventures has been replaced by the Seven Dwarf's Mine Train, a revolutionary ride that features new roller coaster technology with independently swinging mine carts. If you enjoy the classics, perhaps more than the new rides, then maybe Disneyland is right for you. That being said, Disney World is a major competitor based on its hugeness. You may not be able to find classics like Minnie's House or Snow White's Scary Adventures but you do have the entire Epcot park as well as Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom.
Some rides/attractions you will only find at Disneyland:
Indiana Jones Adventure, Sailing Ship Columbia, Redwood Creek Challenge Trail, Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage, Matterhorn Bobsleds, and California Screamin'
Some rides/attractions you will only find at Disney World:
Spaceship Earth, Expedition Everest, Kali River Rapids, Mission: SPACE, Test Track, Dinosaur, The Great Movie Ride, and Rock 'n' Roller Coaster featuring Aerosmith
Rides/attractions you'll find at both parks:
Soarin' Over California, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Twilight Zone: Tower of Terror, Haunted Mansion, Pirates of the Caribbean, Splash Mountain, and Space Mountain
It may not seem like a big deal now but transportation between parks or from the resort to the park can cause headaches in the best of us. Transportation at Disney World, though it could be better, is pretty reliably awesome. Buses run all day long from every resort to every park on the Disney campus but they do recommend that you leave a travel window of at least 30 minutes, getting to and from where you're trying to go. On the other hand, since Disneyland is a mite smaller, you don't have nearly as much of a problem with transportation. The park entrances and resorts are all within walking distance where that's nearly impossible in the Florida park, which is the size of a city.
As both parks are on opposite coasts, there are some weather differences. While both have beautiful climates nearly all year round, Florida does have a rainy season during the summer which can be off-putting. Most rides do not close during the frequent rainstorms and there are always things to do while it's raining, but we understand it can be a hassle. However, during Disney World's busiest summer months, it rains almost every day, but it almost never rains for very long. The tropical downpours last for about a half an hour normally with the odd thunderstorm here and there, and the rain is always a warm summer shower so it's not too uncomfortable to walk through. That being said, many people don't like rain and cloudy skies ruining their vacations and that's understandable. California, on the other hand, doesn't have nearly as much of this problem. Disneyland's weather is mostly dependent on the Pacific Ocean, meaning if El Nino is passing through, it can be quite rainy and gloomy. For the most part, though, California only gets rain during the winter months whereas Florida has to deal with hurricane season.
If you don't like large crowds, we suggest you travel to Disney, either one, in the off-season. Both parks' on- and off-seasons basically coincide with one another. From about the second half of August through mid-November the crowds drop off for the most part and then pick up around the holidays. The second half of January through February is also fairly slow and then picks back up for the spring and summer months. There are odd weekends and such scattered around March and April that recorded fairly low crowds but for the most part the parks are gearing up for the high season by mid-March.
For more information on when the best time to visit Disney World, check this out!
When it comes to Disney, there is no clear winner. Both parks are extremely well done and designed according to the Disney standard with the highest quality. Remember, you're going to either the Happiest Place on Earth or the Most Magical, so there's no wrong way to enjoy Disney!