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  • Writer's pictureNick Burgess

A Grand Review: Disney's Grand Californian Hotel at Disneyland

The below review is independently written and has not been checked by the Walt Disney Corporation. The reviewer paid independently for this stay and was not provided any compensation for this review.

 

As previously expressed on this site, my wife is a Disney junkie. She's obsessed not so much with the movies, but with the parks. To her, a park day is the best day of the year, and as a result, we go one to two times a year to Walt Disney World since that's our closest theme park.


However, when my wife turned the big 3-0 last year, her one request was to visit Disneyland. Long the object of her fascination, she was obsessed with the subtle differences in the parks coast-to-coast and wanted to see for herself. So, we decided to splash out on a vacation she'll never forget. This involved staying in what Disney claims to be their "grandest" hotel on the West Coast - Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa.

disney's grand californian hotel and spa at disneyland

 Here's our review of Disney's Grand Californian Hotel and Spa at Disneyland.


Grand Californian Booking and Cost

Always the points and miles junkie, I immediately set to work on how to reduce the overall cost of this trip since we'd be flying from our home in Atlanta to Anaheim, and all the costs associated. Thanks to a recent marketing push by one of America's biggest banks, I had a secret weapon.

Using my newly acquired Capital One Venture X Card, I went straight to the Capital One Travel Portal. Recently revamped, the CapOne portal acquired the rights to allow Disney hotel bookings, stealing away the once-coveted rights from the Chase Ultimate Rewards Portal (though these rights have now also been licensed to the Bilt Rewards system). Now, I had enough points in my account to cover most of the stay, but this card comes with an annual $300 travel credit and 10x points on hotels. Doing the math, it worked out much more heavily in my favor to book with cash, and bank the points for later (which we ended up using for round-trip tickets to London later that Fall).


The cost of this hotel, to match the name, is GRAND. Staying at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa in late August ran us $803 per night, by far the highest of any Disneyland Resort Hotels in the area and an eye-watering number; but that's what you get for chasing that Disney magic! This price point really puts the exclamation point on the hotel, but if you're well-versed in Disney hotel vernacular, this puts the Grand Californian on par with Walt Disney World's "Deluxe Resort" category. However, during peak season, this hotel can achieve well over $1,000 per night, so be prepared if you're planning to travel during spring or winter break.


This, after the Capital One travel credit, netted us ~20,000 Capital One points, which the Points Guy values at $370 in value.


Getting There

Disneyland, it turns out, is super easy to get to! Living in Atlanta, we have the luxury of flying directly via Delta to pretty much any airport in the world, including John Wayne International Airport at Orange County. This is the preferred airport to fly into for a Disneyland vacation, as you're a 15-minute Uber from the campus!


The other major option is Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), which will be essentially the only option for most international travelers. LAX is quite a bit further from Disneyland, clocking in at about an hour thanks to that world-famous LA traffic. However, once you've made it to Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, you've really made it. Here's what I mean.


Location

Again, I am very used to the Walt Disney World experience where, even if you're staying in an official Disney property, you have to take two buses, a Skyliner and three boats to get to where you need to be. Not so at Disneyland.

a map from Disney showing the proximity to the park
The Grand Californian sits just steps from Disneyland

Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa literally could not be better placed for the Disneyland fan in your life. The front door of the hotel is a 2-minute walk to Downtown Disney, placing you on the fast track to both Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park.


Speaking of Disney California Adventure Park, this is the hotel's main showpiece. The backdoor of the hotel from the lobby leads you directly into the middle of the park. Not a joke. Once you leave the hotel itself and get through the intra-hotel security line, you are placed into the middle of Disney California Adventure Theme Park! Again, as someone used to waiting in the World's Happiest Bus Shelter, this was mind-bending.


Check-In Experience

Walking into Disney's Grand Californian Hotel was like walking into a larger-than-life cabin in the woods. From the enormously high vaulted ceilings to the stained glass strategically placed across the doors and windows, the lobby was something to behold. It really personifies its place in the world, being such a close distance to the Californian redwood trees.

With tons of room for sitting and taking in the sights and sounds of Disneyland's most expensive hotel, there was no shortage of activity with families checking in and out. There's also an area where your kids can sit, relax and enjoy some Disney cartoons while you handle the stress of navigating your bags around to bell services.


This would be my only gripe here, however: the way the check-in desk is situated, the line to actually check in is pretty cramped. If you're a family checking in with luggage, you're going to have a bad time waiting in line to get your room. However, once you get to your room, it's worth it.


The Guest Room

Our room in particular was...far. Even though all of the hotel's rooms are in the main tower, the hotel itself is huge, leading to some long walks. We had a room on the fourth floor, around three different corners. My wife and I are tall, fast walkers with no kids, and it still took us around 4 minutes to get from our room to the lobby.


That being said, the Grand Californian rooms are beautiful. My wife mentioned that they were effectively on-par with Disney World's Wilderness Lodge resort (which makes sense as Disney's East Coast log cabin equivalent), but with some Orange County touches. Most notably, hints of citrus.

Awaiting us in our room were three oranges, which our bellhop noted was an ode to the orange groves that Disneyland was built on and within. This was also apparent in the wallpaper which contained Disneyland's mascot, the Orange Bird.


Our standard room was outfitted with two very comfortable queen beds, a table with two chairs, a dresser under the wall-mounted smart TV and...that was pretty much it. The rooms are simple, but very clean and comfortable. Essentially, Disney doesn't think (or want!) that you'll be spending much time in your room, so they're comfortable enough to get the job done.


The bathroom of the room was a showpiece. With a stone/marble shower, classy countertop with dual vanities and even a step-stool with a carved out Mickey head for the kids, the bathroom was nice and well-appointed.


Restaurants and Amenities

Napa Rose

As you might imagine, the luxury hotel has some luxury options for dining. The crown jewel of the hotel is Napa Rose, Disneyland's elegant dining experience with such a positive reputation that people from all over the Los Angeles area will drive to eat here.

However, this does indicate a few things that are a bit different than standard Disney restaurants. This restaurant does have a dress code, so don't expect to roll in from the park into the restaurant unless you've been riding Rise of the Resistance in a dress shirt and slacks.


It's also pricey. Like, "let's get a babysitter and go on a big date-night" expensive. The cheapest main course on the menu is the roast chicken, which clocks in at $60. You're getting the triple-whammy of fine dining, California and Disney all rolled into one bill, so be prepared. For this reason, we skipped this one.


Other Dining

If Napa Rose's prices aren't your speed, you have plenty of other dining options just at Disney's Grand Californian Hotel & Spa! Between the character meals of Storyteller’s Cafe, the quick-service GCH Craftsman Grill (get the latte, it's delicious) and attached bar, or the more adult, late-night vibe of Hearthstone Lounge, you have plenty of options that might not break the bank. Not to mention that you're located extremely close to Downtown Disney, full of dining options across the price spectrum and ready to accommodate large parties like yours, or you could go the in-room dining route like we did our first night, and I would not recommend it.


Personally, I was a big fan of the breakfast at the GCH Craftsman Grill, as it was the ideal grab-and-go breakfast before heading into the parks.


Amenities

If you're like my mother-in-law, no trip to Disney is complete without some shopping. Disney's Grand Californian Hotel & Spa has you covered there with "Acorns Gifts and Goods" in the main lobby, which I have to say is just awesome. The Grand Californian, being a luxury hotel, really leans into the luxury with their merchandise too. My new favorite hat came from Acorns, a thick and beautifully designed cotton hat with a leather bill that reads the hotel's logo on the front. My wife also picked up an officially licensed Tommy Bahama quarter-zip with the hotel's logo emblazoned on the chest. But don't forget that you're in Disney, so this is going to cost you!

Speaking of "going to cost you," there's also a full-service spa on campus called Tenaya Stone Spa. Because my wife has an allergy to relaxing, we never checked it out, but it did come highly recommended from some friends who have stayed here previously.


The biggest amenity of staying on-property, however, is the Early Admission to the parks. Hotel guests can enter the parks 30 minutes before everyone else, allowing you to knock out those hard-to-ride rides that everyone stands in long lines for. This is maybe the biggest selling point of the hotel, though it's worth noting that you get early access with each of the three Disney hotels, not just Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa.


Activities

If you're a real freak who enjoys working out before walking 10 miles in the parks, then there's a fitness center just for you. It's well appointed and actually pretty large, and they host group fitness classes like yoga and meditation if that's your thing before you crush a breakfast shawarma at the Avengers Campus.


If you're taking a day off of the parks to hang out at the hotel, the pool area is tough to beat. The Grand Californian has three pools centrally located for easy access. There are several access areas into the pools, with the Mariposa and Fountain pools offering cabana rentals to help keep your kids somewhat docile in front of a television while you attempt to relax. The Redwood pool also has a nearby outdoor bar ready for you when you finally hit your breaking point. The water slides and hot tub are a great way to unwind after a day at Disney theme parks.


For those who are part of the Disney Vacation Club Villas, you’ll find the accommodations and guest services top-notch, making it a great place for a special occasion or even your first stay at Disneyland Resort. The extra magic hour, direct access to Disney California Adventure Park, and the crafts movement ambiance make this hotel a perfect place for any Disney fan.


Overall Review

Our recent stay at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa was unforgettable. From the friendly cast members to the beautiful hotel rooms, this high-end hotel stands out among the best hotels in Southern California. However, you are getting what you pay for here. With the biggest downside being the enormous dollar amount, you may be better staying at Pixar Pier or the Disneyland Hotel if you're more budget conscious, but I do feel like that would be irrelevant for most. Many Disney diehards that stay here are staying here aspirationally, not every weekend.


Whether you're here for a special occasion or just to soak in the Disney magic, it's an experience you (and certainly my wife and I) won’t forget.



 

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