How Disneyland Made a Believer Out of Me.

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I never wanted to go to  Disneyland. Sure, I’d heard all about how it was “Walt’s park” and how you could walk in Walt’s footsteps, but to be honest, I’m not very sentimental about those things. I love Disney World, all four parks, the dining options, and the resorts. It didn’t seem necessary to go all the way out to the West Coast (where I was raised, incidentally) when I had everything I needed just a few hundred miles from my front door. But circumstances change and an opportunity arose. I went to Disneyland.

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Here’s what I found, in a nutshell: Disneyland is both the same and different.  Disneyland feels like a “family” park, with a million pass holders for whom it’s like a second home; Disney World is everyone’s park, a destination for people from all over the world. Their castle is “cute,” not grand like “ours,” their quick-service food is better and the table-service food is spotty in places.Their Haunted Mansion has nothing on ours, except during the fall and Christmas, when they do a Nightmare Before Christmas overlay that is not to be missed.

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Their Pirates of the Caribbean though? It’s so much better. And you can’t beat their tea cup ride, which is covered only by a pretty, vine-filled trellis.

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When you talk to Walt Disney World first-timers who are used to Disneyland, they can’t grasp the idea of it taking an hour or longer to park hop: At Disneyland, it takes less than ten minutes.  You usually have to say something like “It’s forty-three square miles–it’s huge!” So for a Disney World guest going to Disneyland for the first time, it’s quite the opposite. There’s this expectation that you’ll be underwhelmed.  So when the opposite happens, and it will, you’re more than pleasantly surprised.

First, you’re going to love park hopping at Disneyland. Feel like a morning at Disneyland park and lunch at Disney California Adventure? Do it. It takes no time at all. Run over to Downtown Disney and grab some beignets on a whim and then head back over to California Adventure for World of Color. If Disneyland is open late, you can head back over and catch one last ride on Space Mountain  They have this quaint way of stamping your hand when you park hop–you’ll find this amusing, no finger scan.  It’s how they know to let you back in with your ticket.

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Disney California Adventure is just the right amount of Disney mixed with some of the classic types of rides you’d expect to see at parks like Six Flags, but done right the Disney way.  You’re going to be amazed by Carsland, which is why I hope it never comes to Disney World in any form–you need to see it out there, this huge experience where you walk right into the movie.  And Soarin’ over California just feels so much more “right” in a California park than it does in Florida. The line is shorter too, in my experience.

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Staying off site in Florida is hard. It can take over an hour just to get to the Magic Kingdom parking lot, then you have to ride a tram and take the ferry or the monorail to the park. In Disneyland you’ve got three great Disney hotels, all within minutes of the parks, but you’ve also got a ton of “good neighbor” hotels to choose from. These range from cheap little motels with almost no amenities to gleaming hotel chains. Pick one with an assigned shuttle and you’ll get to the parks quickly and easily.

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Disneyland will never take the place of Walt Disney World for me. I’m never going to get the feeling that I get when I’m crossing the Seven Seas Lagoon and the castle comes in view. But Disneyland is special in its own right and it’s so easy–everything is right there.  So if you get a chance to go, take it. It’s well worth the trip.

How about you? Have you been to Disneyland? What did you think? Or are you a diehard Disney World fan who won’t go? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

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About Christina Wood

For more travel planning articles by Chris, check out her Disney travel blog, Everything Walt Disney World. Chris is also a member of the Mouse Chat podcast team and an authorized Disney travel planner with Pixie Vacations, and visits the parks about 55 days each year. To get free planning and assistance with your next Disney vacation, please call her at 919-889-5281 or email at ChrisW@PixieVacations.com. You may also fill out a quick Disney Vacation Quote form here.
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17 Responses to How Disneyland Made a Believer Out of Me.

  1. Ashley Eglin says:

    I’m a huge Disney fan from the UK and am going to Disneyland for the first time next month. I’ve been on four WDW trips (which isn’t bad considering it’s 4000 miles away and I’m only 23) and I love it there, so I’m unsure what I’ll make of Disneyland. I’m really excited to go, but I have this feeling, as you mentioned, of being underwhelmed.

    I’m sure most people here have no idea that Disneyland in Anaheim exists, if you tell someone you’re going to Disneyland, they assume Paris. And I know that California will be better than Disneyland Paris!

  2. Joe says:

    I am the opposite- a Disneyland fan who’s never gone to WDW. My perspective of WDW is that it’s overly large and garish. It’s too big to fill in all its space with the fine detail that’s found perfected in over 50+ years of theme park entertaining at Disneyland.

    In most aspects Disneyland is a mature theme park. It has had the time to try things out and see what works and what doesn’t work. The trees are huge and shady. Disneyland truly is Walt’s park where WDW feels like it is the property of the Walt Disney Co.©. It feels corporate and gimmicky, and also the numerous reports of how WDW is falling into disrepair in some areas doesn’t exactly engender a trip down to Florida.

    I’ll take my tiny Park basking in the Californian sun any day!

    • Michelle says:

      I disagree. I have been to WDW twice, both in my twenties (15 years ago). Now I live in California, and in the past 3 months have been to DL twice. I have to say that I am really disappointed and underwhelmed with DL.

      Let me say this, I love CA, and prefer the weather over FL. I took a 7 year old to DL and he loved it, he didn’t have much to compare it to, and didn’t even know he was going, so he was thrilled.

      That being said, I really feel that DL lacks the magic and puts in very little effort. I will say that in WDW the people that operate the attractions really are cast members, where in DL they seem to be ride operators. In WDW the attraction starts from the moment you enter the line, in DL I really don’t find that at all.

      In WDW, I go on something like a jungle cruise and my mind plays tricks on me thinking the animals are real, even though I know they are not. In DL the animals are pretty pathetic, like plastic toys.

      In WDW, every attraction transports me, I feel like I am really in the attraction, at DL I feel like I’m going on a ride.

      I was in DL with a group including a 7 year old on Memorial Day weekend 2013, so I had little time to pick it apart, and given the crowds and wanting the 7 year old to experience as much as possible, I had little time to think about it, but felt underhwelmed but do think that the park did a great job managing the crowds.

      I was there yesterday, Sep 2013, weekday after labor day, and the crowd was about as light as it gets, and I think they did a really poor job. Things moved slower than they should have given the crowd level. This time I really got to look at things more closely, and I just do not think they put in the time and effort.

      Walking into the castle for instance should be a magical experience, instead it consists of a walkway with a storybook and some little rinky dink scenes playing out the book, really, really lame given all that it could be.

      At WDW I can’t imagine how they pull it all off, and at DL all I can do is think about what they could do with each attraction.

      And I have stock in Disney, so I would really like them to step it up.

  3. Cecilia DuVall says:

    Disneyland will always have a special place in my heart. My parents took my sister and I to Disneyland every year between 1959-1969. We live in Arkansas, so it was quite a trip, Grand Canyon, Petrified Forest, Las Vegas, etc, and the most magical place, Disneyland. In those early years, the magic all around Disneyland was there also, the really quaint, themed motels, and there was not much industrial mess, like there was when we went back in 1990. I was very disappointed in that trip, because everything seemed so different, the surrounding area was very industrialized, and most of the themed motels were either gone or very run down. But that was before the “Disney Revitalization Project” Downtown Disney, California Adventure, etc. My oldest son, who moved to Seattle, WA, did visit Disneyland recently and he has convinced me to return once again to California and experience Disneyland once again.
    In those years after the one trip to Disneyland, WDW has been our annual vacation. We first visited WDW in 1975, when my oldest daughter was only 2 years old. That was before Epcot. We were impressed, but did not return until the 1990’s, when we took all the children, and after Epcot, Hollywood, Animal Kingdom, WDW became our favorite place to go. But my memories of Disneyland have never left and now I am looking forward to visiting it once again. I watched a youtube video about Walt Disney’s private apartment, and the story about the lamp made me cry. I have to go back and see that light coming from his apartment. To me, Walt Disney is a hero–he was inspired and spent his life developing ways for families to have fun together!

  4. jim says:

    As a cast member WDW in Operation (working at the attractions) I wanted to go to Disneyland to see what the “original” was like. Like in your assessment, some things were better, and some were not. My biggest disappointment was sleeping beauty’s castle, thinking it was going to be like Cinderella’s Castle. I kept saying to myself “that’s the castle?”

    But Disneyland made up for it in attractions that had subtle differences and added attractions. Matterhorn & Indiana Jones are not to be missed and are unique to DIsneyland as well as others. My personal opinion is their Jungle Cruise is better and i share your feelings about Pirates of the Caribbean.

    But going from WDW to DL it’s easier to see thing things DL has than WDW doesn’t. However, comparing the other direction, WDW does have far more to see that we forget how spectacular they are. EPCOT, Typhoon Lagoon, Blizzard Beach, Board Walk Resorts area, MK resorts with a Monorail that is used and goes somewhere.

    I loved your article and observations. But you can have the same comparisons to Disney Paris as well that I have been lucky enough to have been a few times. Some things are better and not as good there also.

  5. Jay says:

    I can’t understand fans of either park that would refuse to see the other. Both have their advantages and its a joy to be able to have gone to both.
    Florida has so much to see- so many unique things like Animal Kingdom and World Showcase. Every time I go there’s always stuff I haven’t done yet.
    Disneyland is classic. A Walk in Walt’s Footsteps isn’t just a tour, it’s a feeling. This was the hands on execution of his vision.
    Why deny yourself the chance to see World of Color, or Wishes, or Illuminations? Even If you’ve seen Fantasmic in DHS you should see how it appears out of nowhere on the Rivers of America. You have to go to both coasts to see original attractions like Mr. Toad, the Country Bears, and Walt’s Carousel of Progress.
    But if you’d rather be stubborn, that just means shorter lines for me!

  6. Mark Taft says:

    I love your review of your first Disneyland trip. Thank you- it presents the differences well, showing much appreciation for both resorts. I grew up by Disneyland, so I have been many times. It holds something special for me- but no less special than all my trips to the World or to Disneyland Paris. Each resort is unique with its own plusses and cons. One day, I’ll make the Asia parks. I like that each holds its own unique memories.

  7. Louise says:

    I love Disneyland! As you stated, it’s the same yet different from WDW. The biggest difference that takes some getting used to is the excitement-level of the patrons. Because Disneyland largely has a locals crowd, the buzz of excitement isn’t there. It’s very common to see families at WDW decked out in their Mickey finest (sometimes matching), but at Disneyland you’re more likely to see a kid in a Slayer t-shirt. Also, for many guests at WDW, you sense it’s a once in a lifetime trip versus Disneyland where the guests can go multiple times a year. Seems more ho-hum for a variety of Disneyland’s guests. It’s nothing scientific, just something I felt when I was there. Doesn’t change my love for this exquisitely-detailed park one bit, just different!

  8. Craig says:

    I am incredibly fortunate in that I managed to visit the parks in the order they opened – I went to Disneyland for the first time in 1979, then WDW in 1985, and Paris in 1982 and just made in to Hong Kong this year (I live in the U.K).
    I’ve been to Paris the most because it’s the closest but the one I long for is California. It’s the most beautiful park. You can stay in a local Hotel and walk everywhere, and park hopping is so easy. I was there for the Opening of California Adventure in 2001 and that’s one of my best Disney memories (only second to taking my Kids to Paris for their first trip last year)
    Disneyland has the most beautiful Main street, New Orleans Square which is still unique and the best Jungle River cruise. Plus the Matterhorn and the Now-Nemo Submarines.
    I enjoy WDW but there is a lot of work involved, and whilst I agree there is something just massive about the site, given the choice, It';s Anaheim for me.

  9. Christopher T. Rhodes says:

    I’m a Walt Disney World passholder who has been DYING to go to Disneyland for years, and finally convinced the rest of my family to go!!!! We will be there in February, and I’m already dying of excitement. I like the sentimentality and the whole, “Walt’s park” aspect, but I’m also so excited about the Disneyland Originals and the difference in atmosphere and attractions. I’m considering the trip a pilgrimage of sorts, because I’ve always been so fascinated by Walt and the Imagineers’ work!!!

  10. Mark Baker says:

    I’m the other way around in that I’ve been to Disneyland more times than I can count, but have only made one trip to Disney World. It helps that I’m only an hour away from Disneyland.

    However, much of what you said I agree with completely. Those were my observations at the time, and I still feel that way. I think I prefer Disneyland, but if I lived close to Disney World, I could be quite happy.

    And I am so with you on Cars Land. It is pure magic, and we need something that Florida doesn’t. I hope it stays a CA exclusive area, but sadly I doubt it will.

  11. Chris says:

    Have been to WDW a dozen times, and went to Disneyland for the first time a few weeks ago. I thought the park was excellent, wait time for rides were shorter, and there was so much that was “different” about the park.

    BUT.

    There was nothing “magical” about the visit. It seems that the training at DL is more the like of a Six Flags employee than WDW. WDW cast members are excellent in the art of making you feel like you are having a magical day, and go overboard in dealing with the children, ex: Hello Princess… None of those things happened at DL. Disappointed in that aspect.

    • Michelle says:

      Yes, that is it, DL lacks the magic. Those that operate the attractions are ride operators, not cast members. You basically go on a ride at DL, vs. WDW in which you become part of the attraction.

  12. miles says:

    I went to WDW last year after 30 plus years of wishing and hoping. I have to say that I was underwhelmed at WDW. Perhaps I was anticipating and hoping for so long that my expectations were unrealistic. Having grew up in Hawaii and visiting DL about 8 times since about 1974 I was expecting way more.
    There were no 20k leagues subs and the Florida heat was very oppressive. I think I almost passed out a few times and resigned to staying in the shade until the sun went down. The food places were swamped and the prices were high and food quality so so. Getting stuck on space ship earth for half and hour and getting fast passes for space mountain only to have it shut down at my time was very sad.
    Soaring was unimpressive for me seeming to be in low definition. Also construction going on in Fantasy land probably didn’t help with me having a “Magical day” as I was told numerous times. Sure they may not tell you that in DL but it just happens without anyone telling you. Although the castle is very grand and the fireworks shows were very spectacular the sheer size of the place combined with the heat
    made me feel exhausted. But it was WDW and it was still impressive just not as magical as my youth at DL. Two days were simply not enough and I vowed to return one day.

  13. miles says:

    The still in existence people mover was AWESOME and seeing the downsized EPCOT model and the photo store under spaceship earth was great, so 70’s. Also the Astr Orbiter still on the raised platform with the elevator reminded me of the old times at DL, although the line was too long for us to go on it. The electrical parade with that song reminded me so much of my youth. The monorail stations and the paddle wheel steamboat to get to MK was great. I guess after the heat had subsided and I could get a good look around I think that WDW is more like DL was than DL is now.

  14. Carlos Silva says:

    Im goint to Disneyland in october! Loved your post!

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