Disneyland Differences

I’m in the process of writing up a blog post about my recent trip to Disneyland with Amy.  That will be a (mostly) chronological recap of what we experienced on the trip.  In the meantime, I want to make a post regarding some of the differences I encountered at Disneyland – that is, some of the things that make Disneyland distinct from Walt Disney World.  Some of them I knew going in, some of them were a surprise to me.  Some of them are obvious, others not so much…


Let’s start with the most obvious and most notable:  The Castle.  Cinderella Castle in WDW, Sleeping Beauty Castle in DL.  Everyone says that the Castle is so much smaller in DL.  They’re not joking, nor are they exagerating.  It’s tiny.  It’s teeny.  It’s almost not even there when you walk on to Main St.  But there is an additional difference that’s not quite as obvious (and I’m not talking about the pink coloring, either).  Whereas Cinderella Castle is simply the park icon with a restaurant upstairs, Sleeping Beauty Castle is an actual attraction.  Specifically, it’s a walk through of the story of Sleeping Beauty.  The entrance to the attraction is on the back of the castle, to the right (looking at its back).  As you walk through the castle, you see little animated scenes and storybooks telling the story of the movie.  If you don’t know the attraction is there, it’s easy to miss.

Space Mountain and Splash Mountain have almost exactly the opposite seating configurations that you expect from WDW.  That is, Space Mtn has 4 or 5 rows of two, while Splash Mtn has 5 or 6 rows of one, single file.  Also, Space Mtn has only one track, unlike WDW’s two.

Tower of Terror in DCA does not move forward.  It goes up, you see a scene from the 5th dimension, and then you drop.

Soarin’ Over California in DCA has a presentation that is crystal clear.  Unlike the film still used at Epcot, the DCA version uses digital projectors.  No dust, no dirt, no scratches, no bugs.  To me, that makes for a significantly better overall experience.

Haunted Mansion in DL is completely different on the outside, but mostly the same on the inside.  The odd difference on the inside is that you walk through the hallway of portraits that change with the lightening and the busts that follow you as you pass by.  In the WDW version, you are already in your doom buggy by the time you get to these scenes.  In DL, they’re part of the queue.

Pirates of the Caribbean is significantly longer (and better) at DL.  There are at least 3 different scenes that simply do not exist in the Magic Kingdom’s version.  If you’re coming from DL to WDW, you may as well skip PotC – it will be a disappointment.  If you’re a WDW frequenter going to DL for the first time, PotC should be on your must-do list.

Tinkerbell’s flight during the fireworks.  At the Magic Kingdom, Tink makes a straight shot down from her perch in the Castle, landing somewhere backstage in Tomorrowland.  At DL, She flies from the Matterhorn, and passes by the Castle several times.  She goes up and down, back and forth, and truly looks to be flying.  It’s a significantly better effect.  Plus, the summer fireworks (“Magical”) feature an additional flying character, Dumbo.  I honestly have no idea if it’s an AA, a static prop, or a person in an elephant suit, but whatever Dumbo is, it looks terrific.

Disneyland’s “it’s a small world” features a much more elaborate facade than the Magic Kingdom’s.  It also features the addition of several Disney characters inside the attraction.  For example, Pinnochio & Jiminy Cricket can be seen in the Italy scene, while Cinderella and Jack & GusGus are sweeping the floors in France.  Purists shouldn’t be overly unhappy about it, as the characters were designed to fit in with the rest of the dolls in the attraction.  Indeed, if not for the non-human “sidekicks” accompanying each character, you really wouldn’t know that those dolls were supposed to be any specific character.

Buzz Lightyear in DL is subtitled “Astro Blasters”, as opposed to “Space Ranger Spin” in WDW.  In Astro Blasters, you can actually pick up the laser canon and move it around, rather than just swivel it a limited range like in WDW.  You cannot, however, simply hold the trigger down.  If you do, your laser will continue firing, but you won’t score any points.  You have to press and release it over and over.

I’m loathe to equate Kali River Rapids at Animal Kingdom with Grizzly River Run at California Adventure.  They really are completely different rides, just rides of the same generic type – a family raft ride.  The difference I want to point out is that GRR does not have a central compartment in which to store your belongings to prevent them from getting wet.  I didn’t notice any kind of lockers nearby the ride either (maybe I just missed them?), so I really strongly advise you to come prepared with large plastic ziplock bags.

The Disneyland Railroad has 4 stops compared to the Walt Disney World Railroad’s 3.  In addition to stops on Main St, New Orleans Square / Frontierland, and Toontown / Fantasyland, the DL RR also makes a stop in Tomorrowland.  Plus there are dioramas  on the Tomorrowland->Main St leg of the journey.  (Didn’t get to experience them this trip, so I don’t remember what they’re of, however)

Fantasmic has several differences.  The best one is that DHS’s Pocahontas segment has been replaced by a super-cool Peter Pan & Captain Hook battle.  What makes it so cool?  It’s on a friggin pirate ship!  As the Sailing Ship Columbia travels around the stage, Peter, Hook, Wendy, and other Pirates are all battling along, with several acrobatics.  Peter and Hook climb up in the rafters and sails of the ship, swinging all over the place.  It is better than the Pocahontas segment in every conceivable way.  The worst difference, on the other hand, comes when the Evil Queen transforms into the hag and invokes the mirror: “Magic Mirror, on the wall, all the forces of evil I call!”.  At that point, Ursula appears on the water screens, and goes into a brief portion of “Poor Unfortunate Soul”.  Then she transforms into Chernabog.  And that’s it.  “All the forces of evil” are apparently Ursula and Chernabog.  In DHS’s version, this segment also includes Scar, Jafar, Frollo, and Hades.  It makes a lot more sense at DHS, and it will leave you wondering “Huh?  What about the rest of them?” at DL.

Procedures & Policies

The other differences I wanted to point out are experiences I encountered that struck me as odd simply because it’s not what I’m used to from being a WDW veteran.  Some of them are better, some are worse, but they’re all definitely moments that will make you go “huh!” if you’re not ready for them.

The first difference I noticed is that every CM at every restaurant – counter service and table service – will ask you if you have an Annual Pass.  That’s because every restaurant at DL gives a discount (apparently ranging between 10%-20%) to Annual Passholders.  No separate purchase of “Tables in Wonderland” required like in WDW.  The other odd thing here is that every CM to whom you present your AP will ask  you for your photo id – yet they don’t ask for id when you give them your credit card.  Interesting where their priorities lie in that respect.

There are no biometric “fingerprint” scanners on the turnstiles at DL.  Nor do you insert your ticket into a machine for entry.  Rather, a CM scans the ticket’s barcode, and then you proceed through.  If you leave the park and intend to return that same day, you need to get your hand stamped with a UV-visible ink stamp.

Another interesting thing about DL Annual Passes – they’re also PhotoPasses.  They have a PP barcode and numeric code printed on the back.  You give that to the PhotoPass photographer, instead of a separate PhotoPass card.

Finally regarding Annual Passes – DL Annual Passholders have to be photographed. When I was there in 2010, we had to go to a specific location inside Disneyland to have the photo taken.  But now, it seems, the PhotoPass photographers do that as well.  They have some sort of code they enter on their system that identifies the picture they’re about to take as the picture to be used for your Annual Pass id.  Every time you go through the turnstile, your picture is displayed on the CM’s screen, so they can confirm your identity.

One of the more disturbing differences I found is that there are things Guest Relations CMs cannot do.  Specifically, I managed to accidentally lose my annual pass.  I went to City Hall on Main St, expecting them to be able to just reissue it (like I’ve done repeatedly over at WDW).  Nope.  They couldn’t do it.  They don’t have the right computer systems.  I had to leave the park and go to one of the ticket-selling windows.  After fighting with their own computer systems for about 10 or 15 minutes, they were finally able to reissue it for me.   IIRC from my 2010 trip, Guest Relations also can’t make dining reservations for you.  Instead, they hand you the phone and tell you what number to call.

In WDW, there are two colors of pin trading lanyards that the CMs wear.  Black lanyards are for trading with everyone.  Green lanyards are for trading with little kids only.  At DL, no such code exists.  CMs are all wearing multiple colors of lanyard, and they all trade with everyone.

If you park in the Toy Story lot, you’ll take a shuttle bus over to the Esplanade (the area between the two theme parks).  But before you board the shuttle, there are CMs stationed right there able to sell you admission tickets.  Frankly, I think this is brilliant, because the lines at the Ticket Sellers on the Esplanade were always long.

Getting into the Esplanade either from Harbor Blvd or from Downtown Disney requires going through Bag Check.  That’s not really different from the WDW parks, but what is different is that there is no “No Bags” line for those of us without bags to walk through.  You have to wait in line with everyone else.

I’m not actually 100% this is a difference between WDW and DL, but it caught us off guard.  If a CM gives you one of those “Anytime, Any Attraction” FastPasses (usually as compensation for something else going wrong), take note that they are not valid at Star Tours.  They’re valid at literally every other FP-enabled attraction in the two parks, but not Star Tours.  Why?  I have no earthly idea.  The pass actually says right on it that it’s not valid at Star Tours, but I simply didn’t bother to look at it, because I never thought there would be any such kind of restriction.  Imagine my shock when the CM at Star Tours pointed it out to us.

Many attractions have a single-rider line, but they involve you walking back up the exit queue of the attraction.  I saw this on both Splash Mountain and Indiana Jones, but I’m pretty sure it’s at others as well, including California Screamin’.  This is also how folks in wheelchairs get to the attraction (at least for Indiana Jones), and it can be a bit annoying trying to navigate “upstream” through all the guests getting off the ride.

There is no online dining reservation system.  You have to either email or call the Dining department to make reservations.  And reservations can only be made 60 days out, not 180.  But for most restaurants, you really don’t need reservations.  Walkups are pretty easy to get nearly everywhere.  One notable exception is the Blue Bayou.  Even with our reservation, we waited about 25-30 minutes for our table, and heard many unhappy guests who claimed to be waiting 45 minutes or an hour for theirs.

FastPass machines work a little differently.  When you insert your ticket, the machine doesn’t actually take the ticket into itself.  Instead, it just reads the code, and you take the ticket back out, manually.  Then the FP is dispensed.  You also can’t put your ticket in any which way – it has to be put in with the barcode on the top left side.  Oh, and DL still has the “good all day” unwritten rule for FPs, unlike WDW which changed recently to enforce the printed FP window.

Those are all the differences I remember coming across this trip.  If you’ve been to both DL and WDW, please by all means, leave a comment pointing out any differences I’ve missed!

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