10 Reasons to Stay Onsite at Disneyland

by on March 15, 2013 17 Comments

Filed under: Disneyland (CA)

I’ve always said offsite is okay at Disneyland. I’ve listed 10 reasons to stay offsite before! I’m not an offsite fan at Walt Disney World. At all. Disneyland, on the other hand, has a lot of good options right offsite, and a lot of good reasons to stay offsite. But there are also reasons people often pay more to stay onsite at Disneyland. And here are 10 of them!

1. Magic Factor – The Magic Factor is one of those terms that’s tossed around and not easily defined, but many people will agree that it’s real. When guests go to Disney, they want to be enveloped in the atmosphere, lost in their surroundings, and transported to another place. Disneyland starts at a disadvantage when compared to Disney World. When you enter the Disney World property, you can’t see anything but Disney World from most locations. It’s easy to forget the real world is out there for a few days. Disneyland, however, is surrounded by the real world. There’s an IHOP within walking distance of just about every location on property. For me, staying onsite helps. When I’m walking towards the Disneyland resorts, I’m walking away from the realities on Harbor Boulevard and walking towards more magic. No matter how lightly themed even the least-themed hotel (Paradise Pier Hotel) may seem, there are still hidden Mickeys to be found in the carpet and bedding, Mickey lamps, Mickey faucets, even Mickey himself is in the house at breakfast. If my room has a theme park view, I can turn on my television and have the music to the fireworks or World of Color piped in. The cast members aren’t always perfect, but Disney has high standards for hiring and it shows. The Magic Factor is a real thing, my friends. It’s real.

2. Special Entrance – There’s a special entrance into Disney California Adventure in the Grand Californian that’s just for resort guests during busy times! It’s most valuable in the mornings when the lines at the front gates are huge. The line at the special entrance can get long, but from my experience, they’re prepared, it moves fast, and they do check room keys. You come out right at Grizzly River Run, so it’s easy to snag some World of Color FASTPASSes before you join everyone and his dog over in Cars Land. If you are on your way back towards California Screamin’ and The Little Mermaid, you’ll pretty much have that area to yourself!

3. Package Delivery – Guests of the Disneyland hotels can have purchases they make in the resort sent back to their rooms. I must say I did not fully appreciate that benefit when I first heard about it. Now I understand. Have you ever decided not to buy something, or to wait until the end of the day, no matter how inconvenient the store location is, to buy something just so you wouldn’t have to carry it around? I have. There’s no need if you’re staying at a Disney resort (and not leaving that day). Buy it, fill out a quick form, and don’t worry about it again! No more loading down the stroller so much that it falls over as soon as the child steps out!

4. Charging Privileges – Disney hotel guests can charge resort purchases on their room key. It’s pretty convenient, and probably will be even more so once MyMagic+ rolls out fully!

5. Pools – There are a couple of pools at offsite hotels that are not shabby, but as a general rule, the pools at the Disney hotels blow neighboring pools out of the water. The pool at the Grand Californian is amazing. There are actually three of them with a great slide and beautiful lounge chairs in a lovely redwood themed setting. The pool at the Disneyland Hotel was redone last year and it was worth the wait. It’s a freakin’ monorail pool!! It’s got great slides and a water playground. It’s Awe. Some. Even the rather plain pool at Paradise Pier is better than most offsite hotels. With its unique rooftop location (from which you can view the fireworks with musical accompaniment) and great slide, it’s still a good pool. As the Unofficial Guide says, almost 60 percent of preschoolers surveyed say their favorite part of their Disney vacation was the pool. So choose wisely!

6. Childcare – If you would like an evening for just the grown-ups, you don’t have very many options offsite. You can bring a naive loving grandmom or find a reputable local service. If your kids are between 5 and 12 and you are staying in a Disney hotel, you have another option. It’s called Pinocchio’s Workshop. You can make reservations at Guest services or by calling 714-635-2300. Pinocchio’s is full of games, arts, crafts, snacks, and even dinner if you like! My children spent a few hours there one evening when they were younger, and it was one of their favorite parts of our vacation. Yes, even more than the pools!

7. Views – There are certainly some offsite hotels with unique views. The Carousel Inn & Suites gave us some really neat views of the Matterhorn. But for a true theme park view (I mean looking down into California Adventure theme park view), you’ll need to stay onsite.  If you’re like me and love the atmosphere of Downtown Disney District, then your only option is onsite. It’s people watching heaven! Truth be told, I enjoy the Downtown Disney views as much as the theme park view rooms at the Grand Californian.

8. Hotel Activities – I’ve referenced some of these before, but the Disney hotels have some extra activities for guests. When you check in you should get a sheet listing some the options for your stay, although there have been times at the Grand Californian where they left a list on our pillow at night. There are things like the Art of the Craft Tour at the Grand Californian, power walking through California Adventure, towel folding classes, private shopping experiences, animation classes, there are lots of good options! Some of these come and go, but odds are you will find something you like!

9. In Room Celebrations – I had a blog post recently about ways to celebrate at Disney. Some of the options only happen onsite! The Dream Makers will come and secretly decorate your room, but they can only do that onsite! And for a fee, of course, but that’s another post.

10. Extra Magic Hour – This is the biggest one, folks. With the popularity and wait times in Cars Land, this benefit is huge. Extra Magic Hour allows Disney hotel guests to enter one of the parks early every day of their stay. On Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturdays it’s Disneyland, and Sunday, Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, it’s Disney California Adventure. There have been some busy times when guests could pick either park! Right now, being a resort guest or an Annual Passholder are the only ways to get into California Adventure early. And Annual Passholders can only go to DCA on Saturdays. On a recent, very crowded weekend my party used Extra Magic Hour at Disney California Adventure and we were able to ride Radiator Springs Racers twice, Luigi’s Flying Tires, Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree and still had time to walk around and take pictures and enjoy ourselves. This benefit really can’t be oversold. It’s huge where Cars Land is concerned.

What do you think? Are these enough reasons for you to try a Disneyland onsite hotel?


Posted on March 15, 2013

17 Responses to “10 Reasons to Stay Onsite at Disneyland”

  • I am in the process of planning a Disneyland/So Cal trip. And I so would have liked to book one of the DLR hotels. But bottom line, the pricing is just too high 🙁 At WDW, we can stay value and still have all the advantages of being on property. With how much it’s costing for a cross country flight to CA for the 4 of us (one way is what we pay round trip to Orlando) plus all the other expenses, we just can’t afford the cost to stay on property at DLR. 🙁 This trip in it’s entirety (with staying at a cheaper off property hotel) is what we normally pay for two trips to WDW, with some sort of promo. If they had some sort of value resort at DLR, we would have stayed there in a heartbeat 🙂

    • I totally agree! We got so much more bang for our buck at WDW then DLR! We are going to WDW this spring for 6 days and its totaling the 3 we stayed at DLR 2 years ago. I wish there was a Value Resort in DLR too!

    • by Tammy Whiting on March 15, 2013, at 10:43 pm EST

      I agree, and I’ve said it before. Disneyland needs a value resort.

  • We stayed offsite in October. I am already planning our next trip down *ahem* in 3 years. 🙂 I have been kicking around the idea of staying onsite next time. Where all of your top 10 are things I have considered, the 3 pluses of the offsite hotel are, for half the price of the Grand Californian, we have our own bedroom and the kids have their own bedroom with a bunk bed (it’s called a family suite). Target is across the street for easy access to cheap snacks (all rooms have a fridge and microwave). There’s a Starbucks in the lobby of the hotel. We are seriously considering onsite though. But I REALLY enjoyed being able to shut the door to the kids room at night and sit and relax and watch TV without bothering the kids.

    • by Tammy Whiting on March 15, 2013, at 10:45 pm EST

      It’s a tough choice, Trina! I pick onsite when I can, but I understand the reasons for offsite too!

    • Trina, which hotel did stay in that was across from Target? I am planning our trip in May, and I agree with you that the Disneyland hotels are very expensive.

  • I’ve stayed onsite and offsite at DLR, and I think there are fewer real advantages to staying onsite than you list here.

    1. MAGIC: The moment you enter DLR from Harbor Blvd–whether you’re walking in from the pedestrian entrance or riding in on ART–you’re on property, and the magic instantly begins. The “bubble” is just as immediate here as walking in from the west side of the resort. Tall plantings, piped music, you are enveloped immediately and it simply builds with every step you take towards the Esplanade. Moreover, you may be walking by an IHOP on Harbor from your Good Neighbor hotel to get to the ped entrance, but it isn’t as if the nationally generic Rainforest Cafe and ESPN Zone scream “Disney unique” either. Not to mention the fact that West Street/Disneyland Drive–a public road–goes right through the Downtown Disney and hotel area, and the very non-magical aspects of public crosswalks (between PPH and GCH), parking lots, and access roadways to traverse, or the fact that most of the Good Neighbor Hotels on Harbor are actually closer to the main gates than half of DLH and all of PPH.

    2. SPECIAL ENTRANCE: This really isn’t much of a perk for anyone heading for the RSR standby or FastPass distribution lines in the morning. The crowd gets to either location much faster (whether it’s an Early Entry crowd or not) from the main gate of DCA, which is physically closer to both, and the popular “Wide Right” technique for getting on RSR with a short wait is not possible from the GCH entrance.

    3. PACKAGE DELIVERY: I will admit this is a great convenience, and have used it staying at PPH before. But it’s just as easy to put your items in a locker, or carry them out of the park on a midday break, too.

    4. CHARGING PRIVILEGES: This is a double-edged sort. I can see the convenience for some families. But for others, I can also see how easy it might make it to run up a bill beyond what you really wanted to be responsible for paying. Pulling out an actual debit/credit card keeps you mindful that you’re spending your own actual money.

    5. POOLS: The pool at DLH is nice, of course. But the PPH pool is pretty generic and overlooks parking lots, and the GCH pools are just as generic and really shoe-horned (i.e. crowded) onto the property. Furthermore, all three DLR hotels are comparable to WDW’s Deluxe Resorts, which don’t have an equal in the Anaheim Resort Area. The Good Neighbor Hotels are most comparable to WDW’s Value Resorts, a category Disney has not developed onsite in Calfornia, and at least at WDW none of which have pools with slides. There are, however, some Good Neighbor hotels with excellent pools in the Anaheim Resort District. The HoJo, in particular, on Harbor has a wonderful slide/play area for kids and a comfortable sized, attractive main pool area, and it’s a shorter walk to the main gate from the HoJo than from DLH.

    6. CHILDCARE: This is a difficult category for me, and I don’t mean to offend anyone. I can see its benefit in an emergency. But if an evening “just for the grownups” is that important, why on earth is that family on an (always expensive) family vacation at *Disneyland*? Kids are welcome everywhere in the resort, and “me” time is alot more easily available and a lot cheaper back home.

    7. VIEWS: Several off-site hotel towers in the Anaheim Resort district offer theme park view rooms, including the HoJo (building 1), the Hilton, Embassy Suites, and Fairfield Inn. (The Fairfield Inn also offers Disney-themed rooms.)

    8. HOTEL ACTIVITIES: This is another category that just depends. Yes, onsite hotels have extra activities, but these tend to be paid activities. I don’t see how different this is from staying at a Good Neighbor hotel and purchasing, say, a Gray Line shopping or day tour.

    9. IN-ROOM CELEBRATIONS: This is a benefit of staying onsite, but only partially. Yes, if you stay offsite, the Dream Makers won’t decorate your room. But they WILL drop off the same items/gifts at the front desk of any Good Neighbor hotel for you to decorate your room on your own.

    10. EXTRA MAGIC HOURS: Again, really just a mixed benefit that depends on park opening ours and how your family deals with mornings. You need to be in line half an hour or so before Early Entry begins to maximize your use of it. If it’s a low-season weekday and the park opens at 10 a.m., not so difficult to get in line by 9:30–but not so necessary either. If, however, it’s a high-season weekend, it’s a lot more challenging to get the whole family up, ready, and in line at 6:30 a.m. for a 7 a.m. Early Entry–especially if you’re on a multi-day vacation and you spent the previous night in the parks.

    All of that isn’t to say I wouldn’t love to stay on site for my next DLR trip. But IMO the great expense of staying on site these days just doesn’t measure up to the benefits of staying onsite, which I just don’t think are as powerful as portrayed here.

    • by Tammy Whiting on March 16, 2013, at 10:02 am EST

      Michael! That was quite a response, haha! I’m not going to go back and debate every point because of course you’re entitled to your opinion. I enjoy staying offsite, I stay offsite often, I see the value in it and have written an entire blog post on it. But there are reasons people pay more to stay onsite and agree or not, these are some of them.
      I would like to say something specifically about #6. We used Pinocchio’s when my husband was on a one year unaccompanied assignment with the military. We met him for a 5 day vacation at Disneyland after not seeing him for months. We used our “grown up time” to go a nice dinner with just the two of us. Knowing that our kids were having a blast, helped us relax even more. Pinocchio’s isn’t something we need or want on every vacation, but it does have value. 🙂

      • Tammy, I would definitely say “seeing DH on brief leave from military” is a special occasion! And I should have been less brief in my thoughts about #6. Certainly there are more than just “emergency” reasons to use it, as your story points out.

        I should also have said, a few years ago my opinion would have been swayed by those now-gone cheaper onsite hotel prices. Hard to be sad they’re gone when in return we get the awesomely redone DCA, but they were good times!

        • by Tammy Whiting on March 16, 2013, at 1:36 pm EST

          I agree! I miss the days when I could stay at the Disneyland Hotel for $100 a night, or the Grand Californian for $179! But I am not AS sad if Cars Land is what we got in exchange. 🙂

  • We have stayed on site and i value it highly. In my opinion, i would probably value it at $125 per night. It is that nice. However, it is not worth $300+ per night to me. We priced the Grand Californian for our trip next week and it was $350+ per night over the popular Best Western Plus Park Inn. $120 versus $500 per night and we are there 4 nights. Staying on property is nice, but just not THAT nice, in my opinion.

    • by Tammy Whiting on March 16, 2013, at 9:43 am EST

      I understand, Sean. It’s not worth it for everyone! I have stayed offsite many times when I wanted to save money and we’ve had great vacations while staying offsite. It’s a choice each family has to make.

  • Another option is one used at WDW but less familiar at DLR: the split stay. If you’ll be at DLR for four nights and have a little budgetary room for a splurge, you could stay off site for two or three nights and spend one or two nights at a resort hotel. This is trickier with children in tow and it’s not like your bags will get to the second hotel via Disney magic, but it is an option.

    Personally, unless I’m there by myself (in which case I prefer to never leave the Disney bubble), we like to stay at offsite hotels to the west so when walking to the parks we come in through the Grand Californian lobby and Downtown Disney and get back on magical ground in a relatively short time.

    • by Tammy Whiting on March 18, 2013, at 4:52 pm EST

      A split stay may be a great compromise Marmogan. And you’re right, there are some great options to the West. I really liked the Anabella Hotel. 🙂

  • I’m going for 3-1/2 days at the beginning of December with my two daughters (22&20) First time for myself and my 22 year old. I am soooo tempted to stay at the Disneyland Hotel, but wonder if it is worth the $700 difference from staying at the Desert Inn? This is probably my first and only time going.