How Planning Your Disney Vacation Differs
You might think Disneyland and Walt Disney World are the same, but located in different locations. Not only are the theme parks different, but how you plan for your Disney vacation on the East Coast and West Coast are very different. To start off, Disneyland only has two parks and three Disney owned hotels and is surrounded by multiple non-Disney hotel properties within walking distance of the parks. While Disney World has multiple hotels, four parks and getting to the parks even from the hotels on property requires buses, Skyliners, and/or monorails. So, let’s focus on the differences so that you can ensure you have the best Disney vacation no matter which coast you choose.
One thing both resorts offer is Disney Military Promotional Tickets and they are a steal. Disneyland offers a 3- or 4-Day Park Hopper ticket that you can get at most MWR locations or at the Disneyland Ticket office at the resort. Walt Disney World offers a 4-, 5- and 6-Day Military Ticket with an option to include the Water Parks available at the Resort. Disney World also has a photo package called Memory Maker that is available for military members at Guest Services or the photo booth located within the Parks. You can get Disney World Tickets at most MWR locations and at the Shades of Green in Florida. One thing to note for the military tickets is the military member or dependent ID cardholder must be with your group when you enter (Disneyland) or activate your tickets (Disney World) and you can purchase up to 6 tickets per Resort per year.
The Magic Kingdom is celebrating its 50th year anniversary in 2021. It was the first park built in Florida and has a lot of similarities between it and Disneyland.
Epcot was supposed to be Walt’s vision of the future, but with his death, things shifted and it became a mixture of technology and culture. It is currently being reimagined into a whole new park. If you head there today you will find a lot of construction walls and work underway. World Showcase and the festivals continue during construction. There isn’t an official date when all the construction will be completed.
Hollywood Studios was once Disney’s answer to Universal Studios with backlot tours and The Great Movie Ride. Today it has been transformed into one of the most popular parks. With the creation of both Toy Story Land and Galaxy Edge in the last two years, a park that was once a half-day park will now grab your attention and keep you coming back.
Animal Kingdom is both a zoo and a theme park. In Animal Kingdom you can become a Wilderness Explorer gathering badges as you learn about animals throughout the park. You can even go on an African safari where you are sure to see crocodiles, rhinos, lions, giraffes, elephants and more. But you also will find thrills at Animal Kingdom with Pandora’s ride Flight of Passage where you ride on the back of Banshee or if you dare, ride Expedition Everest where you never know what you will find.
Disneyland is the original Disney theme park. It is made up of Adventure Land, Tomorrow Land, Fantasy Land, Frontier Land, Critter Country, New Orleans Square, Toon Town, Galaxy’s Edge and more. It is similar to Magic Kingdom, but smaller in size, not just land, but the castle and walkways. Disneyland is tight on space so if a ride is not performing it is often removed or reimagined whereas Magic Kingdom isn’t limited in space and keeps classic attraction that you can no longer find at Disneyland. But one thing you will find at Disneyland and not at the Magic Kingdom is Galaxy’s Edge. You have to head to Hollywood Studios to find that land in Florida.
The next park on the West Coast is California Adventure. It started out with its focus on California. Recreating Hollywood from the 1920s, a redwood forest, boardwalks and a number of nostalgic touches with a nod to California. The park was not well received by guests and went through a complete overhaul and reopened as a reimagined park in 2012, but the changes for California Adventure haven’t stopped. The Hollywood Tower Hotel was transformed into Mission Breakout in 2017, then with Paradise Pier being transformed to Pixar Pier in 2018 and demolition of Bugs Land in 2019 to make way for Avengers Campus in summer of 2020.
Reservation Difference (60 vs 180 days)
One of the next key differences between planning your vacation at Disneyland and Disney World is the amount of planning required. Top restaurants in Disney World require a 180-day while Disneyland only requires a 60-day reservation window. Being a hotel guest at both locations does extend the 180 and 60 day to begin with your resort stay, but a six-month planning window makes it harder to plan a last-minute Disney World trip ensuring everything you want when it comes to your dining needs.
Hotels (3 vs 25)
When you are planning your Disney vacation picking where you will stay either on or off the property is very different depending on if you are on the East Coast and West Coast. The three Disney hotels in California are expensive and with the way the park is surrounded by multiple cheaper off-property options it makes the decision of where to stay based on convenience or price. If you want the full Disney vacation including Magic Hours, themed Disney pools and private park entrances then pick a Disney owned hotel. If you are trying to stay on a budget, staying off-property within walking distance or even driving distance is a better way to go. No matter where you stay if you fly in you will have to find your way to the park as there is no Magical Express option.
If you are going to Disney World there are 25 resorts on property and they vary in price based on what Disney calls (Value, Intermediate, Deluxe). Another option for military families is staying at the Shades of Green which is located on Disney property where there are military rates based on rank. Another advantage of staying on property is that you get a free ride from the airport to your hotel (Shades of Green does not participate in Magical Express). Trying to decide if you should stay on property or off property at Disney World is not cut and dry. This site gives you a great unbiased approach to picking the best hotel for you.
One thing I realized when putting together the information for this post is that almost everything about planning your Disneyland and Disney World vacation is different, but it doesn’t mean you should quit now and scrap your plans for a magical vacation. More than likely you already know what coast you are planning to visit. So put your blinders up and focus only on what resort you are planning to visit. And yes, it will take a little research to figure it all out, but it will be well worth the effort.