Still surprised how much of a Disney fan I have become in recent years. I knew I would enjoy the parks, I do the movie after all; but I am now a Disney Adult! Luckily in the last year I have had the chance to visit both USA parks of Disneyland and Disney World and going to offer a comparison in different attributes and my preference. I want to say though that you really cannot go wrong visiting either, as there is plenty of pixie dust to go around at both locations.
I am not going to get into accommodations. We are Hilton Vacation Club owners and have yet to stay in an official Disney resort. We always stay in Hilton as we have the points. I know Disney World has far more hotels and options; but have no personal experiences.
Getting There: Disney World
Honestly I think this answer is going to vary for everyone based on where you live. First, its much easier to get to Florida from Pennsylvania, than to get to California. Orlando is a big east coast destination; with lots of airports offering flights to the Orlando area. My favorite is to use Allegiant Airlines out of Harrisburg airport (they used to have a State College flight). Tickets are cheaper, direct flights, and they fly into Orlando Sanford instead of MCO; and I am not a fan of MCO. Next, the flight is usually a quick 2 hours. Getting to California from Pennsylvania usually requires an entire travel day. Whereas, I can leave in the morning, and be in Disney World by lunch (and not have to change time zones). Finally, Florida is easier to drive to if needed. I have never done it but know people who have.
Getting Around on Site: Disneyland
Once you arrive to your destination, its so much easier to get around at Disneyland. Its no secret that Disney World is much larger and more spread out than Disneyland. Even though some Disney World hotels and properties are walking distance to certain parks; you still need to take some sort of transportation to get in and out of most of the parks; or to park hop. The waiting and transit time for those adds up. Disneyland's parks are steps across from each other and even downtown Disney is right there. We stayed at Hilton hotel nearby and walked everywhere.
Rides & Attractions: Disney World
Some are probably thinking well dush, Disney World with four parks has way more rides. However, this was a lot closer of a decision than one may think; and I try to take a fair approach. First I took out the awesome rides like Rise of the Resistance and Soarin' that both parks have and considered it a wash. Then I looked at the rides they share but have differences such as Haunted Mansion, Jungle Cruise, Space Mountain, etc. I had to give the points to to Disneyland here as I think they do a far better job on those rides. Then I disregarded some rides I love but just not possible at Disneyland such as Kilimanjaro Safari's (my favorite Disney ride). Only because I know Disneyland does not have the space to open an animal reserve.
Finally, I looked at the rides unique to each. Though I loved rides like Webslingers, Radiator Springs Racers, and Indiana Jones; some of my favorites are Flight of Passage, Expedition Everest, Seven Dwarves Mine Train, and the Guardian of the Galaxy Cosmic Rewind. I like these rides more than my favorites at Disneyland. Even with the points Disneyland earned for the better overlapping rides; the differences were not big enough to offset the unique rides.
Outside of the new Guardian of the Galaxy Ride at Epcot.
Aesthetics: Disney Land
What I mean with aesthetics is the overall appearance, feel, style, and design of the parks. Disney does an incredible job on this no matter what park. As a former event planner, I can appreciate the attention to detail every where. Even though I slightly prefer Cinderella's Castle to Sleeping Beauty's; I am giving Disneyland the win here. As I said before, Disneyland Park has more of the nostalgic feel of Disney. Disneyland also does a better job of incorporating more of the modern Disney stores into the parks. You have Cars land (sign pictured below), Pixar Pier, and the Avengers Campus. I think Disney World needs to incorporate more of their current stories into the parks; and also redo Tomorrowland. Disneyland does a better job of blending the classics from the past with the Disney stuff we love of today.
Food: Disney World
This one didn't require much of a debate for me. Disney World is just teaming with tons of food options. That isn't counting the hotels either. You have African inspired dishes in Animal Kingdom, and EPCOT alone could easily be nothing but a day of eating and drinking. To try and be fair I compared just Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios to the two Disneyland Parks; and I still prefer Disney World. The options and variety is just better.
I do appreciate Disneyland though for easy to find beignets and churros!
I didn't do a detailed math analysis on this, but know our overall vacation costs came in around the same based on my credit card statement. Our park tickets at Disneyland were a little less than Disney World. Food at Disneyland was slightly less expensive as well. Souvenirs such as t-shirts, seemed the same. We did not have to pay for parking at Disneyland since we walked from our hotel; where as in Disney World we had the daily parking fee as we drove from our offsite property.
Recent article from Nerd Wallet says that Disneyland overall tends to cost more due to the cost of hotel rooms being much less in Florida. That was a wash for us using our Hilton points. The article mentions it doesn't take into account the travel and getting around costs, which is a big factor to consider. For us, any costs we saved going to California was offset by the more expensive airfare.
Overall Preference: Disney World
Again both parks are great. For me Disney World is still my go to choice, especially if I only wanted a Disney vacation. The combination of the 4 different parks, delicious food, Disney Springs, and that is much easier for me to get to via airplane. However, I will say Disneyland is good if you want to do something Disney but not make your entire vacation about Mickey Mouse. Because the two parks are smaller and close to each other, you can do a lot more Disney in less time. You could easily do both parks in a day (or two) to get your fill. Then head out and explore more that California and the west coast has to offer; which is a lot.
What is your preference for those who have been?
Unless indicated all photos on this page were taken by me or my husband, Steve.