Before I begin, in order to quell any comments about how California Adventure wasn't opened until 2001. I include it with Disneyland because, unlike the name "Walt Disney World" which encompasses 6 different parks (only one of which was in development while Walt was alive), Disneyland is the name of only one park. It is only fair to include what has now become an integral part of a "Disneyland" trip. Despite the additions to these original parks, I would still consider them to be "Walt's babies" because they came from his amazing mind.
The age of the Internet has brought Disney fans all over the world together. But one common thing that seems to cause a rift amongst us is a seeming question of absolution:Which stateside Disney Park is better, Disneyland (DL) and its younger cousin-park Disney's California Adventure (DCA) or Walt Disney World (WDW)? It is a question asked by veterans and first-timers alike. While veterans usually already have their minds made up, first-timers often ask the question in hopes of making the most out of their long-anticipated family vacation.
For me, asking which Disney Park is better is like asking a mother to choose which child she loves more. Walt never wanted Disneyland and Walt Disney World to compete, he wanted each to be a separate experience, which is why he decided to build on the opposite side of the country. Well, that and the fact that Florida was still relatively undeveloped back in the 1960's and the land was so cheap. Unfortunately, once word got out that Mr. Disney was acquiring land to build a new park, prices were suddenly not-so-cheap (prices soared somewhere around 800%, but I'll save that for another time). I would never dream of trying to compare the two as if they were the same, because they are not. While Disneyland and The Magic Kingdom have many similarities, including sharing many of the same lands, rides, and shows, there are distinct differences between the two sister-parks.
But before I get into the long list of differences there are probably three questions that you should ask yourself before you start deciding: "How long am I going for?" Are you taking a short trip in which you want to get the most out of your days in the parks? Or are you taking a long, leisurely getaway? Also, a good question to ask yourself, "What type of weather do I want?" Are you looking to beat the heat…or the cold? Can you handle high temperatures? High humidity? And lastly you need to ask yourself, "What type of crowds am I willing to put up with?" Nowadays it is pretty safe to expect large crowds on any given day at DL/DCA and WDW. The "off days" where ride lines are short and crowds are relatively small are becoming extinct. However, believe it or not, there are days that are the absolute worst. There are so many things to consider when deciding which park is ideal for your trip. Here are some suggestions in answer to the questions I posed above.
"How long am I going for?"
For people who are restricted to a short "burnout" trip (minimum 3 days with a Park Hopper pass, staying in a resort hotel), I would definitely recommend DL/DCA. Why? First off, the obvious reason, there's only 2 parks! You can't possibly expect to come out satisfied with 6 parks with a 3-day Park Hopper, trust me, I've tried it. At DL/DCA it's super easy to check into your hotel, take the either 5 or 10-minute walk to the monorail or main gate, and you're in one of the parks! If you have an extra day you can check in, spend the afternoon doing some preemptive shopping in Downtown Disney, have dinner at one of the amazing restaurants (Tortilla Joes is definitely my favorite), take in the bustling night scene over a couple of cocktails at the Uva Bar in the center of Downtown Disney, and then head back to the hotel early to ensure you can take advantage of the Magic Hour of the day the next morning.
A 3-day Park Hopper is absolutely perfect at DL/DCA. If you're trying to spread out the time evenly, it gives you 1 day at Disneyland, 1 day at Disney's California Adventure, and then 1 day to either revisit your favorite park or split between the two parks hitting up things you may have missed or just getting in as many repeat rides as possible. Any additional days are just icing on the cake, relax at the resort pool, take in a movie at the AMC theater in Downtown Disney, indulge in a day at the spa, or explore the surrounding L.A. area (there's an awesome 100-store outlet mall, many famous museums, and even the [in]famous Hollywood just down the freeway). Of course, I wouldn't necessarily spend a week or two at DL/DCA. Unless you're a complete Disney fanatic there probably isn't enough to keep you happy for more than 3 or 4 days, maybe a week at most.
On the other hand, short trips at WDW usually just end in disappointed depression. Unless you've been there before, and are staying at one of the premium resort hotels you will be wholly unprepared for the sheer distance you will need to walk to just to reach a transportation point which will take you to one of the many parks. When you then roughly calculate just how much of your vacation time is spent in transit between parks and resorts you will begin to realize just how frustrating WDW can be. One can easily come out of a short trip to WDW feeling like they spent more time on buses than they did on rides.
However, if you have been saving up your vacation and sick days just for this trip, WDW should be the choice for you. Park Hopper admission to all 4 theme parks is available, but if you're also wanting to visit the water parks you will have to purchase separate tickets or add water park admission to your Annual Pass (AP) for an additional fee. On the upside, transportation from and to the airport is included with your WDW resort reservation so if you're planning on flying that can offset the additional park tickets.
I have yet to determine the ideal amount of time needed to fully experience all that WDW encompasses, but I would recommend nothing less than 4 days. Ideally you would want to devote 1 day to each of the 4 main parks. But in my experience, it never works that way. If you're disciplined, though, and stick to a fairly strict schedule then it is possible to hit all 4 parks in 4 days. However, that leaves no time to visit the water parks, explore your resort (which is often like a theme park within itself), or Disney Springs (which can easily require a whole day by itself!).The longest I have spent at WDW was 6 days and I can honestly say that it was not enough! I imagine that 14 days would ensure that I could experience everything that I want while avoiding the whole PVS, post-vacation syndrome, where you need to take a vacation from your vacation as soon as you get home. For every 2 days of hardcore park-going take 1 day of rest where you don't go into the parks and instead experience everything else WDW has to offer. In the next post I will explain why this is so important.