Comparing Disneyland Resorts
So you want to go to Disneyland, huh? Well, that’s smart of you. A visit to the Happiest Place on Earth is literally always a good idea. Rather than sit at home and watch depressing news stories, you could be out and about in Tomorrowland or Radiator Springs! Which one of those sounds better?
When you vacation at Disneyland, you need to know where to stay. The choice comes down to a series of three resorts. Today, we’re going to evaluate each one, listing the pros and cons. Hopefully, you’ll have a better idea of where you want to stay after reading. Here’s a guide on the best places to stay at the Happiest Place on Earth.
One of my favorite pieces of Disney trivia involves Disneyland Hotel. Did you know that Walt Disney didn’t finance or construct this hotel? None of his Imagineers did, either. Instead, Disney asked a business associate named Jack Wrather to build a resort close to the park. Uncle Walt didn’t have the income available to add anything else to Disneyland in the early 1950s. He’d already spent his life fortune on the park itself.
Wrather’s willingness to join the Disneyland project has had tremendous historical significance. More than 30 years later, The Walt Disney Company purchased Disneyland Hotel, making 2018 the 30th anniversary of ownership. Despite the fact that Disney has controlled the property 17 years less than Disney’s Contemporary Resort or Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort, most people still think if of Disneyland Hotel as the first.
Whether this resort is also the best is a matter of opinion. Imagineers treat the property with reverence as they frequently update it. Still, the most frequent criticism involves the age of the hotel. A quick glance at Trip Advisor confirms that 85 percent of guests grade this resort as Very Good or Excellent. The lower grades almost universally mention that the hotel is outdated, which makes me wonder what they expected. You should understand when you book this property that it’s 63 years old, and there’s nothing Disney can do about that.
What’s great about the hotel? The honest answer is everything else. Look, this is THE original theme park hotel. You’re walking in the same place where Walt Disney once begged guests to stay. The history is inimitable. At 364- to 415-square feet, the rooms here are spacious enough, particularly by Los Angeles standards, and the amenities are world-class.
The hotel has a wonderful pool that’s thematic and fitting. Just below a classic Disneyland sign sit twin monorail pool slides. And yes, they’re red and blue. The restaurant options are also solid. Steakhouse 55 is an upscale eatery that lives up to its name. While another resort has a restaurant that’s slightly better, this is probably the second best option at all of Disneyland.
Also, the resort also has the best bar, Trader Sam’s. You can also eat a cheap counter service meal at Tangaroa Terrace or a pedestrian but fun character meal at Goofy’s Kitchen, where the food is okay but Goofy’s a blast.
Disney renovated the entire hotel in 2011, which means it’s seven years in. Still, cast members care so much about this place that it’s remarkably modern. The resort claims a AAA four-diamond rating, signifying its overall excellence. That’s not to say that it’s perfect, though.
One of the cons about Disneyland Hotel is the parking/traffic situation. First of all, traffic’s an issue everywhere near Disneyland. Accept that as the cost of doing business. Even Uber won’t work perfectly at times. You won’t care much as long as you’re not driving. Similarly, traffic doesn’t matter when you stay on the Disneyland campus. My suggestion is to spend all your time at the parks, resorts, and Downtown Disney.
Vacationers who are dead set on moving around Los Angeles will quickly learn that Disneyland is a destination location. You’ll feel like a salmon swimming upstream as you navigate the region. Due to Disneyland Hotel’s location and significance, it’s ground zero for traffic. And the parking reflects this problem. I strongly encourage guests not to rent a car.
The other primary con about Disneyland Hotel is the sheer size of the campus. Due to the design, you’ll have a decent-sized walk from your hotel room to the main entrance of Disneyland. Unlike the situation at Walt Disney World, a monorail ride won’t help you much, either. Your best strategy is to walk straight to the entrance gate for the two parks rather than cut through Downtown Disney to catch a ride on the monorail. Still, frequent Walt Disney World guests will scoff at what’s viewed as a long walk at Disneyland.
Overall, Disneyland Hotel is my favorite resort since I’m such an obsessive fan of classic Disney lore. The price is a sticking point, though. It’s generally $450 per night or more. When you spend that much money, you may want a better, more modern resort, and that’s clearly…
Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa
Comprehending the style of Disney’s Grand Californian is easy. Imagine the elegance of Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, the lobby and aesthetic of Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, and the monorail visual of Disney’s Contemporary Resort. At the Grand Californian, you get all three at a single location. Even if you don’t stay here, you should take some time during your trip to visit the resort. The exterior pays tribute to hotels near Yosemite National Park and Yellowstone National Park. It’s truly majestic from a distance.
As befitting the resort adjoining Disney California Adventure, this hotel has a Northern California theme. Specifically, it’s styled to honor the early 20th Century Arts and Crafts era, with a celebration of nature built into the bones of the place. The trees and the wood in the design will grab your attention long before you enter the building. It too is an AAA four-diamond property with arguably the best overall design of any North American Disney resort.
While the Grand Californian does have a monorail that travels through the building, don’t let the amazing visual fool you. There’s no boarding area at the property. The monorail goes through the Grand Californian without stopping. Even so, you’ll love the convenience here as you can enter Disney California Adventure from the resort. It has a special park entrance that’s also not heavily trafficked.
The Grand Californian is also the most updated of the Disneyland resorts. Imagineers just renovated the entire building in 2017, including the rooms, hotel lobby, and pools. The basic studios are 343 square feet, with suites available that range from 694- to 1,990-square feet.
The best restaurant at Disneyland, Napa Rose, is at the Grand Californian. It is NOT a cheap meal, but it rivals California Grill at Walt Disney World in terms of food quality. You can enjoy a cheaper but also exceptional meal at Storytellers Café, which is themed to classic stories that involve the state of California in some way. At breakfast, it hosts a character meal starring Chip and Dale, too! It’s a great idea for families with small children. When you need a quick (or cheap) bite instead, head over to the pool area, where you’ll discover White Water Snacks. There’s also a bar called Hearthstone Lounge near the hotel lobby.
The resort has three pools available. The smallest one is a kiddie pool in the shape of a Mickey Mouse head. The Fountain Pool is stylized in a way that I can only describe as looking life a golf course from above. It’s absolutely beautiful at night, but what you’ll mainly notice is its length. Doing laps here is quite the workout. The most important pool is the thematic Redwood Pool, which even has a Redwood Tree appearance for its circular water slides. And the hotel obviously has a luxury spa, the Mandarin Spa.
Overall, the Grand Californian is the most luxurious property at the Disneyland Resort. It comes with a certain amount of sticker shock. Rack rates here are frequently in the $500+ range. You get what you pay for, though, especially if you like Disney California Adventure. As that park evolves into Pixar and Marvel Central, the hotel is that much better positioned. It’s great now, and it’ll be that much greater by 2020.
Paradise Pier Hotel
I’m going to talk the least about Paradise Pier Hotel for a simple reason. This is the budget property at Disneyland Resort. You should stay here when you want to save money on your trip. During vacations when you have a bigger budget, you’ll want one of the other two properties.
How dramatic is the pricing difference? Paradise Pier Hotel sometimes dips below $300 per night, which is $150 less than either of the other two options. And it’s a perfectly decent resort, just not a true Disney property. In 1984, the Tokyu Group constructed this property, which they named the Emerald of Anaheim. That name…didn’t do well. So, within five years, the Japanese consortium changed it to Pan Pacific Hotel, Anaheim. It still wasn’t a huge hit, which explains why they were willing to sell to Disney in 1995.
Disney took the basic structure of the single building hotel and added some light theming. Paradise Pier Hotel is supposed to be beachy and fun, which it is. Amusingly, it once had an exclusive entry to Disney California Adventure, but the company closed it due to limited popularity. That same space is now the place where the Grand Californian entry to DCA is.
The amenities at Paradise Pier are a bit subpar by Disney standards save for two notable exceptions. Disney’s PCH Grill has a character breakfast with Mickey Mouse and other favorites. And the bonfire dinner is inexpensive by Disney standards. The other huge positive is the pool area, which is phenomenal. The third floor (out of 15) is where you access the pool. This space is adorable, colorful and upbeat in nature. And the slide has a California Screamin’ theme to match the nearby park.
Beyond these assets, Paradise Pier is ordinary, especially by Disney standards. It also has the longest walk to the parks, although it’s still not a bad one. When you debate this property, you’re basically deciding whether you want to save money on the room that you can then spend at Disneyland instead. And I’ll be honest here. I think it’s the best overall value when the price is under $300. When the hotel rates are comparable, you’ll want one of the nicer two properties.
Overall, I would choose Disneyland Hotel first, the Grand Californian second, and Paradise Pier third for the amenities. Once we factor in price, Paradise Pier becomes the second best option, slightly ahead of Grand Californian. No matter what, you’re going to want to walk the grounds of the Grand Californian, though. It’s breathtaking.
When you’re ready to book a room, contact an expert at MickeyTravels.