As many of you know, our Have Wheelchair Will Travel website all started after winning a trip to Disneyland. Since then, we’ve returned to Disneyland in California several times and this year I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to visit Walt Disney World in Florida. Both parks are infused with Disney magic, but it can be difficult to decide which park to choose if you are a first-time visitor. I thought I’d share my observations in the hope it helps others decide which Disney Park is best for you.
Disneyland & California Adventure Park, Anaheim
For anyone travelling from Australia, the obvious advantage of booking a trip to Disneyland in California is the shorter flight. Flying into Los Angeles from the East Coast of Australia takes approximately 13 hours 40 minutes. The drive time from Los Angeles to Anaheim, the location of Disneyland, is around one hour, depending on the time of day and the freeway traffic.
It’s possible to book a Disney hotel or a hotel nearby that’s within walking/wheeling distance of the parks. We loved the flexibility of walking, rather than cramming into shuttle buses to get to and from the parks. On our last trip as a family, we stayed at Desert Inn & Suites, which is located opposite the entry gates to Disneyland. If you’re interested, you can read our review of the accessible accommodation here. When Amelia and I visited a couple of years ago we stayed at Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel which was also conveniently located. We stayed in an accessible room so we could provide a review which you can read here.
Disneyland and California Adventure Park are situated side-by-side making it easy to park hop between them. There is no need for a shuttle, it’s just an easy walk or wheel between the two, which saves lots of time.
Disneyland and California Adventure Park combined are still much smaller than Walt Disney World, which makes it more manageable to see everything in a shorter amount of time.
Cars Land is unique to California Adventure Park and the only place you can ride the exhilarating Radiator Springs Racers. If you are a fan of the Cars movies you don’t want to miss it.
Downtown Disney is a shopping and entertainment precinct located outside of the parks but within walking distance of them. It’s a fabulous area to visit for dining, shopping and to get into the Disney spirit before, after or during a park day.
Walt Disney World Resort, Orlando
Walt Disney World Resort is located in Orlando, Florida. Flying time from the East Coast of Australia to Orlando is just under 20 hours (minus connecting time). The trip requires two flights with a connection in the US, the most popular airports are Los Angeles or Dallas. Travellers must collect luggage and clear customs at their first US airport before boarding the second flight to Orlando.
Walt Disney World is said to be 50 times larger than Disneyland California. Four parks make up Walt Disney World Resort including, Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios and Epcot. If you’re looking for variety, then Walt Disney World Resort is the pick for you. To do all four parks well, ride the rides, eat all the Disney treats and make time for all your favourite meet and greets you need time. Visitors to Walt Disney World need to plan for a longer stay to ensure it’s an enjoyable experience.
An excellent shuttle system operates between the hotels and the parks. For guests wanting to park hop, you need to use one of the various Disney shuttles or modes of transport to move between the parks as they are spread out over a large area. I missed the ability to walk between my hotel and the parks and the ease of park hopping that is available in California due to the proximity of the parks.
Disney Springs is the equivalent of Downtown Disney in Anaheim. Like everything in Florida it’s bigger and offers a greater variety of entertainment, shopping and dining opportunities. It is accessible by shuttle bus from the resorts or parks.
Both the parks offer the following
An app to help you plan your day, check ride times and book restaurants. Download the park app for whichever park you visit. There is invaluable information available on these apps which is updated in real time. Ordering food via the app will help you avoid long lines and save time.
The Disability Access Service is a great service available to guests with a variety of needs. Eligible visitors can pre-register for DAS Advance virtually with a Cast Member via a live chat. This is available 30 days prior to your park visit but no less than two days before arrival. At that time eligible visitors can also work with the Cast Member to book two one-hour return windows for select experiences using the DAS Advance planning option. Please note that being a wheelchair user, or visitor with a mobility scooter, does not qualify you for this service. Please visit the Disney website to check your eligibility.
Rides – both parks offer a range of rides where wheelchair users can remain in their wheelchair but it should be noted that the majority of rides require a visitor to transfer from their wheelchair to a seat.
Accessibility throughout the parks is excellent. Both locations offer mostly flat access throughout and concrete pathways. Wheelchair accessible viewing areas are also provided for the parades in both.
First Aid is where you head if you have the need for a bed or place to change someone. To my knowledge, at the time of writing this, there is no hoist available at either location. Companion bathrooms are also offered for anyone requiring a stand-alone unisex bathroom.
Both parks offer fantastic rides, lots of opportunities to interact with the characters and that hard to define Disney magic. Cast members are just as enthusiastic, there’s plenty of wonderful photo opportunities and ways to make memories. If someone asked me whether they should book a trip to Disneyland California or Walt Disney World Resort Florida I wouldn’t recommend one park over the other without taking into consideration the time available and what their tolerance for air travel and needs when doing so. I would love to take Braeden and Amelia to Walt Disney World Resort but I’d definitely like to have time to break the journey on the US West Coast before flying on to Florida to make it easier on Braeden. I’d also want to have plenty of time available to have rest days in between visiting the four Walt Disney World theme parks in Florida. I know Braeden would have a blast but all the transferring him in and out of the wheelchair takes a toll on both him and whoever is assisting him.
And of course, if you still can’t decide, why not visit them both.
I asked our Facebook readers which park they prefer and why and had several responses.
Stacy responded with the following
“We’ve done both Disneyland (multiple times) and Walt Disney World (2x). We definitely prefer Disneyland. You don’t have all the shows but it’s more accessible, more accommodating. Almost every ride my son can go on at Walt Disney World has the same or a version of at Disneyland. We also love the fact we can literally stay across the street or a short walk away, have lots of options for places to eat, and there are plenty of other attractions close by. Walt Disney World is just too spread out and it takes soooo long to get from hotel to park, or park to park. Walking across the courtyard is quick and Downtown Disney is all right there.”
Another Facebook follower commented that she felt there should be a discount for visitors who are unable to do a standing transfer to the rides due to the lack of rides that are accessible for someone who needs to remain in their wheelchair.
As always, I’m keen to hear about your experiences so please feel free to share them in the comments below or over on our Facebook page.
If you travel to Orlando Florida you might find my review of Disney Coronado Springs Resort helpful.