If you grew up going to Disney World like I did, you might be surprised to know that the hotel situation in Disneyland is very different. Disneyland was built first, and Walt Disney only purchased a relatively small amount of land for the park. As it became clear that Disneyland would be a hit destination, others bought up the land adjacent to the park and began putting up hotels for Disney guests. Disney got into the hotel game in Anaheim much later, and there are now only three hotels that are onsite at Disneyland that are Disney operated (Disney’s Grand Californian, the Disneyland Hotel, and Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel). Disneyland is now fairly landlocked by the surrounding properties owned by others. By the time Disney World was in the works, however, Disney realized that there was big money in the hotel game. So Disney purchased vast tracts of land in central Florida from the start, and began building numerous hotels surrounding the parks.
Why does this little history lesson matter? Because it means you will want to have drastically different strategies for choosing a hotel at Disneyland than you would at Disney World when traveling with a little one. At Disney World, I strongly err on the side of staying at a Disney hotel, as it means I have access to the Disney transportation systems, reasonable proximity to the parks, and lots of extra perks only available to Disney hotel guests like early entry.
At Disneyland, however, I almost always stay at non-Disney hotels when traveling with babies, toddlers, and young kids. These choices are drastically cheaper than the three Disney hotels in most instances, and many of them are located closer to the park entrance than the Disney hotels! While there are some perks only available to Disney hotel guests, the most attractive to me is early entry, and it is possible to purchase tickets with some early entry (to Disneyland park at least) without needing a Disney hotel reservation.
Things to keep in mind when choosing Disney vs. non-Disney hotels at Disneyland:
The rack rate on even the cheapest of the Disneyland hotels is almost always going to be double or triple what other area hotels charge. Disneyland does, however, sometimes have hotel packages available in off-season times that make the prices closer to the off-resort options. For example, my family found a great deal at the Disneyland Hotel in early December last year that made sense for us. Always check all options.
2) Is Walking Distance a Must?
Disney’s Grand Californian is definitely the most walkable of all hotels, with a side entrance that opens directly into the California Adventure Park. The other two Disney hotels, the Disneyland Hotel and Disney’s Paradise Pier, are also walkable, but further away. They are served by a small monorail system, but don’t expect the monorail to run through your resort like it does in Florida. You will have a short walk from either the Disneyland Hotel or the Paradise Pier hotel to the monorail stop on the far end of Downtown Disney.
For non-Disney hotels, Anaheim has a pretty robust shuttle system to the area hotels, but shuttles can and do fill up at busy times and can be subject to traffic. If you don’t want to find yourself standing on a street corner with a cranky toddler who needs to get back to your hotel for nap time, I strongly recommend a hotel within walking distance (bring a stroller!). If you want to be within reasonable walking distance of the park entrance, you will want to stay at the hotels along South Harbor Boulevard directly across from the pedestrian entrance to Disneyland (see the red dot on this map for the pedestrian entrance). I’ve stayed at a few of these hotels, including the Camelot Inn and Quality Inn & Suites. I’ve also stayed at the Marriott Fairfield Inn Anaheim Resort twice, and it has an excellent location.
Some of the most convenient non-Disney hotels are definitely in the “budget” category. In my experience, they are clean and adequate, but facilities are old and service is very basic. If you are used to staying at Ritz-Carltons or Four Seasons, you will not find the choices acceptable and you should head directly for Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel. If, however, you do just fine at Best Westerns or Comfort Inn-style hotels, these hotels are nearly equivalent options. If you need something in-between that , there are plenty of non-Disney hotels that are not walkable, but that are on the shuttle system described above. My family has had good luck a few years ago at the Sheraton Anaheim Hotel and the Anaheim Marriott.
4) Do You Need More than One Room?
If you have little ones, you may want more than one room so that you can spread out or so you can put the kids to bed earlier than the adults. In my experience, the Disney hotels have larger rooms than the competition, but none of them have suites unless you are willing to start paying thousands of dollars a night (exception: if you are a Disney Vacation Club member, you may be able to get a condo in the Grand Californian).
A few of the non-Disney hotels offer “family suites” that are two adjoining rooms that cost less than what two traditional hotel rooms would cost you. Many of these suites have kitchenettes where you can store milk and snacks for your little one. I’ve stayed in the family suite at the Camelot Inn when my daughter was 22 months old, and it was a big help. When she was that young, she absolutely needed to go to bed at 7 pm and wouldn’t do that unless the room was dark and quiet. We also really liked the family suite at that age because we were able to hire a babysitter one evening to go out, and the sitter was able to watch TV in the adjoining room.