Where to stay at Disneyland: On vs. off-property hotel comparisons
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With the Disneyland Resort on the verge of reopening April 30, 2021, maybe you are finally planning a long-awaited vacation to the Happiest Place on Earth.
And if you are, the next logical thing to consider is where to stay in Anaheim, California, with your family. If you are unsure where the best place to stay near Disneyland might be, you’re not alone. Lodging is one of the most significant costs of any Disney vacation, and finding the right balance between price, perks and location can be a complex decision. If you are looking to use hotel or other loyalty points to defray part of the cost of a Disneyland trip, finding value is another layer of decision-making.
Should you stay at an on-property Disney-owned hotel, or off-property at one of the many chain or independent hotels nearby? After dozens of Disneyland stays with my family, both on and off-site, we’ve learned a few lessons in where to find value and what perks matter to families most.
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On vs. off-property at Disneyland
How do you know whether an on-property or off-property hotel is right for you?
For families already familiar with the hotel options at Walt Disney World, it’s important to understand the major Disneyland differences. In short, Disneyland presents a very different lodging calculus than Walt Disney World.
While I almost always prefer to stay on-site at Walt Disney World for the included perks and close proximity to the parks, I usually stay off-site on most of my Disneyland vacations. There are some perks to staying on-property in a Disneyland resort hotel, especially during times of normal operation, but the value of those benefits don’t always match the substantial price increase.
What are these differences?
First, there’s Disneyland’s substantially smaller footprint. This means many of the off-property hotels are just as close as to the parks as the on-property ones. There are literally dozens of hotels within walking distance of the Disneyland gates, both on and off-site. You don’t have to sacrifice location or sign yourself up for extra transit by staying in a non-Disney operated hotel.
Additionally, even during normal times, Disneyland Resorts offer fewer on-property perks than those at Walt Disney World. Of course, right now even many of those traditional perks are muted due to pandemic precautions.
For example, there is no Magical Express airport transportation at Disneyland (though that’s being curtailed at WDW as of Jan. 1, 2022). In normal operating times, Disneyland only offers one Extra Magic Hour per morning for on-property guests (before the pandemic, Disney World had daily morning and evening hours but Extra Magic Hour will be replaced with a 30-minute headstart at all four theme parks in Florida and suspended entirely for the time being in California).
FastPass is currently on pause on both Disney coasts. But if it comes back as it operated previously, Disneyland’s FastPass system is only available same-day. That means there are no early booking FastPass perks like Walt Disney World has historically had for many years.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly to budget-minded families, is cost.
Disney World offers three different hotel accommodation tiers: deluxe, moderate and value resorts. Disneyland has no such distinctions. All three on-property hotels are regularly priced at what would be a deluxe Disney World price.
On-property hotel options at Disneyland
I don’t mean to talk all families out of an on-property Disneyland Resort hotel. There is always enjoyment to be found in staying within the “Disney bubble.” I adore the three on-property hotels at the Disneyland Resort: Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, the Disneyland Hotel and Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel.
These three hotels all offer special decor, on-site character meals (during normal times), themed pools and expert Disney service. All three are also within walking distance of the parks. For families that will make use of the extra perks, you can certainly justify the increased prices on a special trip.
If your family is planning a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Disneyland and can afford an on-property hotel, I’d also certainly seize the opportunity. I’d also recommend an on-property stay if you only have a night or two and want to maximize every minute of your time.
The three Disneyland hotels also all have room types that can sleep five to a standard room, so there can be value for larger families as well.
So, how can savvy family travelers save on these on-property Disneyland stays?
Flexible points currencies like those offered with the Discover it Miles, Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card or Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard (not currently accepting new applicants) hold the keys to the kingdom. You can redeem those points at a flat one cent per point value toward travel charges, such as the cost of a Disney resort stay. If you want to use points to cover the cost of your Disney park tickets, we have some ideas for that, too.
Off-property hotel options near Disneyland
For guests looking to go the more budget-minded route (or simply find an equivalently nice hotel at a lower price), there are a multitude of off-property hotel options within close proximity to Disneyland to consider.
I personally prefer to stay in the hotels located on Harbor Boulevard across from the Disneyland pedestrian entrance. These hotels are the most walkable, given the layout of crosswalks and freeways. There are also many more hotel options within walking distance or that are accessible via hotel shuttle or a ride aboard the Anaheim Resort Transportation system (ART). Some of these transit options may be more limited in 2021, however, so do your research carefully to determine what is open and the frequency with which shuttles might run.
Off-property Disneyland hotels to book with cash
Disneyland is one place I encourage miles and points aficionados to think beyond the chain hotel and to consider cash (or cash-equivalent flexible points) stays.
Why? As you might imagine, there aren’t a lot of hotel points steals to be found near the Disneyland main gates. Every casual points user wants to redeem his or her points for a Disneyland vacation and the award charts reflect that. When hotel demand is soft (as many dates will be in 2021 because of the parks operating at reduced capacity), cash prices for off-property hotels can be extremely low. Much of the time, this makes points redemption values pretty poor for the programs with a fixed award chart.
Additionally, cash opens up a lot of non-chain hotels for consideration, many of which have stellar walking-distance locations. Hotels such as the Park Vue Inn, Anaheim Hotel, Grand Legacy at The Park, Tropicana Inn & Suites and Camelot Inn & Suites are less than a 10-minute walk from the park gates, even when pushing a stroller, as I have done the past few years. To be sure, these hotels offer budget to moderate accommodations, but if you only need a clean and family-friendly place to lay your head at night, they get the job done in spades.
Related: Best hotel credit cards
A cash strategy also opens for consideration chain hotels that are never or rarely a good points redemption value. Many of these hotels also have location advantages or other perks worth considering.
Off-property hotels to book with points
Although they can be hard to find, there are some hotel points sweet spots near Disneyland that are worth the search. Depending on the length of your family’s vacation, which credit cards you carry and what kind of room type or amenities your family needs, there are times when hotel points program redemptions make sense. Hotels in the Marriott family are the most ubiquitous in the Disneyland area, but an increasing number of properties in other programs have started popping up in recent years.
Here are several of my favorite Disneyland-area hotels to book with hotel points across a variety of points programs:
Fairfield Inn Anaheim Resort
Points Program: Marriott Category 5 — 30,000–40,000 points
The Fairfield Inn Anaheim Resort is the hotel my family has stayed in most frequently on our Disneyland vacations. It’s on Harbor Boulevard and is less than a 10-minute walk from the pedestrian entrance to Disneyland and Disney California Adventure park. Rooms have been recently renovated, and a number of them have themed decor. Many can comfortably sleep up to five people.
Unlike most Fairfield Inns, this location does not offer free breakfast, but the McDonald’s next door has been my go-to spot for a cheap and quick bite before my family hits the parks.
Since it is a 35,000-point redemption at the standard rate, it’s also a hotel where holders of the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless™ Credit Card or the Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card can often redeem their annual anniversary free night (up to 35,000 points).
Courtyard Anaheim Theme Park Entrance
Points program: Marriott Category 7 — 50,000–70,000 points
The Courtyard Anaheim Theme Park Entrance is one of the nicest off-property hotels for families within easy walking distance of Disneyland. The property opened in 2016 and just had a renovation during the 2020-2021 Disneyland closure. It’s approximately a 10-minute walk to Disneyland. It has a full water park on-site, making the pool area rival even the best on-property hotel pool (which would be the monorail pool at the Disneyland Hotel).
Rooms are a major upgrade from what you might expect from a Courtyard. Every room in the hotel sleeps at least six. Standard rooms feature two queen beds and a bunk bed with two twin beds along with an extra large bathroom with both a shower and a tub/shower combination. This unique layout makes the property a value for larger families that might otherwise need two hotel rooms. This is a lot of Marriott points, but it is one of our top 10 best ways to use the annual up to 50k certificate that comes with the Marriott Bonvoy Brilliant™ American Express® Card when nights price at the off-peak 50,000 points rate. (Read on for more about that card.)
JW Marriott Anaheim Resort
Points program: Marriott Category 7 — 50,000–70,000 points
A newcomer to the scene, having just opened in 2020, is the JW Marriott Anaheim Resort. This will not be the hotel near Disneyland you choose for waterslides, character-infused rooms or the fewest number of steps to the main gate as possible. Instead, it’s the one you choose if you want to use your points and have a touch of luxury awaiting you at the end of a park day.
Here you’ll find a rooftop pool with cabanas and guest rooms with one king or two queen beds surrounded in calming, neutral color palette that could be the perfect place to recharge before another day in the parks. Finally, Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa has met its off-property luxury hotel match, especially as the JW’s prices will normally fall well below the Grand’s.
Radisson Blu Anaheim
Points program: Radisson Rewards — 50,000 – 75,000 points
Four blocks from Disneyland is the Radisson Blu Anaheim that opened briefly in 2020 before closing due to the pandemic. Reopening April 26, 2021, it will give the JW a run for its money in the luxury-near-Disney division. The hotel is farther than the JW and not exactly walkable. Cash prices so far have been less expensive than the JW, so guests can pick their priority – location or price.
At the Radisson Blu Anaheim, you’ll find a rooftop restaurant, bar, and pool, where you’ll reportedly have a good view of the nighttime fireworks — once they return.
Standard rooms have one king or two queen beds and price at 50,000 Radisson Rewards points per night. A one-bedroom suite with a king bed in the bedroom and a sofa bed in the living room is bookable for 75,000 points.
If you are traveling with a larger crew, there are also rooms that sleep up to six with two queen beds and a set of bunk beds, also available at 50,000 points – potentially a value for families.
Cambria Hotel & Suites Anaheim
Points program: Choice Privileges — 30,000 points
Another newcomer to the list of points-friendly hotel options near Disneyland is the Cambria Hotel & Suites Anaheim. It’s technically less than a mile from Disneyland, though not necessarily in a walkable location compared to some other options.
However, this new hotel has a plethora of room and suite types, including suites that can sleep up to 11 people. There’s also an onsite 30,000 square-foot waterpark, along with a free hot breakfast for all guests.
One of the great things when booking with Choice points is that you can often book a variety of room types for the same price, which in this case includes some of the one-bedroom suites.
Hyatt House at Anaheim Resort
Points program: World of Hyatt Category 4 — 15,000 points
This hotel is about a 15-minute walk to the Disneyland gates (closer to the convention center but not so far as to make transportation necessary). What makes it a smart choice for families is its standard Hyatt House layout: mini-suites with a full kitchen and a free breakfast to start your morning before hitting the parks. Some rooms feature bunk beds, which as a parent I’ve discovered to be key in reducing sibling battles.
While I haven’t personally stayed there yet, I’ve heard nothing but high praise from a number of Disneyland travel experts I’ve talked to who have. During normal times, the hotel rarely drops below $150 per night (and is often well above $200), making it a fair Hyatt redemption.
The only other nearby Hyatt property, the Hyatt Place at Anaheim Resort/Convention Center, is a bit cheaper as a Category 3 with slightly lower cash prices as well. But its location is inferior, which means the Hyatt House is still probably a better overall value for most travelers. If you had Hyatt Category 1 – 4 award certificates from the World of Hyatt Credit Card, you could use those at either of these Hyatt properties.
Holiday Inn Express & Suites Anaheim Resort Area
Points program: IHG Rewards — often 22,500 – 32,500 points per night
Located about a 15-minute walk from Disneyland, the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Anaheim Resort Area is still fairly new and has many amenities families are looking for on a Disney vacation. The hotel has a complimentary breakfast buffet, a mini-fridge and microwave in each room and a basic pool with a small splash pad area for younger kids. Prices for this hotel can fluctuate wildly depending on demand (even more so than at other area hotels), but it can be an excellent redemption when cash prices are well above $200 per night.
If you use IHG points to stay here, keep in mind that the fourth award night is included if you have the IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card. Additionally, since most nights come in at or below 40,000 points per night, this could be a good spot to use an annual award night that comes with the IHG credit card.
Howard Johnson Anaheim Hotel & Water Playground
Points program: Wyndham Rewards — 30,000 points
Wyndham Rewards is a program that many hotel loyalty program users overlook, but the HoJo Anaheim is one property that should make you pay closer attention. Rooms regularly are priced at over $200 a night, making this hotel a decent value at current TPG Wyndham Rewards valuations.
The hotel has recently done a major renovation embracing its midcentury modern vibe in a fresh and modern way. With an on-site water playground, it’s one of the best choices for families with younger kids within walking distance of the parks.
Multiple Best Western choices
Points program: Best Western Rewards
Point costs can vary, but here’s an example from a recent search for a Saturday night in the summer months of 2021.
- Best Western Plus Anaheim Inn: 32,000 points per night
- Best Western Plus Park Place Inn and Mini-Suites: 32,000 points per night
- Best Western Plus Pavilions: 28,000 points per night
- Best Western Plus Stovall’s Inn: 32,000 points per night
Other than Marriott, the next most common chain hotel around Disneyland is undoubtedly the Best Western, giving members of the often-overlooked Best Western Rewards program some options to find value. There are four Best Westerns within a 5- to 15-minute walk of Disneyland and two more not far beyond that.
The two Best Western properties on Harbor Boulevard (Best Western Plus Anaheim Inn and Best Western Plus Park Place Inn and Mini-Suites) have truly ideal locations as close to the Disneyland gates as you can get. This makes them a top pick for many families looking to minimize walking time after a long day in the parks, or families who need to return to the hotel for midday nap time.
Keep your eyes peeled for the annual Daily Getaways sales each spring if you need to beef up your Best Western Rewards.
Hotels coming soon
There is a major hotel construction boom happening in the Anaheim area. Naturally, some projects experienced a construction delay during the pandemic, but several projects are now close to the finish line. That happily means many more hotel choices coming online soon for points-loving travelers. Here are a few to watch, including some you can already book in advance of their opening dates:
- Westin Anaheim Resort: Now slated to open in June 2021, this hotel will be yet another place where Marriott Bonvoy points could come in handy for a stay near Disneyland. It’s advertised as a Category 7 property, the same as the new JW Marriott. The walk is a little bit shorter though, and it is located on the Downtown Disney entrance to the parks where security lines are traditionally shorter.
- Home2 Suites Anaheim Resort & Hilton Garden Inn Anaheim Resort: Scheduled to open in May 2021, this property is two hotel brands in one shared building in a highly walkable location. Award rates start at 35,000 Hilton points per night. Here you’ll find a pool, splash pad, cabanas, poolside bar, and free breakfast for all.
- Element Anaheim Resort Convention Center: Known as an extended stay brand, the Element by Westin will offer a real value proposition for families near Disneyland with full kitchens and many rooms with bunk beds. It opens as a Marriott Category 5 property (like the Fairfield nearby), putting it within reach for redeeming an annual anniversary free night (up to 35,000 points) with several Marriott credit cards.
Disneyland travelers don’t need to agonize too much over the question of whether to stay at a hotel on Disneyland property or off-site. There are plenty of excellent options on-site and off, many within easy walking distance, that are perfect for a visit — whether you’re paying with cash or points.
Featured image courtesy of Summer Hull/The Points Guy
Additional reporting by Summer Hull
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