How to Plan a Disney Trip: Part 1

How to Plan a Disney Trip

Disneyland or Walt Disney World


This is part one of a series on how to plan a Disney trip for your family. We start with the big question I hear all the time, which is “Should we go to Disneyland or Disney World?”. That is such a great question, and not easily answered. Every family is looking for different things from their vacation, and each resort has different things to offer. So I will break each park down with the positives and the negatives, so your family can make the best choice for you.

Disneyland & California Adventure
Anaheim, California


  1. Size – The park is smaller in size while still having many of the same rides at Disney World. This is a huge benefit if you have preschoolers, toddlers or babies in your family. Hopping between parks is a simple walk and kids can simply enjoy a stroller ride. This also means less walking each day, which is great for kids and their tired parents.
  2. Close Hotels – Disneyland Resort has three hotels that are walking distance to the parks. The Grand Californian is actually in the park and has it’s own private entrance into the park. A quick walk or stroller push to the parks is a huge benefit for parent with small kids.
  3. Magic – Disneyland is the original, and still has the magical quality that Walt Disney created himself. This cannot be replicated, although Disney World has some similar elements. There is something truly magical about Disneyland that other parks just don’t quite have.
  4. Time – A Disneyland trip could be done in a short amount of time, which maybe frees up more time to visit nearby beaches or San Diego, or just means a shorter vacation for busy families. See our post on Family Attractions Near Disneyland.
  5. Less Expensive – Disneyland is less expensive than Disney World. The park passes, even park hoppers, are less expensive than the world. Besides the three on-site hotels, there are also less expensive hotel options nearby off-site.
  6. Cars Land is a new land at California Adventure that just opened in 2012 and is amazing! See #9 in the negatives though on this one.


  1. Limited time – If you are hoping for a big, grand trip with the whole family for a week or so, this probably isn’t the place to go. Park hopper passes are limited to only 5 days, and after 5 days, you may have seen and done it all.
  2. Limited choices – Besides Disneyland and California Adventure parks, there isn’t much else at the resort. While there is plenty of fun inside the park, Disney World offers much more variety than Disneyland.
  3. Lighter off-season – If you are traveling off-season, Disneyland cuts back quite a bit on it’s nighttime shows and fireworks during this time which could mean you would miss them altogether. It’s a good idea to check with Disneyland before booking, although that brings us to #4.
  4. No planning – Disneyland doesn’t plan as far ahead as Disney World, meaning you won’t be able to either. They don’t release their calendars until 6 weeks out, so something may be closed or only on select nights, and you won’t know until right before you get there.
  5. Weekend Crowds – Disneyland has a very big local crowd that comes to the parks every weekend. So if you are visiting during Saturday or Sunday, expect really long waits and crowds, which is not great for little kids.
  6. Less Dining – Disneyland is lacking a bit in the dining department, and they also don’t have a money-saving easy-to-use dining plan like Disney World. While they offer a “dining plan”, it only saves a couple dollars and it is really just a set amount of money to be used within the park.
  7. Less Off-site Magic – While there are plenty of hotel locations off-site that will save you money, you will have to rely on the hotel’s shuttle service or drive yourself to the parks. And staying off-site means not being immersed in the Disney “magic” which can take away a bit from the trip.
  8. Airport Shuttle – Disneyland doesn’t offer very good airport shuttle service, and it isn’t free. The service is provided by a third party through Disney, and it isn’t the best.
  9. Cars Land is very popular and draws big crowds, which adds considerably to the wait times all over the parks.

Walt Disney World
Orlando, Florida


  1. More Parks – Disney World has four parks and two water parks, which offers family so many amazing things to do and experience during their vacation. You won’t even have to leave the resort there is so much to do! So if you were hoping for a grand trip for the whole family, this is the place to choose! They even have miniature golf, DisneyQuest, golfing, horseback riding, camping, beaches, and bike riding.
  2. More Hotels – There are over 20 choices of hotels to stay at while at Disney World, that all have fun and family friendly theming kids will love, as well as park perks and transportation to all the parks.
  3. Always New – Where Disneyland is short on space, Disney World has tons of space to expand and grow, meaning it always has something new to see and try. New Fantasyland just opened with new rides and meet & greets, and a new ride opening in 2014!
  4. Unique – While Disneyland is the original, Disney World is incredibly unique. Nothing compares with Epcot and Animal Kingdom as far as the experiences and the attractions.
  5. Dining –  Disney World has many more dining choices than Disneyland with restaurants in resorts and parks that are all part of the Disney Dining Plans. The Dining Plans are very popular because they save families money and make mealtimes easier.
  6. Airport Shuttle – Disney World offers Magical Express Shuttle from the Orlando airport for free if you are staying at a WDW resort. And the service is quite magical, delivering your luggage to your room (with participating airlines only).
  7. Better Off-season – If you are traveling off-season, Disney World doesn’t cut back as much on their shows and entertainment like Disneyland, so you will be able to see your favorite fireworks or parade even if you go in January.
  8. Entertainment – Speaking of shows and entertainment, Disney World has more simply because they have more parks and space for theaters and such.
  9. Planning – Disney World makes it easy to plan your trip far in advance with a calendar 6 months out and a window for dining reservations 180 days out from your first day. For those who like to plan in advance, this is hugely helpful!
  10. Character Dining – Disney World has a lot more Character Dining options than Disneyland. If you love this experience, the world will offer much more choices for fun.
  11. My Disney Experience – Disney World’s new MagicBands, FastPass+ and My Disney Experience website and app make planning your trip really easy! Only offered at the world,  this new technology allows families to schedule dining and FastPasses and keep their park passes and hotel keys on the convenient MagicBands.


  1. Getting Around – Since Disney World is so large, it takes a very long time to travel around between parks and resorts. Depending on where you are staying, you may be using the bus everyday, which is tough traveling with little ones. And you have to factor in travel and wait time to every day.
  2. More Expensive – Disney World is more expensive than Disneyland. The park passes and park hoppers are more pricey, and since this will be a longer trip, it will cost you more in passes and dining and accommodations.
  3. Crowds – While Disney World doesn’t have a huge local crowd like Disneyland, there are always crowds there, even during off-season. Our last family trip was during off-season, right when a ton of tour groups from Brazil were there which added to the crowd levels. So there aren’t a lot of down times at the world.
  4. Work for Kids – If your family has babies, toddlers or preschoolers, Disney World can be a long haul with hot days, traveling to and from the parks, and running around to see attractions and shows. Even the toughest of kiddos can meltdown under these circumstances.
  5. Giving Things Up – Since there is so much to do, you won’t be able to do everything you may want to do. Traveling time between parks and crowds may cause you to prioritize what your family can see and experience, and you may have to leave not getting to see and do it all.
  6. Wear & Tear – Disney World sees a lot more traffic, and it is showing the wear and tear. This does take away from the magic a bit, when you see things crumbling and tarps are blocking things.

Where the Parks Break Even

There are some points where both parks pretty much break even with each other:

  1. Weather – both parks, while being close to a coast, are too far inland to get much of the ocean breeze. So they both get high temperatures in the summer and following months. Anaheim isn’t nearly as humid as Orlando, but that doesn’t bother some people as much. Keep in mind daily temperatures when planning a trip with little ones.
  2. Downtown Disney – both parks have a Downtown Disney district and both are marginally family friendly. They both offer dining that is more adult friendly, although Disney World has a few kid locations. They both have Lego stores and World of Disney stores. While Disney World’s is larger, Disneyland’s is closer. So it is an even draw on this one.
  3. Photopass – both parks have the Photopass and Photopass Plus service (now called Memory Maker at Disney World) that allows you to have one of their photographers take your photo in the park and load it onto your card to buy later. And you can pre-purchase a photo CD before your trip for both parks at a discount rate. Disneyland rates are less, but there are less opportunities for photos at Disneyland compared with Disney World.
  4. Location and Travel – both resorts are located on a coast which offers sunshine year round (with a little rain for both) and depending on where you live, short or long travel. So, they fare even on this one as well.
  5. Characters – Both parks have character Meet & Greets. Disney World has more to offer but there is always a long line and it takes time from your day. Disneyland has less characters but they also have more characters just mingling in the parks which is much more magical and wait time to get that picture is usually less.

Choosing between the two resorts really depends on what your family wants from their Disney vacation. I hope this breakdown helps in deciding what the best direction is for you.

Follow along our series as we walk your through how to plan your entire trip, the way you like, and have a fantastic time when you arrive!

Follow the rest of this series:

Part 2: When, Where and How
Part 3: Making a Schedule
Part 4: Dining & Special Experiences
Park 5: The Final Details

Another series you might enjoy is our Disney Travel Planning for Families that includes tips and tricks for getting organized before you head out the door! Click on the icon below to see some of our fun planning posts!

preschoolearsL TravelPlanningSeries

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