This blog post was updated on April 12, 2016.

Disneyland vs. Disney World Part One: The RidesWhen Walt Disney purchased 160 acres near Anaheim, California, back in 1953, could he have imagined that it would become one of the most visited theme parks in the world? Or that it would have quickly inspired the creation of a similar, but much larger theme park in Orlando, Florida, that covers more than 30,000 acres?
Disneyland, the oldest sibling of the world’s Disney Parks, and Disney World, its younger, bigger, and hyper-successful kid brother, are home to a range of rides, from old-fashioned carousels to educational journeys to rides that whip you into a frenzy. Disney has it all—whether you choose Disney on the West Coast or East Coast.
But the two parks are unique, and offer visitors different types of experiences. Disneyland has a charming, mid-20th century time-capsule feel, even when Darth Vader comes out of the ground, fog swirling, and duels with kids in the audience. Disneyland opened in 1955, and just four years later, the Mickey Mouse’s creator was shopping around for an East Coast property to supplement a booming business in Anaheim.
Yet, despite being much smaller than Disney World, Disneyland delivers visitors with a classic, wonderful, and somewhat more palatable and affordable Disney experience (Disney World is huge and it’s easy to suddenly spend a ton of money there), drawing more than 16 million guests over the decades. Families, especially those with small children, may actually find Disneyland less overwhelming and more accessible. The attractions, such as the original Fantasyland filled with princesses, New Orleans Square, and Mickey’s Toontown are all within a 15-minute walk of another, quite manageable for pushing strollers and walking with elementary-school age kids.
Disneyland’s rides are very conducive to little kids—nothing too high, too loud or too scary. Many have a vintage feel, as I discovered during the two times we visited. The two that spring to mind riding a boat on a mechanical track that takes you into the mouth of the whale featured in “Pinocchio”), and riding pastel-colored teacups that spin you around. There is even an old-fashioned carousel not far from the old-fashioned Main Street, USA. Disneyland rides are more experiential—they are not the biggest and they are not the fastest, but they are charming and sweet, like vintage Disney films. You can leisurely wander Disneyland and not plan which rides to tackle first. For a five-year-old who doesn’t yet find screaming her head off while going super-fast is fun, or an adult who doesn’t like huge crowds or a lot of noise, it’s perfect.
Once you’ve done all you wanted to do at Disneyland, across the entrance gate is Disney California Adventures, an homage to the Golden State with rides and experiences including a wet and wild Grizzly River Run, Buena Vista Street—which lets guests experience early 20th century Los Angeles—and Paradise Pier, which echoes Santa Monica Pier and features a rollercoaster called the California Screamin’.
Now to Disney World: for tweens, teens, and adults of the entire age spectrum who prefer more edge and customization to their Disney experience, then the rides at Disney World may be more their speed. Home to four major theme parks, two water parks, 24-themed resorts, several golf courses, and other recreational and entertainment facilities, Disney World requires families to strategize on how to best enjoy their vacations because there is so much to see.
Navigating Disney World and its plethora of rides, from the mundane to the scary, takes planning and perseverance. Disney World just opened in December a “New” Fantasyland—the largest expansion in the Magic Kingdom’s park’s history since opening in 1971—with New Fantasyland being double the size of the old one (10 acres then versus 21 acres now=more rides!). Dumbo the Flying Elephant (a ride also available in Anaheim) got a makeover and now there are two Dumbos. It’s common to see long lines at Ariel’s Grotto if you’re looking for that “Under the Sea” experience. And New FantasyLand will continue to grow, with the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train roller coaster coming in 2014.
Elsewhere around Disney World, there are educational rides, like Epcot theme park’s Living with the Land, a 14-minute boat ride about Africa, the rain forest and agricultural development. And there are classic rides like Peter Pan’s Flight, Space Mountain and the Haunted Mansion sharing real estate with newer rides, many of them Pixar characters, like Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin named after one of the lead characters in Pixar’s “Toy Story” film series.
And this just scratches the surface as to the types of rides available at the two US-based Disneys. To help prioritize which rides to ride when, iTunes offers Disneyland and Disney World apps so guests can gauge rides’ wait times throughout the parks.
For more information about rides at Disneyland visit For more information about rides at Disney World, visit And use CheapOair to book your discount airfare to either Disney destination!

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