Location is the attraction at Disney's Grand Californian Hotel
Published: April 14, 2011 at 12:54 PM
You're not simply paying for the hotel's ultra-convenient location within the Disneyland Resort, overlooking Disney California Adventure and the shops of Downtown Disney. You're also paying for the opportunity to experience the location of California, by staying in a truly grand example of Southern California architecture that challenges the Beach-Boys-and-Hollywood stereotype of the state too common among those who've never lived here.
The Disneyland Resort's most expensive hotel earns that designation honestly - we paid $400 for a one-night, mid-week stay this week. I paid less last year to stay on the beach in Maui. But this isn't Maui. It's California, and rather unusually for a themed hotel, that's simply what the Grand Californian strives to represent - not some far-off destination.
The Grand Californian Hotel reflects the craftsman architecture promoted by Pasadena architects Greene and Greene. My daughter last year volunteered as a docent at the Gamble House, Greene and Greene's most famous work. (You might remember it as Doc Brown's house in the "Back to the Future" films.) Upon walking into the Grand Californian's lobby, she said, "I feel like I should be giving a tour of this place."
And, so, she did. She proceeded through the lobby, noting many of the details Disney included that matched with Greene and Greene's design philosophy: the use of threes in design motifs, the dark woods and natural materials, the Tiffany-style lamps and Stickley-inspired furniture. Walk into the lobby from the porte cochere and note the leaded art glass door, another detail inspired by the Gamble House. (The Gamble House's door depicts an oak tree with Ginko leaves, and not a theme park, of course.)
This is Southern California. And Disney nailed it.
Granted, craftsman architecture tends toward cozy, somewhat dark interiors, not the soaring, five-story atrium at the heart of the Grand Californian. But the craftsman motif allows even this large space to feel intimate and comfortable, when you take a moment to sit within it. Let the kids recover from a trip on Grizzly River Run by warming at the fireplace while you enjoy a drink from the Hearthstone Lounge. You're more likely to feel like a guest in the Gambles' living room than a customer staying in a theme park hotel. (A sense that's reaffirmed whenever you pick up the room phone, and hotel staff immediately address you by name.)
The rooms, alas, are "cozy" too. I found them a bit small for the price, though well appointed, with high thread-count sheets, thick bath towels and, blessedly, free wireless Internet access. Craftsman touches continue in the rooms. Note the rose pattern along the top of the wallpaper, as well as the tree motif in the headboards.
And take a look at the wallpaper pattern in the bathroom. Notice anything?
Yeah, you're at a Disney theme park hotel. And this might be the most conveniently located Disney theme park hotel in the United States - the only one to offer an entrance from the hotel's grounds directly into a park. (Even at the Magic Kingdom's hotels in Florida, you have to ride the monorail to get the park.) The Grand Californian's location within the Disneyland Resort allow easy breaks within your visit to Disneyland or Disney California Adventure, and the shops and restaurants of Downtown Disney are closer than your car, as well.
So how much is location worth to you? That's the question for you to decide when considering the Grand Californian. Other high-quality hotels with excellent customer service and lower room rates, including a Sheraton and a Hyatt, stand within walking distance, though outside the resort. Budget alternatives are even closer.
Staying at the Grand Californian (as well as the Disneyland Hotel and Disney's Paradise Pier) don't allow you as many admission perks as you'd find at other major theme park resorts' hotels. Disney offers Extra Magic Hours here, but only for one hour in the morning at Disneyland and not every day of the week, hardly the abundant Extra Magic Hours offered to Walt Disney World hotel guests in Florida. And forget about the front of the line privileges to almost all rides given to Universal Orlando's hotel guests. Staying at a Disneyland Resort hotel doesn't even get you an extra FastPass (though Grand Californian guests do get first shot at the day's World of Color FastPasses).
No, it's location for which you're paying the premium here. Staying at the Grand Californian, you can ignore the outside world and dive into your stay the Disneyland Resort. Had enough of the parks? Retreat into the comfort of the Grand Californian to recharge, while not having to face a single outside traffic-snarled street or sidewalk. It's the opportunity to enjoy some of the best of being in California, without having to endure the hassle of being in California.