Disneyland: Staying On-site vs Off-site

As many of you know, when considering a trip to Walt Disney World, the issue of whether to stay on-site or off-site can be rather hotly debated. At WDW staying on-site certainly has advantages with its access to Disney transportation, proximity to the parks, and the wide range of resorts (and room rates!) available.

At Disneyland it’s really not so much of an issue, though.

Location, location, location.
Though Disneyland was originally built in the middle of an orange grove, the city of Anaheim grew up all around it, and it’s surrounded by its own variety of hotels with a wide range of prices and amenities. In fact, all of the Disney-owned hotels (Disneyland Hotel, Paradise Pier, and Grand Californian) are all “high-end” hotels, so those traveling on a more modest budget have no choice but to choose an “off-site” hotel. Proximity of the Disney hotels is a non-issue, though, since several of the off-site hotels are actually closer to Disneyland’s entrance than the Disney hotels! Just a short walk (~5 minutes) across Harbor Blvd are several moderately priced hotels that provide clean-but-no-frills accommodations at a much lower rate than any of the Disney hotels – and there’s that shorter walk to the parks, too. Now, there’s also no theming at those hotels, either, but some of them do offer a complimentary continental breakfast, free parking and high-speed internet, *without* the “resort fee” Disney charges.

So what about transportation?
The Disneyland Resort is a “walking” resort – other than the trams from the two parking areas, the only Disney transportation is the monorail, and it only has two stations: one inside Tomorrowland, and the other at the far end of Downtown Disney. It’s closest to the Disneyland Hotel, but it’s really not so convenient to any of the hotels that I’d consider it a factor in deciding to stay there.

That Disney theming
Of the three Disney hotels, only the Grand Californian was originally owned and built by Disney – the Disneyland Hotel and the Paradise Pier were originally built by third parties, and later acquired by Disney. So a lot of the “Disney” touches in terms of design and theming are missing from those two hotels. Both hotels were constructed as very ordinary rectangular high-rise towers (three at the Disneyland Hotel and one at the Paradise Pier) – pretty boring and quite a contrast from the beautifully designed Grand Californian across the street.

The Disneyland Hotel has done a lot of remodeling and renovation in recent years, and it does have a lot more of the “Disney resort feel” these days. The grounds and landscaping are quite nice, and the Neverland Pool area can compete with any of the WDW pools. The Paradise Pier suffers from a lack of space, though – the hotel itself takes up all of its lot, and there’s not much room for niceties like landscaping. The pool area is actually built on top of the convention center.

You notice I haven’t really mentioned the Grand Californian – it’s really in a class by itself, at least in comparison to the other Disneyland hotels, and reflects Disney resort theming at its finest. And it has the price to go along with that, too…

So…on-site or off-site?
Well, in my opinion, at Disneyland it’s really a matter of economics. If you can afford to stay at one of the Disney-owned hotels you’re going to get more of a Disney experience in terms of theming, service, and room decor than you will at any of the off-site hotels. But as far as proximity to the parks goes, a number of the off-site hotels are better choices, as well as being much more inexpensive.

What about you? Where is your favorite place to stay at Disneyland, and what do you like about it?


Laura Gilbreath is a native of San Diego, CA. She has been making the trek up Interstate 5 to Disneyland since she was a small child and terrified of talking tikis and hitchhiking ghosts. She and her husband Lee enjoy trips to Disneyland and Walt Disney World, as well as sailings on the Disney Cruise Line.

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