Off-Site v. On-Site Hotels At Disneyland

Disneyland-Hotel-0768

When trip planning, guests must ask which hotel to book near Disneyland. Off-site or on-site? Good Neighbor Hotel, Disneyland Hotel, Paradise Pier Hotel, Grand Californian Hotel, or one of the cheaper hotels on Harbor Boulevard? We regularly tour and stay in hotels near Disneyland, and update this post regularly with thoughts on the benefits and drawbacks of hotels around Disneyland. (Last updated July 8, 2017.)

This post weighs the pros & cons of staying off-site and on-site in Disneyland Resort hotels, and also shares some of the best hotels near Disneyland and the Anaheim Convention Center. If you already know whether you want to stay off-site or on-site and want something more comprehensive that shares our hotel experiences, including hotel room photos and reviews, check out our Disneyland/Anaheim Hotel Review & Rankings list.

The reasons to stay on or off-site at Disneyland are quite different than the reasons for choosing a hotel at Walt Disney World, but much like the Florida Disney resort, there are compelling reasons for staying in Disney-owned hotels and for staying in off-site hotels near Disneyland in California.

With that said, we will start with the benefits of staying in the Disney-owned hotels, Disneyland Hotel, Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel, and Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa…

Reasons to Stay On-Site

Environment – For us, the most compelling reason for staying on-site is that staying in a Disney-owned hotel keeps you fully immersed in that “magical” Disney environment. Many people discuss liking to be inside the “Disney Bubble” when on vacation, and at Disneyland, that’s only possible at the Disney-owned hotels.

They each have their own restaurants, Disney details, and can generally be accessed without seeing the rest of the “real” world. You won’t see Denny’s or Coldstone Ice Cream as you head directly from the Grand Californian Hotel right into its theme park entrance. You won’t find theming to an arts & crafts movement-era National Park lodge or a monorail pool at the off-site hotels, either.

For some people, this is a big deal. For others, it’s not. If this does not matter to you, there’s honestly zero reason to pay a significant premium for a Disney hotel. They’re significantly more expensive, and don’t offer an advantage in terms of perks or proximity to the parks. If this does matter to you, strongly consider a Disney hotel.

While we tend to side with those who want to be immersed in the Disney Bubble as much as possible, that is not practical for us. Due to the high cost of the three official Disneyland hotels, we usually stay off-site at Disneyland in the hotels right across from Disneyland Resort on Harbor Boulevard.

If there was less of a price gap or Disney hotels offered more perks, that might tip the scales for us, but it’s so hard to justify paying an extra $300+ per night to stay in a Disney hotel just for the bubble. Your mileage may vary on that, though.

grand-californian-rafters-christmas-tree copy

Perks – With the exception of the Disney theming in the hotel, the biggest on-site perk is the Extra Magic Hour benefit. The Extra Magic Hour perk is a nice way to experience some attractions in the morning one hour before the park opens to regular guests.

The current Extra Magic Hour schedule is as follows:

  • Disneyland Park: Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays
  • Disney California Adventure: Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays

As far as on-site perks go, that’s it. Even the Extra Magic Hour is not all that magical. On many mornings, it’s not necessary, or doesn’t offer much of an advantage over sleeping in and rope-dropping the park that does not have the Extra Magic Hour.

There are no evening Extra Magic Hours at Disneyland, and during the Extra Magic Hour only select attractions are open. If you’re staying off-site, you can have just as much of an advantage by rope-dropping the park that is not offering Extra Magic Hours.

The only scenario in which Extra Magic Hour really makes an actual difference is with Cars Land. It can help minimize waits for Radiator Springs Racers (check out our Cars Land Tips & Tricks for additional strategy), and also make it easier to experience other popular draws like Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT!

However, as we discuss below, rope dropping Disney California Adventure on a non-Extra Magic Hour morning offers pretty much the exact same opportunity…

Reasons to Stay Off-Site

Cost – What’s the saying? “Money talks.” Disneyland doesn’t have Value Resorts. As of 2017, rack rates start at $269 per night for both Disneyland Hotel and Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel and can exceed $600/night. Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa is crazy-expensive (think of it as the sister resort of Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa), exceeding $600/night during many times of the year.

During the busiest times of the year at Disneyland, rooms in these hotels can cost much more. Just check out the rates for a summer weekend in the graphic above. Those are starting rates for a standard room. If you want a suite or something special, you’re paying even more! Unfortunately, Disneyland has a serious shortage of on-site hotel rooms (they are in the process of building another hotel, but that won’t be done until 2021), so prices are often in exorbitant territory.

By contrast, off-site hotel rooms near Disneyland, are not nearly as expensive–and many of them are actually closer you the parks! These hotels can be a ~10 minute walk to the parks and priced around $150/night, making them ‘value’ options, of sorts.

Note that off-site hotels can creep up in price, too. The hotel shortage in the area even impacts off-site prices during tourist seasons (think any time school is out of session), as well as when there is a convention at the Anaheim Convention Center. For this reason, we recommend booking a hotel near Disneyland far in advance most of the time. (Excepts to this are the off-season, such as late August through early October and January through early March–last minute bargains can be found then.)

Many of our favorite hotels near Disneyland can be booked via Get Away Today at a discount. If you bundle tickets into your hotel stay, you’ll get an even better deal. You can check package prices here.

If you’ve already read our Tips for Saving Money on Disneyland Tickets post, you know we recommend Get Away Today as a safe way to buy discounted Disneyland tickets, so this is essentially “double-dipping” as you save even more money by purchasing a package that includes a hotel stay and tickets.

DSC_0588 as Smart Object-1 copy

Distance to the Parks – The most compelling reason is that you can typically find an off-site hotel that is closer to Disneyland Resort than an on-site hotel. Sort of makes the terms off-site and on-site misnomers, right? Although Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa is the closest hotel to Disneyland Resort, there are several hotels directly across the street from Disneyland Resort’s Esplanade (the open area between the two parks) that are a five minute walk to the turnstiles.

Even if you’re hotel does happen to be further from the Esplanade than Disneyland Hotel or Paradise Pier Hotel (which are both around 10-15 minutes away), there’s still a good chance your hotel will be within walking distance. You can–and should–easily be able to book a hotel within walking distance from Disneyland. Even if for some reason you book a hotel that isn’t within walking distance, chances are you can cheaply get to it via a hotel shuttle that it offers, or the Anaheim Resort Transit.

Since Disneyland can’t meet all of the needs of guests with its three hotels, Disneyland has a better working relationship with many “Good Neighbor Hotels” in the area. Due to the difference in pricing, Disneyland Resort does not even consider the off-site hotels competition (most people are not choosing between a $600/night room at the Grand Californian and a $125/night room at Alpine Inn!); this is unlike the Value Resorts at Walt Disney World, which are direct competition to the off-site hotels in Florida. Because of this, Disneyland tries to work with off-site hotels instead of competing with them.

Disneyland Spring 2012_350

Few On-Site Benefits – If you’re a Walt Disney World regular who stays on site there for the perks offered there to on-site guests, don’t expect anything comparable at Disneyland. There are no evening Extra Magic Hours. There is no Disney’s Magical Express. Walking is the best way to get to Disneyland, so the transportation system at Disneyland isn’t as important. The Disney Dining Plan that you can book when staying at Walt Disney Word isn’t offered at Disneyland.

We already covered the Extra Magic Hour above, but there’s another, similar perk for off-site guests. The (sorta?) good news is that even if you don’t stay on-site, you can be eligible for Magic Mornings. As with the Extra Magic Hour, we aren’t huge fans of Magic Mornings, as they tend to offer little actual advantage over skipping the perk and simply doing regular rope drop.

Magic Mornings function similarly to the Extra Magic Hour, except are open to anyone with a qualifying 3+ day ticket. Currently, Magic Mornings occur only at Disneyland on Tuesday, Thursday or Saturday. You might notice these are exactly the same days as Extra Magic Hours. On these days, you have a lot of people getting up early to go to Disneyland to take “advantage” of what they think is a special perk.

It’s to the point where you’re actually better off skipping this perk and rope-dropping Disney California Adventure on these mornings. With so many people heading to Disneyland for this special access, DCA is actually very quiet on those days. In other words, the Extra Magic Hour and Magic Mornings are pretty much a perk in name only. The actual advantage they offer is illusory.

The upside to the lack of perks for on-site hotels at Disneyland Resort is that they are not really needed in the first place. The entire Anaheim Resort District (which includes Disneyland Resort and the off-site hotels) is far more compact than Walt Disney World, and is fairly easy to navigate entirely by foot. Moreover, Disneyland has that laid back “Californian” atmosphere, and requires far less planning, in general.

Disneyland Hotel Reviews

Are you a fan of Cars? Then you'll love our Cars Land Facebook Covers! http://www.disneytouristblog.com/cars-land-facebook-covers/

With all of those pros and cons in mind, you might now be able to narrow down whether you want to stay off-site or on-site at Disneyland. Since we’ve stayed at every on-site Disneyland hotel and many of the Good Neighbor Disneyland hotels and other off-site hotels within walking distance of the Disneyland Esplanade, we have started reviewing the off-site hotels at which we’ve stayed.

In these reviews, you can see photos of the rooms and the premises, plus our analysis of whether each hotel is worth staying at, to whom it will appeal, and what our ideal nightly price point is for each hotel. We think these reviews will be really helpful if you’re thinking of booking a hotel near Disneyland. Again, we have a full post that Ranks & Reviews Hotels Near Disneyland that you might also want to check out.

Clicking each of the links will open the review in a new tab, so click away!

Disney Hotel Reviews

Off-Site/Good Neighbor Hotel Reviews

Hope they help. If you’d like to read about other Disneyland-area hotels, please leave a comment below with the name of the hotel you’d like us to review. We have many more to come!

Conclusion

Off-site hotels are cheaper, can be just as close to the parks, and offer most of the same perks as on-site Disney-owned hotels with the very big exception of early access. The actual biggest reason to stay in a Disney-owned hotel at Disneyland is if you want the Disney theming and environment.

For some, myself included, this is a big part of the experience of visiting the Disney theme parks. However, when that aspect of the experience is so costly, we’ll usually stay off-site. The cost difference and lack of on-site perks is just too much to overlook. While we always stay on-site at Walt Disney World, the off-site accessibility to Disneyland and the comparative lack of perks for staying on-site makes staying on-site at Disneyland less appealing to us.

As for figuring out the rest of your Disneyland trip, including how to save money on Disneyland tickets, our Disney packing tips, the best restaurants for dining at Disneyland, and a number of other things, check out our comprehensive Disneyland Vacation Planning Guide!

Your Thoughts…

Do you normally stay on-site or in a nearby off-site hotel at Disneyland Resort? Which hotel in Anaheim is your favorite? Any hotels you don’t recommend? Has your opinion on off-site v. on-site changed since Cars Land opened in Disney California Adventure? Any questions? Hearing from readers is both helpful and interesting, so please share your thoughts in the comments!


146 Responses to “Off-Site v. On-Site Hotels At Disneyland”
  1. Amna May 22, 2016
    • Tom Bricker July 8, 2017
      • Shaun July 24, 2017
      • SC July 24, 2017
  2. Jeff September 17, 2016
  3. Kiwiduck November 7, 2016
    • Tom Bricker July 8, 2017
  4. Candice Q. November 9, 2016
  5. Victoria Murphy January 23, 2017
    • Fawn March 28, 2017
    • Tom Bricker July 8, 2017
  6. John July 7, 2017
  7. Cory July 10, 2017
  8. Beth July 11, 2017
  9. JR November 12, 2017

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *