Thinking of staying off-property on your family’s next Disneyland vacation? Worried you are going to miss out on the perks or suffer some inconveniences by trying to save a few bucks? Never fear! Armed with these pieces of Disneyland knowledge, you too can have a magical off-property Disneyland stay.
A major decision every Disneyland visitor needs to make is choosing a hotel. The three Disney-owned properties (the Grand Californian, the Disneyland Hotel, and Disney’s Paradise Pier) certainly loom large. They offer magical theming and some special perks. Staying on-property, however, isn’t always possible for all families. The Disney hotels are significantly more expensive than their off-property competitors. Budget travelers aren’t going to find them a great fit.
Even for Disneyland guests willing and able to pay the price premium for a Disney hotel, demand often far exceeds supply. I’ve seen many dates, especially around popular holiday periods, where all three Disney hotels are sold out.
When on-property lodging won’t work, it is time to explore the off-property hotel options at Disneyland. The good news is that there are perks to be had off-site as well. Of course, there are a few cons to these hotels, but you can mostly avoid them if you know what they are and plan accordingly. If you are considering staying off-site on your next vacation, here are ten things you need to know to have the best off-property Disneyland experience.
1. Your hotel can still be as close as a Disney hotel.
Unlike at Walt Disney World, where off-property hotels mean longer transit times, Disneyland has some off-property hotels that are within walking distance. In fact, they are literally across the street! I find them to be excellent options for travelers with younger kids who need to take mid-day hotel breaks. Look for the hotels on South Harbor Boulevard directly across from the mid-block pedestrian entrance into Disneyland. These include the Fairfield Inn Anaheim Resort, Courtyard Anaheim Theme Park Entrance, Grand Legacy at the Park, Best Western Plus Park Place Inn, Camelot Inn & Suites, Howard Johnson Anaheim Hotel, and several others.
2. It’s possible to get early entry into Disneyland park with a little-known trick.
Think only Disney resort guests can take advantage of early entry into the parks? Think again. While “Extra Magic Hours” at Walt Disney World are indeed only available to Disney resort hotel guests, there’s a little known hack at Disneyland that helps some families staying off-site with early entry privileges as well. Anyone purchasing Disneyland tickets for three days or more receives one day of “Magic Morning” access at Disneyland – no Disney hotel stay required. Magic Morning allows ticket holders early entry into Disneyland park on one of the designated Extra Magic Hour days (currently Tuesday, Thursday, or Saturday). For families like mine with young kids, Magic Morning is a huge benefit. We use it to hit all the kid-friendly rides in Fantasyland like Peter Pan, Dumbo, and Alice in Wonderland with very minimal waits.
3. There’s no way to get early entry into California Adventure.
As wonderful as Magic Morning is, it is only for Disneyland park. If you are looking for early entry into California Adventure, your only option is to stay in a Disneyland resort hotel. This is essential to know if you have a kiddo who is crazy for Cars Land.
4. Hotel Tonight is your friend.
Who doesn’t love a discount on a family vacation? There are so many ways to save at off-property Disneyland hotels, from Priceline to AAA discounts to simply subscribing to some of these hotel’s mailing lists and watching for deal emails. One of the greatest ways to get a discount is by using the smartphone app Hotel Tonight. You can search for discounted hotel deals several days in advance of your stay. This is ideal if you are planning a last minute vacation or have a cancellable room reservation.
5. If you are staying at a Good Neighbor Hotel, you can buy your tickets there.
Disney has designated a number of hotels in the vicinity of Disneyland as Good Neighbor Hotels. These hotels offer some conveniences to guests, including the ability to purchase tickets at the hotel front desk. Ticket purchasing privileges save you time in the morning so you don’t need to wait in line at the regular ticket kiosks and miss rope drop.
But I know you are looking to save money as well as time, right? It’s even better to purchase your Disneyland tickets in advance with TravelingMom partner Parksavers. This agency partners with Disney to provide the very same tickets for a discount if you purchase at least 48 hours in advance. Use code TM2 to save an additional $2 per ticket over the already discounted prices.
6. Many hotels charge for parking.
Just like Disney-owned hotels, many off-property hotels near Disneyland charge parking fees. These fees can range in price considerably, so remember to research the daily charges and add them up before comparing overall hotel costs. If you don’t need a car and are flying to Disneyland, consider taking a shuttle or ride-sharing service from the airport to save on rental car fees as well as parking.
7. There’s public transit – ART – if you aren’t staying within walking distance.
Although I highly recommend staying within walking distance (especially if you have young kids), many off-property hotels with locations farther afield are still pretty convenient thanks to public transit shuttles operated Anaheim Resort Transportation (ART). Fees to ride ART are very reasonable; daily passes are $5 for adults and $2 for children ages 3-9. Single ride tickets and 3 and 5 day passes are available as well.
8. A few hotels have dedicated shuttles – but be careful.
Still other off-property hotels offer their own shuttle services. These shuttles are usually complimentary for hotel guests. Most operate on a set schedule. One word of warning, however: the early morning and end of day shuttles are often extremely popular, meaning they can fill up and leave you stranded until the next one. Arrive early to catch the first shuttle of the day if you are determined to make it to the parks for rope drop. Or choose a hotel elsewhere if the uncertainty is too much.
9. Some off-property hotels have themed rooms or really cool amenities.
One of the reasons I love staying in Disney-owned hotels is the amazing theming that Disney offers. Some off-property hotels make a valiant effort at doing the same, even if it isn’t always executed with Disney perfection. I guarantee your kids can’t tell the difference. The Fairfield Inn Anaheim resort, for example, has themed rooms that my kids loved. The brand new Courtyard next door has a water park built into the hotel. And the Howard Johnson’s pirate pool is always a kid favorite. There’s no need to sacrifice whimsy just because you can’t stay on-property.
10. You can still dine at the character meals in the Disney-owned hotels.
Even if you aren’t staying in the Disney hotels, you can still take advantage of some of their amenities – the most important of which is Disneyland character dining. There’s a character meal in each of the three hotels: Goofy’s Kitchen for breakfast and dinner in the Disneyland Hotel, Chip and Dale’s Critter Breakfast in the Grand Californian, and the Surf’s Up Breakfast with Mickey and Friends in Paradise Pier’s PCH Grill. I recommend making a reservation in advance of your trip. Just look on the Disneyland website or call directly. The reservation window opens 60 days in advance.
Have you stayed off-site at Disneyland? What other tips would you add?