Home » 5 Things a Walt Disney World Fan Learns When They Visit Disneyland

    5 Things a Walt Disney World Fan Learns When They Visit Disneyland

    Image - Flickr, Loren Javier

    It’s a silly fight, but it’s one that every Disney Parks fan has had at least once: Which is better, Disney World or Disneyland?

    The debate, at this point, is tired. We all repeat the same talking points.

    “Orlando has what Walt always hoped for: the blessing of size!” “Oh, yeah? Well Anaheim has things that Walt actually designed himself!” “But our monorail actually goes places. And look at all those hotels!” “Psh. We have the best Pirates of the Caribbean. Checkmate!”

    And so on, and so on, until the end of time.

    But here’s the thing: It doesn’t actually matter which is better. They’re different in so many ways, that no matter how many times you’ve been to one, the other will still feel foreign. That’s why it’s so important to visit both, if you’re a Disney fan.

    I grew up on the east coast, and I’ve been to Disney World countless times. Disneyland, however, is another story. I recently visited the Anaheim park, and speaking as a Disney World lifer, it was quite the eyeopening experience. I learned a lot.

    Here are five things Disney World fans learn when we first take that long-thought-about trip out west to visit Disney mecca:

    1. No, that weird feeling doesn’t go away

    Image - Flickr, Loren Javier

    It’s kind of like the Magic Kingdom train station! Kind of …
    Image: Loren Javier, Flickr (license)

    From the moment you arrive in Los Angeles until the moment you board your plane home, things on a Disneyland trip just feel … odd, if you’re a Disney World person. There’s a dreamlike quality where things seem similar to what you remember if you squint your eyes enough, but in reality, there’s an uncanny distance between what you expect and what you experience.

    Everything from the parking garage to the Welcome Plaza to Downtown Disney all feel like Disney, but they feel like a Disney you aren’t used to. And since Disney is, largely, a brand of nostalgia, that disconnect is rather jarring.

    And it doesn’t subside, even while you’re in the park.

    As you approach the front turnstile of Disneyland, you see the train station and the walkways and the hint of Main Street USA, and it all feels like home. But as you turn the corner and finally get your first glimpse down the length of the famous boulevard, Sleeping Beauty Castle feels like it’s been photoshopped into your line of sight. The familiar pieces are there – the hub, Tomorrowland to the right, Adventureland to the left – but it just feels eerie.

    It’s not a bad feeling! On the contrary, it’s actually rather electrifying. The strangeness adds an edge to the entire experience, making it feel all the more special. But it’s a rather confusing thing feeling like you’ve been somewhere before, even while you know you never have.

    2. Size isn’t everything

    Image - Flickr, Josh Hallet

    Sleeping Beauty Castle is smaller than Cindy’s pad in Florida, but just as charming.
    Image: Josh Hallett, Flickr (license)

    In the debate over whether Disney World or Disneyland is better, the Orlando side of the argument will inevitably bring up size. And, yes, Disney World cannot be beat in that regard.

    Not only does Disney World have the land for four theme parks, two water parks, several shopping districts, a whole host of hotels, and an athletic complex, but it also has the space to build attractions and lands that have a real sense of scale; Spaceship Earth is awesome because it’s legitimately huge.

    Disneyland doesn’t have anything on that same level. Disney California Adventure comes close in the Paradise Pier area, but even that doesn’t quite feel as grand as some of Disney World’s vistas.

    But, there are more to theme parks than square footage and feet of height, and Disneyland manages to pack a punch with its tiny size. Attractions like Space Mountain, while smaller, fold in upon themselves, making them feel a bit wilder.

    And beyond that, Disneyland knows that if it can’t wow you with size, it has to do so instead with immersive story. Few attractions boast the same level of intricate theming as Indiana Jones Adventure. No restaurant at Walt Disney World has the same ambiance of the Blue Bayou in New Orleans Square. Disneyland has less, but it tries to do so much more. And, ultimately, that effort shines through. They have less space, but it’s all used extremely well.

    3. Change is a good thing

    Image - Flickr, HarshLight

    Disneyland turned Space Mountain into “Hyperspace Mountain” — but not forever.
    Image: HarshLight, Flickr (license)

    One of the biggest differences between Walt Disney World and Disneyland are the guests. In Orlando, the vast majority of the visitors are tourists traveling from all across the world. For many, it’s their once-in-a-lifetime trip to visit the mouse. For some, they come every year or two.

    Disneyland, on the other hand, is a locals park – and you feel that throughout the day. Even on a crowded afternoon, there’s far less urgency in the air than there is in Orlando. For most, if they can’t do a certain attraction, they’ll just come back some other time and do it. It’s not such a big deal.

    And what’s particularly interesting about that locals-centric atmosphere is that manifests itself in two specific ways. The first is that Disneyland is kept immaculately well – everything from the floors of the bathrooms to the (fake) cobwebs in the Haunted Mansion are maintained exactly how you’d want them to be. The second is that Disney always tries to keep the park fresh.

    That means, yes, they’ll change things up pretty often. Sometimes, those changes are permanent – such as the construction of Star Wars Land in the Rivers of America, or Star Tours replacing Adventure Thru Inner Space. Some changes are simply for a season, like the immensely popular and brilliantly designed Hyperspace Mountain overlay on the classic Tomorrowland attraction.

    Florida-loyalists tend to think of Disneyland as being an unblemished “classic” park, and while it’s true that much of the park is still Walt’s original vision, it has also changed immensely in the last 30 years. Some of those changes have been good, some bad, but the risks have all been fascinating. We’re still trying to build a sense of history with our beloved theme park in Orlando, and so we can sometimes be fearful of change. Disneyland, paradoxically, has seemed to embrace it. And it’s all the most special because of it. Change brings with it surprises, and that fresh feeling is unmatched.

    4. Feeling lost in a Disney park is stressful (and thrilling)

    Image - Flickr, Martin Lewison

    Uhh … how’d I get to Port Orleans?
    Image: Martin Lewison, Flickr (license)

    One of the things we tend to take for granted is how well we know the geography of our beloved parks. Right now, without looking, I could probably draw a decent map of the Magic Kingdom from memory alone. If you’re reading this blog, I have no doubt that you could do the same thing too.

    So, it’s easy to forget: There’s no feeling quite like dropping into a Disney park and having no idea where to go or what to do.

    On the one hand, yes, it’s stressful – particularly if you find yourself in Adventureland and you have a narrow Fastpass window closing over in Fantasyland. But on the other hand, there’s something liberating about it.

    Perhaps, in your confused state, you’ll stumble upon a spontaneous musical performance. Or maybe you’ll take a wrong turn and find yourself watching a thrilling stage production of your favorite Disney movie. The less you know, the more you’re open to being surprised by what you discover. And, ultimately, that sense of discovery is one of the reasons we always keep coming back to Disney parks.

    So, while it may be stressful navigating a new park for the first time, it’s also an immensely special experience you won’t forget.

    5. There’s no place like home

    Image - Flickr, HarshLight

    Leaving Disneyland
    Image: HarshLight, Flickr (license)

    But as special as Disneyland is – and it really, truly is a gem – the thing you learn most on a trip out that way is just how much you love Walt Disney World.

    Disney’s parks and the attractions contained within are works of art, yes. They’re beautifully constructed pieces of immersive storytelling, with eye-catching sets, thrilling rides, and moving themes. And, yes, they should be hugely appreciated for the artful construction that goes into them and the techniques of design that they utilize.

    But they’re also so much more than just ink and plaster and steel. They’re places we commune with friends and family to relax and forget the stresses of the real world. They’re experiences we share with one another – ones which bring us closer together, and which link us in moments we’ll recall for months and years and decades. They’re stuff of warm memories just as much as they are works of intricate art. Without those memories we’ve crafted before, all we experience is the art.

    What brings us back to Walt Disney World time and again is not just the artfulness of the resort’s masterful design. It’s not just the thrills and spills of the attractions, or the sights and sounds of parades. We’re drawn back to Walt Disney World because of the enchanting notion that a place so magical and otherworldly can also, impossibly, feel like home.

    Disneyland is wonderful. You should go at least once, and preferably more than that. But if you’re a fan of the Florida Project, be prepared: It will not scratch that itch. You’re just gonna want to visit Walt Disney World again that much more.