Home » Florida is Weird– Here’s Why That Makes Walt Disney World WAY Different From Disneyland

Florida is Weird– Here’s Why That Makes Walt Disney World WAY Different From Disneyland

“Florida Man Tries to Steal Peacock—Gets Chased by Angry Peacocks.”

“Florida Man Tells Police He Wasn’t Drinking and Driving—Only At Stoplights.”

“Florida Man Takes a Bath… in the Kitchen Sink at Wendy’s.”

Florida is magical place—mostly because it’s wonderfully weird.

There really is nowhere in the US—perhaps in the world—like Florida. It’s not a bad thing per se. Florida may have an unusual populace, river dragons, and some frankly terrifying weather, but it also has gorgeous beaches, some of the loveliest preserved ecosystems in the US, and some insanely fun things to do.

It also has Walt Disney World, which is a pretty good bonus.

When everyone else saw useless swamp, Walt Disney saw Florida as a land ripe with opportunity to building the Most Magical Place on Earth (ironically, he specifically had his sights set on EPCOT—the Magic Kingdom was mostly a bonus to make his experimental prototype community happen!). While Walt never got to see his Florida project come to fruition, Walt Disney World had an incalculable effect on Florida. It’s not surprising that Florida affected the evolution of Walt Disney World in turn.

If you’ve only been to Disneyland (or never been to a Disney park at all), you may expect Walt Disney World to basically be a scaled-up version of its California counterpart. Even if you’ve done your research and are familiar with Walt Disney World’s four parks, you still might not be prepared for these five ways that Florida’s weirdness makes the Most Magical Place on Earth WAY different from Disneyland…

1. The land itself

Converting 27000 acres of swamp into a pristine tourist destination is no joke. It surprises me to this day how many people still ask me about Walt Disney World only for the conversation to go something like this:

Friend: “Yeah, we’ll be visiting Disney World in July.”

Me: “Oh wow. It can get a little hot and busy in July. Which park will you be visiting?”

Friend: “Disney World—didn’t I just say that? You know, with the castle?”

It’s difficult enough to explain to people that Walt Disney World is made up of four distinct parks (the Magic Kingdom is the one most people erroneously call “Disney World”), but it’s even harder to prepare people for the sheer scale of the place. I’m not even talking about the rides being bigger—the whole resort is absolutely sprawling, taking up a whopping 47 miles of land (only about 1100 acres of that is used by the parks!). Whether you’re first driving through the gates or just taking a ride on the monorail, the resort seems to go on forever, interweaving seamlessly with endless Florida woods and wetlands.

In many ways, you can thank Florida’s unique landscape for Walt Disney World’s stunning size.  Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure are squished into a pretty confined spot smack in the middle of downtown Anaheim. The city squeezes up against the parks like an urban corset. The proximity is so close that you can literally walk from many non-Disney resorts to Disneyland with only moderate exertion. You also can see downtown Anaheim from some locations in Disney’s California Adventure due to the early decision not to place a berm around the park.

Walt Disney World is completely different, largely because so much of Florida’s natural wetlands have been preserved throughout the property. It’s difficult to describe until you see it in person—the wetlands even permeate the waterways of the parks themselves. The only parks you can walk between are Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios which are a bit less than a mile apart. Do a quick check on Google maps, and you’ll realize you literally can’t walk between any of the other parks unless you plan to go backpacking in the Florida woods (don’t do that, by the way—see entries 3 and 4).

Walt Disney World’s unique position in the middle of Florida’s wetlands makes for an impressively beautiful environment wholly unique from Disneyland. It really does feel like visiting another world, vibrant and green and alive all around the parks. To get a better view of the wetlands during your visit, take a ride on the monorail, the Disney Skyliner, or on any of the boats available throughout the resort.

2. The weather

Oh, Florida and its cranky weather…

Weather can be one of the more… unique aspects of a visit to Florida. Calling it “The Sunshine State” can seem like a misnomer depending on if you caught the weather on a good or bad day. We have some of the most gorgeous weather in the US during the quiet months of winter, but our summer humidity can feel like the inside of a tea kettle. Indeed, locals don’t even look at the temperature most days—we keep an eye on the heat index, which takes humidity into account to tell folks if an 80 degree day will feel as intense as 95 degrees in another state. Common afternoon rainstorms aren’t usually enough to dampen a Disney day, but full thunderstorms in “the lightning capital of the US” can test the mettle of even the most stalwart traveler and shut down outdoor rides.

Oh, and hurricanes—you can’t ignore them, but if you’ve never been to Florida, you probably also don’t know what to expect from one. Hurricanes aren’t like tornadoes (we have those in Florida, too, by the way). A tornado is sort of a sudden, blustering nightmare affair—“You have FIVE MINUTES! YOU LIVE OR YOU DIE!” Hurricanes aren’t like that. They’re slow—painfully slow until they hit land. Some are so slow that you could probably outrun them on a fast bicycle if you got enough of a head start.

Hurricanes tend to be brutal to coastal areas but largely miss Central Florida bastions like Orlando. However, they can  reach the Most Magical Place on Earth on rare occasions, as Hurricane Irma proved. Ironically, the quiet days leading up to a hurricane are some of the most serene, low-crowd Goldilocks days you’ll ever find at Walt Disney World. A Disney resort is about the safest place you can be in Florida during a hurricane, but closed parks and resort lockdowns can definitely sour a vacation. There’s not really any surefire ways to completely avoid hurricanes either—hurricane season lasts practically half the year, peaking around September. Locals will tell you not to worry about them, and they’re right—the chances of one hitting during your visit and affecting Walt Disney World are infinitesimally small. Still, the slightest whisper of a hurricane warning can terrify the uninitiated (and apparently drive all the locals into a frenzy buying bottled water, bread, and spam? #FloridaProblems).

In short, Florida’s weird weather means that you may want to take some extra measures visiting WDW that you wouldn’t at Disneyland. Buy some rain ponchos from the camping section at your local sporting store or Walmart to keep on standby (be aware that they are hilariously overpriced in the parks). If you rely heavily on glasses, you may find your lenses fogging up on rare muggy mornings (if this proves really annoying, some anti-fog may be a good idea). No matter, what check the heat index before arriving to determine temperatures and decide what to wear. Winter in Florida can get surprisingly cold for those from warmer climates due to all the moisture in the air, and you’ll definitely find summers can feel more brutal than they do in Anaheim due to that thick humidity.

3. The wildlife

If you’ll be visiting Walt Disney World for the first time, one of the first things you might notice is the wildlife—Florida is sort of famous for it, and an entire ecosystem of critters have chosen to make their home in The Most Magical Place on Earth. Most of Disney resident wildlife fall into the “cute” category. On any given visit, you’ll almost certainly see adorable fuzzies like squirrels, bunnies, or even deer. You might see some of Florida’s gorgeous birds like wandering ibis, graceful cranes, majestic owls, waddling ducks, or anhingas sunning their wings. You may also see reptiles and amphibians like frogs, turtles, salamanders, and lizards—you can’t walk ten feet in Florida without setting a lizard skittering for cover nearby.

No one really gets worked up about Florida’s “cute” wildlife—it’s the other residents that make people nervous, and I’m not talking about “Florida Man”.

Walt Disney World definitely has its share of less-popular wildlife—most of which have a worse reputation than they necessarily deserve. Vultures and buzzards appear frequently in Florida and may be caught picking apart unfortunate carrion. Seagulls feign cuteness, but they’re just about the worst-behaved denizens in the state. The ones at Walt Disney World can prove quite the clever thieves—I’ve written before about their escapades dive-bombing unwitting guests outside of The Rose and Crown pub at Epcot to steal fish and chips (yeah, never feed these guys). Gulls and vultures don’t usually make headlines, however, that leave prospective Disney visitors with fear sweats.

You can’t talk about Florida without dealing with questions surrounding snakes and alligators. Yes, both can be found on Walt Disney World property. Fortunately, neither pose a significant danger to the average guest.

Disney knows that both snakes and alligators make guests antsy—snakes, for example, might rarely find their way into foliage around the parks. Once one is spotted, they are usually promptly scared off to a safe location or relocated. As for alligators, they do definitely inhabit Disney’s natural waterways, and they’ve even been known to find their way into park waterways on rare occasion. Disney has always taken a pretty active attitude about relocating gators once they’re spotted, but there are spots in the waterways that the cast members just let small gators be. In recent years, the company has upped their gator control efforts and added signs around shorelines and beaches to keep guests cognizant to stay away from water edges. The most important thing to remember with alligators is, like seagulls, never feed them— just leave them alone. If you see some knucklehead doing so, politely say something to a cast member immediately. The state of Florida and your fellow guests thank you for your vigilance.

4. The bugs

If you don’t do bugs, you may want to prepare yourself for your trip to Florida.

Disney does a spectacular job controlling bugs (especially mosquitos), but there’s only so much they can do with Florida’s wetlands interwoven with the parks. You will undoubtedly see a lot of bugs on any given Walt Disney World visit. Most of these fall into the innocuous variety like butterflies, beetles, and flies, but some can be quite obnoxious, from swarming gnats to surprisingly huge beasties.

Lovebugs are probably the biggest pain to experience if you happen to visit in May or September. For those who have never experienced Florida’s Biannual Lovebug Parade, basically millions of lanky black flies emerge from the ether for a few weeks of impassioned mating. If you ever had to explain a “two-headed bug” at Walt Disney World, you’ve probably met a lovebug. Depending on when you visit, you might see males and females struggling awkwardly to walk opposite directions as they remain attached, or even more charmingly, watched females dragging the corpses of the dead lovers while waiting to lay eggs (the males die shortly after mating—theirs is a brief, Shakespearian life). Lovebugs don’t bite, but they are annoying and create a huge mess. Their acrid innards have a nasty way of eating away the paint on cars and simultaneously make them unpalatable to every bug-eating bird and reptile in the state.

As for other bugs in Florida, they definitely tend to err on the large side. I once saw a wasp sitting on a bench at Disney Springs that had to be four inches long. On another occasion at the Maharajah Jungle Trek, we saw a brightly colored locust of equal length. Florida is also home to some seriously huge spiders—you may spy a few on your visit in foliage around walking paths or your resort. The most dramatic of these are golden orb weavers (sometimes erroneously called “banana spiders”). These guys can span about 4-6 inches across and weave massive golden webs like something straight out of The Hobbit. Fortunately, they are hilariously docile—like, you could probably walk straight through their webs and only earn a passive shrug from little Charlotte.

Unless you suffer from allergies, the only dangerous bugs you might encounter in Florida are actually mosquitos. As mentioned, Disney’s mosquito control program is serious business. To help guests prevent bites, Disney offers mosquito repellant lotion (usually with picaridin) for free at stations at all of their resorts and parks (ask a cast member for the specific location). First Aid locations within the parks also offer free mosquito repellant wipes, which can prove invaluable once dusk sets in.

5. The Orlando area itself

Walt Disney World and Disneyland do share one thing in common—the arrival of the parks had an insane effect on the surrounding areas of Anaheim and Orlando. Both areas quickly became densely packed tourist magnets. There are a few ways that the Orlando area (which includes Lake Buena Vista and Kissimmee) stands out as a little different from Disneyland though.

While Anaheim shares some of these traits, Orlando is a unique city of extremes if you step outside of “The Disney Bubble”. One minute, you might be driving through an area known for high affluence and fancy resorts like Celebration or Winter Park—the next you’re in an area struggling with intense poverty. On one hand, tourism covers many statewide costs in Florida—for example, toll roads and tourist taxes provide enough revenue that Florida doesn’t have a state income tax. On the flip side, the tourism industry (even Disney, sadly) often pays workers poorly, and this has had some brutal effects on economy in the area.  

Another point of extremes is that while some parts of the Orlando area are gorgeous, other areas are undeniably, painfully touristy. You might feel like you’re suffering from déjà vu after you pass the fifth set of outlet malls, and it’s hard to ignore row after row of stores selling bizarre tourist tchotchkes and secondhand Disney merch. Like Anaheim, the town is a bizarre landscape of both popular and b-level tourist attractions, major resorts, and tourist traps ranging from massive malls to mega-sketchy buffets and steakhouses.

 One of the biggest benefits to staying at a Walt Disney World resort as opposed to Disneyland is that the Walt Disney World property sort of insulates you from some of the Orlando craziness if you prefer to just enjoy your Disney vacation—that luxury isn’t necessarily available at all of Disneyland’s resorts due to the city’s close proximity. Orlando is a great city with tons to offer for those willing to explore, but if you’re looking for a quieter vacation, Walt Disney World definitely wins on that account.

What are some other ways Florida makes Walt Disney World WAY different from Disneyland?