Wanting a hotel of his own to go with Disneyland but unable to finance it due to the fact that every inch of money he had personally and that the studio could afford was going to build the theme park, Walt Disney partnered with hotelier Jack Wrather to build the official Disneyland Hotel and one of the first true luxury hotels in Orange County. The Disneyland Hotel broke ground in 1955 and opened with seven rooms in October of that year. Finally, by early 1956, the hotel was ready to receive guests and it has grown from those humble beginnings to be a true resort destination with two sister hotels.
There are many many many many (many) choices for hotels around Disneyland besides the three official hotels. This is one of the reasons why Walt pumped so much money into purchasing land twice the size of the island of Manhattan for Walt Disney World. He really hated all those hotels and restaurants that popped up around his Magic Kingdom and didn’t like the way they littered the landscape and messed up the view from the Monorail.
Many people prefer staying at hotels “off property” for various reasons, including cost, and I’ve done that as well. I’ve stayed as far away as Long Beach to save hotel costs, cramped the family into a small room in the Fairfield Inn on the other side of the Santa Ana Freeway, and also splurged for the Disneyland Resort hotels.
To be honest, there are some great non-Disney hotels in Anaheim. Most of the Marriott family hotels do a great job of making guests feel welcome, with varying prices and amenities, and some people swear by the Howard Johnson right across from the old entrance. And the Anaheim Resort transportation makes getting to and from any hotel to the Parks a pretty simple proposition. (Let’s save tips on those hotels and more for a future blog post!)
However, there is nothing like staying on property. Following the Disney tradition of themeing everything well, from costumed Cast Members to particular styles of music, to even branding the rooms with distinct “Disney” touches, I love checking into one of the Disney hotels and feeling like the magic has already started.
Which Disneyland hotel is the best for you and your family? It depends on what you want to spend, certainly. There are three levels of cost, with Paradise Pier being the “low end” and Grand Californian being “high end,” while the original Disneyland Hotel falls somewhere in-between. Today, we will focus on the only hotel influenced by Walt Disney himself, although very little of the original 1955 hotel still exists today.
For a truly magical Disneyland Resort stay, there’s nothing quite like the Disneyland Hotel. From the moment you drive up and see the large sign, are greeted by friendly Cast Members, and escorted into the lobby with chance sightings of Goofy or Minnie Mouse, you realize you are not at your average hotel. Every room in one of the three towers (Fantasy, Adventure, and Frontier) were recently upgraded nicely, and the themeing for the towers has nice touches of Imagineering and classic Disneyland iconography, appropriate music (carrying over into the nearby pool area), and great ambience. I’ve stayed in both the Frontier and Adventure Towers since the remodel. The only true difference in the rooms is whether you get a park view (with partial views of Disneyland itself) or a resort view (with nice views of the hotel pool).
With headboards that light up at night, music boxes that play “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes,” beautifully themed pillows, carpet, and bed linensand rooms filled with black and white photos highlighting Disneyland and Walt Disney himself, the rooms themselves are also a pretty great experience. The beds are top notch, the H20 toiletries excellent. The TV picture is not HD, meaning a fuzzy cable feed is as good as it’s going to get, but if you’re sitting around watching television, you’re probably not in the right place.
There have been many changes at the Disneyland Hotel since I used to hang out there in college, playing the grand piano in the lobby (I was bored) and watching the old Fantasy Waters fountain show. Our memories as a family goes back to when my wife and I were married there and celebrated our honeymoon in what is now the Frontier Tower. The marina area is gone and the pool has gone through two major renovations in the 17 years since. The current pool iteration is quite nice. There are three pools: the E-Ticket pool (with classic E-Ticket graphics inlayed along the edge), the D-Ticket Pool, and the Monorail Slides area. The E-Ticket is also a saltwater pool, which is a nice surprise. Each pool is no more than 4 1/2 feet deep, which means no diving, but also makes them very family friendly. Staffed to a fault with lifeguards (even when the pools are virtually empty), the pools are gated and only hotel guests can access them.
Cabanas are a nice plus if you plan to spend time at the pool, available for half day rentals and fully staffed by helpful cast members. Fruit plates and water are included in the cost, and the view on a sunny afternoon can be quite relaxing. Poolside food and drinks are available for order, and the private sitting area, equipped with safe, television, and media player capability (along with USB charging stations and Bluetooth music players) enable you to make it truly feel like your own oasis. The pools are a great place to go after a busy morning at the Park, and the atmosphere is relaxing enough to keep you–and the kids–coming back.
There are not as many food options at the Disneyland Hotel as there were before the opening of Downtown Disney. Once upon a time, you could enjoy The Monorail Cafe (a 1950’s style diner below the Monorail Station), Stromboli’s (a Pinocchio-themed Italian restaurant), Goofy’s Kitchen, a coffee shop, and several other restaurants of varying quality. I honestly do miss those places, as they offered great variety and wonderful Disney touches missing from the more generic House of Blues, Rainforest Cafe, etc. Today, you have three dining options: Goofy’s Kitchen, a character buffet hosted by Goofy and several other Disney characters (usually includes Peter Pan, Jasmine, Aurora, Baloo the Bear, Chip & Dale, and Pluto). It’s great for kids, and the young at heart, but it’s not a place to eat every meal, especially at the price. Steakhouse 55 is a classic American steakhouse also serving breakfast and high end dinners in an upscale atmosphere filled with timely photographs of Walt, a prix fixe menu is also available and features some of the restaurant’s best options.
Our family really does enjoy the Tangaroa Terrace, a quick-service restaurant open with a Polynesian theme borrowed from the Enchanted Tiki Room and the old Tahitian Terrace at Disneyland. The food is actually quite good and served quickly. Prices are reasonable, and fountain drinks are refillable, a rarity at most Disney restaurants. It’s got a great view of the hotel pool, a wonderful Hawaiian themed soundtrack, and much of the pool food comes from its kitchen. The pulled pork sandwiches are especially tasty. Next door to the Tangaroa Terrace is Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar, a fantastically themed 60’s style lounge fully embracing its kitschy style and even more influenced by the Tiki Room. Ordering certain beverages causes the environment to come to life, and it’s worth checking out for the design alone.
It’s not the closest hotel to Disneyland, but it is the most “Disney” hotel in Anaheim. Cast Members are uniformly excellent, from guest services to housekeeping to waiters and waitresses. The music in each lobby and surrounding area fitting to the theme (I especially enjoy the music in the Frontier Tower, a great mix of themes from old and new Westerns), with small salutes to the old days like the Old Unreliable geyser (from the old Mine Train through Nature’s Wonderland attraction) and attraction posters in the wallpaper to complete the mood.
A couple minor thoughts: the Frontier Tower has a small parking lot behind it, which makes emptying your vehicle much easier than if your car is on the far side of the hotel in the main parking lot. The Adventure Tower is closest to Downtown Disney, which ostensibly puts it closer to Disneyland. Concessions are available in every tower, but there’s a Target right down Harbor Boulevard where you can get what you are looking for at a better price. There are two small stores as well, but the only things to look for here are Disneyland Hotel-specific merchandise–the rest can actually be found pretty much elsewhere in the resort.
THE DISNEYLAND DAD SAYS: A great hotel full of Disney magic, wonderful touches, and a sense of nostalgia honoring Walt Disney. Great pools, a couple excellent restaurants, and well appointed rooms make it a nice and relaxing place to keep the magic going after a day at Disneyland.