Accommodation, Review, Saving Money, Sightseeing, Travel

Disneyland: Staying on-site vs. staying off-site

Hi everyone! I just got back from a fun trip to California, specifically Disneyland, the Happiest Place on Earth!

Disneyland Partners Statue in the spring

On this trip, I debated whether I should stay on-site again, or if I should save some money and stay off-site. On both my previous trips to Disneyland, I stayed on-site, first at Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel, and then at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa. This trip, I thought about staying at the third Disney-owned hotel, the Disneyland Hotel. Looking at the prices for May 20-24, the lowest price I found was for $390/night, which was way more than I wanted to spend.

When I stayed at the Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa a few years ago, they had a deal to “buy two nights, get the third night free”, so the room ended up costing $298/night, which is still pretty steep. However, I really wanted to be immersed in the Disney environment, so I decided that paying that much would be worth it – and it totally was!

To provide some comparison with staying off-site, here are a few photos of my stay at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa. The architecture, lobby, and rooms were all influenced by the Arts & Crafts movement.  The design and look remind me of the Wilderness Lodge at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, but the Grand Californian gives off an even more luxe vibe.

Disneyland Grand Californian Hotel & Spa Lobby desk
Check-In desk at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa

The lobby of the hotel is so impressive, yet very homey and comfortable.

Disneyland Grand Californian Hotel & Spa Lobby

Let’s check out the rooms!

Disneyland Grand Californian Hotel & Spa room
My room at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa

The bathroom was also very nice and spacious.

Disneyland Grand Californian Hotel & Spa bathroom

I even had my own balcony overlooked the beautiful pool area! This is perfect for eating beignets for breakfast before hitting the parks.

Disneyland Grand Californian Hotel & Spa balcony

Disneyland Grand Californian Hotel & Spa balcony view
Exterior of Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa

While I had an awesome time staying on-site and being able to go back to my hotel for a break during the day, I couldn’t justify paying so much for a Disney hotel on this trip. Maybe if I was only staying for 2 days, I would want to maximize my time at the parks, so staying literally a 1 minute walk to California Adventure would have made the price worth it. As it was, I would have 5 days in the parks, so I had plenty of time.

After much research for my most recent trip, I decided to venture outside the Disney gates and stay right on S Harbor Boulevard, the street adjacent to the entrance to both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. I checked Google maps to see potential hotels I could stay at that looked to be within walking distance of both parks and then looked at reviews.

I finally decided to book the Fairfield Inn by Marriot after seeing the price on Expedia and reading lots of reviews and rankings.  All the rooms were recently refurbished, it had a high rating and positive reviews on Expedia and Trip Advisor, and reviewers said it was a short walk to both of the park entrances. When I checked Google Maps, it looked like it’s about a 10 minute walk door-to-door, so it’s actually a lot closer to the parks than two of the Disney-owned hotels!

In the end, I booked this hotel through Expedia’s vacation package option; I booked 4 nights at the hotel, round-trip airfare to John Wayne Airport, and a shuttle to my hotel all for under $1,200 including taxes – I thought this was a great deal!

Savings by staying off-site instead of on-site: $1,200 vs. $2,100

*These totals do not include admission to the park. I spent 5 days at the parks and wanted to park-hop, so tickets cost an additional $350. Additionally, there are other even less expensive options for hotels depending on location and quality, so you could potentially save even less!

Let’s see the Fairfield Inn rooms so we can compare them with Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa!

Well, first things first, I ALWAYS check the beds for bed bugs, no matter how much the hotel costs! That way you can tell the check-in people right away and switch rooms.

Disneyland California Fairfield Inn by Marriot

The hotel itself is nothing fancy, certainly not on the same level as the Grand Californian in terms of design and creativity. Nonetheless, the rooms have all been recently upgraded, and they are clean, comfortable, and modern. I didn’t take any photos of the exterior of the hotel or the lobby since they were so nondescript.

The people at the check-in desk were all friendly and helpful as well, which is really important! They even gave me lots of free sample-size sunblock when I asked if they sell sunblock in their gift shop, so I saved some money there 🙂 There’s also free cucumber or lemon-flavored water available in the lobby for when you leave or return from a busy day at the parks.

There’s no private balconies here, and all the entrances to the rooms are outdoors along the hallways. Still, I found everything to be pretty safe and quiet.

I’m not going into detail about the restaurants or food options at the hotel since that’s not really what I based my hotel choices on. I usually look forward to eating in the parks and not anywhere outside, but the Fairfield Inn has tons of food options nearby, as well as some food options on the third floor of their hotel.

So now that we saved some money by staying off-site and compared rooms, how were the logistics of staying off-site?

I have to admit, taking a break during the day is much easier when I stayed on-site. The Grand Californian has it’s own bag check and turnstiles, so the queues are never as long as the public entrances to the parks.

When I stayed at the Fairfield Inn, the walk over to the Esplanade (the area between the two parks) was short, but the queues to get through security and bag check could get long depending on when you get there.

That’s why I ended up getting to the park entrances at least 30 minutes before the parks opened, which I highly recommend.

They actually let guests into the parks before the official opening time, but crowds have to wait behind ropes before they can go to the rides and attractions.

Disneyland California Rope Drop at Main Street
Waiting with the crowd for the ropes to drop

On my recent trip staying off-site, it took such a long time to go through bag checks/security and then again to go through the turnstiles to enter the park that I didn’t feel it was worth it to go back to the room for a break. As a result, I got really tired a lot earlier and couldn’t stay until park closing once during my trip. The breaks during the day really helped replenish my energy so I could watch the fireworks and evening parades when I stayed at the Grand Californian.

Depending on whether you’re traveling solo or with kids, if you have the patience to wait in those queues twice in one day, then it makes sense to stay offsite and save a ton of money.

Another important consideration is when you travel, since visiting the park during its off-season means that there shouldn’t be long queues to go through security and into the park when you stay off-site. In hindsight, I should have switched the times I visited; I stayed on-site during the off-season in March and off-site during the busy season of May.

Ideally, I would recommend visiting Disneyland in the weeks after Thanksgiving and before Christmas, then after New Years until mid-March. Once it gets to mid-May, the weather starts to get really hot; the weather, coupled with long queues to get on the rides and the crowds, make visiting the park very tedious and less enjoyable.

Final Verdict:

Stay on-site if:

  1. You want to take a lot of breaks during the day

  2. You are visiting during busy season to avoid long queues

  3. You don’t mind paying a lot more for a hotel

Stay off-site if:

  1. You are able to get to the parks at least 30 minutes before the parks open

  2. You have the patience to wait in long queues more than once a day if you think you might need to go back to your hotel during the day

  3. You want to save a lot of money on your hotel (and even food as some hotels offer free breakfast)

I hope  this guide helped you decide whether to stay on-site or off-site at Disneyland! Leave a comment if you’ve visited Disneyland and you experiences either staying on-site or off-site!