Disneyland vs Walt Disney World: We Determine Which Resort Reigns Supreme

The theme park community is rife with all kinds of feuds that are primarily friendly, but can occasionally get heated. The two biggest arguments tend to be 1) Disney vs Universal, and 2) Disneyland vs Walt Disney World. We will take a look at the latter in a future article, it is the sibling rivalry of the former that we want to tackle right now.

The term ‘sibling rivalry’ is the best way to describe the Disneyland vs Walt Disney World feud, because similar to siblings, the two parks were born from the same place and, while the two fandoms love to bicker within the family, if someone from the outside tries to come for one of the parks, the other will jump to defend them. Sort of like how I can say my sister is annoying and grating, but if someone else says it, I will whoop their… well, you know.

Iconic Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World

So let’s take a look at the ultimate theme park family feud, Disneyland vs Walt Disney World.

So, which is better, Disneyland or Walt Disney World? The answer to that is easy, whichever park you went to the most as a child, whichever park you live closest to, and/or whichever park you visited last.

The question is too subjective and too complicated to simply answer straightforward. What we can do is look at different elements, different rides, and different lands and compare these smaller parts, rather than making a sweeping judgement of the whole. Don’t fret, we are not going to shy away from making tough decisions and we are certainly going to upset many of you.

Cars Land in Disney California Adventure at the Disneyland Resort

We would like to preface by sharing that we were lucky enough to visit both Walt Disney World and Disneyland this past month. While many people have visited both resorts, it is a rare experience to visit both parks in over a few weeks time. Both trips were vacations that lasted multiple days. We stayed at deluxe hotels at both resorts, Grand Californian in Disneyland and Yacht Club in Walt Disney World, and spent a lot of time at each of the parks within both resorts, Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure at Disneyland Resort and Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios in Walt Disney World. Both resorts were operating with covid restrictions in place and any frustrations associated with these temporary changes were not considered. 

First things first, let’s look at the tale of the tape. Here is a list of objective measurements about the two parks.

Year Opened: 

  • Disneyland (DL) 1955 
  • Walt Disney World (WDW) 1971

Location: 

  • DL Anaheim, California
  • WDW Lake Buena Vista and Bay Lake, Florida

Number of Parks: 

  • DL 2 (Disneyland and Disney California Adventure)
  • WDW 4 (Magic Kingdom, Disney Animal Kingdom, Epcot, and Disney’s Hollywood Studios) & 2 Waterparks (Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon)
Mickey’s Toon Town in Disneyland

Number of Hotels:

  • DL 3
  • WDW 25+

Acreage of Resort:

  • DL 500 acres
  • WDW 27,520 acres

Annual Attendance (In descending order, using 2019 numbers due to impact of covid-19 in 2020):

  • WDW Magic Kingdom 20.9 million
  • DL Disneyland 18.6 million
  • WDW Disney’s Animal Kingdom 13.8 million
  • WDW Epcot 12.4 million
  • WDW Disney’s Hollywood Studio 11.4 million
  • DL Disney California Adventure 9.8 million
  • WDW Typhoon Lagoon 2.2 million
  • WDW Blizzard Beach 1.9 million

Number of Rides per Park (These numbers might change slightly depending one’s definition of a ride vs a show vs transportation, but this is our count as of May 2021):

  • DL Disneyland 33 Rides
  • WDW Magic Kingdom 22 Rides
  • DL Disney California Adventure 17 Rides
  • WDW Epcot 9 Rides
  • WDW Disney Animal Kingdom 9 Rides
  • WDW Disney’s Hollywood Studios 9 Rides
Disney’s Animal Kingdom at The Walt Disney World Resort

Number of Rides per Resort:

  • DL 50 Rides
  • WDW 49 Rides

Resort’s average number of Rides per Park (RPP): 

  • DL 25 RPP
  • WDW 12.25 RPP

Now that we have laid out the quantifiable objective comparisons, with no value or judgment assigned, lets look at elements of each resort in head to head matchups. These are subjective and based on our own experiences judged against our personal preferences. This is all in good fun and intended for entertainment purposes only. Both resorts hold special places in our hearts and the hearts of hundreds of millions around the world for the past 50+ years. We are in awe of the creativity, talent, and effort put into creating and maintaining the magic. With that said, let’s jump in.

Mark Twain Riverboat on the Rivers America at Disneyland

Quick Note: There may be some rides, shows, etc, that are not discussed, this is because we had no strong opinion either way and felt it didn’t require a special mention. You will see the carrousels, both King Arthur and Prince Charming are missing, the riverboats, both Mark Twain and Liberty Belle are not discussed, and a number of rides like Winnie the Pooh, shows like Mickey’s Philharmagic, and experiences like Animation Academy and Savi’s Workshop are not mentioned. It is not because we forgot them, overlooked them, or did not care for them, we just had to draw the line somewhere. We will surely update this article in the future, so anything missing will likely show up soon.

ROUND ONE: SAME RIDE OR ATTRACTION

These are rides that appear at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World. These rides are different enough to pick one as being better, some that have identical ride experiences (Little Mermaid Ariel’s Undersea Adventure), have different enough queues to choose a winner.

PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN

This ride is listed first on purpose because the scale at which Disneyland’s version is superior is impossible to overstate. Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland is one of Disney’s greatest rides in any of their theme parks, both domestically and around the world. Pirates of the Caribbean at Walt Disney World is so inferior it feels almost insulting to the guest. What amazes us is that there are millions and millions of people who have only ridden the Walt Disney World version and think it is a great ride. Do yourself a favor and visit Disneyland to see the ride done right.

Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean was the last ride to be overseen from concept to creation by Walt Disney himself prior to his passing. There is a level of storytelling that is unmatched and a layer of magic that could only come from Walt himself.

Walt Disney World’s version is significantly shorter, but that is not the issue. Yes, there are scenes that are missing that make Disneyland’s feel more full and complete. But the real difference cannot be measured by time or scene count, there is a depth of story and sprinkling of magic that fills Disneyland’s version. Walt Disney was a master storyteller and he surrounded himself with the best and brightest of his era. Disneyland’s Pirates of the Caribbean was Walt’s magnum opus and that can never be replicated.

Winner: Disneyland

Pirates of the Caribbean – Disneyland

SPLASH MOUNTAIN

This was a tough one because Splash Mountain is such a fabulously designed ride that both versions leave guests smiling, tapping their toes, and just a little bit (or, in some cases, a lot-a bit) wet. The ride will be undergoing a re-theme at both parks shortly. The change to a Princess and the Frog theme is one we fully support and cannot wait to see. However, the change has yet to occur, so which version of Splash Mountain reigns supreme? We are giving this one to Walt Disney World. 

The two biggest differences is the ride vehicle and the ride length. For the ride vehicle, Disneyland’s version sits the guest in their floating log in a single file line while Walt Disney World sits guest side by side in a wider log. We like both setups and are not persuaded either way based on this alone. What swung this to Walt Disney World is the ride length. Florida’s version runs over 2.5 minutes longer and includes two more drops than California’s version. Both ride’s have extended outdoor queueing that is a bit bland and both have indoor queueing closer to the ride’s load zone that is perfectly themed and full of details. The rides have the same basic scenes, the same big finale, and the same songs, but Florida’s extra time and drops makes that version superior.

Winner: Walt Disney World

Splash Mountain – Walt Disney World

BIG THUNDER MOUNTAIN RAILROAD

We are giving it to Walt Disney World for the same reason we gave Splash to Walt Disney World. Magic Kingdom’s version of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad seems to be a bit longer and this is such an enjoyable experience that any extra time increases the enjoyment of the ride.

The Walt Disney World version also has the distinction of being designed in a way, completely accidentally, that aides in the passage of kidney stones. We have passed a number of these in our lives so we will always have a special affinity for anything that aides in that process, especially if it is an endlessly enjoyable themed rollercoaster.

The one area where Disneyland’s version is superior is the final lift hill, where Disneyland recently added visual and audio effects to mimic the hill imploding with explosives. This was not enough to overcome Walt Disney World’s longer runtime, especially hearing that these effects are planned for Magic Kingdom, but they’ve been delayed due to covid closures. It doesn’t matter where you ride this, you are going to have an amazing time. But Walt Disney World’s version gets this win for being longer and giving more bang for your buck.

Winner: Walt Disney World

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad – Walt Disney World

SPACE MOUNTAIN

Another close one. Both versions are a whole lot of fun and they both have me ducking from imaginary beams ready to take my head off. The ride vehicles are different, like Splash Mountain, but in the inverse, with California’s version sitting guests side by side and Florida’s version putting guests in a single row. Another difference is Magic Kingdom’s version has two tracks, where Disneyland’s version has one. Neither of these two differences, the ride vehicle or the number of tracks, was enough of an issue to sway us either way, it’s these last two that sealed the deal.

Walt Disney World’s version is very rough, rough to the point of pushing the line of not being an enjoyable ride experience. Disneyland’s ride is full of jerks and dips, the track itself is relatively smooth thanks to a recent refurbishment. But even that wasn’t the deal breaker. The number one reason why Disneyland’s version of Space Mountain is superior is the music – an absolute game changer. Composer Michael Giacchino wrote the music for the Disneyland version and it is high energy ear candy. It truly becomes apart of the ride, especially since the music is timed with ride elements throughout the track and it is pumped through individual speakers on each vehicle. When we get off the Walt Disney World version we are smiling and laughing (and holding maybe wincing in a little pain), because it is one hell of a fun ride, but we are also feeling a bit empty, like, something is missing. Then we remember, the music! This one goes to Disneyland.

Winner: Disneyland

Space Mountain – Disneyland

JUNGLE CRUISE

This is a ridiculous ride that we love, but there is no reason a ride like this should be good. A bunch of mechanical animals, moving unrealistically, with a cast member telling purposefully terrible jokes, while pretending to steer a boat that is clearly on a track. But for some reason this works.

This should push us to giving it to Disneyland, since the entire concept was created, tweaked, and fine tuned at that park. It gives it a certain authentic feel to ride the exact man made river where the ride was tinkered with for years until its current form was perfected. But we are giving this one to Walt Disney World. The Florida version has an impressive indoor section that definitely gives it the boost it needs to overcome the Disneyland nostalgia. This one goes to Walt Disney World. 

Winner: Walt Disney World

Jungle Cruise – Walt Disney World

HAUNTED MANSION

Much of this ride is the same at both parks. Major show scenes, like the dining room with the dancing ghosts and Madame Leota’s seance. A few different elements cancel each other out, like the endless stairs in Magic Kingdom and the Hat Box Ghost in Disneyland. So which ride has the edge? 

To determine this, you actually need to step out of the house and look up. The exterior facade for Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion puts that version into a category of its own. It is gorgeously designed and perfectly manicured. It’s well known that Walt Disney wanted the outside to look pristine and stately, instead of the dilapidated rotting Mansions made famous in horror movies. As Walt allegedly said “we will take care of the outside of the house, the ghosts will handle the inside.” This was a brilliant decision and one that ran contrary to most Haunted House style attractions of the day.

Both Walt Disney World and Disneyland have a well manicured and attractive facade, but Disneyland’s stark white columns, designed to resemble the Shipley-Lydecker House in Baltimore, is a vision to behold. It sets the tone before entering pre-show scenes and descending underneath the Railroad tracks. For the superior exterior, this one is going to the original version at Disneyland.

Winner: Disneyland

Haunted Mansion – Disneyland

PETER PAN’S FLIGHT

This one is pretty easy. The rides are close enough that if that was all we had to go off of, this one might have been called a tie. But, thankfully, there are other elements of the ride that will help us, namely, the queue. Disneyland fans who haven’t visited Walt Disney World might cock their head to the side and say “Peter Pan’s Flight doesn’t have a queue.” To that we say, “exactly.” Peter Pan’s Flight is an opening day attraction at both Disneyland in 1955 and the Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World in 1971, it still attracts some of the longest lines in all of Fantasyland in both parks. The one big difference is that the guests in Magic Kingdom are treated to a fabulously themed queue that includes a delightful Tinker Bell bouncing around the room. The queue shows photographs of the adult characters from the story and we get to walk through the children’s bedroom.

Queues like this serve two purposes, they entertain guests to keep their minds off the fact that they are waiting in line and they serve to set a mood and start the process of transporting guests. We don’t want to make it seem like Peter Pan’s Flight queue in Florida is on par with the likes of Rise of the Resistance, Indiana Jones Adventure, or Flight of Passage, it is not, but it is very cute, satisfying, and provides some entertainment and photo opportunities while waiting in line (not to mention air conditioning). Disneyland’s queue consists primarily of a switch back outside of the ride. One of the worst queues for one of the most popular rides. For that reason, this one is going to Walt Disney World.

Winner: Walt Disney World

Peter Pan’s Flight – Walt Disney World

Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance

This is a very difficult one because (like the next ride we are going to look at) the two versions of Rise of the Resistance were built at the same time with the expressed intent of creating clones of the two rides. So, how could one be better or worse? That was what we thought too. But there is a winner here and we can explain why. 

This past month we were lucky enough to ride this ride twice in Walt Disney World’s Disney’s Hollywood Studios and twice in Disneyland. Most people haven’t been able to ride this ride once, few people have been able to ride it at both parks, and only a handful can say they’ve ridden it multiple times at both parks in less than a months time period. We were not expecting to notice or feel anything different from the two parks, but we did and it was clear that we had a better experience at Disneyland’s version. 

Do not get us wrong, they are both incredible and quite possibly the greatest theme park ride ever created. But the outside queue area at the Disneyland version was notably different than Walt Disney World and we found it to be more pleasant. 

It was greener, had more water features, and it felt more lush and realistic. Also, the ride seemed to shine more. We are not putting much into that observation, since that is likely due to the fact that the ride had been shut down for 13 months while the Florida version was running nonstop for 9 of those 13 months. 

Rise of the Resistance, like almost everything at Disneyland during its reopening, was polished and every light worked, every laser was sharp, every animatronic was synched, the audio was clear, the screens were crisp. You could definitely sense that one of these rides enjoyed a 9 month longer nap than the other. Now, you would never know this simply by riding the Walt Disney World version. We rode that one first and thought it was perfect and flawless. We still think it is. However, Disneyland’s version was just a bit brighter, sharper, cleaner, and smoother, and Disneyland’s queue had numerous water features and greener growth. These are not super obvious observations, but we noticed them without looking for them, so they are real.

Disneyland eked this one out, but Walt Disney World’s version is still one of the greatest rides you will ever experience. Even though Disneyland is winning this matchup, the true winner are the fans. The fact that we have this artistic and technical marvel at both parks is unbelievable. 

Winner: Disneyland

Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance – Disneyland

Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run

Unlike Rise of the Resistance, the first ride to debut in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run, is no different between the two parks. The queue is the same, ride experience is the same, and the entrance is the same. We will call his one a technical tie, as opposed to an actual tie, where we just couldn’t pick one over the other.

Winner: Technical Tie

Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run – Disneyland and Walt Disney World

Soarin’ Around the World

Like many of these rides, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference once you are inside the show building, so we will have to use the entrance to determine a winner. In this case, the version over in Disney California Adventure, at the Disneyland Resort, wins. The theming outside the Anaheim version is beautiful with Disney creating the gorgeous Grizzly Peaks Airfield as the ride’s home. Out in Florida, the ride sits inside Epcot’s The Land Pavilion, which feels more like a 1990s mall food court. Both rides are spectacular, but Disneyland’s entrance theming is far superior, setting the right tone going into the ride and wrapping up the full experience as you exit.

Winner: Disneyland

Soarin’ Around the World – Disneyland

Star Tours – The Adventure Continues

This Star Wars themed motion simulator is similar to Soain’ in that you would not be able to tell which park you were in from the ride itself, so we have to look outside to determine the better version. Unlike Soarin’, Walt Disney World’s version has far greater exterior theming than Disneyland.

Walt Disney World’s version sits in a beautifully crafted Endor forest village at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, while Disneyland’s version simply sits in the soulless confines of Tomorrowland. The Anaheim version has seen some impressive murals over the years, but none of this compares to the place making that surrounds Florida’s version. 

Winner: Walt Disney World 

Star Tours – Walt Disney World

“it’s a small world”

Some of these are difficult decisions and others are pretty easy, this one is pretty easy. The original version of this ride in Disneyland wins without a doubt. The exterior facade is one of the most beautifully designed sets in any Disney park. The west coast version has its own section in the park and truly creates its own mini-land, while Walt Disney World’s version sits amongst the rest of the Fantasyland rides. There are some small differences throughout the ride, one notable change is that Walt Disney World’s show scenes are fully flooded, where Disneyland channels water along the tracks, just for the boats. We don’t feel this makes either version any better or worse, just different. We do like that you can view the loading area of the ride from Pinocchio’s Village Haus at the Magic Kingdom’s version, but that is does not come close to overcoming the grandness and artistic heights that come from Disneyland’s version.

Winner: Disneyland

“it’s a small world” – Disneyland

Astro Orbitor(DL) / Orbiter(WDW)

This one goes to Walt Disney World, no question. Disneyland’s version is annoying in so many ways: first, it’s location, it bottlenecks traffic heading into and out of Tomorrowland, second, it is on the ground, which takes away the views you got when elevated, third, they spell ‘orbiter’ wrong. 

Walt Disney World’s version sits on an elevated platform and provides great views of the Magic Kingdom. This is a spinner ride, so the ride experience itself is nothing ground breaking, but Walt Disney World makes the best of the simple ride and truly elevates it (pun intended). Some might get annoyed having to take an elevator just to get to the loading area of a ride, but that minor inconvenience is nothing compared to having to navigate around Disneyland’s roadblock.

Walt Disney World’s version is in a better location, which provides a better experience within Tomorrowland, while also providing better views, which makes the ride more enjoyable. This one goes to Walt Disney World.

Winner: Walt Disney World

Astro Orbiter – Walt Disney World

Dumbo the Flying Elephant

Walt Disney World made some great decisions regarding this ride, they added a second one and they created a circus play area for kids while they wait. This cuts down on the wait time and provides entertainment while waiting. Disneyland simply rerouted their queue so that it wouldn’t spill completely into Fantasyland. Another win for Walt Disney World.

They really seem to know how to take these spinner attractions and make them the best they can be. Well, let us rephrase that, they’ve done great things with Astro Orbiter and Dumbo, no comment on their other spinners: Aladdins Magic Carpets and Triceratop Spin. They have the superior Dumbo the Flying Elephant, another win for Walt Disney World.

Winner: Walt Disney World

Dumbo the Flying Elephant – Walt Disney World

Mad Tea Party

This opening day ride is a staple of the two domestic Disney Parks. While most guests simply refer to he ride as the Tea Cups, rather than Mad Tea Party, they still flock to it in Fantasyland on both coasts. This ride is one of those rides that has made a name for itself in pop culture as a reference point for Disney Parks. But which park does it better? Like many matchups on this list the deciding factor comes down to a single element. The Disneyland Tea Cups (err, we mean, Mad Tea Party) reigns supreme because the ride is outdoors without a roof or canopy. This might be a small difference, but it adds a lot to the ride experience, the waiting experience in queue watching the ride, and the walking by experience (it’s a thing!). 

Having no roof makes the ride feel more open and helps to add kinetic energy to the land. It is important to note that Walt Disney World’s version first opened without a roof, but was added two years later due to inclement weather requiring the ride to be closed frequently. Suggesting that even those designing Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom knew that a roof-less Mad Tea Party was preferred. This one goes to the Disneyland.

Winner: Disneyland

Mad Tea Party – Disneyland

Toy Story Midway Mania

This interactive 4-D ride has been a big hit in both resorts since it opened back in 2008. It currently resides in Toy Story Land in Walt Disney World’s Disney’s Hollywood Studios and in Pixar Pier in Disneyland’s Disney California Adventure. The ride experience is the same in both, but Walt Disney World takes this matchup because of the queue.

The Florida version has extensive theming, has an identifiable story about shrinking the guests down, and is inside with air-conditioning. 

On the other side of the country, Anaheim’s version is one of the more depressing queues in the park. That might be a bit hyperbolic, but the ride is so popular, so fun, so upbeat, and so colorful, that even a middle of the road queue feels disappointing. The ride is a blast in both parks, the entire experience is better at Walt Disney World.

Winner: Walt Disney World

Toy Story Midway Mania – Walt Disney World

Disneyland Railroad vs Walt Disney World Railroad

The old Disney saying is that “it all started with a mouse,” is a reference to Mickey Mouse. But there is a strong argument to be made that when it came to the parks, it all started with the Railroad. 

Walt Disney was known for his fascination with trains, in fact, Walt built his own railroad and small train in the backyard of his home before he broke ground for Disneyland in 1954. The train is the first attraction guests see when entering both Disneyland and Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom Both railroads wrap around the park and act as a ride, a means of transportation, and a show, as a number of scenes along the track have full sets of scenery specifically for passengers on the train.

But which one is better? We are giving this one to Disneyland for a number of reasons. The most obvious being that Walt Disney himself had a hand in developing this railroad. But, that alone isn’t sufficient, because if that were the case, every ride in Disneyland prior to 1966 would be considered superior simply for being developed when Walt was alive and that is certainly not the case. But when it came to the railroad, one of his favorite hobbies, Walt’s touch is evident throughout. 

Both railroads circle the park and have a number of show scenes that offer glimpses of the park you can only see on the train. While Walt Disney World’s railroad is slightly longer, 1.5 miles compared to Disneyland’s 1.2 miles, Disneyland’s version has four stops, one more than Walt Disney World’s three stops. Disneyland’s version also has more steam locomotives and more passenger cars. 

Currently, Walt Disney World’s railroad is undergoing a thorough refurbishment, but there is nothing to indicate the upgrades will be enough to surpass the special touch that Walt Disney imprinted on Disneyland’s Railroad. It is hard to ride this classic attraction and not be taken back to 1955 when a man, a mouse, and a train, introduced the world to a new vacation destination.

Winner: Disneyland

Disneyland Railroad – Disneyland

Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room

While these two shows are extremely similar, this one goes to Disneyland for a couple reasons. One of the biggest is that whole mess with ‘Under New Management’ at Florida’s version. This change at Walt Disney World was met with tremendous fan backlash and, while we usually roll our eyes at the entitled nature of some of these fans, this anger was more than justified. The revamp was terrible and it just created a bad taste for the Florida version. Thankfully this has since been corrected, but the stink from the ordeal still lingers.

Keep in mind, these shows are so similar that we are having to look at the minutia to make these determinations. Disneyland’s version is not only free from Lago and Zazu, which is a huge plus, it was also a project that Walt Disney worked on closely. The audio animatronics were groundbreaking for the time and the show has a magic feel that is hard to replicate. 

Both of these shows, in their current original state, are fabulous and not only provide a much needed air-conditioned place to sit, they also provide an entertaining show that lasts 15 minutes and has many satisfying layers. We remember the first time we saw it and we jumped out of our seat when the thunder cracked. 

The theming inside the show and on the exterior is beautiful and immersive. All of this, along with Dole Whip, makes for fun family entertainment. Both are great, but Disneyland’s version wins for avoiding the drama of ‘Under New Management’ and for having that unparalleled magic from Walt Disney himself.

Winner: Disneyland

Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room – Disneyland

ROUND TWO: DIFFERENT RIDE, SAME RIDE SYSTEM/TECHNOLOGY

Here we compare rides that use essentially the same ride system, same technology, or ride vehicles, but are different in terms of their theming. There are a number of rides that have the same skeleton, but are dressed differently.

Radiator Springs Racers (DL) vs Test Track (WDW)

Epcot’s Test Track in Walt Disney World premiered this unique ride system 13 years before Disney California Adventure was ever built and 24 years before Radiator Springs Racers opened in Cars Land. 

Test Track deserves a lot of credit for breaking new ground and serving as one of Epcot’s most popular thrill rides for more than 30 years, however, there is no doubt that Radiator Springs Racers in Disneyland’s Disney California Adventure took the ride system and blew Test Track out of the water. This might be tough for Epcot fans to read, but it is true and those who have experienced both will agree.

Radiator Springs Racers is one of the most perfect rides in any Disney park. It has three distinct acts, the first act takes guests on an open air drive past a beautiful waterfall while Michael Giacchino’s brilliant music plays to help set the mood. Act two brings guests into the show building to interact with a number of impressive audio animatronics from the Cars movie franchise. After some impressive visual effects the ride vehicle takes guests into act three, a high speed race throughout ornament valley against another vehicle full of guests. 

Test Track is outdated and a bit unclear. The first half of the ride is so dark and the storyline never really lands. However, the ride’s biggest problem comes from its own climactic conclusion. While Radiator Springs Racers takes guests on a high speed race through some of Disney’s most impressive outdoor landscape theming, Test Track’s outdoor section feels like you are racing around dumpsters, in a backstage area guests are not supposed to see and wouldn’t want to see. We half expect to see an actor portraying Mickey Mouse with his character suit’s head off, smoking a cigarette on his lunch break. Test Track has thrilled and entertained millions over three decades, but Radiator Springs Racers shows what the same ride system can do with a bit more attention to detail, a tad more storytelling, and a boat load of theming. This one goes to Disneyland.

Winner: Radiator Springs Racers, Disneyland

Radiator Springs Racers – Disneyland

Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout (DL) vs The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror (WDW)

There was a time, not too long ago, that both Disney California Adventure and Disney’s Hollywood Studio was home to basically the same ride. They were both elevator drop rides themed to a Twilight Zone hotel. In 2017 Disneyland’s Disney California Adventure opened the re-themed Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout, featuring the same elevator drop ride vehicle. 

In a rare moment of humility, Disney Parks fans collectively ate crow, after endlessly complaining about the re-theme. The Imagineers had done it, they actually improved on the previous version in Disney California Adventure. 

So this one goes to Disneyland, right? Not too fast. 

We earlier described the two rides as ‘basically’ the same, that one word is doing a lot of lifting because even with a major upgrade to Guardians, the Walt Disney World’s version still reigns supreme. Disney’s Hollywood Studio Twilight Zone Tower of Terror has one huge feature that Disney California Adventure’s version lacks, a ride vehicle that moves through show scenes horizontally. Both rides feature vertical lifts and drops as their primary ride experience, but Tower of Terror starts with a trip through the Twilight Zone, as the ride vehicles travel horizontally through dark ride scenery that helps to set the tone and the mood for the ride. 

California’s original version lacked this element, meaning the re-themed Mission Breakout would also be missing this storytelling feature. While Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout ranks higher than either Twilight Zone version for upbeat, unabashed joy, due to its killer soundtrack, likable characters, and lighter mission, Tower of Terror in Florida has a more impressive ride system and a deeper story, which bumps it just a notch above California’s version. 

For those who have only ridden one of these two, you might be asking “why haven’t they mentioned the queue?” The answer is simple, since both queues are themed to perfection, this element ends up being a wash. While the rest of the ride features a similar ride experience, the difference in theming, tone, and overall mood, makes both of these rides must-dos for any Disney Parks fan. But at the end of the day, Walt Disney World takes this one by a hair.

Winner: The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror, Walt Disney World

The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror – Walt Disney World

Indiana Jones Adventure (DL) vs Dinosaur (WDW)

This matchup doesn’t even seem fair. Disneyland’s Indiana Jones Adventure is a top 10 ride in any Disney Park both domestically and internationally, while Walt Disney World’s Dinosaur, in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, is loved by some, despised by many, and considered just fine by most. This discrepancy in opinions shows the power of theming, as both rides share a near identical ride system, ride vehicle, and ride experience. 

Indiana Jones Adventure features one of Disney’s greatest queues, a long and detailed trek into the Temple of the Forbidden Eye. The ride features beautiful show scenes, including fire effects, a large snake that strikes the ride vehicle, a collapsing bridge, bugs, flying arrows, and the final scene featuring a falling boulder that guests just barely escape. The effects are primarily practical effects and is a great example of Disney Imagineering at the height of creativity. The ride is a huge hit with fans and remains one of the most popular rides in Disneyland. 

Florida’s Dinosaur lacks a lot of the attention to detail that makes Indiana Jones so special. The one thing it has in common is the jerky ride vehicle that simulates driving over rocky terrain and other features that cause the car to bounce and toss guests side to side. When used in moderation, these enhanced ride vehicles are effective and add to the thrill, when overused, the effect can be jarring and even painful. 

Dinosaur definitely beats Indiana Jones in terms of thrills, it is a much more intense ride with a constant barrage of Dinosaurs popping up and moving toward guests. The problem with Walt Disney World’s version is primarily due to its strange storyline (guests traveling back in time to bring back a Dinosaur), the low lighting that makes the animatronics and scenery hard to see, and the lackluster queue and entrance. The ride’s characters are also a bit odd and constantly being yelled at that the dinosaur we can barely (that we had no part in finding) was the wrong dinosaur. 

Even those who love Disney’s Animal Kingdom’s Dinosaur will admit these two rides are not even on the same level. Indiana Jones adventure in Disneyland is one of those rides that come around every two or three decades that become instant classics. This one goes to Disneyland.

Winner: Indiana Jones Adventure, Disneyland

Indiana Jones Adventure – Disneyland

Grizzly River Run (DL) vs Kali River Rapids (WDW)

Grizzly River Run in Disneyland’s Disney California Adventure and Kali River Rapids in Walt Disney World’s Disney’s Animal Kingdom are both river raft rides that have the potential of getting riders absolutely soaked. One is beloved by guests from the day it opened, the other is considered one of the worst rides in their respective park. Disney California Adventure’s Grizzly River Run beats Kali River Rapids hands down.

Let’s first state the obvious, if you do not like river raft rides and you despise getting wet on a ride, then neither one of these rides are for you. While this applies to all types of rides (if you don’t like drop rides then you won’t like either Tower or Guardians, if you don’t like motion simulators then neither version of Star Tours is for you, etc), it seems like it applies even more to these water rides. If you don’t like thrills and accidentally end up on Incredicoaster you won’t be happy, but you will likely get over it quickly once the ride concludes. But, for those who hate getting wet on rides, there is nothing that will ruin their day more than getting soaked by a geyser from head to toe. So it is no surprise that the old Splash Mountain warning of “You May Get Wet” is changed for these rides to “You Will Get Wet, You May Get Soaked!” 

Now that we have been fully warned, let’s look at what makes these two rides so different and why fans tend to love one and openly despise the other. From our own experience riding the two rides and from years of following the online chatter about the two rides, the biggest complaint seems to be the length of Kali River Rapids. The general thought is that there is a lack of ‘bang for your buck’ in the Florida version. The ride time for Kali is an even 5 mins, where the ride time at Grizzly River Run pushes 7 mins 30 secs, nearly 50% longer. This is a huge difference, especially when wait times in the summer can sit around the one hour mark. 

The number of times you will hear guests ask “is that it” as Kali River Rapids pulls up the unload station is comical. It seems just as the ride is picking up momentum, it ends. There are some photos that show that Kali was intended to be much longer, but the length was shortened dramatically in the final version.

Grizzly River Run has a healthy run time that includes a number of different show scenes that make the ride feel more full and complete. Walt Disney World’s version does include a larger 30’ main drop, nine feet longer than Disneyland’s 21’ drop, but that does not make up for the rest of the ride’s deficiencies. 

Kali River Rapids also falls short in terms of theming too. While the ride has a respectable storyline regarding the dangers of deforestation, the message is hard to discern and hard to follow. This is another downfall of the ride’s short length, it does not provide enough time to tell a story, let alone a story with a complex message. There are overturned trucks, burning logs (that only sometimes glow red), and random animals that feel weird in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, since the park is full of hundreds of real live animals. 

Over in California, Grizzly River Run’s message is simply that you are on a raft riding down a river in the mountains of California. In most cases, the morality tale underlying an anti-logging storyline would be more impressive and appreciated than simply a river raft in the woods, but when the more serious storyline doesn’t translate, the ride lacks both joy and message. 

Grizzly River Run provides lush scenery, combined with a longer run time, a simple ‘having fun’ storyline, and one more advantage, the spinning drops. One of the unique features for California’s version is that the raft spins unpredictably on the ride’s drops. Guests who think they might avoid a big splash based on how the raft begins its descent are surprised when the raft is spun like the Wheel of Fortune halfway down the drop. This is one of the many reasons why Grizzly River Run in Disney’s California Adventure at the Disneyland Resort is the clear winner.

Winner: Grizzly River Run, Disneyland

Grizzly River Run – Disneyland

Buzz Lightyear Astroblasters (DL) vs Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin ( WDW)

Compared to the essays written explaining the previous matchups, this one is going to be short and sweet. This matchup goes to Astroblasters in Disneyland’s Tomorrowland simply due to the fact that the gun is not fixed to the ride vehicle like it is at the Magic Kingdom’s version in Walt Disney World. 

That’s it. This ride is not great in either park. It is good, some people might enjoy it, but the early 90s laser tag feel seems painfully antiquated compared to the amazing shooting games that have popped up since. This one goes to Disneyland for the simple fact that your gun is attached by a cord rather than a fixed joint. Yep, that’s it… next! 

Winner: Buzz Lightyear Astroblasters, Disneyland

Buzz Lightyear Astroblasters – Disneyland

Autopia (DL) vs Tomorrowland Speedway (WDW)

They both are loud and create unnecessary pollution, what sort of ride experience is ‘sitting in traffic?’ People will say ‘kids love it because they get to drive!’ Great, come up with a new attraction where kids can drive that doesn’t take up a huge footprint, uses a different energy source, is thematically consistent with the surrounding land, does not stink, and is not deafeningly loud. 

Okay, we feel better. They both need to go.

Winner: Whichever park dumps this attraction first, for now, they both lose.

Gadgets Go Coaster (DL) vs The Barnstormer (WDW)

Here we have two junior rollercoasters with a run time of about one minute or less, which is very short. They also have a low capacity. Those are the downsides, the upsides are that the rides are cute and they provide an introduction to rollercoasters for younger guests. 

The introductory feature of these rides is huge and turns a seemingly mundane attraction into something very important for younger guests. This one is going to Walt Disney World’s Barnstormer in Magic Kingdom for one simple reason, it is a longer ride. 

Gadgets Go Coaster glides in with a run time of 45 seconds, The Barnstormer lands at 60 seconds. Both serve an important purpose for future rollercoaster addicts and both enjoy light theming that is cute and appropriate. 

Gadgets Go Coaster has some heavy lifting since it is one of only two rides in Disneyland’s Toon Town, the other being the less-than-stellar Roger Rabbit’s Car Toon Spin. In 2023 the land will see the opening of Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, which will focus a lot of attention to that area of the park. 

Having a theme park attraction focused on young kids is important to counter balance the larger thrill rides. Both of these rides serve the purpose wonderfully, however, at the end of the day, Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom kid-coaster gets the nod for its longer ride length and our soft spot for Goofy. 

Winner: The Barnstormer, Walt Disney World

The Barnstormer – Walt Disney World

ROUND THREE: LANDS & ICONS

Here we look primarily at the lands of the two castle parks, Disneyland and Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World, with a few exceptions. We also compare park and land icons that pop culture associate with each park.

Main Street USA

Many have called Main Street USA the perfect land. To an outsider this might seem odd since there are no traditional rides (sorry Main Street Vehicles), but for those of us lucky enough to visit these parks you know the power of Main Street. 

It has been compared to the opening and end credits of a movie, providing a slow transition into the park and allowing for the slow transition out later in the evening. Cleverly adding the names of Disney’s greatest contributors on the windows and storefronts, like the cast and crew of movie. 

It provides everything someone would want to start their day: snacks and souvenirs, and it provides everything someone would want to end their day: snacks and souvenirs. It hosts the park’s many parades, fireworks, and nighttime shows, all while providing the warm hug from an idealized turn of the century American town. With all of the good stuff: shops, restaurants, horses, fire station, city hall, and park benches, without all of the bad stuff: racism, homophobia, and sexism.

So which Main Street is better? We can’t decide, this one gets our only, non-technical, tie, and we feel great about it.

The two Main Streets are different and unique, but we can’t say which is better, and if you’ve read this entire piece, you will know that we have no problem making unpopular decisions. Some will prefer Walt Disney World’s taller buildings, finding them more impressive and immersive, while others will find the the smaller buildings at Disneyland more personable and warm. 

The best way to honor the two resorts is to call this one a tie. When you have two perfect lands, there is no way to pick a winner. At the end of the day, and the end of the street, the true winners are the guests who walk down Main Street at either park to start their day, full of energy and excitement, only to find themselves crawling back down Main Street at the end of the night, with swollen feet, bags of souvenirs, and memories that will last a lifetime.

Winner: Tie

Main Street USA – Disneyland
Main Street USA – Walt Disney World

Fantasyland

As previously noted, there are some aspects of Fantasyland that Walt Disney World does better than Disneyland, including Peter Pan’s Flight and Dumbo. Walt Disney World also includes the new(ish) ride Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, the slow dark ride Ariel’s Undersea Adventure (Disneyland’s version is in Disney California Adventure), and two themed restaurants: Cinderella’s Royal Table and Be Our Guest. 

Disneyland’s Fantasyland has individual elements that are superior to Walt Disney World, including the rides “its a small world” and Mad Tea Party. They also have a number of dark rides, suitable for all ages, that are not found in Walt Disney World, including: Storybook Land Canal Boats, Pinocchio’s Daring Journey, Mr Toad’s Wild Ride, Snow White’s Enchanted Wish, Alice in Wonderland, and Casey Jr Circus Train.

It is safe to say that both lands at both resorts offer a lot of amazing experiences for all ages. Many of these elements overlap and many are unique to their parks, so we have to look beyond a simple list of elements and take a step back to look at the lands as a whole and determine which feels better and provides an overall better experience.

Considering this, we are giving this matchup to Disneyland. We can hear Walt Disney World fans cursing our name under the breath, as Fantasyland holds such a special place in people’s hearts at both parks. 

The reason we are going with Disneyland is the layout and general feeling and look of their Fantasyland. In 1983 Disneyland’s Fantasyland got a total refurbishment, lead by Disney Imagineer Tony Baxter, which saw the Renaissance fair tents transformed into a Bavarian-style village theme. This thematic change was a huge hit with fans and critics alike and made Disneyland’s Fantasyland feel like it was plucked straight out of one of the classic tales. 

The theming at Walt Disney World’s version feels a bit more scattershot. There is a section themed to Disney’s animated hit Tangled, the famous ‘Tangled Restrooms,’ there is a section themed to Beauty and the Beast, another section to Little Mermaid, and so on. This is not to say that the theming is bad, on the contrary, it is incredibly impressive, but the separate themed areas within the land makes the land feel less consistent and inviting. If a guest walks off of Ariel’s Undersea Adventure, walks over to get a Peter Pan Float at Storybook Treats, and then uses the restroom in the Tangled area, they will have walked across Magic Kingdom’s Fantasyland and will have gone through three areas with completely different theming. 

On the other coast, Disneyland’s Fantasyland maintains the same theming throughout and provides a continuity that makes Fantasyland feel more like its own land rather than a general collection of places.

We also like how Disneyland’s Fantasyland feels to be more contained, with much of the activity happening in the courtyard between the four dark rides (Snow White, Pinocchio, Mr Toad, and Peter Pan). This gives the land a more intimate feeling that makes it seem more like its own place with the energy focused within, rather than being spread out and feeling a bit disconnected.
This one goes to Disneyland.

Winner: Disneyland

Fantasyland – Disneyland

Adventureland

Aside from Fantasyland, there seems to be wide agreement that Adventureland is the second most popular land within the two domestic Disney Parks, for many, it is THE most popular. So which reigns supreme between Disneyland and Walt Disney World? This one is going to Disneyland, hands down. Walt Disney World fans don’t fret, Disneyland does not come anywhere close to sweeping this entire round.

The most striking difference between Adventureland in the two parks would be the size and scope. Like most things, Walt Disney World’s version is much bigger. The ‘bigger is better’ theory does work for a number of these matchups, but not this one. The tighter feel of Disneyland’s version truly sets it apart from the other lands. The trees hang over the walkways and the lush greenery flows in, around, and on top of the rides, stores and attractions. You feel like you have been transported to a different land just by entering under the classic Adventureland sign.

Walt Disney World’s version is much more wide open, with large walkways that are found throughout all of Magic Kingdom. Wide concrete walkways are great for strollers and traffic flows, but they do not scream ‘Adventureland.’

When it comes to the attractions in the land, we have established that Walt Disney World’s Jungle Cruise is superior, but Disneyland’s Adventureland includes the iconic Indiana Jones Adventure, impossibly shoved into a slice of land next to the Tarzan tree house. Florida’s Magic Kingdom version includes their terrible version of Pirates of the Caribbean, a painful experience for those who have ridden the Disneyland version. While there is no question that Pirates represent adventure, it feels weirdly situated in the land, since the rest of Adventureland at Magic Kingdom is focused on the lush greenery of the jungle and forrest, not so much the Caribbean. It is important to remember that Pirates of the Caribbean was not an opening day attraction at Walt Disney World and was only added after complaints from guests that it was not in the Florida park. This might explain its rather odd placement in this land.

Disneyland wins this matchup because their Adventureland transports guests with it’s tight corridors flowing with greenery, that and the fact it hosts the brilliant Indiana Jones Adventure.

Winner: Disneyland

Adventureland – Disneyland

Frontierland

A quick look at the earlier matchups should make this one obvious, Magic Kingdom’s Frontierland in Walt Disney World is superior to Disneyland’s version. Here is one example where size and scope helps Walt Disney World. Not only does it allow for more rides, it allows for better versions of those rides. 

Magic Kingdom’s Frontierland hosts both Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, while Disneyland’s version only hosts Big Thunder Mountain. While someone might question why Splash Mountain, a Song of the South themed ride (a movie that does not take place anywhere near the ‘wild west’ that Frontierland is supposed to represent), is situated in Frontierland, the fact is that the ride is there and it is superior to Disneyland’s version. The Magic Kingdom’s Frontierland is vast and it works wonders.

Disneyland recently revamped the entrance to their Frontierland, with a wider sign and roomier bridge, which, undoubtably, looks great, however it is not enough to overcome the superiority of Walt Disney World’s Frontierland. 

Winner: Walt Disney World

Frontierland – Walt Disney World

Tomorrowland

We visited Disneyland during its reopening week and we spent time in Tomorrowland. We were there by ourselves and the park was at historically low capacity, so we could take our time and sit and enjoy the park in a way that was never possible before. It provided us with so many special moments, that is, until we spent time in Tomorrowland.

It was always our least favorite land in Disneyland, but we thought the slower pace would allow us to enjoy it more and find something charming that we always missed running from Space Mountain to Star Tours. It did not allow us to enjoy it more and we did not find anything charming about it, in fact, the slower pace heightened the coldness (even in a 90 degree day) of the land. 

A month earlier we visited Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World and found Tomorrowland to be much more enjoyable. The layout made more sense and the land fully enveloped us. Entering on a bridge underneath a newly designed Tomorrowland sign is much more enjoyable than squeezing your way around Astro Orbitor (don’t get us started again).

While Walt Disney World’s version is far superior, even that land is one of the least popular in the Magic Kingdom. Tomorrowland has always been a struggle for the domestic Disney Parks, but Disneyland’s version has few redeeming qualities. We actually had to walk out of the land and do a lap in Adventureland just to wash the icky feeling off of us. We texted our friends and said “Tomorrowland is where magic goes to die.” We find ourselves defending Disney Parks to an extent that is rarely found in the Disney fan community, but this is one land that even we have to draw the line. 

Walt Disney World’s version is not perfect, but it has a number of fantastic features, including an Astro Orbiter that is elevated, so it does not block guest flow, the Carousel of Progress, a beloved show that provides guests with a place to rest their feet all while being entertained, and the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover. The TTA PeopleMover is a slow-moving attraction that was replaced at Disneyland in the 1990s and then completely shuttered, leaving the empty track to taunt guests about a Tomorrowland that once was and seems will never be again.

If Magic Kingdom’s version wasn’t already far superior, a massive outdoor attraction, Tron Lightcycle Run, is being completed and will be operating some time next year. This will add another E-ticket attraction to the land and provide a beautiful addition to the skyline. There is no question that Walt Disney World has the superior Tomorrowland.

Winner: Walt Disney World

Tomorrowland – Walt Disney World

Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge

This is one of these comparisons where both versions are nearly identical. Sure you will find slight variations in color, as the color of the rocks are different to handle the different climates, some areas may be a bit wider or longer, but the lands are essentially the same. 

Knowing that, this one is going to Disneyland for a few reasons, the first is that it is clear that the land was designed to fit into the tiny sliver of land available at Disneyland and they just used that design for the Disney’s Hollywood Studios version. Since it was designed for the plot of land available at Disneyland, it just feels like it fits into that space better. 

Second, and the real ‘edge’ (pun intended) that Disneyland’s version has is the entrance into the land from Critter Country into Galaxy’s Edge. This land transition is pure magic and the best transition between any two lands in any part in the United States. As you pass Hungry Bear Restaurant on your left, with the Rivers of America on your right, you slowly walk into the Resistance Forrest and the scenery and the sounds slowly transport you seamlessly. It is highly effective and endlessly entertaining. The other two entrances into the Disneyland version are similar to the entrances at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, a tunnel that quickly transitions from one land to the other. They are effective and impressive, but they pale in comparison to the Disneyland entrance through Critter Country. This one goes to Disneyland.

Winner: Disneyland

Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge – Disneyland

New Orleans Square (DL) vs Liberty Square (WDW)

Easiest decision of the entire article, this one goes to Disneyland. New Orleans Square in Disneyland is widely considered the greatest land of any Disney Park. It is home to two of Disneyland’s greatest rides, Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion, and it was the last land to open under the tutelage of Walt Disney himself. A large portion of the land sits along the Rivers of America with the other section of the land housing a number of shops and eateries, including the exclusive Club 33. The land is themed to 19th century New Orleans, with ornate details scattered throughout.

Liberty Square in Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom is themed to colonial America and is home to their version of Haunted Mansion and the Hall of Presidents. The former is one of the park’s most beloved attractions, the latter is definitely not. The design and theming throughout Liberty Square is beautiful and thorough, the fact that New Orleans Square beats out Liberty Square says much more about the greatness of Disneyland’s version than it does about any deficiencies in Magic Kingdom’s.

This one goes to Disneyland, New Orleans Square is the GOAT.

Winner: New Orleans Square, Disneyland

New Orleans Square – Disneyland

Pixar Pier (DL) vs Toy Story Land (WDW)

Both of these lands evoke wonder and joy among the children who visit them as they are seemingly transported into their favorite Pixar films. I have no inside information on how the average adult guest feels about these lands, but I know that the verdict is mixed amongst the hardcore Disney Parks fanatics. 

While we fall on the side of absolutely loving these lands, others might find them to be cheap overlays, in the case of Pixar Pier, and an unnecessarily restraining single theme shackle in the case of Toy Story Land. These critiques are not without some merit, Pixar Pier’s signature rides all had previous lives with different themes, such as Incredicoaster (formerly California Screamin’), Jessie’s Critter Carousel (formerly King Triton’s Carousel), Pixar’s Pal-A-Round (Mickey Fun Wheel), and Inside Out Emotional Whirlwind (formerly Flik’s Flyers in A Bugs Life land). The issue we have is calling the re-theme a cheap overlay, that demeans the hard work and creativity that Imagineers put into the new rides and, unless you had previous knowledge of their former versions, no one would know that these rides were not developed and designed specifically for Pixar Pier.

The Toy Story Land critique also has some merit, there is no denying that a single-themed land leaves less room for growth. But one of the most endearing qualities of the Toy Story films is that it represents hundreds of toys and games that litter the floors and closets of children around the world. These worlds are vast which allows the lands themed to these worlds to have endless opportunities for growth.
Setting aside the grievances of the never-satisfied (because outrage pays the bills) within the Disney Parks blogosphere, we are left with two beautifully designed, fun, colorful, and whimsical lands. Both include Toy Story Midway Mania, both include a Pixar themed rollercoaster (Incredicoaster out west and Slinky Dog Dash out east), and they both have family friendly rides for the risk-averse (Jessie’s Critter Carousel and Inside Out Emotional Whirlwind at Pixar Pier and Alien Swirling Saucers at Toy Story Land).

This one is going to go to Pixar Pier in Disney California Adventure at the Disneyland Resort. Pixar Pier has more rides, five at DCA vs three at DHS, which is a plus, but what really seals it for Anaheim’s version is how the land fits with the rest of the park and creates the true iconic image for Disney California Adventure. 

The Incredicoaster and the Pixar Pal-A-Round ferris wheel overlooking the lagoon serves as a warm welcome for guests before they even arrive on the pier. Toy Story Land is also beautiful, with both lands truly coming alive at night, but the location of the land is a bit tucked away and it feels detached from the rest of the park. You could lift Toy Story Land straight up and out of Disney’s Hollywood Studios and the rest of the park wouldn’t change, where Pixar Pier is the visual representation of Disney California Adventure. It provides a beautiful image and kinetic energy that feeds the entire park. For this reason, we are giving this to Pixar Pier in Disney California Adventure at the Disneyland Resort.

Winner: Pixar Pier, Disneyland

Pixar Pier – Disneyland

Sleeping Beauty Castle (DL) vs Cinderella Castle (WDW)

Cinderella’s castle, the pride and joy of Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom is, without a doubt, far superior than Disneyland’s Sleeping Beauty Castle. The west coast version’s only true flex is that it was the original, but beyond that, the Florida version is the undisputed winner.

Before we gush about how stunning the Cinderella Castle is, let’s please make it clear that the Sleeping Beauty Castle is gorgeous. The design and construction was overseen by Walt Disney and the improvements over the years have kept it looking fresh and inviting. But its younger sister is a stunning artistic masterpiece unmatched by anything at Disneyland.

The Walt Disney World’s castle is not only much taller than Disneyland’s, it is also much wider. It creates an imposing, yet beautiful, center piece for the Magic Kingdom park. The castle hosts a themed dining experience along with a famous suite saved for celebrities or a lucky few contest winners. The castle is used as a backdrop for the nighttime spectaculars, reflecting the lights from the firework shows and acting as a canvas for the various light shows throughout the year. Cinderella is one of Walt Disney Animations biggest films and helped save the company in the early 1950s, while Sleeping Beauty was considered a box office failure at the time of its release and nearly sunk the company financially in 1959. This just adds to the many reasons why Cinderella’s castle is superior.

The large blue castle serves as the classic image for the Disney Parks. While die-hard fans roll their eyes when news stories use the Cinderella Castle image for Disneyland stories, it is easy to understand why an editor would choose the gorgeous masterpiece.

This one goes to Walt Disney World.

Winner: Cinderella Castle, Walt Disney World

Cinderella Castle – Walt Disney World

FINAL THOUGHTS

There is no doubt that we will be adding to this list at a later date. These matchups covered large swaths of both resorts, yet we still need to compare hotels, shopping/dining districts, and transportation. Some of Disneyland’s highest highs, Cars Land in Disney California Adventure, and lowest lows, Mickey’s Toon Town, were not discussed. We also didn’t discuss some of Walt Disney World’s greatest achievements, like Epcot’s World Showcase and Disney’s Animal Kingdom’s Kilimanjaro Safaris, and some of their less than stellar attractions like Journey into Imagination and Mission Space.

We decided to compare these two resorts in a head to head matchup format because the two resorts are too different for an even comparison. The Disneyland Resort can be seen, in full, over two days, but we recommend three, while Walt Disney World would take a full week, and even then you would miss a lot. But this difference is what makes the two resorts so wonderful, if you are short on time and are looking to get away for a weekend, Disneyland is the best choice, if you have a more than five days free and are ready for a massive undertaking, Walt Disney World is the place to go.

If there is one thing that we have learned during the covid-19 pandemic, it is that these resorts should not be taken for granted. Even the worst ride in your least favorite park is better than most experiences at any other vacation destination.

We hope that you have enjoyed these matchups and look forward to doing more of these in the future. If there is one thing we hoped to get across is how much we love these parks and the attractions and lands that fill them full of joy, escapism, and wonder. Yes, even Walt Disney World’s version of Pirates of the Caribbean.

Please share this with your friends and let us know on Twitter @SeanNyberg and @theDisInsider what we got right and what we got wrong.

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