You’ve just had an amazing day at Disneyland. You rode all the mountains several times, your daughter hugged all her favorite princesses, and you just watched the fireworks show over the castle that moved you to tears.
But now its time to head back to your hotel. Everyone is beyond exhausted, your feet hurt, and your little one is fast asleep in the stroller. Not only that, but you have a pile of souvenirs you bought during the day that you now must lug back to your room.
You all shuffle out of the park towards the exit. You are staying at a hotel a few miles away and took the shuttle to the park that morning. You get to the area where the shuttles are boarding and are discouraged to see the line to get on the bus snakes practically all the way back to the park security entrance.
After a day of standing in line after line, you must stand in yet another one just to get back to your hotel. After 20 minutes of waiting its finally your turn to board the bus. Now you must wake up your sleeping child to lift her out of the stroller, fold it up, and juggle it, your daughter, and all your souvenirs onto the bus.
It’s finally your hotel stop and you do the same juggle of child, souvenirs, and stroller but in the opposite order as you get off the bus. Finally, about 45 minutes to an hour after you left the park, you are in your hotel room, kicking off your shoes, massaging tired feet and settling in to bed. Just to do it all again bright and early the next day.
Sound familiar? Going to Disney is amazing, fun, exhilarating, and magical. But its also exhausting. There is nothing you can do to change that, but you can minimize that pain based on where you stay when you go.
One of the questions I get most frequently is “is it worth staying at a Disney property?”
I always ask back “what kind of EXPERIENCE are you looking to have on your Disney trip?” That’s how you can tell if its worth it to you or not.
In this two-part blog series, I will outline the benefits and experience you can expect when you stay at a Disney Resort at both Disneyland and Disney World.
So, let’s start on the left coast and talk about staying at one of the Disneyland Resort hotels.
You Will Be in Close Proximity to the Parks
That scenario I described above? Yeah, that won’t happen when you are staying at a Disneyland resort.
All the Disneyland resorts are within walking distance to the park. Even better, you can hop on the monorail and get back and forth between the hotels and the parks even faster. And in air-conditioned comfort.
At the end of the day when you are exhausted and ready for bed you don’t have to stand in another line or take a sleeping child out of a stroller and fold it up. You just high tail it away from all those lines and wheel your sleeping child right to your hotel room and in to bed. While people are still waiting in line to get on the bus, you are curled up asleep in bed.
It’s Easy to Take Mid-Day Breaks
Because of how easy it is to get from the hotels to the parks and back, we always go back to our room after lunch to take a rest. Every. Single. Day. It is nice to get out of the heat and away from the crowds for a little bit. We recharge and head back to the parks in the late afternoon where we stay all the way to closing.
The early afternoon is typically the hottest and most crowded part of the day anyway, so we really aren’t missing all that much. What we are doing is maximizing the time we are in the parks when it is cooler, less crowded, and we are all energized.
Special note: There are several Good Neighbor hotels that are also within walking distance to the park entrance. Some that are even closer than the Disney resorts. If being close to the park entrance is your only criteria to having a magical Disney experience, you can stay at one of those and have the close proximity perk. But you will miss out on the rest of the benefits below.
You Get Extra Magic Hours
When you stay on property you get an extra hour of time at each of the parks every morning of your stay. These are called Extra Magic Hours and they are different than the Magic Morning that you get when you buy a three-day or more park pass. Magic Mornings can only be used once during your stay and can only be used at Disneyland Park.
Extra Magic Hours can be used daily and they alternate between Disneyland Park and California Adventure Park. And since only Disneyland Resort guests can use the extra hour at California Adventure, it makes it even more magical and less crowded.
We always spend our extra magic hour in Cars Land and hit Radiator Springs first thing. That ride typically has super long waits, but during the Extra Magic Hours the wait is only MINUTES and you can ride it over and over again. Then we use MaxPass to get some of the other popular and hard to get FastPasses like Toy Story Mania! and Guardians of the Galaxy.
Pools are Amazing
The pools at the Disneyland resorts are HUGE, have fun themes, and water slides. The pool at the Paradise Pier hotel is on an upper deck with views of the Disneyland fireworks. Guests of the hotel can go up there at night, relax on one of the pool deck lounge chairs and watch the fireworks show. They even pipe in the music!
We always plan for at least one pool day on our trips to Disneyland. It’s a great way to break up your park days and have a day to just relax and recharge amidst all the chaos and crowds that typically come with a Disney parks vacation.
And Trader Sams is right there next to the pool at the Disneyland Hotel, serving up some delicious cocktails and appetizers. Just sayin.
Short Security Wait Time
When you stay at most of the Good Neighbor hotels, get dropped off by a car, or come on the ART bus, you enter Downtown Disney from Harbor Blvd. Thousands of people enter through this security checkpoint daily, and it can sometimes take 20-30 minutes or more just to get through.
When you stay at a Disneyland Resort, you enter Downtown Disney from the opposite side. Less people typically enter through this security checkpoint since it is not as easily accessible. Therefore, it is typically a lot quicker to get through. I think the most I’ve ever waited at that checkpoint was 5 minutes.
Extra bonus, when you are staying at the Grand Californian you have your own security entry to get to Downtown Disney and your own entrance into California Adventure park. Those waits are typically in the 1-2 minute range, if you aren’t just walking right through.
Disneyland Express Bus Stops at Your Hotel
If you are flying into the LA area and just going to Disneyland most people don’t rent a car. The cheapest way to get from LAX to the Disneyland resort area is typically by taking the Disneyland Express Bus. This is a big bus, so you don’t have to worry about taking your kids car seats with you. A major plus!
The Disneyland Express bus will make a dedicated stop at each of the Disneyland Resort hotels. If you are staying at a Good Neighbor hotel, you can still take the bus to and from the airport. However, they don’t stop at each of them. Instead they stop at dedicated bus stations throughout the area. You will need to figure out which stop is the closest to the hotel you are staying at and then haul your family and all your baggage down the sidewalk to your hotel.
Being dropped off right in front of your hotel lobby, especially after a long day of traveling, is a major benefit to staying at a Disney resort.
Souvenir Delivery to your Hotel
Let’s say you are shopping in one of the many souvenir shops in the parks and find THE PERFECT gift for yourr loved one back at home. Problem is its rather large and bulky and you don’t want to have to lug it around with you all day.
No problem if you are staying at a Disney resort! Just tell them where you are staying when you purchase it and they will have it delivered to your hotel free of charge. Then all you must do is swing by the front desk once you get back for the night and pick it up. Easy peasy!
Live in the Disney Bubble
Probably one of the biggest, yet intangible, benefit to staying at a Disneyland Resort is what I like to call the “Disney Bubble.” When I’m on a Disney vacation, I want to live in that magical Disney bubble the entire time and never leave until I’m forced to.
When you stay at a Disneyland resort you can do just that. Even when you leave the parks, you aren’t leaving the Disney magic. There are magical Disney touches everywhere at the hotels. From the décor, to the restaurants, to the Mickey cartoons and child size chairs in the lobby, there is Disney magic and its legendary level of service everywhere you go.
We once ran into Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Pluto, Chip and Dale randomly in the Disneyland Hotel lobby. We just happened to go down there to ask a question and there they were! We got their autographs, posed for pictures, and had special interactions with all of them without waiting in a tremendously long line. We almost had them all to ourselves. That won’t happen at a Good Neighbor hotel!
Picture yourself at the END of the day -- tired, with sore feet and possibly cranky children -- and think about what the process of getting back to your hotel will be when deciding where to stay. And use the expertise of a travel agent who specializes in Disney, who knows the area and the different hotels, to help you find that perfect place.
For our family, staying at a Disneyland resort is a must. Yes, it costs more, but the proximity to and extra time in the parks, and of course staying in the Disney bubble is oh so worth it.
You can still have a magical Disney experience when staying at a Good Neighbor hotel. Particularly if that hotel is within walking distance. There are some great, comfortable and affordable hotels right across the street from the park entrance. Some even have free breakfast!
However, I would not recommend staying at a hotel that is not within walking distance. Especially when you have young kids and strollers. Having to deal with busses and more lines and traffic is not how I would want to end a long and magical day.
Be on the look out for Part 2 of this blog series, where I outline why its even more worth it to stay at a Disney World Resort hotel.
I am a travel agent with Magical Vacation Planner and can help you plan an unforgettable vacation with your family. Email me, head to my Facebook page, or set up time to chat if you’d like to start planning your magical vacation.
Or head here to download your copy of my free Disney Vacation planning worksheets.