My wife, 2-year-old son, and I stayed at the Grand Californian hotel while visiting Disneyland for 3 days this past June. This 4-star hotel has an enormous and beautiful wooden lodge-style lobby, spoiled only by a corner with tiny rocking chairs pointed towards a TV playing Mickey cartoons 24/7. We had to actively find ways to avoid this area so that our son wouldn’t be glued to the TV and cry when we attempted to go anywhere else. I wish this screen was only active at certain times. It was simultaneously cute and creepy to see toddlers sitting there all gazing at the screen. I wish they would replace the TV with a small library of Disney books. They could feature regular story times, read aloud by a Disney cast member. In my opinion, this would fit with the “lodge” vibe and complement their majestic fireplaces much more than a TV. Every room has a screen already, and every adult carries one in their pocket.
The Grand Californian was first opened in 2001 and the rooms and lobby were remodelled in 2017. It has 948 rooms, in addition to 44 suites and 71 villas, and seemed quite busy with guests when we were there. We stayed on the 6th floor, and discovered a shared balcony there that overlooked DCA. This was a convenient place to watch the awesome World of Color water and light show at night. We also watched the fireworks over Disneyland from a shared balcony on the other side of the hotel, which are great, but not as impressive as World of Color, in my opinion, and the water show is more environmentally friendly.
The hotel access to Disney California Adventure (DCA) versus Downtown Disney are in different directions and takes some time to figure out. But having this direct access (2 exclusive entrances into DCA and one to Downtown Disney) was very useful, especially for early morning access and returning to the hotel for nap time. Downtown Disney is small, narrow, crowded, and basically a little shopping mall. I didn’t care for it and considered it simply part of the route to enter the far more entertaining Disneyland.
The Grand Californian is expensive (it devoured 50% of my travel budget). What bothered me most was our mattress (on a tofu scale of soft to extra firm, this was extra soft) providing zero back support. It was also very difficult to get food from the hotel at dinnertime. Wait times were long both when ordering by phone and requesting take out in person.
We tried the Storytellers Cafe breakfast buffet character dining experience. The food itself wasn’t particularly special and they didn’t have croissants (despite that item being promoted first on their web page). Our waiter politely caught us when we left without paying (by accident, please believe me). I booked it on the app and was so used to things being paid for through the app (mobile food orders, shows, etc.) Thankfully he was understanding and said it has happened before. The character interactions with our son were cute (I will share a photo in my next e-newsletter). I brought an autograph book, and was stunned by Minnie’s gorgeous handwriting. Special shout-out to Chip for fun interactions and patience. I foolishly kept referring to him as Dale until he signed our autograph book. Mickey and Minnie spent the least amount of time at our table, but they were also the most popular. Unless this sounds like a must for your kids, I’d recommend bringing breakfast to go from your hotel or a market on the way, or just eating in the park. We ran into characters multiple times in Disneyland, particularly around parade time/routes and in Mickey’s Toontown.
We didn’t try the hotel pool but it looked very nice and could be an ideal place when escaping from the park during the busy afternoons at the parks. A good tip I picked up after this trip was to plan a pool/spa day in-between days inside the parks, as a way to relax and escape the crowds.
If you’re looking to get into either Disney park early and have the option to easily return to your hotel in minutes (and your budget can afford it for even just 1 night) , then I’d recommend staying at the Grand Californian hotel.