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La Jolla Mom

Theme Park Luxe: Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa

Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa is a perfect fit for those looking for a luxury hotel at Disneyland Resort in Anaheim. The property graciously hosted us during the holiday season, in order to experience the magic of perhaps the most festive time of the year.

The hotel’s decor, based on the Arts and Crafts movement of the early 1900s, was made even more stunning by touches of Christmas throughout.

The lobby of Disney's Grand Californian Hotel and Spa during the holidays

We haven’t visited Disneyland Resort nearly as much as we should but this will change now that I understand the convenience of staying at one of its hotels. I also happen to love the wide range of amenities and upscale vibe at this one.

Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa Location

Basically, once the car is parked at the hotel, you won’t need it again. Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa has a special entrance to Disney California Adventure for guests with park admission tickets. Guests may also exit the hotel directly into the shopping, dining, and entertainment of the Downtown Disney District. (Don’t forget to look for Hidden Mickeys along the way)

The main entrances to Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure are about a 5-minute or so walk through Downtown Disney. 

The Benefits of Extra Magic Hour

Extra Magic Hour is an exclusive privilege for Disneyland Resort’s hotel guests that allows admission to either Disneyland Park or Disney’s California Adventure Park an hour before they officially open to the public.

Disneyland Resort hotel guests can take advantage of this perk during all days of a stay including check-in day and check-out day.

Note that Extra Magic Hour alternates between parks so on one day you’ll have the option of early entrance to Disneyland Park and the following day will provide early entrance to Disney’s California Adventure Park, for example.

Therefore, a stay of one night will allow guests to enter both parks early provided you can arrive and check in to your Disneyland Resort hotel early enough to take advantage of it on your first day.

Why do we love Extra Magic Hour? You can cycle through several or more of your favorite rides before the crowds arrive. For us, this included Radiator Springs Racers (everyone goes here first though), Ariel’s Undersea Adventure, and Toy Story Mania (several times) at Disney’s California Adventure Park. We visited on the Sunday before Thanksgiving and the crowds were actually more manageable later in the day than I had anticipated, too.

We regrettably missed Extra Magic Hour on our arrival day and waited about 30 minutes just to enter Disneyland Park. Staying overnight will lessen line waiting.

Rooms at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa

Craftsman style decor continues into the comfortable rooms along with tasteful Disney flourishes. Between all of the activities Disneyland Resort has to offer, we didn’t stay in our room for very long.

I know many use this as an excuse to stay off the resort or book inexpensive accommodations but the amenities and service at this property are worth the extra expense.

For example, I pre-ordered in-room dining breakfast the night prior to arrive early as my daughter likes to eat almost immediately after waking and it came right on time.

I loved the endless stream of activities she could participate in if she wanted to (more on this below). The list goes on.

Our room included a small desk with two chairs, a closet, and drawers to store clothing in as well as in-room coffee and tea. My daughter watched quite a bit of the proprietary Disney story channel on the TV while I took advantage of the complimentary WiFi.

We enjoyed a Standard Room with two queen beds but note that a variety of sleeping options are available including trundle and bunk beds (how fun). Families may also want to take a peek at their suite options with up to three bedrooms.

Also handy for families… coin-operated laundry that is open 24 hours.

Great Food Throughout

Storytellers Café, Disney's Grand Californian Hotel & Spa

I hear wonderful things about the signature Napa Rose restaurant so plan to try it next time. We did eat dinner at the more casual Storyteller’s Cafe. On hindsight, I should have made a reservation because it’s popular and there was about a 30-minute wait. But, it’s easy to pass time in this hotel between activities and the gift shop.

The American classics menu here is a buffet and a la carte hybrid so you can choose either way. We opted for buffet, which at the time featured seasonal Thanksgiving dishes, kid favorites like mac and cheese, salad choices and much more.

The quality and taste of food throughout Disneyland Resort is quite good so it was no different here. Service was excellent and my wine was reasonably priced. The Chip ‘n Dale character dining breakfast happens at the Storyteller’s Cafe, too.

Other Fun Amenities

Let’s not forget about the Mandara Spa, a perfect place to unwind after a full day of fun on your feet. The Balinese-inspired spa offers treatments that mix Western and Eastern cultures through a full-service menu. Treatments even begin with a stop into the tea pavilion. I’ve had the privilege of visiting Mandara Spas in Asia and the Caribbean—they’re fantastic.

A daily activity schedule will be provided during your stay. I’d advise you to check it immediately to make sure you don’t miss anything that might resonate with your family. Options range from fitness to a special one-hour visit to Build-A-Bear in Downtown Disney.

Licensed counselors are available to supervise kids ages 5-12 at Pinocchio’s Workshop near the hotel lobby, giving parents a well-deserved break at the spa or perhaps even date night. It’s a lovely play area with plenty of arts and crafts, computer and board games, opportunities to play dress up and Disney movies to watch.

A TV in the lobby with adorable kid-sized seating played the Disney cartoons I grew up watching.

A TV plays Disney cartoons in the lobby of Disney's Grand Californian Hotel and Spa

Three Themed Swimming Pools

The hotel is home to three separate themed swimming pools that are conveniently located near each other, should your family want to bounce between them.

Disney's Grand Californian Hotel and Spa Fountain Pool

The Redwood Pool has a 90-foot waterslide that curves around the stump of a big Redwood tree. A children’s pool shaped like Mickey Mouse is nearby. The Fountain Pool (above) is named for a turtle-shaped fountain nearby while the Mariposa pool has shaded poolside cabanas to chill in.

Remember, it’s possible to swim in Southern California sunshine even in the winter. It was in the mid-70s during our November weekend stay.

Christmas at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa

If there is only one time of year that you can check in to Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa, pick the holidays.

disney grand californian resort christmas tree

Aside from the enormous Christmas tree, I loved these festive flower baskets.

Holiday flower arrangements at Disney's Grand Californian Hotel and Spa

And, of course, the massive gingerbread house in the lobby is certainly a show-stopper with its over 500 pounds of gingerbread!

The gingerbread house at Disney's Grand Californian Hotel and Spa

Read more about visiting Disneyland Resort during the holidays.

Good to Know

The hotel is busy so it doesn’t pay to be in a hurry to check-out, check-in or retrieve your car. I liken it a little bit to the Hotel Del Coronado… it’s luxurious, iconic and well-loved so sometimes you might have to wait a little bit.

Frankly, there is a lot to do at this hotel so if you can swing more than one night to enjoy it all, I would highly recommend it.

The entrance to Disney's Grand Californian Hotel and Spa

Will we return? Absolutely. It’s a good fit for parents who need a little bit of luxe with their theme park adventures.

*Thank you to Disneyland Resort for hosting us! Storyteller’s Cafe photo is courtesy of Disneyland Resort.

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