The conventional wisdom from most Disney experts is that it is important to stay on-property at Walt Disney World. Staying in one of the Disney World resorts in Florida comes with a whole host of benefits that the Disney faithful can’t replicate in most of the off-property choices. When I head to Florida for a Disney vacation, I almost always stay on-site.
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At Disneyland in Southern California, however, visitors should do a very different analysis. Disneyland has just 3 on-property hotel options (the Disneyland Hotel, Disney’s Grand Californian, and Disney’s Paradise Pier) compared to 25+ at Walt Disney World. It goes without saying that the on-property choices at Disneyland are just much more limited. The benefits of on-property stays are different as well.
Although I love staying on-property at Disneyland whenever my budget allows, I think there is often a lot of value in off-property accommodations in Disneyland for many visitors. There’s certainly less to lose (and more money to save) than at Walt Disney World. Here are the differences to consider between Disneyland and Walt Disney World when it comes to off-property lodging.
Location of Off-Property Hotels at Disneyland
A major reason that so many guests stay on-property at Walt Disney World is proximity. Walt Disney World is enormous and most Disney hotels are simply a lot closer to at least one park’s entrance than the off-property options. Disney resort guests also get valuable and free access to the on-site transportation system to get them from hotels to the parks and everywhere else.
At Disneyland, the proximity analysis is totally different. Disney owns very little land around the area of the immediate park grounds in Anaheim. That means that there are lots of hotel options not owned by Disney literally across the street. Some of these hotels are even closer than the Disney-owned options. If you want to be super-close to the main gates, the place to stay is on South Harbor Boulevard across from the mid-block pedestrian entrance to Disneyland. I happen to think these walking distance hotels are excellent choices for families with babies and toddlers who need mid-day naps!
Early Entry (“Extra Magic Hours”)
One of the major reasons to stay on-property at Walt Disney World is that on-property guests get exclusive access to the parks during early morning and late evening hours. These “Extra Magic Hours” are often excellent ways to beat the crowds and make the most of a Disney vacation. At least one park opens a full hour early every day or one park stays open late at least two hours each night (and sometimes both morning and evening hours are offered). The schedule varies, so check the calendar carefully. Walt Disney World only offers Extra Magic Hours to on-property guests and guests of a few hotels that have somewhat hybrid on-property status (Dolphin & Swan Resorts, Hilton Resort at Downtown Disney, and Shades of Green).
Disneyland offers early entry as well, but the extra time is much more limited. Disneyland offers a single early morning hour (“Extra Magic Hour”) to one of the parks daily (there are no late evening hours). As of spring 2016, Disneyland park opens an hour early on Tuesdays, Thursday, and Saturdays and California Adventure opens an hour early on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays.
While early entry is available only to on-property guests at Walt Disney World, there is a way that off-property guests can obtain some early entry benefits at Disneyland. If you purchase a three day or more Disneyland ticket, the ticket comes with one early entry day into Disneyland park (“Magic Morning“), which is a huge benefit! Note that early access to California Adventure is still limited exclusively to on-property Disneyland guests. If you have a huge Cars fan in the family, on-property may still be quite valuable to you. But for many families, especially those with young kids like mine, having early access to Disneyland and the kid-friendly rides in Fantasyland and more is benefit enough.
Other On-Property Perks
Staying on-property at Walt Disney World also gives guests access to early Fastpass+ reservation times. On-property guests are able to make Fastpass+ selections 60 days in advance while off-property visitors have to wait until 30 days prior to their visit. As Fastpasses for a few of the most popular rides like Seven Dwarfs Mine Train “sell out,” this access is a huge benefit if one of these rides is on your must-do list and you don’t want to wait in long lines.
At Disneyland, there is no Fastpass+ and this is a game changer. Disneyland still uses a digital version of the old school paper Fastpass system (with a paid add-on to book via smartphones called MaxPass as of 2017). And it all must be done in the parks same day. As a result, there’s no additional Fastpass perk involved in on-property stays.
Magical Express Airport Transportation
At Walt Disney World, Disney offers another benefit to on-property hotel guests flying into Orlando: free ground transportation from the Orlando Airport to their Disney hotel via the Magical Express. Guests can even skip baggage claim, as Disney provides bag tags before your trip and will deliver your luggage from the airport straight to your room. This cuts down on logistics as well as cost.
There is no equivalent to the Magical Express at Disneyland. You’ll have to either rent a car or pay for a shuttle or taxi if you fly into one of the airports near Disneyland, even if you are paying top dollar for a Disneyland resort hotel stay.
Walt Disney World offers all on-property guests another transportation perk: free parking. This means that guests who road trip to Walt Disney World or who want to rent a car after flying in to the area don’t have extra parking costs associated with their trip. (Editor’s note: WDW hotels began charging for parking in 2018).
Real estate is definitely more expensive in California (and parking is in high demand), so there’s no free parking for on-property guests at Disneyland. All Disneyland hotels unfortunately charge for parking. Self-parking at all Disneyland hotels is $18 (as of spring 2016) and valet is $28. Believe it or not, some of the off-property hotel choices are actually the ones that offer free (or at least cheap) parking!
To be sure, free parking isn’t necessarily needed quite as much at Disneyland for many visitors, so this perk might a wash for your family. If you are flying in to Southern California to visit Disneyland, shuttles, taxis, or ride-sharing services are likely going to be a better deal than renting a car anyway.
Comparing all these perks may tip the scales a bit, but the most important factor for many families when deciding where to stay is MONEY. At Walt Disney World, Disney offers three tiers of accommodations: Deluxe Resorts, Moderate Resorts, and Value Resorts. These options mean that there are hotel choices on-property for almost every Disney budget. During sale periods, some of the value resorts can be found for under $100 a night, which is quite a steal for all the perks that come with that price.
At Disneyland, however, there are no hotel tiers and there are no resorts that equate to the value resorts at Disney World. While Paradise Pier is regularly the least expensive of the three, it doesn’t begin to approach value resort pricing. I’ve never seen it priced at under $200 a night (although I’m sure a last minute deals here or there might pop up occasionally) and it is usually closer to $300. In fact, there are many times of year at Disneyland that all of the off-property hotels prices are over $350 a night.
The bottom line? If you want to pay $100 for a hotel room at Disneyland, your only option is to stay off-property.
The Final Word
When deciding where to stay on a Disney vacation, I would be remiss if I failed to mention the intangible benefits that on-property hotels can offer. There’s something pretty magical about staying in the Disney bubble, whether you are at Walt Disney World or Disneyland. The theming, the excellent cast member service, and the seamlessness of it all during an on-property stay can’t be underestimated at either park. If I had my druthers and an unlimited budget, I might just stay at the Disneyland Hotel every visit (the Disney history there gets me every time).
Alas, sometimes you have to crunch the numbers and make a compromise or two when it comes to travel, even at the Happiest Place on Earth! And with great prices and not too many benefits to be sacrificed, the off-property options in Anaheim often can’t be beat.
When you visit Disneyland, where do you stay? Do you prefer off-property accommodations or is a Disney owned hotel a must-do for your family?
Planning a Disneyland trip? Don’t miss my Pinterest board devoted exclusively to Disneyland-specific advice.
Follow Leslie @ Trips With Tykes’s board Disneyland on Pinterest.
check out advice from my Disney blogging friends:
- Mom Rewritten| Important Advice to Know About Transportation at the Disneyland Resort
- This Roller Coaster Called Life | Disneyland Resorts & the Distance to the Parks
- Rolling with the Magic | Wheelchair Access at Disneyland & Walt Disney World
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