10 years ago if you would’ve told us that we’d be considered a Disney Family, we would’ve scoffed at the idea of willingly forking over thousands of dollars to spend time in an artificial world that is seemingly designed to cater to a specific type of traveler who doesn’t value spontaneity, solitude, or adventure. Clay and I never had any desire to visit the famed theme parks prior to kids and while I had been to both Disneyland and Walt Disney World as a child, Clay had never been to a Disney property until we begrudgingly took the kids to Disneyland in 2017 when we were stationed in San Antonio. While we ended up having a blast at the Happiest Place on Earth, there were some elements of our trip that left us not wanting to jump into the Walt Disney World vacation pool. I even wrote a post Why We Haven’t Gone to Walt Disney World Yet in 2019 (seems like so long ago, right?).
We ended up visiting Walt Disney World for the first time as a family in January 2020 (read about what we liked and what we didn’t here). It was a fun trip but not one that left us wanting to return immediately – we had a handful of things we’d do differently if we went again. Well then the world shutdown, we PCSed during a pandemic, and when we found ourselves in 2021 wanting to celebrate the end of the school year with our first trip since COVID-19 and the kids excitedly asked if we can go back to Disney World since traveling internationally was off the table.
So that is how we found ourselves at the Most Magical Place on Earth sooner rather than later (read about what we like and what we didn’t for that trip here) with friends and family. We all agreed that our second trip to Walt Disney World was much better than our first but there are still things that we’d do differently the next time we inevitably visit the mecca of Orlando.
When planning our Spring Break adventure this year, we didn’t initially set out to visit The Happiest Place on Earth but as our plans formulated for Southern California, we couldn’t help but squeeze in three days at Disneyland Resort. And we’re so glad we did because it was by far our most favorite Disney experience yet. Not only is the weather in Anaheim so much better than Orlando but we’re throwing down the gauntlet and stating that we think Disneyland Resort is better than Walt Disney World.
Disneyland Resort consists of two theme parks – the iconic Disneyland and the newer California Adventure, and three on-site hotels – The Grand Californian, The Disneyland Hotel, and Paradise Pier Hotel. The number one reason why we think that Disneyland Resort is better than Walt Disney World is that the entire resort is walkable. One of the most frustrating aspects about Walt Disney World is that very few on-site hotels are walkable to a park and transportation is absolutely necessary for park-hopping. We much prefer not having to rely on transportation schedules and love the freedom of being able to walk in between parks and back and forth to our hotel. While there is a monorail that goes from Downtown Disney into Disneyland, it isn’t necessary and is more for the experience of riding a monorail.
We stayed at the Disneyland Hotel and loved it! Our room was bigger than the room we stayed in last year at Wilderness Lodge at Walt Disney World and the design details were on point. We all appreciated the light-up castle and fireworks headboard and not pictured is a third twin bed on the other side of the room so our two children didn’t have to share a bed, which we appreciated. While the pools were busy, they were still big enough to not feel too crowded and the kids loved the monorail water slide.
In the Disneyland Hotel is Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar, where we had drinks and appetizers the night we arrived at the hotel. We got to experience all the famed crazy antics and eat delicious food – we all very much enjoyed the sweet and spicy wings and Panko-crusted long beans. We have yet to experience Trader Sam’s at the Polynesian Resort at Walt Disney World (it was closed for renovations last time we were there) so I can’t compare the experience.
We spent three nights at The Disneyland Hotel and three days in the parks with Park Hopper Tickets. We wish we would’ve scheduled a resort day for us to enjoy the pool and everything the hotel had to offer but it wasn’t in our cards this trip – next time! We rope-dropped and closed each park every day – a perk of having older kids! Because our hotel was only a short walk from the parks, we were able to go back mid-day to regroup and reenergize. Even if you stay on property at Walt Disney World, you lose so much time waiting for transportation during mid-day hotel breaks, especially if you park hop.
While there are similar rides at both Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resort, there are rides that are unique to each destination as well. For example, Indiana Jones Adventure is one of our favorite rides that is only at Disneyland (another point for Disneyland over Walt Disney World) and was the first ride we rode this trip. And how can you not love the Matterhorn Bobsleds? While we prefer Magic Kingdom’s Space Mountain over Disneyland’s, we all agree that Big Thunder Mountain Railroad at Disneyland is far superior. The Tower of Terror at Hollywood Studios is personally one of my favorite rides (the rest of the family doesn’t love it as much as I do) so I was excited to go on Guardians of the Galaxy Mission: BREAKOUT! and absolutely loved it…what a FUN ride!
And Cars Land is one of the best areas in all the parks. The theming is spectacular and Radiator Springs Racers is a fantastic ride. And the Cozy Cone Motel was one of our favorite places to eat at California Adventure. We also really enjoyed our meal at The Lamplight Lounge at Pixar Pier in California Adventure.
We were actually a little disappointed that Star Wars: Galaxy Edge felt like a carbon copy of the one at Hollywood Studies at Walt Disney World. But we did enjoy libations at Oga’s Cantina so not all was lost.
We also spent time on Tom Sawyer Island, which we’ve never experienced in our previous trips to the parks. Opening in 1956, Tom Sawyer Island has the distinction of being the only attraction designed by Walt Disney.
We paid extra for Genie+ so we could utilize the Lightning Lane. We opted to pay extra for the Rise of the Resistance Lightening Lane but waited in line for both Radiator Springs (60 minutes at rope-drop) and Web-Slingers (75 minutes mid-day). Other than those two lines, the most we waited was 15 minutes for everything else. It was our first experience with Genie+ and we really liked it because it meshes well with our preferred way to experience Disney – we’re pretty intense and not meanderers around the park.
Again, the walkability is the biggest reason why we prefer Disneyland Resort over Walt Disney World. The ability to go back and forth between the parks at night is one of our favorite aspects of Disneyland Resort – you just don’t have that amount of flexibility at Walt Disney World.
We also found it a lot easier to see fireworks at Disneyland. We’re not ones to stake out spots for parades or fireworks (that is a prime time to go on rides!) so we appreciated being able catch the show while walking between lands.
All in all we had a fantastic Spring Break trip to Disneyland Resort and agree that is was our best Disney experience yet. While there are a few things we will do differently next time, like building in a resort day, there isn’t much we’d change. And yes – we love going on adventurous family vacations and traveling overseas but we’ve also learned over the years that love Disney trips too. Who would’ve thought?