What Walt Disney World Veterans Should Know About Disneyland Resort
You’ve been to Walt Disney World® many times in your life, and you know the parks and the entire resort like the back of your hand. After you make your resort reservations and buy your tickets for your vacation, you know the milestones: 180 days prior to check-in, make your dining reservations. 60 days prior (if you stay on site, or in a select Good Neighbor resort) or 30 days prior (if staying off-site), make your FastPass+ selections. Then comes the daily countdown until you hit zero, and you’re off to “the most magical place on earth™,” to get completely engulfed in the Disney Magic!!
But what about when it’s time to make your first trip to the original, the one that started it all? You’re gong to Disneyland! You know Walt Disney World like the back of your hand, so getting ready for your Disneyland trip will be easy, right? Time to take a small step back for a moment.
I grew up taking most summer vacations to Walt Disney World, and have been lucky enough to live within driving distance to Walt Disney World for a lot of my adult life, so I’ve had the opportunity to visit frequently. It only took one trip to Disneyland Resort to realize just how different these two things can be, even though they are both Disney Parks® properties. Here are a few suggestions for you Walt Disney World veterans preparing to plan your first Disneyland vacation:
1. Appreciate each resort for its own version of Disney® magic
|At Walt Disney World, the resort is designed to allow you to spend your entire vacation wrapped in the Disney bubble. If you fly in, then you take the Magical Express from the airport, you use Disney transportation to theme parks and Disney Springs – there’s no need to leave the Disney bubble for your entire vacation. If you drive, you do the same thing, except leave your car parked at the resort your entire trip. That allows you to escape normal life and just be immersed in Disney Magic.||If Walt Disney World is the Disney bubble, Disneyland is an oasis of Disney magic in the midst of the city of Anaheim. The Hotels of the Disneyland Resort are like the proscenium of a stage, slowly revealing the magic that separates you from the world outside. What Disneyland lacks in size, it makes up for in the quaint authenticity of standing where Walt himself essentially invented the modern theme park, as a cleaner, more family-friendly alternative to the carnival-type parks of his day.|
2. Walt Disney World is BIG. Disneyland is concentrated.
|Walt Disney World includes four theme parks, two water parks, 20 on property resort hotels, four golf courses and the Disney Springs shopping and entertainment district. It’s all spread over 27,000 acres, roughly 43 square miles – nearly as large as the entire city of San Francisco, CA. An extensive network of buses, boats, and the monorail tie the parts of the resort together and allows guests to move between the parks and resorts.||The Disneyland Resort includes two theme parks, three resort hotels, and the Downtown Disney shopping and entertainment district. The entire Disneyland theme park would fit in the parking lot of the Magic Kingdom. But there are nearly as many attractions in Disneyland and Disney California Adventure® together as there are in all four Walt Disney World theme parks. Moving from park to park at Disneyland is a leisurely five-minute walk, instead of a bus ride.|
3. Staying in a Disney resort hotel is different.
|Walt Disney World offers 20 resort hotels at a wide range of price points. Staying at one of those resort hotels gives guests access to an array of benefits including free Magic Bands, early access to FastPass+ reservations, earlier access to Advanced Dining Reservations – even free round-trip luxury motor coach transportation between your resort hotel and Orlando International Airport.
Extra Magic Hours provide an hour of early access or two hours of late access to Walt Disney World theme parks. And only on-property resort guests are eligible to purchase a dining plan.
But is can be a 30-minute bus ride from your Walt Disney World resort hotel to one of the Walt Disney World theme parks. Disney’s Animal Kingdom theme park cannot be reached on foot from any hotel. And only one resort offers walking access to the Magic Kingdom theme park (Disney’s Contemporary Resort).
|On the surface, being on property at Disneyland may seem like it offers fewer benefits. There are only three hotels. All three price at what would be the Deluxe (or at least higher-end Moderate) range. They do all offer walking access to both theme parks and Downtown Disney – but so do a number of quality Good Neighbor Hotels nearby.
But the Hotels of the Disneyland Resort set the perimeter for the West Coast’s Disney bubble. Staying off property means having to burst that bubble at the end of each day. Extra Magic Hour is only in the morning and, in Disneyland theme park, is shared with Good Neighbor Hotel guests. But Extra Magic Hour at Disney California Adventure (home of Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout! and Radiator Springs Racers) is exclusive to guests of the Hotels of the Disneyland Resort. And the Grand Californian Hotel & Spa has it’s own entrance, directly into Disney California Adventure.
4. Planning for table service dining is completely different.
|Table service dining at Walt Disney World involves making decisions about dining well in advance. Advance Dining Reservations (ADRs) can be made up to 180 days in advance, and a handful of the most popular restaurants do actually book to capacity as soon as that reservation window opens. On the other hand, you have scores of table service restaurants to choose from, so there’s pretty much always another alternative available and a new restaurant to try.
As an on-property guest, you have the option of purchasing one of three dining plans that allow you to pre-pay for your meals and exchange those pre-purchased credits for your meal, without having to pay much attention, if any, to the prices on the menus. With a dining plan that includes table service credits, you can even avoid having to pre-pay for meals like Cinderella’s Royal Table or the Spirit of Aloha dinner show.
|There are fewer table service dining options at Disneyland Resort, but also less stress about booking them. The reservation window opens just 60 days in advance, and the reservation window is the same whether or not you rare staying in a Hotel of the Disneyland Resort. Competition for reservations at most restaurants is not nearly as fierce as at Walt Disney World. The only restaurants that tend to book up right away are Blue Bayou and (sometimes) Napa Rose.
Disneyland does not offer any dining plans. They do sell character meal vouchers, but its more difficult to realize much value from those pre-paid meal vouchers than in the Walt Disney World dining plans. Disneyland character meals tend to be a bit more freewheeling than the character meals at Walt Disney World – at times you may find as many as ten different characters coming through at Breakfast at the Plaza Inn in Disneyland theme park!
5. Fastpass is different
|Walt Disney World distributes Fastpasses exclusively through the My Disney Experience system online. Even if you make Fastpass reservations while in the theme park, you are making them through the My Disney Experience online system. And you are choosing your return time (from among the times that are available) rather than taking whatever time the Fastpass system assigns to you.
If you stay on-property, you can begin making those Fastpass reservations 60 days prior to check-in (and 30-days prior to check-in if you do not have a Walt Disney World resort hotel reservation). And you can reserve up to three Fastpasses per day for which you have a ticket – but each day’s advance reservations must be from a single theme park. After using those three reservations, you can begin making additional Fastpass reservations one at a time.
Because the Fastpasses are all in the onilne system, they are “used” by scanning either a MagicBand or your ticket media with an RFID chip embedded in it. There are no paper tickets to keep track of, and you can change your mind about a Fastpass and swap it out for a different one at any time, from your smartphone, an in-park kiosk, or a computer.
|Disneyland does have an electronic Fastpass distribution system now, but it’s not an advance reservation system. It just allows you to use the ticket barcode that you have stored on your phone to scan at the distribution machine that dispenses a Fastpass – one per ticket scanned. (And if you don’t want to mess with your phone in the park, you can just scan the barcode from your ticket media instead).
But Disneyland also has the first pay-to-play Fastpass system available in the United States as well. (A somewhat similar system was rolled out in Shanghai at about the same time). MAXPass costs $10/person/day. It still does not allow advance reservations, but it does offer a couple of particularly useful benefits. First, you can grab a Fastpass without having to go to the distribution point – you just request a Fastpass of the attraction you want on your phone, and the MAXPass system delivers the next Fastpass for that attraction to you (assuming one is available). So no more dashing across the park to grab a Fastpass. The second major benefit of MAXPass is that you only have to wait a maximum of 90 minutes before grabbing the next Fastpass. Without MAXPass, you may have to wait up to two hours before you can get another Fastpass.
Disneyland Resort is its own, uniquely magical, Disney theme park experience.
Disneyland is an absolutely wonderful vacation!! It provides a change of scenery and change of environment from Central Florida in Southern California. By being prepared for the differences, you can go in to the experience with more reasonable expectations and an open mind for a different flavor of Disney theme park magic. If you give Disneyland Resort the chance, it can be as magical as you allow it to be.
Matt is a Naval veteran and a life-long Disney fan. His first trip to Walt Disney World was in 1977, and he’s been back several times a year for many years. He’s also taken Disneyland and Disney Cruise Line vacations. He is extremely familiar with Walt Disney World, as well as most aspects of other Disney Destinations.
Contact Matt to help you plan your next Disney Destination vacation!