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Location is the attraction at Disney's Grand Californian Hotel

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Published: April 14, 2011 at 12:54 PM

At Disney's Grand Californian Hotel, you're paying for location.

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."

Disney's Grand Californian Lobby

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.)

Craftsman-inspired door to the Grand Californian Hotel

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.

Guest room at the Grand Californian Hotel

Guest room wallpaper detail

And take a look at the wallpaper pattern in the bathroom. Notice anything?

Bathroom wallpaper detail. See the hidden Mickeys?

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.

Readers' Opinions

From Anthony Murphy on April 14, 2011 at 4:03 PM
Its an excellent resort. One of Disney's best!
From Ted Heumann on April 14, 2011 at 4:54 PM
I stayed there once for my birthday and I live less than 15 minutes away.
It is a VERY nice hotel and I truly enjoyed my stay, but you are correct in pointing out it is VERY expensive. What view room did you get? When I stayed there it was around $200 or so for a no view room, $250-300 for a Downtown Disney view and $300+ for a park view.
I'm surprised you didn't mention the Napa Rose restaurant. It is one of the finest restaurants in all of Orange County. One of the few restaurants I have ever been to that lived up to it's hype, but of course also VERY expensive.
From Nick Markham on April 14, 2011 at 6:04 PM
You said it is Southern Californian? I find it more "Northern" Californian.

Still I love this hotel, my favorite Disney hotel for sure (who can't love a hotel that has great rooms, food, architecture, location, and its own, private entrance into DCA?

From Robert Niles on April 14, 2011 at 6:12 PM
We had a theme park view room, and rates vary throughout the year. If the parks are open later (meaning larger crowds), the hotel costs more. I've been tracking the hotel for a while as we thought about this trip, and I haven't seen rates this year for under $250 (once you add in room tax). Rates tend to be around $350-$500 a night (again, with tax included).
From Robert Niles on April 14, 2011 at 6:13 PM
Ted,

I'm going to review Napa Rose in a separate post. I couldn't afford to stay at the hotel *and* eat at Napa Rose on the same trip!

From rick stevens on April 15, 2011 at 12:45 AM
I think the Grand Californian is a gorgeous structure and a great tribute to the craftsman style architecture of California. It reminds me of Northern hotels and the Grand Canyon classic hotels. With that said, it is too expensive for what it is. I prefer the old tried and true Disneyland Hotel. Great rooms, expensive, but not as bad as the GC, and you can still have access to the parks. As far as the Napa Rose is concerned: good food, interesting ambiance, but too pretentious for me. I prefer the UVA bar in Downtown Disney for drinks and “bar fair” that is pretty good. Great Bartenders make the experience a memorable one.
From Tyler Stover on April 15, 2011 at 7:11 AM
Even though we live in Southern California, my family decided once to treat ourselves to a full weekend at Disneyland with a stay at the Grand Californian (my idea, of course). I love Craftsman architecture anyway, and you're right, that and the location are the big draws for this hotel. It is really nice to be able to walk out of the park at any moment and back into a very comfortable, welcoming hotel. We had a Downtown Disney view which was nice enough, but a theme park view would really be the cherry on top here. My wife and I now like to spend some time at the hearthstone lounge waiting for the crowds leaving the park to die down a bit before we head home.
From 68.118.98.124 on April 15, 2011 at 7:19 AM
We stayed here last year while my husband was on a business trip. All I can say is WOW. It was beautiful. One of the most stunning theme hotels I have ever stayed. Disney did a wonderful job with this one and the convenience to the parks is just an added bonus. We had a room that overlooked the parks /pool and it was nice to sit on the balcony and watch both.
From Brandon Mendoza on April 15, 2011 at 2:07 PM
I may have to save up just to stay over for a night, but I like that perpsective of not having to step out into the traffic laden Orange County Streets.
From M. Ryan Traylor on April 17, 2011 at 10:18 AM
The other awesome thing about the design in this hotel is the giant fireplace in the main lobby. In the picture above the two stone columns form the side of the fireplace. In reality, there is a much smaller fireplace inside that area.
From Mark Hollamon on April 20, 2011 at 6:41 AM
What a wonderful article Robert! Very well written. I have never been to Disneyland. I hope to very soon. When I do I feel I will give the Grand Californian a very close look to fit it into the budget for at least one night.

I want to make a comment about on property hotels in general. There is no better choice than to stay on site when you go on vacation. The mere fact that you cut hours off travel time for even a weekend retreat is worth the money, not to mention the perks one receives for staying on property.

My wife and I live in Orlando and we still try to stay at one of the property hotels at least once a year to keep the "vacation" feel to where we live. We get the benefit of taking advantage of the lower pricing when it becomes available as we don't have to travel to get here!

That being said we can really give good feedback when friends are planning to come down for vacation. You get what you pay for and we know it by experience! The first time we came to Orlando we stayed at one of the $29.95 per nite hotels on the Irlo Bronson strip. MISTAKE!

I could write a book on this....maybe I will! ;)

Thanks again Robert!

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