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Saturday, May 12, 2012

(Where to Stay) Planning a great Disneyland Trip on a Budget

This is a continuation of the Disneyland planning trip post (Getting There) from April.

After I figure how we'll get there, I book our hotel.  There are many resources for getting recommendations. and mousepad, the forum on, are two of my favorites.  (Just an FYI -- Mousesavers not only has recommendations, but has also negotiated some special rates with a couple of motels just for their readers -- worth checking out.)   But I'll share what we've discovered.

Full Disney immersion for less
There are ways to shave a bit off the steep price of the 3 Disney-owned hotels.  You can book your trip for the value season (January through late April, with exception to holiday weekends and spring break).  If you have an annual pass you can book a room at the special AP price.  (It is sometimes cost-effective to purchase an annual pass simply for the room rate discount, if staying at one of the Disney hotels is in your plans.  Do the math and figure your costs with and without this discount).  You can book one week to two weeks before your trip on a site like Expedia or Travelocity.  Even with these discounts the rooms are still too pricey for our family.

4 star luxury for budget prices
If you're looking for the 4 star experience, but want to save, there's Priceline.  The site  (scroll down to Disneyland/orange County) is fabulous for getting a feel for how much to bid, what area to designate and what hotel you'll likely get.

Our sweet spot
For us, we stick with the budget-friendly motels.  Our favorite area is on Harbor Blvd., right across the street from the main entrance.  (If you're looking for a quick and easy walk to the parks, check out the hotels with addresses between 1380 So. Harbor and 1630 So. Harbor.) *Important -- many hotels claim to be right across the street, only those with addresses between 1300 and about 1650 So. Harbor Blvd. truly are.

We've stayed at 4 of these motels: the Tropicana, the Del Sol, the Desert Inn and Suites, and Best Western Park Place Inn.

Our favorite of these is the Best Western.  Key factors in our decision:

  • We collect Best Western travel points, earning free nights in Anaheim and other destinations.  
  • They have rooms large enough to accommodate all 5 of us (2 queens and a sofa sleeper).  
  • Rooms have a microwave, fridge and coffee maker.  We use the microwave to make quick meals like hot dogs, soup, and burritos, and use the fridge to store sandwich fixings for our lunches.  
  • The free continental breakfast is decent enough to get us started in the mornings.  
  • And the big plus, this motel is right at the crosswalk to the main entrance, close enough for breaks during the day, or to send one person back to the room to get jackets for the evening.

Using Travelocity and Google to find the best deals on hotels
If walking distance is not the determining factor for you, there are less expensive motels in the area.  (For hotels not within walking distance, there is a transportation system in Anaheim known as ART.  It services almost all the hotels and motels in the Disneyland area.  Their rates are reasonable, and tickets can be purchased through your hotel/motel.)
An easy way to find who has the best deal is to go online to and do a hotel only search.  Use this information to google specific motels for price and promo codes.  I've found that I can often get a lower price through the individual hotel/motel's website, or through the major chain (and also earn reward points by booking on my own).  If you are a AAA member or have an AARP card (you only need to be 50 for this), you can find better room rates by going through the individual or chain hotel website, than through Travelocity.

Where is the hotel?
For a map of hotels in the area, I like There you'll find not only a map, but info on the hotels and how highly they are rated by other travelers.

When to book
Booking a hotel or motel has a slightly different timing than booking airline tickets.  If you were to graph the price of airfare on a chart you'd see a dip in prices at about 4 months out.  Prices begin high, then bargain fares are released.  These all get bought up, and about 2-3 months out the prices go back up.  (If you are using miles, then booking early will definitely get you the best deal on your miles.)  In contrast, booking a motel is best done as soon as you choose a date for your trip.  Unless, of course, you plan on using one of the last minute sites like Priceline, Travelocity or  Expedia, where you'll get the best deal about 1-2 weeks out.

Disney trip sweepstakes
Are you feeling lucky? One final website, Here you'll find all the latest Disney trip contests.  Some include airfare. Most are hotel and park tickets only.  Bon Chance!

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