Many families who plan a vacation to Disneyland find themselves debating between staying on-site in one of the Disney-owned hotels or at one of the more budget-friendly "Good Neighbor" hotels and motels that are within walking distance. When I set about planning out first family trip to Disneyland, I did extensive research on-line at DISBoards (a comprehensive Disney fan message board). After reading many threads, I decided to go with the best value I could get and skip the on-site hotels because they aren't significantly closer to the parks and are much more expensive. As I quickly learned from other folks' reviews, the Howard Johnson Anaheim (aka HoJo), one of the hotels within walking distance, is beloved by many.
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We stayed at the HoJo in September 2011, rescheduling an October trip for September because a fellow DISBoards member made it possible for my family to take her family's reservation for a Kid's Suite at the amazing $99 Entertainment book rate. Compare this to the almost $1,000/night rate for a two room suite at the Disneyland Hotel, the moderate rate property of the three on-site properties. Per DISBoard members, a two room suite costs less at Paradise Pier, around $800/night, but even more at the Grand Californian Hotel!
I had never stayed in a Howard Johnson hotel before but the rave reviews, website photos, and extraordinary price for a 2 room suite persuaded me to take the risk. It paid off BIG TIME. I cannot believe how nice it is compared to what I expected and don't know if I can go back to a non-suite hotel room on family trips anymore. The old saying that you get what you pay for does NOT hold true for HoJo Anaheim.
About the Hotel
HoJo is set on 7 acres right across the street from Disneyland's Harbor Blvd. entrance, nestled in between Harbor, the 5 freeway, and Manchester Ave. You can literally see the Matterhorn from many HoJo rooms. There are also rooms with good views of the fireworks, though some guests have mentioned watching them from the garden pool area, too. There are 6 buildings total and a map of the layout is available on the HoJo website.
Unlike many of the other lodging options on Harbor Blvd. across the street from Disneyland, HoJo is not a motel. There are interior corridors, which families often appreciate for the perceived added safety. Yet it's not a full-service hotel, as it does not have a restaurant on-site or room service. Mimi's Cafe is across the street if you don't want to eat in the park or don't plan to buy some breakfast foods to eat in your room. There's no free continental breakfast like at some of the other Harbor Blvd. hotels/motels, but that wasn't a priority for us anyway.
There is free parking and free wi-fi, which isn't standard at every Harbor Blvd. hotel/motel. There are also some desktop computers for folks to print out boarding passes or surf the net if you didn't bring a laptop/iPad/smartphone.
The standard rooms have two double beds, two queen beds, or one king bed, with prices varying according to what building you're in and whether you have a Disneyland view, pool view, or the freeway view. Yet what we absolutely LOVED were the Kids' Suites.
There are only a few Kids Suites (12 or so?), which means they book early. I've booked our next visit 10 months in advance in order to get the Kids Suite! I'm sure the regular rooms are nice, but I absolutely loved having the space of 2 rooms and a chance to relax with a cold beer at the end of the night and chat with my husband without disturbing our kids.
Kids suites are two connecting rooms that are only booked as a suite. Families know how difficult it is to get hotels to guarantee connecting rooms! One room has a king bed and one has a bunkbed plus sleeper sofa. There are two full bathrooms. The rooms are decorated nicely (with Pirate theme art!) and look like they were recently updated. I urge you to check out the HoJo website photos--the rooms look really good and the bedding is quite nice.
Note that there is only one door to the hallway, and it's in the room with the bunkbed. I don't know why they put the main entrance door in the bunkbed room. It really should be in the adult room, especially as I had to sneak out of the hotel room each afternoon while my girls were still trying to fall asleep for their afternoon naps. I used our double stroller to block access to the exit door as I didn't want the kids playing with the door or someone coming into their room without my knowledge (as we kept the door between rooms closed until they fell asleep).
There is both a mini-fridge and microwave in the King bed room of the Kids Suite. Also, I should note that there is a really nice Keurig coffee machine with 4 K-cups (with replacements each day from Housekeeping). I normally don't drink coffee, but by the third morning, I was exhausted and the coffee gave me the kick-start I needed to take advantage of the Magic Morning early entry program.
Each room has a wall-mounted flat screen TV and there is also an in-room safe in the King bed room that is large enough for an iPad/laptop (ask me how I know!).
Beyond the room, there's also a fantastic water park for young kids (I'd guess under 10?) as well as a garden pool for adults but we never got to use either of them because my girls napped and then wanted to rush back to Disneyland. I could see kids on the water park at almost all hours during my walks to and from Disneyland, despite the mild mid 70 degree temps and overcast weather. Both girls napped everyday and then we headed back to DLR. I'm sure it's very crowded on hot days and a welcome relief after a long morning at DLR. Maybe next time?
About our Experience
Unless you stay at the Grand Californian Hotel (GCH), where connecting rooms would be several times the cost of HoJo, I think most walkable distance hotels/motels offer relatively similar accommodations: a clean place to sleep and shower. Sure, the on-site hotels bear an advantage, but after an underwhelming stay at the Disneyland Hotel a couple years ago and lukewarm reviews for Paradise Pier, I would much rather stay at HoJo if I'm not going to GCH. I know some people are "hotel snobs" but here's the thing: I've stayed at some very disappointing expensive "luxury" hotels, like the Hyatt Carmel Highlands, and realize that the most important aspects of a hotel stay are a very comfortable bed and a quiet and clean room. HoJo easily meets the bill on these two factors and offers tremendous value at this price point.
Plus, you can't beat the space of a Kids' Suite when you have napping kids and the adult stuck in the room gets to watch TV or surf the net instead of sitting in a bathroom or a dark quiet bedroom. We may opt to invest in a GCH stay in a few years when the girls are no longer napping and two rooms aren't necessary.
Few people come to Disneyland for the hotel amenities (though I know some love their afternoon swim), so families need to weigh the trade-offs. If budget is unlimited, GCH will win every time based on what I've read. But for those of us who seek good values and the most bang for the buck, a Kids Suite at the HoJo is an incredible deal at $99/night.
We were in room 1102 on the first floor of Building 1 (all Kids' Suites are in this building), right next to the elevators. The kids' bunk bed room shares a wall with the elevator. To the left of the elevators are another set of doors leading to the parking lot. When those double doors were open, you can hear the roaring of the freeway. Yet the soundproofing is so good we couldn't hear a thing inside the room. The king bed room is right next to the single door exit on the right side of the building and the market.
I actually requested the first floor because others had complained that the elevators get packed in Building 1 and you can't easily take an electric convenience vehicle (i.e., motorized wheelchair) and a double stroller in one elevator. My husband needed the ECV in the park due to a hip issue (he had surgery one month after our trip but his surgeon pre-approved our vacation and said he couldn't make it worse!). Since my girls were in a wide double stroller as well, I knew I didn't want to be waiting for an elevator to fit both large items. Plus, others had said being on the first floor made the freeway noise less noticeable because you're right by the sound wall.
In either case, my husband was initially unhappy with me when he first saw the room, because we were right by the main thoroughfare. There is an exit door right next to the room so folks enter/exit there. My husband is a VERY light sleeper and was prepared for a terrible night due to the anticipated noise levels due to being next to the elevator, freeway noise, hallway noise, and upstairs guests. Surprisingly, he slept like a baby and it wasn't due to exhaustion since he was in the ECV all day!
We never ventured out onto the balcony. We also kept the AC on as my husband likes it cold and it was a little warm during our trip. So I imagine it might have been much noisier in the winter when one doesn't have an AC running constantly. Note that after our trip, HoJo also upgraded the windows in the Kids Suites so I have read that it's even quieter than before.
My then 2 and 5 year old girls loved the bunk bed. The top bunk has a rail, so my somewhat timid 5 year old wasn't scared of falling off and actually enjoyed climbing up and down the ladder. The youngest was still sleeping in her crib then so I tried to block her into the bottom bunk by pushing the sofa sleeper and the two furniture cubes alongside the long edge of the bed. I'm not sure if she ever rolled off in the middle of the night, as she didn't cry loudly enough to wake me if she did. I did find her on the ground the first night when I went to check on her, but I'm not sure if she wanted to sleep there or actually rolled off. I moved her back to the bed and never found her on the floor again.
We loved having 2 full bathrooms, especially with a potty-training toddler so we could leave her potty insert and stool set up in their bathroom and my older daughter just came over to use ours.
While some may lament the fact that there's no room service or on-site restaurant, it wasn't a problem for us. HoJo has a well stocked market/convenience store with souvenirs. My husband bought two light-up glow sticks from the market for the girls to use at night. The market also offers microwaveable meals, milk, cereal, bread/bagels, etc. We brought our own food and stored leftovers in the mini fridge.
The best part about staying here compared to other similarly priced hotels with suites in Anaheim is that it is walkable. You don't need to wait for a shuttle (unless you want to!). I think it's a very easy 5-8 min walk. I could do it in 5 minutes when I wasn't pushing the double stroller with 70 pounds of kids. Otherwise, it took 8 minutes. I counted and I walked it 14 times (7 round trips) as I came home with my husband and the girls every afternoon (he couldn't push the stroller while in his ECV) and then headed back out alone to single rider the E-ticket rides. Then he'd text me when they woke up and I'd head back to pick them up again. I definitely had shin splits despite multiple shoe changes but I attribute that to all the walking back and forth to get Fast Passes and not just the 7 round trips to the hotel.
Our king bed was amazingly comfortable, both rooms sparkling clean, and service was offered with a smile. I really am so impressed with this property and understand why it's garnered so many rave reviews on DISboard. With that said, I have a few minor complaints. The mini fridge is a bit small for a family using the Kid's Suite. If you used the sofa bed, you're supposed to be able to fit 2 adults and 3 kids or maybe 3 adults and 2 kids (it's a small sofa bed). Thus, I wish they had two fridges (one in each room!) for a larger family (or those with big appetites, like us!). It was hard to cram in milk, beer, champagne, and our leftover foods. Plus, there is no freezer compartment for freezer packs (which I solved by putting them in a bucket of ice).
Also, I definitely appreciated having brought my own power strip (a tip I picked up on DISboards) as outlets were not all easily accessible. Thankfully, there is an outlet right under the flat screen TV in the Kids' bunkbed room so I put their nightlight right there.
All in all, I would definitely stay at the HoJo again in a Kids' Suite, even if it were full price at $180 . I feel like I got a steal at only $99/night this past September! Entertainment Card rates are now $129/night, but that's still a fantastic value. We have a reservation for April 2013 at full price, but I will diligently check the HoJo website in the hopes that they release some April dates at the Entertainment rate. Even if they don't, I'm willing to pay the $180/night fee for this great set-up.
February 2014 update:
On our April 2013 trip, we paid nearly double the price and I felt like that caused me to look at the Kids' Suite with a much more critical eye. This was after Carsland opened, so hotel rates increased dramatically and HoJo had guests willing to book at these higher rates.
This time, I noticed how the bathrooms have not been remodeled and really felt dingy for a $180/night stay. I also discovered I was more annoyed by noise even though we stayed in the same unit, 1102 (e.g., I did hear people talking in the hallway, the elevator noise, etc. when I was in the girls' room). Plus I saw a cobweb in the corner of the bathroom and felt like it wasn't as clean either. All of these are small things that I can overlook when paying $99/night, but once I felt like I was paying "market rate," I did notice more.
Even with those observations and minor discontent, I thought we'd still return on future trips. I'm planning a trip now and the price for a Kids' Suite has jumped to $244/night. At this price, the gap between staying at HoJo and staying in a single room at an on-site Disney hotel has narrowed considerably. It's still cheaper to stay at HoJo, of course, but the difference is no longer several hundred dollars per night. Thus, I'm deducting stars and changing the title: the HoJo no longer offers unparalleled value nor does it exceed my expectations when it comes to spending over $120/night per room ($240/suite).
The heavy demand for hotel rooms due to the continued popularity of Carsland means we may not see the really great rates again for a while (if ever). At $99/night, the two bedroom Kids' Suite at HoJo was an unparalleled value and rightly impressed me. At $180/night, it was still a good value. But now that's nearly $250/night, I think the hotel needs to step it up and offer more amenities like free breakfast, maybe a shuttle, and remodel its bathrooms.
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