It is essentially impossible to answer the question of whether Disneyland or Walt Disney World is the better theme park. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, and no Disney fan worth their salt would be content having only experienced one or the other in their lifetime.
Nevertheless, it’s often fun to compare the two — and when you do, you usually come to the conclusion that while Disneyland is the better individual theme park, the Walt Disney World resort is far, far better as a vacation destination.
But what does that actually mean? What are the ways in which Walt Disney World is clearly better? Why is a vacation to Orlando better than a trip out to Anaheim? Disneyland has the history, the craftmanship, and the intimacy. What does Walt Disney World have?
Let’s break down why Walt Disney World provides the better vacation experience:
What do you like to do on vacation? Perhaps you like to relax by the beach or take a dip in the pool. Maybe you like to go shopping or explore new restaurants. Maybe you like to go for a bike ride, or a horseback ride, or fishing. Maybe you like to pilot a boat or fly in a hot air balloon. Or, maybe you like to play golf — either actual golf or its miniature version.
At Walt Disney World, you can do all of those things — and that doesn’t even take into account the four world class theme parks and two water parks.
When Walt Disney World was launched, it was billed as the Vacation Kingdom because of that grand variety. The vision for Disney World was something beyond the simple park that sprang up in Anaheim — providing a place for families to do anything they might want to do on vacation. Disney wanted that vision to become a reality so much that the company constructed its own lagoon for water sports — the famed Seven Seas Lagoon — and even built a working wave machine inside it such that guests could go surfing if they chose to.
The wave machine was quickly decommissioned, but the vision of a fully featured vacation destination continues to this day. Shopping destinations like Disney Springs combine with a handful of golf courses and mini golf spots (as well as a working ranch and countless nature trails) to create something that can only be dreamed of in Anaheim.
Disneyland may be great, but you can’t go fishing in the middle of Anaheim.
In recent years, Disneyland has developed its own slate of wonderful hotels, including the luxurious Grand Californian, the whimsical Paradise Pier, and the classically delightful Disneyland Hotel.
But as great as Disneyland’s hotels are, they aren’t even in the same galaxy as Walt Disney World’s resorts.
Some of Walt Disney World’s resorts are world class destinations unto themselves, providing such wonderful accommodations and amenities that a trip into the parks is almost secondary.
The Polynesian Village Resort has stunning rooms, a beautiful beach, a playful pool area, amazing restaurants, and one of the best bars in the Orlando area in Trader Sam’s. The Boardwalk Resort has its own entertainment district, as well as an amazingly themed pool. The Yacht and Beach Club has its own miniature water park.
It’s hard to imagine spending a few days at the Disneyland Resort without venturing into one of the two fantastic parks, but you could spend a week at a Walt Disney World resort without ever getting bored. That’s what vacations are all about.