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Disneyland vs. Walt Disney World – Hawaii Residents’ Viewpoint

Hawaii is one of the premier vacation destinations in the world.  So where should people from Hawaii go for vacation, when they live in paradise already?  For residents of Hawaii, it might be time to escape the islands and board a plane for fantastic holiday.  And whether you have young children or are just young at heart, what could be more magical than exploring the “happiest place on Earth?”

Whether Disneyland Resort or Walt Disney World, an inevitable debate will arise when one considers “which park should I go for my vacation?” We have broken down a brief description (with some highlights) about both the California and Florida locations, along with a comparative analysis to help you determine which vacation destination best suits you.

Disneyland Resort

Nestled in the heart of Southern California, Walt Disney’s original theme park Disneyland is located in balmy Anaheim. Together with the state-themed park Disney California Adventure, the two comprise what is now known as the Disneyland Resort. The parks are just over 30 minutes away from Downtown Los Angeles and less than an hour away from the original Walt Disney Studios in Burbank.  Disneys California Adventure is directly across an extended walkway from the Disneyland Park and both parks are a short trek from the very pleasant and lively Downtown Disney, where the fragrance of fresh caramel corn wafts through the air.  The Disneyland Resort is comprised of only 300 acres, but still manages to feel like a dreamy escape into imagination.

Some highlights at the Disneyland Park include:  sailing through underground caves in Pirates of the Caribbean, and exploring with Indiana Jones in Adventureland.  You can enjoy walking through Sleeping Beauty’s iconic castle or floating over London with Peter Pan in Fantasyland.  Roller coaster fans won’t want to miss adventures in Tomorrowland, soaring through the skies on thrilling Hyperspace Mountain; or roaring through canyons tunnels on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in Frontierland or careening down a waterfall with Brier Rabbit on Splash Mountain.  There is no better way to end the day than strolling through the gloriously decked Main Street for a peek back to the 1920’s or enjoying an ice cream sundae while watching famous characters parade by.

At Disney California Adventure, kids can enjoy speeding through the desert at the Radiator Springs Racers ride in Cars Land, or touring through the Little Mermaid’s grotto at Ariel’s Undersea Adventure.  For those seeking a thrill, California Screamin’ is a roller coaster that will take your breath away, and Soarin’ over the World is a recently upgraded virtual flight that highlights the beauty and varied terrain of major landmarks on Earth. Hosting numerous delicious restaurants, California Adventure allows you to wander through different famous “regions” of the state.

Walt Disney World

Walt Disney World is the perfect vacation for those seeking adventure and an extraordinary holiday.  Walt Disney World spans over 42,000 acres of excitement and fun.  The theme parks offer something for everyone in the family in each of the following parks:  The Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and the Animal Kingdom.  There are also two water parks:  Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon, and Blizzard Beach.  The Orlando location also features a bustling and massive Downtown Disney shopping and restaurant complex, and sports 5 golf courses on the property.

As for rides and attractions, there are far too many dynamic rides and encounters that must be experienced firsthand.  However some highlights include the dazzling Festival of Fantasy parade show performed daily at The Magic Kingdom and the brilliantly engineered nightly IllumiNations:  Reflections of Earth fireworks spectacle at EPCOT World Showcase.

Cinderella’s towering castle and medieval village at The Magic Kingdom is the quintessential princess land of every little girl’s fantasy, and the Haunted Mansion is a spooky 18th century journey that hosts almost 1,000 ghosts.  For those wanting to get a glimpse of experiencing an almost real-life journey to Mars, you will not want to miss the centrifugal motion simulator thrill ride, Mission:  SPACE, at EPCOT.  The Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is another ride featuring speedy accelerations, with bright colors and rock tunes of Aerosmith’s music playing in the background.

The Twilight Zone’s Tower of Terror is a heart-stopping free-fall down and up on an elevator.  For water park enthusiasts, be prepared to experience rides unlike anything you have tried before.  The epic Crush ‘n Gusher launches the rider up the track through powerful water jets in Disney’s Typhoon Lagoon; and the Summit Plummet at the Blizzard Beach Water Park will delight anyone willing to splash down 120 feet at up to 60 mph, making it one of the world’s fastest water slides.  For animal lovers, the Animal Kingdom, visitors can tour through the rain forest on the Kali River Rapids ride or journey on the wild-life filled Kilimanjaro Safaris.  World travelers will love the Expedition Everest roller coaster which escorts riders through the towering Himalayas.  With all the performances, shows, shops, rides, restaurants and resorts, Walt Disney World is sure to provide remarkable entertainment for every individual.

Disneyland vs. Disney World

Disneyland Resort

Location:  Disneyland is a convenient 5-hour flight away from Hawaii.  Disneyland Resorts is also the ideal location for those who have an interest in film-making or film history as Hollywood is close by.  A quick car ride can allow Disney fans to augment their Disneyland Resort vacation by visiting the studios where their favorite movies were made.  Close to Disneyland is Knott’s Berry Farm.  Universal Studios is about 45 minutes away by car and Sea World and Legoland near San Diego are at least an hour’s dive away.

Historical Value:  Walt Disney’s original creation began in 1955.  It has a quainter feeling overall than in Disney World.  There is a magic in the air on streets that Walt Disney used to stroll himself.  Disney World was created after Walt Disney’s death in 1966, and some argue it does not have the same personal touch that the creator brought to the original location.

Classic Features:  Fantasyland at Disneyland has classic rides like the whimsical Storybook Boat Ride and the landmark Matterhorn, both of which are unique to California.  While it’s much smaller than its Cinderella Castle counterpart in Orlando, you can actually enter and read and view the story of Sleeping Beauty contained in a number of dioramas inside the iconic Sleeping Beauty Castle at Disneyland.  In Orlando, there is actually an exclusive hotel room suite located inside the Cinderella Castle.

Climate:  The weather in California’s west coast is consistent, usually being temperate and sunny in all seasons.  For those not accustomed Florida’s searing summer humidity in Disney World, standing in line at Disneyland in California is less tedious with the drier climate.  It can get a little cooler in the winters in Southern California than what people from Hawaii are used to; so you might want to bring a light jacket along with you during this time.

Less Chaotic:  Though many who have been to Walt Disney World first may argue that Disneyland is either “too small” or “cramped,” others may feel that the parks are a lot more accessible than the vastness of Walt Disney World.  This personal preference will differ for each visitor, but is worth consideration.

Walt Disney World

Magic Kingdom in Walt Disney World

Location:  Though the distance is significantly longer from Hawaii to Florida, the payoff proves well worth the trip. Hawaiian vacationers should factor a full day of travel for the journey, but upon arrival, due to the size of Walt Disney World, you will truly find yourself completely engulfed in everything you could imagine needing.  The Walt Disney Company owns a substantial area of land filled with Disney-affiliated shops, hotels, services and experiences completely blocked off and owned by Disney, so that visitors can be fully immersed in the magic.  Note that Disney World is not actually located in the town of Orlando.  It’s actually located in an area called Lake Buena Vista.  So if you’re not staying at a Disney World hotel property, but want to stay as close to Walt Disney World as possible, we suggest you stay at a hotel at or nearby to the Lake Buena Vista area.

Limitless Adventure:  Disney World is comprised of the 4 theme parks, 2 water parks, numerous on site hotels and a huge shopping, dining and entertainment complex, now called Disney Springs.  There are no end of experiences you can do, and memories you can make watching world class performers, and enjoying state-of-the-art technologies designed for your entertainment.  Because of this, we highly recommend you buy the Park Hopper pass option.  This enables you to visit anyone of the four parks at any time of any given day.  By doing so, you can spend the day at the Magic Kingdom; but visit the spectacular IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth fireworks and light show at EPCOT World Showcase center at night on the same day.  It also gives you some flexibility to navigate among parks, depending among their respective crowd levels, which can be especially useful during the busy season.

But even if the countless Disney rides and performances are not enough; Orlando is known as the “Theme Park Capitol of the World.”  Other nearby parks include:  Sea World Orlando and the Universal Resort, which features two theme parks that are quite different from its California counterpart.  An easy one hour drive east are the Jungle Adventures Animal Park, which is home to the largest alligator in the world and the Kennedy Space Center, where, among many other interesting space-related exhibits, you can see the memorial of the tragic Space Shuttle Challenger flight, which pays tribute to its fallen and heroic astronauts, including Hawaii’s own, Ellison Onizuka.  To the west, you can find Legoland in Winter Haven and Bush Gardens near Tampa.  Orlando proves to be replete with enticing attractions, and is a perfect location for families and friends seeking guaranteed adventure and unforgettable fun.  Because of abundance of theme parks and attractions to be found in the Central Florida area, we suggest you plan on staying at least 7 days to make it worth your investment of having to make a nearly 5,000 mile flight from the Aloha State.

Time Considerations:   Due to the immensity of the Disney World complex, visitors will need to factor in enough time to maneuver to and among the parks.  Note that many hotels outside the complex’s boundaries will claim they are just 10 to 15 minutes from Disney World.  More often than not, when they say this, they are referring to driving times to the outer gates of the Disney World property, but not to the actual parks themselves.  Also be aware that when you visit the Magic Kingdom in Disney World by car, unless you are staying at a Disney hotel property, you will first have to go the Disney World Transportation Center parking lot, catch a tram to the Transportation Center, then from there, then either catch the ferry or board the monorail to the Magic Kingdom.  So this entire process, in and of itself, from leaving your hotel to arriving at the gates of Magic Kingdom itself could take well over an hour, depending upon crowd levels.

Plus, the 4 theme parks are well spaced apart; so you’ll have to plan at least a half an hour to get from one park to another.  Plus, if you drive to the parks by car, you will have to find parking at each park and then catch a tram to the respective park entry gate.  This process generally takes at least 30 minutes, perhaps more, depending on how busy the parks are.  The one saving grace is that you can travel from the Magic Kingdom to Epcot by monorail, which saves time.  To make the optimal use of your limited time there, it will be important to factor in how long it takes to get to each park’s parking lot and then get to and past its gates in Disney World.

Weather Warning:    Most of Florida, including the Orlando area, often has severe thunderstorms almost every afternoon in the summers and the weather during this time is even more humid than what people from Hawaii would be typically accustomed to.  If you think Hawaii rains a lot, you’ll be in for a real surprise when you see the daily afternoon summer thunderstorm activity in Florida.  As an example, the park rides in Central Florida are closed sometimes due to dangerous lightning activity.

Because of this daily thundershower activity, we highly recommend you and each member of your party always carry a small collapsible umbrella when you visit Disney World in the summers.  Using those plastic ponchos that you can buy at the park or at convenience stores will not keep you dry from the rain as well as an umbrella.  We also suggest you bring a small knapsack with you; so you can conveniently store your umbrellas, as well as anything else that you buy, while you stroll around the parks.  Trust us; you won’t ever regret doing this.  In the winters, it can get down to the low 40’s or even high 30’s (Fahrenheit); so people from Hawaii especially need to be aware of this and dress accordingly.

Food For Thought:  Unfortunately, in Central Florida, unlike in California, Hawaii people will not typically find the same kind of food that they are accustomed to in the Aloha State.  So if you still need a local type food fix, we suggest you try the Japanese restaurants found at the Japan exhibit at the World Showcase area at EPCOT.  Here you can find bentos and plate lunch type fare, complete with the kind of sticky rice that we are all used to.

Fun Facts:  EPCOT is an acronym for Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow.  Disney is essentially its own local government in the area that contains Disney World, with its fire department, development control and other local support services provided and managed through an entity called the Reedy Creek Improvement District. We’re not sure if it’s still there anymore; but one of the dioramas in Spaceship Earth ride in EPCOT featured a miniature of a person wearing a Reyn’s classic nene goose aloha shirt.  Let us know if you still see it.

Although the two North American locations of the Disney theme parks vary greatly from each other, perhaps some may not be certain which is best for their vacation.  Between the two locations, the general consensus is that Walt Disney World offers the complete package for a great vacation destination, and is an absolute must-do.  If you are able to take the time off for traveling, you will not regret exploring Walt Disney World. For those who want to stay on closer shores, while still enjoying the authentic Disneyland, then California may be the prime vacation location for you.  But whatever Disney park you choose, magic is magic, regardless of you go.


Awards and Affiliations

  • Hawaii's Best 2011
  • Hawaii's Visitors and Convention Bureau
  • American Society of Travel Agents
  • Authorized Disney Vacation Planner
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