If you’re a fan of Disney or Star Wars, you’ve likely heard about the opening of major new additions in both Disneyland in California and Walt Disney World in Florida. Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge will be a new “land” in each park that will put visitors on another planet with highly immersive rides, shops and restaurants. The one in California just opened and the one in Florida opens at the end of August. I’m sure it’ll be very exciting…and very expensive. If it’s something you’d like to experience, the first decision will be – which one should I visit? Disneyland or Walt Disney World? Here are a few things to consider when making your choice.
Before I go on, I should mention that this will be the first in a series of blog posts about saving for a Star Wars trip. I’ll be making this trip at some point in 2020 with my brother. He’s seen all the movies, knows the characters’ names, had Star Wars curtains in his bedroom as a child…
Part 1 – Orlando or Anaheim?
Part 2 – Tickets
Part 3 – Accommodation
Part 4 – Flights
Part 5 – Food
Part 6 – Transportation
Part 7 – Extras
I’ll preface this post by saying that I am NOT a Disney expert. You will find many, many. many such people on the internet with various websites, blogs and YouTube channels. However, I have visited both Disneyland and Walt Disney World in the past so I know whereof I speak to some degree.
Is One More Affordable Than The Other?
This is not an easy question to answer. Making a trip to any Disney park is expensive. If you want to make it more affordable you need to spend time researching the options and see what works best for you and your budget. Living in the Maritimes the obvious choice would appear to be Florida but it’s not necessarily the right choice. (Well, it’s probably the right choice if you’re driving). In future posts I will delve deeper into the ways to save on the various elements of a Disney trip. For now, this is just a surface level look at the approximate costs associated with a visit to either destination and other factors that might influence your choice.
Disneyland in California is composed of 2 parks: Disneyland and California Adventure. Walt Disney World in Orlando has 4 parks: Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom.
Disney tickets have changed over the years. There are various ticket options and discount opportunities but for the purpose of this post I’m just going to compare regular priced tickets available in advance online for DL and WDW:
Single Day 1 Park Tickets
Disneyland 1 Day Ticket
Value Season $104 USD
Regular Season $129 USD
Peak Season $149 USD
(apparently Disneyland tickets are not subject to tax)
Walt Disney World 1 Day Ticket
$116.09 – $169.34 USD tax included
(price varies by date)
These are a better value as the average cost per day goes down the more days you buy. I’ve used a 4 day ticket here as an example for comparison.
Disneyland 4 Day Ticket
$325 USD (1 park per day)
$380 USD (park hopper)
Walt Disney World 4 Day Ticket
$426.23 – $605.02 USD tax included (1 park per day)
$511.43 – $681.94 USD tax included (park hopper)
Air Miles Redemption Rates
Disneyland 3 Day Hopper Ticket
Walt Disney World 5 Day Ticket (1 park per day)
Note that a ticket redeemed with Air Miles may be upgraded at the gate or in the park. As with a paid ticket, there are occasionally Canadian resident specials.
Disneyland in Anaheim has three onsite hotels and they are all expensive. There are many offsite hotels that are very close to the parks. You can walk or take a paid shuttle. Disneyland is smack in the middle of a southern California urban landscape which can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on your perspective.
The massive complex of Walt Disney World in Orlando includes a large number of onsite hotels and a campground. There are three categories with the cheapest ones termed “value” resorts. They can still be quite pricey but you get free transportation to and from the airport (the “Magical Express”) and good transit links to the parks. There are various perks like the ability to make fast pass reservations for rides before most other offsite guests and “extra magic hours” giving you more time in the park.
You can save money, or get more space for your money, by staying off Disney property. Offsite accommodation falls into two groups. First are the Disney Springs hotels that include some extra perks like early fast pass reservations and extra magic hours similar to onsite properties. Also, although not quite as convenient as the onsite transport, the Disney Springs buses are relatively frequent compared to other offsite hotels.
The second broad category includes all the various lodging options available around the Orlando area. You could stay in anything from a very basic motel room to a large vacation home with your own pool. Many hotels offer some sort of limited shuttle service to the parks but I would not opt to use it if you have other means of transport.
Whether Disneyland or Walt Disney World is better for accommodation depends on your budget, your needs and how important it is for you to be in the “Disney bubble” for your stay.
There are seasonal non-stop flights to Orlando from Halifax or Moncton along with weekly all-year service from Halifax. Flying to California means more time in the air but the airfare might not be much higher, depending on the dates. In fact, a quick scan of airfares in the next few months showed many flights from Halifax to Los Angeles or Anaheim in the mid $400s which was in the same range as flights to Orlando.
Ease of Planning
A trip to Walt Disney World requires a lot more advance preparation to make the most of your visit. If you want to be sure to get on certain rides without long waits you need to make fastpass plus reservations online in advance. If there is a certain table service restaurant you’d like to try you need to have it booked ahead of time. As of now, in Disneyland you can still decide your day’s agenda once you’re in the park. I think this is one of the main reasons some people prefer Disneyland. A visit to a theme park shouldn’t be like planning a complex military operation. One could argue that the planning isn’t actually required – you can just wing it if you like. But when you’re spending that much money, if you don’t turn your mind to the details, you will end up spending extra time in lines or you will miss out on some things you’d like to experience.
Time Of Year
If your vacation tends to fall in the summer you’ll have to decide if you want to subject yourself to the Florida heat and humidity. Apparently some people don’t mind it too much. At least you can take advantage of the water parks.
If Star Wars and Disney parks are not the only things on your mind, consider what other activities are available at each destination. Both have other theme parks nearby like Universal Studios. They also have beaches not too far away. One edge Disneyland has is its proximity to professional baseball and hockey. The Angels and Ducks both play close by. When we went to Disneyland we saw two Blue Jays games and it was just a few minutes away from our hotel on public transit. We also took the train along the coast down to San Clemente.
If You Just Care About Seeing Star Wars
Here’s a comparison of a 5 night trip primarily to see Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge at either park. I chose a set of dates in mid-December when theme parks could possibly be less crowded as there are usually no school breaks at that time. Realistically, the Star Wars area will likely be mobbed for the foreseeable future so I figured a 4 day visit would give one plenty of time to see everything at an easy pace along with many other Disney attractions.
Dec. 11 – 16
4 Day Hopper Ticket – $514 CAD
5 Nights – Best Western Plus Stovall Inn – $912 CAD total
Airfare (Halifax – Los Angeles/Anaheim – Halifax) $540 CAD
Total: $1966 CAD
Walt Disney World
4 Day Hopper Ticket – $754 CAD
5 Nights – Best Western Lake Buena Vista Disney Springs Resort Area – $826 CAD total
Airfare (Halifax – Orlando) $545 CAD
Based on this very limited example, both trips are in the same ballpark when it comes to price.
My thoughts on Anaheim vs. Orlando mainly revolve around the plans for the remainder of the trip. If the trip is all about Disney and/or Star Wars I would probably choose Walt Disney World in Florida. If non-Disney, non-theme park stuff are on the agenda as well, I’d probably opt for Disneyland in California. Having both options is great because you can jump on a low airfare or hotel rate and just follow the deal. Stay tuned for more blog posts on how to save to go visit the mouse or Yoda or whoever.