Grand Californian lobby at Disneyland

Lobby decorated for the holidays at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa
Photo credit: Leslie Harvey / Frequent Flyer TravelingMom

Tucked between Disneyland’s California Adventure park and Downtown Disney in Anaheim is Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa. The Grand Californian has the distinction of being the only luxury hotel near Disneyland, but it is a luxury hotel built with families in mind.

For the most part, Disney’s Grand Californian delivers a premium hotel experience in a Disneyland location that can’t be topped.  Service is impeccable with that famous friendliness that only Disney can deliver.  Disney recently hosted my family at the Grand Californian during the holiday season, which made the experience even more magical.

DisclosureTMOMWith its luxury reputation and excellent location, however, comes premium pricing.  While rooms at the Grand Californian can be found as low as $300 in the off-season, holiday weekend and summer rates can sometimes soar to double or triple that price.

For the premium price, there is definitely still a little room for improvement at the Grand Californian.  My family experienced a few minor inconveniences and noticed on our visit that the hotel is starting to show a bit of age, particularly when compared to our recent experience at Disney’s Aulani in Hawaii (a newer hotel with similar prices).

What Works for Families

  • Rooms large enough for families of four and perhaps more.
  • Pack N Play already stocked in every room.
  • Top-notch service staff that welcomes (not just tolerates) kids.
  • Free WiFi.
  • Refrigerators in every room (essential for babies and toddlers needing milk or formula).
  • Pinocchio’s Workshop: on-site kids club (for a reasonable fee).
  • Character dining on-site.
  • Proximity to the parks and Downtown Disney.

What Doesn’t Work for Families

  • The hotel’s large size (1000+ rooms) can mean long walks for little ones from the lobby, pool, and other central areas to the rooms.
  • Insufficient drawer space to unpack clothes for a family staying more than a few nights.
  • No quick service food options open before early entry hours.
  • Long early morning line to enter California Adventure through private entrance.
  • 11 am checkout time; late checkout hard to come by (non-Disney hotels we’ve stayed in have had noon checkout times and regularly have provided late checkouts).

Hotel Details & Features

Pool at Disneyland Grand Californian

One of three pools at Disney’s Grand Californian
Photo credit: Leslie Harvey / Frequent Flyer TravelingMom

The Grand Californian features a private entrance into California Adventure park, three pools, on-site character dining, a highly-rated restaurant, kids club, gym, and spa.  Anything and everything families could want in a large luxury hotel is available.

The hotel is designed in the California craftsman grand style.  Fans of the Wilderness Lodge in Walt Disney World or the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite National Park will feel right at home.  The lobby is particularly breathtaking, especially when decorated for the holidays.

The hotel lobby features a kids seating area with a television showing Disney cartoons.  It’s the perfect solution to entertain travel weary little ones while parents check in at the front desk.  The lobby also has a well-stocked gift shop and convenience store, where we were happy to find milk at any hour for our toddler.

Check-in area at Disney's Grand Californian Resort

Check-in at Disney’s Grand Californian
Photo credit: Leslie Harvey / Frequent Flyer TravelingMom

But what most family travelers really value is proximity to the parks.  The Grand Californian has the best location of any hotel in Anaheim, whether Disney-owned or off-property.

The private entrance to California Adventure park is a major selling point.  Unfortunately, we found it to be of limited value during our stay on a busy holiday weekend when the hotel was full.  On a day when Disney hotel guests had early entry privileges into California Adventure, the hotel’s private entrance was simply too small to accommodate the long line wanting to enter.  Despite arriving 20 minutes before “rope drop,” we were not admitted to the park until more than 10 minutes after opening time.  This meant that guests from the other two Disney hotels actually beat us into the park and into the lines for the most popular attractions.

Rooms at the Grand Californian

Room at Disneyland Grand Californian

Standard queen room at Disney’s Grand Californian
Photo credit: Leslie Harvey / Frequent Flyer TravelingMom

Rooms have at the Grand Californian have ample space for families.  My family stayed in a standard room with two queen beds.  The beds and bedding were comfortable but not memorable.  The furnishings were mostly high-quality but not quite luxurious by current standards.  This was perhaps the biggest indicator that the hotel is starting to age in the slightest.

Bathroom at Disneyland Grand Californian

Bathroom at Disney’s Grand Californian
Photo credit: Leslie Harvey / Frequent Flyer TravelingMom

The bathroom featured dual vanities and enough counter space for multiple people.  The toilet and bathtub were separated from the sinks in a separate room, which is sometimes convenient but also sometimes a challenge with no sound barrier between the sinks and the sleeping area while little ones nap.

Grand Californian Dining

Foodies visiting the Grand Californian have plenty of options.  The hotel’s main restaurant, Napa Rose, is consistently the top-rated restaurant in the Anaheim area.  While kids are welcome, it is a place that most adults would probably rather visit for a quiet date night.

Character breakfast at Storytellers Cafe at Disneyland

Kisses for Dale at Storytellers Cafe
Photo credit: Leslie Harvey / Frequent Flyer TravelingMom

The other large restaurant, Storytellers Cafe, features character dining at breakfast and is also open for lunch and dinner.  Mickey fans should be advised that the famous mouse does not make an appearance here.  The characters who do visit at breakfast are in keeping with the outdoor theming of the Grand Californian.  Chip & Dale are the most well-known; we found some of the other characters a bit too obscure.  Hardcore Disney fans, of course, may really enjoy the chance to meet and greet some of the less commonly found characters like Brother Bear and Meeko the raccoon from Pocahantas.

The Grand Californian also has a small quick service restaurant, White Water Snacks, for grab-and-go food.  The only inconvenience we experienced is that it did not open early enough to grab breakfast before park opening when California Adventure had early entry at 7:00 a.m.

Hotel Style & Overall Experience

When it comes to the overall hotel experience at Disney’s Grand Californian, guests may be of two minds.  I certainly was.  Disney has clearly made a concerted effort to style the hotel in an understated and elegant way.  Adults who feel need to escape from the overwhelming Disney lights and characters after a day in the parks may really appreciate the more luxurious touches.

On the other hand, more enthusiastic Disney fans may find the lack of Disney theming a bit disappointing.  The lobby is certainly awe-inspiring, but other Disney theming is hard to spot.  The pool areas seemed somewhat spartan in comparison, for example, to the pool at the Disneyland Hotel that features a monorail waterslide.  The Grand Californian’s redwood tree slide didn’t quite compare with our 5 year old daughter.  Similarly, the rooms had barely a trace of Disney except for the themed toiletries and some very subtle character images on the bathroom shower curtain.

Even with these choices and caveats, the Grand Californian simply has no hotel rival in the area.  There is a good reason many families would never consider staying elsewhere.  And its excellent location may simply trump every other consideration.  After all, your feet will be tired enough after running around in the parks all day with your kids.

Redwood pool at Disneyland Grand Californian

Pool with redwood water slide at Disney’s Grand Californian
Photo credit: Leslie Harvey / Frequent Flyer TravelingMom