Home Away From Homeby Jenna Kahl, contributing writer
If a trip to the Disneyland Resort also means a hotel stay, you know that the hotel experience can make or break your trip. As an experienced traveler who has stayed in hotels of all shapes and sizes, near and farther than we wanted from the park, I have come to learn some tricks of the trade to make the hotel experience the cherry on the Disneyland Resort sundae.
Now while I would love to say that we could afford to stay at the Disneyland Resort hotels every trip, that is not the case and we have become quite adept at using travel sites to find good deals. I won't use this article to endorse any specific chain, location or brand of hotel but I will suggest some amenities and things to look for in your search.
Location. Location. Location.
We always start with location. Being that parking is included in our annual pass, we would rather save some money on the hotel and stay further out from the Resort where prices are cheaper. Even if you choose to park and pay every day the savings from staying farther away might be worth the cost at the gate. Over time we have come to like hotels located near the Santa Ana airport, Tustin, Brea, and Angels Stadium. We tend to look for services and restaurants nearby such as easy drive-thru breakfast joints, coffee shops, cheap gas (such as member-only big box stores), and grocery stores for easy access to milk and snacks.
In terms of amenities, I typically look at parking first. Most hotels in the areas I listed above do not charge for self-parking, while most hotels located near the Disneyland Resort add anywhere from $12-$25 a day onto the overall price.
Who doesn't love a free meal? As another cost-savings strategy, we usually look for a hotel with a free breakfast and, at times, we are lucky enough to get a Manager's Cocktail Hour as well, where we can stock up on snacks and partake in a free beverage. While many hotel breakfasts can be underwhelming, they are great when traveling with kids, and usually have things that save well such as bananas, dry cereal, and small pastries that you can take into the Disneyland Resort for the day. Being that our little ones are accustomed to milk before bed, I usually pack a large drink container with a good lid to fill with milk and keep in the room fridge.
While pools, hot tubs and other amenities are usually not at the top of our list, it is always nice to have a nice pool to relax in on those evenings when we return early so everyone can get to bed on the earlier side.
When looking into room set-ups, my husband and I prefer rooms that have at least some semblance of two separate rooms with a door or more divided space. Typically, our girls sleep on the pull-out sofa in the living room and we have the bedroom, allowing us to close the door and limit the light and noise on evenings where earlier bedtimes for littler travelers are key. This set up at an affordable price has always been more available the farther we go from the Resort, and typically include many of the amenities listed above.
Perks (or Not)
Learning from experience, there are some great hotel chains that cater to the longer-term traveler and business traveler that have larger kitchens and more features, such as laundry facilities; however, being that they are not typically aimed at traveling families, we have rarely been impressed. If you have the time, make sure to sign up for the rewards program for the hotel of your choice as free Wi-Fi, if not already included, is a common advantage.
Packing and Unpacking
I might be one of those odd people that insists on unpacking when they arrive at a hotel room, but I do find that unpacking, getting organized and making the room a little bit more like home really does help the whole experience. Setting up a designated dirty clothes spot, typically our emptied-out suitcase in a closet, helps keep the mess to a minimum and decreases the likelihood of losing socks. Then, at the end of the trip I have one suitcase ready to go and can pack our leftover clean clothes in our other suitcase saving time and dividing the smelly from the fresh.
I tend to pack a bottle opener because 9 times out of 10 my husband will pick up a six-pack to have in the fridge and the hotel will not have a bottle opener and the hotel bar will only open what you purchase from them. I now just keep one in a small pocket on the side of a bag that I always take with us. In addition, I find it quite helpful to throw some extra chip clips and reseal-able bags in with our snacks to seal up what we open, divide snacks up among kids and keep things fresh.
I have also learned that most places, even if they have a small sink and mini-fridge, typically do not have dish or liquid soap of any kind to help with the cleaning of sippy cups and bottles that can get utterly gross by the end of the day. Packing your own dish soap (most dollar stores have bottles that are bigger than travel size and smaller than what you would buy for your house), is a great item to have along.
If you are like my husband, you might be thinking that I spend far too much time planning for relaxation, but if you are like me, you know that the more seamless and comfortable the experience that better it is for everyone and, in most cases, the more money you can save. I hope your next hotel experience is great, and maybe just a little less stressful and a little more affordable than the last time you traveled.