Where to stay at Disneyland: On vs. off-property hotel comparisons

Dec 1, 2019

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Headed to Disneyland in Anaheim, California, and wondering where to stay with your family? You are 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.

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, I usually stay off-site on most of my Disneyland vacations. There are some perks to staying on-property in a Disneyland resort hotel, but the value of those benefits don’t always match the substantial price increase.

 Disneyland Pedestrian Entrance Harbor Boulevard
The pedestrian entrance to Disneyland on Harbor Boulevard, where many off-property hotel options are located. (Photo by Leslie Harvey.)

What are these differences? First, Disneyland’s substantially smaller footprint means many of the off-property hotels are just as close as to the park 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 hotel.

Additionally, Disneyland Resorts offer fewer on-property perks than those at Walt Disney World. For example, there is no Magical Express airport transportation at Disneyland. Disneyland only offers one Extra Magic Hour per morning for on-property guests (Disney World has daily morning and evening hours). Because Disneyland’s FastPass system is only available same-day, there are no early booking FastPass perks like at Walt Disney World.

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 value to 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.

Disney's Grand Californian Hotel and Spa
Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa is just steps away from both Disneyland parks. (Photo courtesy of Disneyland Resort.)

These three hotels all offer special decor, on-site character meals, 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 that they do offer (especially early morning Extra Magic Hour), 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 certainly seize the opportunity. I’d also recommend an on-property stay if you only have a night or two and want to maximize your time. The three Disneyland hotels also all have rooms that can sleep five to a standard room, so there can be value for larger families as well.

Disneyland Hotel Room
Rooms at the Disneyland Hotel have a musical light-up headboard. (Photo courtesy of Disneyland Resort.)

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 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.

Sadly, Chase Ultimate Rewards points are not a current option for booking Disney stays.

Off-property hotel options near Disneyland

For guests looking to go the more budget route, 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).

Off property hotels near Disneyland on Harbor Boulevard
Hotel row on Harbor Boulevard within walking distance of Disneyland. (Photo by Leslie Harvey.)

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, 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.

Hotels Near Disneyland - Grand Legacy at the Park
The Grand Legacy at The Park isn’t a member of any major hotel loyalty program, but its excellent location makes it a smart option for families near Disneyland. (Photo by Leslie Harvey..)

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.

Here are several of our family’s favorite Disneyland-area hotels to book with hotel points across a variety of points programs:

1. Fairfield Inn Anaheim Resort

Points Program: Marriott Category 5 — 30,000–40,000 points

Fairfield Anaheim Disneyland Room
Fairfield Anaheim Disneyland (Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

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 less than a 10-minute walk from the pedestrian entrance to Disneyland and Disney California Adventure park. Rooms have also been recently renovated.

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 redeem their annual anniversary free night (up to 35,000 points).

2. Courtyard Anaheim Theme Park Entrance

Points Program: Marriott Category 6 — 40,000–60,000 points

Hotels Near Disneyland - Courtyard Anaheim Theme Park Entrance Water Park
The Courtyard Anaheim Theme Park Entrance’s water park. (Photo by Leslie Harvey.)

The Courtyard Anaheim Theme Park Entrance is the nicest off-property hotel for families within walking distance of Disneyland, hands down. The property opened in 2016, making it still feel brand-new. 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).

Standard rooms sleep six and feature two queen beds and a bunk bed with two twin beds. 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. (Read on for more about that card.)

3. Hyatt House at Anaheim Resort

Points Program: World of Hyatt Category 4 — 15,000 points

This relatively new 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 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. 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, and it no longer guarantees free breakfast for non-direct bookings. That means the Hyatt House 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.

Photo courtesy Hyatt House at Anaheim Resort.
The expansive pool deck at the Hyatt House at Anaheim Resort. (Photo courtesy Hyatt House at Anaheim Resort.)

4. Holiday Inn Express & Suites Anaheim Resort Area

Points Program: IHG Rewards — 35,000 points

Located about a 15-minute walk from Disneyland, the Holiday Inn Express & Suites Anaheim Resort Area is also 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 free if you have the IHG® Rewards Club Premier Credit Card

5. Howard Johnson Anaheim Hotel & Water Playground

Points Program: Wyndham Rewards — 15,000 points

Howard Johnson Anaheim Water Playground
Pirate themed water playground at the HoJo Anaheim. (Photo by Leslie Harvey.)

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. Wyndham overhauled its award chart earlier in 2019, doubling the points required to stay at some properties. The HoJo Anaheim mercifully remained at the 15,000 point redemption level. Rooms regularly are priced at over $200 a night, making this hotel a very good value at current TPG Wyndham Rewards valuations.

The hotel has partially completed 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 within walking distance of the parks.

6. Multiple Best Western choices

Points Program: Best Western Rewards

  • Best Western Plus Anaheim Inn: 32,000 points per night
  • Best Western Plus Park Place Inn and Mini-Suites: 36,000 points per night
  • Best Western Plus Pavilions: 20,000 points per night
  • Best Western Plus Stovall’s Inn: 24,000 points per night
Hotels near Disneyland - Best Western Park Place
The Best Western Plus Park Place Inn & Mini-Suites is directly across the street from Disneyland. (Photo by Leslie Harvey.)

The most ubiquitous chain hotel around Disneyland is undoubtedly the Best Western, giving Best Western Rewards members lots of 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.

7. Hotels coming soon

There is a major hotel construction boom happening in the Anaheim area. 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:

  • JW Marriott Anaheim Resort: There are not any luxury off-property hotels within walking distance of Disneyland, so the addition of this hotel is game-changing. Scheduled to open in April 2020, it will be expensive in Marriott’s Category 7 (50,000–70,000 points a night). For now, it is offering some cash price steals worth pre-booking before the hotel opens.
  • Cambria Hotel & Suites Anaheim: Part of the often-overlooked Choice Privileges Rewards program, the Cambria Hotel Anaheim is going to feature a 30,000 square foot outdoor water park and family suites. While this property won’t be within walking distance of the parks, it offers an intriguing value proposition for travelers with kids. It opens in late November 2019 and is advertising some reduced points redemptions in its early opening months.
Cambria Anaheim Discounted Points Stays
Discounted points stays at the Cambria Hotel Anaheim in its first few months of operation.
  • Westin Anaheim Resort: Slated to open in August 2020, this hotel will be yet another place where Marriott Bonvoy points could come in handy. And, for now at least, it’s advertised as a Category 5 property just like the Fairfield (cheaper than the Courtyard!). That could make it a potentially excellent value for anyone with a 35K anniversary night certificate from the Marriott Bonvoy Boundless Credit Card or the Marriott Bonvoy Business™ American Express® Card.
  • SunCoast Park Hotel, Tapestry Collection by Hilton: Currently open as the Country Inn & Suites, this property is about a 15-minute walk from the Disneyland gates. It will become part of the Hilton portfolio on December 15, 2019. Of course, Hilton Honors points redemptions fluctuate wildly, so guests will have to price out the value on every trip. Nevertheless, the addition of the hotel provides more close Hilton choices beyond the convention center.

Bottom line

Families don’t need to agonize 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 author.

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