The final hotel in the official Disneyland Resort hotel list is also the newest and certainly the most grand. Built as part of the Disney California Adventure expansion of the resort, Disney’s Grand Californian is a stellar example of the company’s ability to transcend location and bring something special, full of details and beauty, to life. Modeled after the famed Arts and Crafts style lodges of America’s National Parks (built in the 1930’s and 1940’s), the Grand Californian is the resort’s true luxury hotel, with prices and several amenities to match.
The first thing you’ll notice as you approach the Grand Californian is its size. It looks like a huge hotel, and unlike the towers of the Disneyland Hotel or Paradise Pier, it’s not tall. No more than 6 stories, it is spread out through wide walkways and hallways, with imposing wooden arches, beautiful stained glass, and warm, comforting ambient noise and music throughout. Even as you walk through the main lobby doors, you’ll notice the attention to detail in a stained glass homage to California’s famous redwoods.
Check-in at the hotel takes place at a lengthy counter just inside the main entrance. Modeled after the Swedenborgian Church in San Francisco (Johnny Appleseed was a Swedenborgian), it’s also a thing of beauty, with inlayed wood panels and truly stunning support beams made of actual tree trunks, bent to form an arched ceiling. The details here are easy to walk by and miss as your goal is to get to a theme park, but if you’re staying at the Grand Californian, it’s because of details like this that you won’t find at any other hotel in Anaheim.
The best feature of the hotel is truly the Great Room, a towering edifice with a massive stone fireplace, wooden floors and features throughout, and an intricately designed floral carpet matching the tile work elsewhere. The soaring 65-foot ceiling features the Craftsman-style beams and massive wooden chandeliers one would expect, but soaring at great heights, with balconies and windows all around, adding wonderful touches of natural light. With live music, many places to sit (including several near the fireplace) and a children’s cartoon corner, complete with their own Craftsman rocking chairs, it’s also a very warm and inviting place to sit and relax. Disney’s designers did a masterful job of creating the feel of a National Park lodge in the middle of Southern California, and everywhere you look through the windows of the Great Room, you see towering fir trees.
The rooms at the Grand Californian are actually the smallest at any of the Disneyland Resort Hotels. While beautifully apportioned, they are small, and larger families may not feel as comfortable in them as at other hotels. Details in the rooms are stellar, as one would expect.
Beautifully detailed wood, gorgeous headboards, and the usual collection of entertainment options, including a DVD player, make the rooms uniformly excellent. Views range from everything from street views (also giving you a glance at the other Disneyland Resort Hotels across the street) to courtyard views to Downtown Disney, and, for those who don’t mind paying the most, a true theme park view: looking right into the Grizzly Peak Recreation Area and the fantastic Grizzly River Run attraction. One plus at the hotel is the multiplicity of balconies for the rooms, something that adds a lot of value and enjoyment on beautiful days.
There are three pools at the Grand Californian, all located directly next to the other, and while they are perfect for adults, they are definitely not as kid-friendly as the pools at Paradise Pier or Disneyland Hotel. At the standard 4 foot depth, they are easy to get in and out of, and amenities are as good as they are next door at the original Disney hotel. Cabanas are available for rental, and food and drinks are available to order. Lifeguards are as visible and busy here as they are at other Disney hotels, and towels are abundant. There is one waterslide at the Grand Californian, made to appear as if it’s going through an old redwood stump, but the kids tell me they prefer the Monorail Slide. If you stay at this hotel and want to check out the pools at the other resort hotels, remember to bring your room key for easy access.
There are many dining options at the Grand Californian, some as expensive as you would expect. Napa Rose is a Zagat-rated five star restaurant where Chef Andrew Sutton creates a menu inspired by California cuisine, wine country, and you can enjoy a prix fixe meal at the Chef’s Counter. An open kitchen also means you can watch as your food is prepared. Because it is at Disneyland, kids are more than welcome, you don’t have to dress up, and the atmosphere is relaxed while still feeling elegant. Be prepared though, food this good is going to cost you.
For a different, more pocketbook-friendly place to dine, check out Storyteller’s Cafe. Mornings, it’s the home of Chip n’ Dale’s Character Breakfast, where you can also find the bears from Brother Bear. The buffet style menu means you get to eat “all you care to enjoy” and beverages are included. It’s a much more laid back atmosphere than the high-energy experiences at Goofy’s Kitchen or the PCH Grill. Evenings brings a dinner buffet that is excellent in quality and definitely a good value. There are standard buffet options for all ages, and it is also “all you care to enjoy.” Food is served warm, if not always hot, and cuts of meat are generous. The bread basket that comes with the meal is stellar, featuring amazing cornbread muffins that go swimmingly with the even better corn chowder. Desserts are top notch, and service is uniformly good. The design of the restaurant is well thought out and features a beautiful tile mural inspired by a 1930’s piece made by Gladding, McBean, silhouettes against painted trees, and inspiring quotes everywhere.
The Grand Californian also features two amenities available to any Disneyland Resort hotel guest. The first is the obvious one: an exclusive entrance in Disney California Adventure, right from the hotel. A small entrance next door to the Napa Rose restaurant, the hotel guest exclusive makes for quick entry into the Grizzly Peak Recreation Area of the park, with easy access to FastPass distribution for World of Color, and on those wonderful “Extra Magic Hours” for hotel guests, an even closer trip to Cars Land and the always busy Radiator Springs Racers. Because it is located so close, the hotel is also the quickest route to Disneyland for guests staying at the Paradise Pier Hotel. Through the Great Hall and past the Ballrooms and meeting rooms, there’s an entrance into Downtown Disney that cuts the walk through the Disneyland Hotel significantly, especially when you’re lugging tired children. If you look closely, you’ll see the Disneyland Monorail go by, but you won’t be able to board.
The second amenity that we love is Pinocchio’s Workshop, a beautiful licensed child care facility, run by trained and background-checked staff members. Kids enjoy games, crafts, and a meal of their choice–and if they stay late enough, a view of the fireworks next door from an exclusive rooftop balcony. Why is this such a great place? Disneyland is also an inherently romantic location, and it’s nice to get away with your spouse while knowing your littlest kids are getting a magical experience as well. We have never been disappointed with the Cast Members at Pinocchio’s Workshop, and our kids actually look forward to going. Truly a great treat at the Grand Californian, but available to all Disneyland Resort hotel guests.
Clearly Disney’s Grand Californian is a stunning, beautiful hotel. It’s spectacular and a joy to relax in, walk through, listen to crickets, and watch movies by the hearth. The trouble with it is that it’s just not very “Disney.” Unlike neighboring Paradise Pier and Disneyland Hotel, there is very little evidence that it’s a Disney hotel. The hidden Mickeys help a bit, but no character pictures appear in the rooms, the music being played never features a singing crab, and even the Cast Members seem to take themselves a bit too seriously.
THE DISNEYLAND DAD SAYS: By all means enjoy and appreciate the grandeur, but for our family, it’s just not “magical” enough, and the rooms are too small, which means it doesn’t justify the cost. Even the best amenities are available to guests at the less expensive hotels, so stay there while enjoying the great childcare of Pinocchio’s Workshop and the exclusive entrance into Disney California Adventure.