One of my greatest traveling joys, is to arrive at any Disney owned and operated hotel. You arrive in sweats, coated thoroughly in stale airport air and are immediately transported to an immersive themed environment, and you can’t help but anticipate the days ahead. The lobby details, the cast members in costume, mouse shaped soap, themed headboards. You can’t help but get hyped! Disney properties are synonymous with quality, value, in park perks, and attention to detail.
So its no surprise that one of my best Disney park tips is to save up the money and splurge to stay at an on property hotel. You guys have asked for a guide like this for awhile, so here it is!
Today we will just be talking about the three properties within the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California. But many of these tips and bits of advice can be applied to Walt Disney World as well. The only difference between the two is that its more affordable to stay on site at WDW than in Disneyland. You can read more about that here, but some of the reasoning behind has to do with these two things.
1. Disneyland simply doesn’t have the same space as Walt Disney World. WDW is 40 square miles, which is approximately the same size as the entire city of San Francisco. In comparison Disneyland is a mere 510 acres. Walt Disney didn’t know how successful Disneyland would be, and didn’t buy enough land to build a full resort. This was a mistake he wouldn’t make twice when purchasing the Florida land that would later become Walt Disney World. Because of this size difference, there is space for more hotels in WDW causing a greater range of prices and themes. Disneyland barely has room for the three they have and the pricing is the highest in the area.
2. Disneyland marketing is different than WDW because the typical visitor is different. In Disneyland, visitors are a mix of both tourists and locals and those who book the rooms are typically used to/comfortable with spending slightly more on a hotel room with West Coast pricing in mind. In Walt Disney World large groups, tourists, and large families visit and in greater numbers because of the 4 different parks. The pricing for rooms starts lower and has a bigger range to fit everyones needs.
So with all of that in mind, if you have the budget to stay at a Disneyland hotel…do it! It’s a one of a kind experience. I understand for some families, it just isn’t do able financially and that’s ok! It won’t break your experience not to stay 🙂 I will be doing a guide soon about off property hotels, but for now here is an inexpensive option that I really recommend. Keep in mind that everything here is just my opinion through experience, if you have a tip that I missed or I got something wrong comment at the bottom so we can all learn.
I’m rambling because I could talk about this topic forever. Lets get onto the differences between the three resorts.
Starting with my favorite, The Disneyland Hotel!
Probably my favorite hotel in the whole entire world, and definitely my favorite of the three on this list. The hotel was originally built in the 1950’s and was the only Disneyland resort hotel to be overseen by Walt himself. After the unexpected popularity of Disneyland, Walt decided that a hotel needed to be built for out of town guests and California tourists. The Disneyland Hotel broke ground in 1955 and was originally only 650 rooms after construction. I think part of what makes this property so darn special is the historical American magic woven throughout it’s existence.
Here are some benefits to staying at this resort!
The Rooms: The rooms here are large and have the most magical details! Firework bedspreads, Cinderella quote pillows, fun Mickey Mouse touches in the rug and in the shower tiles, a picture of Walt on the wall, the rich blue and gold color scheme. Two of my favorite details are the Mickey Mouse “glove hand” lights on the walls and the light up firework/castle headboards. You press Tinker Bell on your nightstand and the headboard lights up to music. Totally magical.
Single rooms and suites are available, but most rooms can sleep up to five. Two queen beds and a fold over couch with one bathroom. For spring break we slept four in this room layout comfortably. If you are looking for a “wow” moment for your kids on your trip, I highly recommend these rooms at this resort. The little details are just so cute.
For a lucky few there are huge themed suites available. If you have a large group or a large budget, call Disney to book a one of a kind themed signature suite.
Trader Sams/ Tangaroa Terrace: Trader Sams is the enchanted tiki bar by the pool and it is a huge plus to staying at the Disneyland Hotel! The drinks are wild, the food is good, and the atmosphere is way fun. It sometimes gets crowded, but if you can snag a seat its worth experiencing. Tangaroa Terrace is in the same building and has the same menu but is child friendly.
Characters In The Lobby: This is a personal plus in my book, but it depends on what you like! One of the things I love about the Disneyland Hotel specifically is the characters you can run into in the lobby when you are checking in or going to your room. If you end up in the fantasyland tower during your stay, bumping into Goofy or Minnie Mouse becomes a regular occurrence. I think this is so fun for little ones and really rounds out the magical experience of your Disneyland vacation.
The interactions in the lobby are also longer and the characters have the time to really interact with you because there is less of a demand for them. Chip and Dale paid us a visit in the gift shop once and Dale ended up taking the DSLR camera we had for a test drive.
I came back to the room and we found this selfie that he took.
Monorail and Downtown Disney Access: This really depends on what tower you end up in but the monorail is just a short walk away, as is Downtown Disney. It makes it easy to get into the parks and you have a few options when choosing how you would like to enter.
The Pool: The monorail pool is scenic and big enough that the crowd is never a problem and the Minnie Mouse shaped hot tub is just plain adorable. The pool is also shallow and perfect for little legs. Overall the pool area is just so beautiful and lush that it makes the courtyard scenery a huge plus.
The Coffee House: This may seem silly because Starbucks is the semi-official caffeine provider of all Disney Parks, but I love this itty bitty coffee bar that is right in front of the pool. It’s a small thing, but sometimes I get up early and love taking a minute to sip some coffee here before a crazy Disney day. It’s hardly ever crowded and the coffee is quite good. I usually start here and get a secondary cup at Starbucks in the park in the early afternoon.
Steakhouse 55 and Goofy’s Kitchen: Both great restaurants! Goofy’s Kitchen is buffet style and family oriented, expect characters to come greet you at your table. While it isn’t my favorite character dining experience at the resort, it is a classic from my childhood and I have very fond memories of the food. If you are a healthy oriented eater, this is probably not the place for you. Think of the menu like a kid’s dream, its full of fries, sugary cereal, pizza, ice cream, mac & cheese, and cupcakes.
Steakhouse 55 is right next store and is a true blue steakhouse. Expect steak and main dishes with a dark quiet atmosphere. They also offer an afternoon tea service (!!!) which we personally love.
Here are some drawbacks to consider with this hotel:
– Disneyland hotel is the middle in terms of pricing, so keep that in mind when selecting between this hotel and others. For a few hundred more per night, the direct entrance to DCA at the grand is very handy. I think it comes down to how long you are staying.
-You could score when booking a room and get a view of the park or the pool and a great building location or you could pay the same price for the opposite with a view of the parking lot. With this hotel I recommend people call Disney to ensure their needs are met, but remember that sometimes it comes down to just pure luck.
-This is random and not a deal breaker by any means, but this area gets SO brutally hot in the summer. Part of me thinks this has to do with the blue reflective glass on the sides of each building. The Grand Californian is a whole lot cooler in the summer months and has more shade throughout. When it is hot in Anaheim, you have zero sun protection in the Disneyland hotel courtyard.
Why is this hotel my favorite? Well, I think you get the most for your money and it’s definitely the most “Disneyland” themed of the bunch. If that’s your thing, then stay! If you are looking for something more tranquil and luxurious, let’s move next door and talk about….
Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel
The Grand Californian is well…grand!! It’s the largest and most luxurious of the three hotels and it is the best connected to the parks. It has a direct entrance to California Adventure in the lobby and some rooms overlook parts of downtown disney and the grizzly peak area. The rooms are woodsy and rustic, while still staying in the luxury category and many have kid-friendly bunk beds. Little bits of decor nod to woodland Disney characters (Chip & Dale, Brother Bear, Etc..) and the dining at this hotel is some of the best in the entire resort.
Here are some benefits to staying at this resort.
The Direct Park Entrance: This feature is perhaps the biggest “plus” to staying at The Grand Californian, there is a direct entrance to Disney California Adventure just off the lobby of this hotel. The entrance is restricted to hotel guests in the early hours of the morning but then opens up for public use. The advantage to this is that in addition to getting into the park early (a perk that comes with any on-site hotel) you get access to the park quicker than if you were to enter in by the main gates. Later in the day it serves as a plus to take a break, re-apply sunscreen, or grab a sweater and hop right back into the magic after. It makes it easy to access your room and anything else you might need throughout the day.
Is this a plus? yes! But because of the high price point, don’t let the park entrance be the only deciding factor in where you stay.
Napa Rose and Storytellers Cafe: Both amazing restaurants! Storytellers is character dining/buffet style in the morning and casual table service in the evening. The breakfast is delicious and I think if you are going to do character dining at Disneyland storytellers is the place to do it. Even though bacon, eggs, and signature Mickey waffles are widely available at the buffet the options tend to be a bit healthier than at Goofy’s Kitchen. At dinner time the baked chicken and other entree options are not to be missed and the space transforms from character dining to a regular sit down restaurant.
Napa Rose is amazing and unlike other park restaurants. You won’t find characters running around or mouse shaped menu items, but what you will find is unbelievable five star dining (and a huge selection of wine!) Napa Rose is perfect for a dinner that feels miles from the hustle and bustle of the park but is only steps away. If the park is busy chances are this restaurant will be busy, so be sure to make reservations in advance.
Two honorable mentions include Whitewater Snacks and Hearthstone Lounge, one is great for by the pool snacks and the other offers an evening retreat for adults.
The Views: This one isn’t standard, you have to get lucky! But overall the views from each room are stunning at The Grand Californian. The grizzly peak decks that look out into the park and Paradise Pier views are obviously the most desirable, but I think the Downtown Disney views are beautiful too.
The Adult Friendly Factor: I definitely think that The Grand Californian is the most adult friendly of the three on property hotels, and by that I mean the hotel with the least amount of kid oriented theming. Lets put it this way, you could take The Grand Californian out of Anaheim and it would still be a nice resort to stay at. The same can’t really be said about Disneyland Hotel and Paradise Pier.
It’s peaceful and undeniably Disney but not in a way that screams it. Some of the restaurants are adult oriented, there is a spa near the lobby, and even a workshop for kids to go to when parents need reprieve. The Grand Californian was built with both adults and kids in mind and I love how almost anyone (kid/teen/adult/family/couple) will likely be satisfied staying there.
The Rooms: Like every hotel on this list, the rooms are beautifully designed and spacious with magical details. I love the woodland theme, but if you have little ones (or teens!) in tow the bunk beds in some of the rooms really can’t be beat.
Here are some drawbacks to consider with this hotel:
-The biggest issue with this hotel for most families? The cost! This resort is beautiful and convenient, but that is very much reflected in the price. During peak seasons, expect to pay close to $1000 a night. During all other times of the year the lowest I have seen is $350 for a standard room. I think depending on when you visit and what your needs are it can be worth what you pay, just be aware of the pricing and try to go when the demand is low if you want to stay at this hotel.
-This hotel is huge and I do mean HUGE. This could be a problem or not be a problem depending on where your room is located. If you are close to the lobby, everything is literally steps away. If you have a room that is in one of the far away building areas, you have extra walking to deal with. Once again I recommend people call Disney to ensure their needs are met, remembering that sometimes it comes down to just pure luck.
Not interested in spending so much on a Grand Californian room but still want to stay on property? Then the final on property hotel; Paradise Pier, might be for you!
Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel
Here are some benefits to staying at this resort!
The Cost: The biggest benefit to this hotel is the ability to stay on property with Disney, for less than you would pay at the other two hotels. Don’t get me wrong, this is not a budget resort and rooms will still run you a few hundred dollars per night. But if you are set on staying within the resort this hotel is the best value. Rooms are spacious and have a beach theme with Disney touches. The same kind of magic, for just a little bit less.
The Pool: I love the pool at this hotel! It is the cutest and has such a fun vibe. The fact that is on the rooftop is kind of unique for the Anaheim area and it makes the pool a great place to watch nighttime attractions like fireworks and World of Color.
World Of Color: Such a special aspect of this hotel is that many of the rooms and the pool overlook the Paradise Pier section of DCA, hence the name. If you get placed on the side facing the park, you can watch World Of Color from your room which is incredible. Like my advice for all things regarding what Disney room you get, give them a call to book and ask! Don’t be too demanding or insistent but cast members often love to make magic happen for you on your trip.
Here are some drawbacks to consider with this hotel:
-The accessibility from this hotel to the parks isn’t as great as the other two, but it certainly isn’t far away either. This hotel was owned by another brand and then later renovated into Paradise Pier so it wasn’t originally placed as an on property resort. Not a deal breaker, but something to consider if you have little legs in tow.
-There are three places to dine on this property! PCH Grill, The Sandbar, and The Surfside Lounge. I have eaten at all three and they all have food that is up to Disney standard but with that said they aren’t ones that I necessarily think of when picking a place to eat. I would go out of my way for some of the restaurants at the other two hotels, so while these aren’t bad places to eat they aren’t that memorable either. Just something small to note.
No matter which hotel you choose, you are in great hands and are in for a treat! Here is a list of perks to staying on property with Disney no matter what hotel you choose.
-Early entry into the parks
-Exclusive entrance to DCA
-Free resort wifi
-Disney character wake up calls
-Many rooms accommodate up to 5 people
-Merchandise delivery to your hotel
-Charging privileges throughout the resort
I hope this article helps to clarify the decision of which hotel might be the right fit for your group 🙂 Stay tuned for an off property guide soon and as always, you can reference my “Disney Guide” for more recommendations and tips. And if you are making some travel decisions at either Walt Disney Word or Disneyland, below are the links to some articles you might find helpful!
And here are a few videos and travel diaries that you might want to check out.
And just incase I missed something or you want a second opinion to help you plan your trip, here are some videos I found really useful or insightful!
Have a magical day! Thanks for reading and congratulations for making it through this whole post!