My daughter and wife love Disney parks, and I don’t mind them so much either. It’s pretty hard to be cynical in these places, everything is done so well.
But our secret has been going to California’s Disneyland, not the Florida Disney World. For some reason, East Coasters swear the Florida one is better, but I doubt they have been to both parks. We have. We finally got to the Orlando park this past August after having gone to Disneyland in Anaheim about a dozen times.
Both have their pluses and minuses, but one shouldn’t necessarily rule out Disneyland just because it’s on the other coast. Here are the differences:
Some of the rides are clearly better in California, including: Buzz Lightyear, where the laser gun is actually removable from the car’s dashboard for better shooting; Pirates of the Caribbean, which seems longer; Grizzly River Run, which also is longer than its Florida counterpart; and the excellent Indiana Jones ride, which doesn’t even exist in Florida. Also, Disneyland has Toon Town, full of the costumed characters and their homes; great for the little kids. The Haunted Mansion is better in Florida, along with It’s a Small World.
There are two aspects of travel – convenience and cost. If you are going with a lot of people, flying may be cost-prohibitive. Flying is more convenient to either location; the cost to go to Orlando may be about $300 per person for a round-trip flight. Add $100 for Los Angeles. We usually fly to Vegas at about $350 per, spend some time there, and rent a car to go across the desert; a beautiful ride past mountains and ghost towns. The drive is about 3.5 hours and pretty direct.
For our recent Florida trip, we rented a small SUV. The drive is 20 hours and pretty grueling. You have to time it to avoid the rush hours in New York and D.C. With gas and tolls, not including the cost of the rental car, it’s about $250. The rental more than doubled that. Add in a hotel needed for some shut-eye, and driving isn’t that much cheaper than flying. But driving you can see a lot of interesting things, eat at Chick Fil-A, buy fireworks at South of the Border and generally make fun of the way other people live whenever you venture off the highway. Just don’t speed too much. The state of Georgia seems to make a lot of income off of I-95 speeders. Driving to California is impractical.
There are lots of affordable hotels, as low as $50 per night, all around the Anaheim park. You can just walk right in to the park from them. Also, it is easy to leave the park to go to a McDonald’s, as not to pay Disney park prices for basic fast food. In Orlando, it’s more convenient to stay in the Disney hotels, which all are fine. The low-cost ones, such as All-Star Sports, are on par with a very clean Days Inn, with a giant pool. These are about $90 a night.
We were melting in Orlando. It was near 100 every day, and those $4 bottles of water really added up. Add to that that Disney World requires the use of buses – and a lot of waiting in the hot sun for buses – to get around, and it was easy to get miserable.
Anaheim can be hot, too, but it seems more temperate. Average highs in Anaheim range from 70 in the winter to 89 in the summer. In Orlando, it’s 71 to 92. We must have caught a heat wave.
Anaheim has two parks adjacent to each other, and easily walkable for park hoppers: Disneyland and California Adventure. The latter has more rides for older kids, such as Tower of Terror. It also has a boardwalk full of games.
Disney World spreads out essentially the same rides over four parks which are only connected by jam-packed buses. Park hopping is tedious. Yes, Disney World has Epcot (which seems a bit dated nowadays) and a safari type experience with a smattering of animals (any major-city zoo is much better), but also longer lines and shorter rides.
Because Disneyland is in California, where there are other parks and things to do, it’s generally more laid back. For kids, because it has Toon Town and easier access to the characters, it may be the better choice, though it also has the rides for older kids, as well.
Breaking Down the Cost
Above, I mention some prices. Going to California, the flight, about 7 hours from New York, may cost a little more, but savings can be had by staying at a motel across the street and eating at chains like Spires, Pollo Loco or In-N-Out Burger, while in Orlando you pretty much are captive to using Disney hotels and eating Disney food. The ticket cost is a little less for the California park, as well. Also, look for deals online, which seem more prevalent for Disneyland than Disney World. For example, for Anaheim, you can get a three-day, one-park-per-day (no hopping) ticket for $226 ($76 per day) plus a Magic Morning, where you get to go in early and meet the characters. I’d suggest doing Disneyland on days 1 and 3 and California Adventure on the middle day. Orlando has a similar option, at $276, but you’d probably want the Park Hopper option at $336 because the three parks other than the Magic Kingdom are not worth being wholly confined to for a day. So you save about $110 per ticket per person for a three-day visit to the California Park. Overall, for an East Coaster, going to California may be cheaper for the Disney experience.
Plus there are intangibles. Southern California is simply a lot better than Orlando, Florida. There are more attractions, the people are a bit more sophisticated, and there is a lot of natural beauty and famous places.
The difference between the two parks isn’t enough either way to dismiss one or the other. Ultimately, it comes down to your travel preferences and the number of people in your party.
Just a note – Christmas is coming. But do not go to either at Christmas time! Instead, try early- to mid-January, before your college classes start up again. The high school and grade school kids will be back in class, so you can have the park to yourself!