This week, I'm on the West Coast for a working vacation in La La Land. In my travels, I've noticed that in some ways, Southern California and Central Florida seem like they were separated at birth. Both have a surfeit of sun and sand, both have copious citrus trees and horrendous highway traffic, both elect bat-shit crazy governors. But look a little deeper, and the Golden State shines slightly brighter than the Sunshine State. For example, Cocoa and Venice Beaches both boast tacky T-shirt stands and sketchy dive bars, but only in California will you find legal medical marijuana dispensaries on the boardwalk.
Nothing better represents the subtle superiority of Los Angeles over Orlando, though, than Disneyland, the reason for my westward voyage. I'm here researching an upcoming book, but even if I wasn't, I'd gladly brave the travel-related B.S. to make a visit, because the mousetrap on the Pacific is actually worth the bother. If you've heard that Anaheim's Happiest Place on Earth is just an older, smaller version of Orlando's vacation kingdom, you've been misinformed. Here are "Six C's" explaining why Walt Disney's original Magic Kingdom kicks the crap out of Walt Disney World.
Disney likes to trumpet the vastness of its Florida property - at more than 40 square miles, it covers an area twice the size of Manhattan. That may be great if you're a mega-corporation looking to corral your captive customers, but it doesn't do much for the guest just trying to get around. Your average on-property Walt Disney World vacation involves more time spent on hotel buses, parking lot trams and mildew- scented monorails than on all the roller coasters and dark rides combined. Anaheim's resort, on the other hand, conveniently packs two theme parks (Disneyland and California Adventure), the Downtown Disney shopping and dining complex, and a trio of hotels into a few pedestrian-friendly city blocks. God help the Disney tourist in Florida who stays off-property without a rental car. In California, by contrast, the parks are ringed with dozens of independent hotels, all within an easy 15-minute walk from the turnstiles.
Temperatures in Orlando range from those on par with sub-Saharan Africa to the surface of Mercury, with the occasional killing frost to keep us on our toes. And don't forget the constant 300 percent relative humidity, which is only relieved by our regularly scheduled torrential monsoons. The past two weeks in Anaheim have seen daily highs in the mid-60s, overnight lows in the 50s and hardly a hint of humidity, much less rain. And don't let tall tales of L.A.'s legendary smog keep you away; it's got nothing on the clouds of Floridian pollen that are thick enough to cut with a knife.
An adult four-day Walt Disney World Park-Hopper pass costs $296 (plus tax), while the equivalent Disneyland ticket is only $191. Annual passes feature similar savings: $499 at WDW versus $459 at DL for premium passes. Plus, California passholders get generous 15-20 percent discounts at nearly every shop and restaurant; Florida only offers a grudging 10 percent off at a handful of second-rate vendors. You can also find dozens of decent lodging options within walking distance of Disneyland for around $50 a night; just try finding a motel in Orlando for under $100 that isn't full of crack addicts.
Classics, not clones
With four parks to Disneyland's two, on paper WDW has the edge in attractions, but Disneyland packs more punch. Favorite rides that appear at both properties are better in California (Pirates of the Caribbean is twice as long and detailed, Space Mountain is super-smooth with superb effects) and Disneyland also has dozens of great exclusives, from the trippy Alice in Wonderland to the mind-blowing Indiana Jones Adventure (which is only outdone by Universal Orlando's Harry Potter ride). Ignore anyone who says Disneyland's California Adventure park sucks; once its new Little Mermaid ride (debuting June 2, years before Florida's version is in place) and massive Carsland expansion come online, California Adventure will make Orlando's Hollywood Studios look even more pathetic.
You can spot a long-time Walt Disney World employee by the haunted "please kill me now" look in their eyes. The number of adolescent indentured interns from the college and international programs who increasingly fill the ranks in Orlando's park don't aid the resort's reputation for apathetic guest service either. In contrast, Disneyland cast members are older and seem to genuinely enjoy their jobs. Or at least they're much better at faking it.
The most intangible, but most important element that puts Disneyland on a higher plane is the sense of intimacy and originality that permeates it. Orlando feels like a giant well-oiled machine designed to extract tourists' money. Anaheim may do the same, but it still feels like the plucky little park that Uncle Walt personally crafted. Just compare Main Street USA at each park: In California you'll still find a penny arcade, silent cinema and magic shop, whereas in Florida it's all wall-to-wall plush toys and T-shirts.
I could go on, but the California Screamin' coaster is calling my name. Anyone know of a service that will ship my cats to me? If so, I might never return …