How to Choose Your Hotel at Disneyland
Unlike Walt Disney World, there are only three official Disney hotels in Anaheim. By virtue of sheer numbers, most guests who aren’t locals will be staying at an off-property hotel. We don’t think it’s necessary to stay "on property" for reasons described below, but if you’re curious about the three Disney hotels, here’s a quick run-down.
Your On-Property Options
Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa - this is Disneyland’s flagship hotel and its most expensive (you’re looking at upwards of $700/night.) Thematically, it’s similar to the Wilderness Lodge at Walt Disney World. The craftsman-style architecture and decor are reminiscent of the lodges of the western National Parks. It contains four restaurants that all feature California cuisine and also has its own private entrance to California Adventure. This is Disneyland’s only Disney Vacation Club property.
Disneyland Hotel - you can think of this as the moderate hotel (if $499/night is moderate.) Its mid-century modern style is fun and whimsical, and it has the best hotel dining experience - the original Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar! If you’re looking for a way to dine with the Fab Five, then Goofy’s Kitchen does an excellent character breakfast and dinner. Either one is a great way to kick off or finish your Disneyland vacation.
Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel - if we’re being honest, this one barely counts as a Disney hotel. When Disney purchased it in 1995, they gave it a face lift and a casual seaside resort theme, but it still doesn’t feel that "Disneyfied." However, it’s the cheapest Disney hotel (around $375/night), and it does have a cool rooftop pool.
That’s it for the on property Disney hotels. If those prices have your head spinning, then an off-property hotel is the best pick for you.
Staying Off Property = the Best Bang for Your Buck
A quick search of Google, Expedia or any other travel booking engine will show you an exhausting amount of hotels around the Disneyland Resort. Never fear - we’ll break things down for you by three primary factors - perks, price and location - and help you find the hotel that’s right for you.
There are some perks to being in a Disney hotel, but they’re far fewer at Disneyland than at Walt Disney World. You don’t get any special advantage with Fastpasses, since Disneyland’s MaxPass system only does day-of ride reservations. All three hotels are walkable to the parks, so there’s no need for a bus service.
The only two benefits are slim.
You’re staying in the Disney bubble and have that extra layer of Disney magic and quality. If you’re going to be spending a lot of time at your hotel, this might weigh more heavily in your decision.
Disney hotel guests are the only ones who get one hour early entry to California Adventure. This used to be a plus that let you be one of the first in line for Radiator Springs Racers, which routinely boasts a 120 minute wait within an hour of park opening. But with a good touring plan and MaxPass, you can easily work around that.
If neither of those two perks matter much to you, then we recommend an off-property hotel. Disney has acknowledged their limited official hotel room capacity by creating a Good Neighbor Hotel system, which gives you some level of certainty about the quality of the hotel you’ll be staying at.
These hotels claim to have extra perks like being able to purchase your park tickets there at the hotel. This isn’t really a perk, because you can get a better deal by ordering your tickets in advance from an authorized reseller like Undercover Tourist. Some of them do offer their own bus service to the parks, but that's usually hit or miss. We think it's better to be within walking distance.
There are some chain hotels like Fairfield Inn, Best Western, Hilton, etc. that are nearby. If you have hotel points with any of them, you can redeem them and shave some of the cost off your stay. Still, don’t be afraid to book at one of the non-chain hotels, as most of them are the same quality as Walt Disney World’s Value resorts. Some - like the Candy Cane Inn - even have cute theming and a free continental breakfast.
While the Disney hotels are definitely all extremely expensive, keep in mind that you’re paying a premium for any hotel around the Disneyland Resort. In general, once you factor out the on-property hotels, the further you get from the Esplanade (where the entrances to both parks are located), the less expensive your nightly cost becomes.
One more thing to note - the price of these hotels fluctuates often. You don’t need to lock in your hotel room 10-12 months in advance like you do with Walt Disney World hotels, but if you do see a great deal, grab it. You can always cancel or change it later on.
In our opinion, this one is the most important. It’s one of the primary reasons that we don’t think staying at a Disney hotel is the best choice for your Disneyland vacation. Paradise Pier is a 20 minute walk from either park. The Disneyland Hotel is a 15 minute walk. By contrast - there are hotels right across the street that are a 7 minute walk from your door to the turnstiles. (Yes, we’ve timed it!)
That extra 8 to 10 minutes might not seem important right now, but you’ll feel differently when you’re ready to go back to your room for a midday nap and after the parks close for the night. Staying within a 10 minute walk from the parks is well worth it.
When choosing your hotel, be sure to look at it on Google Maps to estimate how long of a walk it will be from the actual entrance off Harbor Boulevard. Many hotels will state that they’re “half a mile from Disneyland,” when they’re actually half a mile from the far northern or southern end of the park and about a 30 minute walk to the actual entrance.
The one exception we’ll note here is that hotels along the Anaheim Resort Transportation (ART) bus route are also a great option. While they do require an extra fee to use the ART buses, it’s a nominal one ($16 for a 3-day pass.) The ART system is very well organized and the buses run regularly.
So which hotels do we recommend?
If you’re dead set on staying in a Disney hotel, we recommend the Disneyland Hotel. It’s the most historic and has the best mix of price, perks and location among the three.
For off property hotels, we recommend choosing one along Harbor Boulevard between Disney Way and Manchester Ave. All of these hotels receive ⅘ star quality ratings on sites like Expedia or Trip Advisor. They’re nothing fancy, but they’re all clean and comfortable. They’re all about the same moderate price ($160-$200/night), and they’re all a 10 minute walk or less to the parks.
If you’re looking for a specific recommendation, here are some of the ones we’ve stayed at and enjoyed:
Anaheim Desert Inn and Suites - this one is almost directly across the street from the park entrance. It’s also one of the rare hotels to offer a complimentary continental breakfast. Best of all, it has a few different suite combinations that can sleep up to 10 people, making it a great option for a group of adults or a larger family group.
Fairfield by Marriott Anaheim Resort - it’s a bit further of a walk and a bit more pricey, but this hotel is also a definite step up in quality too. And if you have Marriott points either from membership or credit card rewards, you can redeem them here.
Grand Legacy at the Park - comparable quality to the Anaheim Desert Inn and Suites, just a few minutes further walk and therefore slightly lower pricing.
Hilton Anaheim - a wildcard option that’s a much farther walk but is right on the ART bus route. This is one of the convention center hotels, so it’s much nicer quality than the other three on our list. But, because it’s further from the parks, you can often find rooms for the same price.
We would love to walk through these options with you in more detail. When you sign up for a free Embark session, we can walk through your budget and needs and help you select the best hotel for your adventure!