Hotel Review: Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel

Grand, but Used to Be Grander

Grizzly PeakAs an avid Disney fan, I take vacations to the Disneyland resort often. For the past couple of years I began booking my stays exclusively at the Disneyland Hotel, because I love their newly renovated pool area. This year I decided to give my once favorite hotel another try. Growing up, Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa was the place we visited when we were celebrating something really special. It’s the more expensive resort out of the three on the Disney property, the third being Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel.

The Grand Californian is a beautiful hotel, with a woodsy northern Californian feel. The lobby is a sight to be scene with high ceilings, a large stone fireplace, and cozy furniture. The pool area features three different large pools, a child’s play pool, and water slide. Restaurants on the property include the Napa Rose (award winning), Storyteller Cafe, and a casual fast service restaurant by the pool area. The Mandara Spa located on the hotel property is the only spa within the Disneyland resort. It is a full service spa offering massages, facials, nail treatments, and beauty services (hair and makeup).

For years we looked forward to our stays at the hotel. The concierge service offered free snacks, small dishes, alcoholic beverages, and sodas. It was a concierge service well worth the money. We also enjoyed the proximity to the parks. The Grand Californian is the only hotel located right next to the parks. You can enter CA Adventure Park and Downtown Disney from the hotel. Disneyland is also just a few feet away. The hotel offers rooms with premium views, those being of Downtown Disney, CA Adventure park, or the pool area. A non premium view is a view of the courtyards, featuring some very tall pine trees.

While the Grand Californian was once my favorite Disneyland Resort hotel, it’s lost some of the magic it once held. This past March I planned a trip to the hotel, booking my stay way in advance and requesting a premium view. In my notes to the Disney booking agent I requested a park view. For those who don’t know the hotel well, there is a part of the hotel which faces Grizzly Peak, a key feature of the CA Adventure Park. I had always wanted to stay in one of these rooms, and made my request to the booking agent. When it came time to check in, I reminded the front desk person that we had requested this room type, and paid for a premium room. We also paid the $250 a day upgrade charge for concierge service. Instead of the room I requested we were provided with a partial view of the pool, no Grizzly Peak or park view for that matter. I called down to the front desk, and we were shown another room, but this room was located farther from Grizzly Peak with a partial view of the attraction.

At this point I gave up trying, and accepted that for this trip my Disney dreams wouldn’t come true. I did however go down to the lobby, and spoke with a front desk staff member. I asked what I needed to do in order to secure a premium view, he told me the following:

1) Book in advance

2) Do not upgrade to concierge service

3) Specifically request the view you want

4) Accept that they can’t please everyone, and there are very few rooms with close up views of the park

It sounds strange that upgrading and paying an additional fee for concierge service would prevent you from securing a great view, but he assured me this was the case. They only have a few rooms that are designated for the concierge service, and these do not feature the amazing views you might want. Later, after experiencing what had happened to the concierge service, I regretted my decision to upgrade even more. What was once a great deal, free food and beverages, was now cut back to a tea service. You can still enjoy some snacks and tea sandwiches, but the Disneyland Hotel now offers the better Concierge service.

Besides the downgrading of the concierge service, the pool area also requires a remodel. With the newly renovated pool area of the Disneyland hotel, the Grand Californian’s pool area now looks far from “grand”. The water slide has lost it’s magic, requiring riders to use their hands and bodies to help guide them to the bottom. It may be the hotel’s way of conserving water, but the thrill of the ride has been lost. If you’re looking for a great pool experience stay at The Disneyland Hotel instead. Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel also offers a great water slide, although the pool area is quite smaller.

During our stay we dined at the Napa Rose restaurant. Our waiter was very pleasant, and the service was great. The food was delicious, but do expect to pay more. The interesting moment of the night came when we were evacuated from the restaurant due to a fire alarm. We were escorted out of the resort into the CA Adventure park as we waited for the hotel to be checked out for flames. Once the issue was resolved we were allowed back into the restaurant. Our waiter served us two desserts of our choice for free to apologize for the escapade. It was an overall enjoyable experience, even with our own California adventure.

My stay wasn’t overall a bad experience. The hotel is still wonderfully imaginative. The pool area is still luxurious. You will enjoy the very comfortable lounge chairs where you can relax, and take a dip in the salt water pool. The rooms are very clean, and the amazing attention to detail transports you to Northern California. The proximity to the park is a definite bonus, with the ability to enter the park early on certain days.

Here are some pictures from our trip:

Have you stayed at Disney’s Grand Californian hotel? Tell us what you thought of the resort. Was this review helpful? Let us know int he comment section below.

The Big Easy: My Days in New Orleans

MasksWhile I have been away from my blog, I have been traveling to a side of the country I have never been.  Last week I spent a few days in New Orleans.  It was my first time in the “Big Easy” and I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Like many of you, my idea of the city was a mixture of images I had seen in movies and the news coverage of Hurricane Katrina.

My trip to the city was for a conference, so naturally we stayed at a hotel across from the convention center.  Luckily the convention center is located just blocks from the French Quarter, where my coworker and I spent most of our trip.  We were also located next to the Harrah’s casino.  The city was a ghost town when we arrived around 5 p.m. Tuesday.  We walked up and down the streets taking the sights in.  However, what I saw was very different from what I had imagined.

I did see the historical buildings and monuments I had seen on TV and in movies over the years, but what I didn’t expect was a dirty damaged city still struggling to recover from Hurricane Katrina.  The streets were broken and cracked filled with puddles of murky water.  The city streets smelled of sewer and garbage, unless you happen to be passing by one of those wonderful hole in the wall restaurants.  Drugged out homeless people hung out along Bourbon Street, and shirtless youth performed with home made tap shoes for change.  Strip club after strip club displayed pictures of naked young girls, clearly visible as you walked by.  As we made our way to Andrew Jackson Square we saw horse drawn carriages, but unlike the carriages that line Central Park these carriages were pulled by horses who looked in desperate need of food and care.  By the end of day one we were left feeling disappointed and sad for a city that must have been so much more years ago.

On the second day of the conference the city was hit by two tornadoes with winds up to 90 mph.  As I watched from the window, I was in awe of how the weather could get so bad so quickly.  By the evening the storm had passed, and we were able to tour the city once more.  We had dinner at Mr. B’s Bistro, a formal dining experience in the French Quarter.  The restaurant came highly recommended by Urban Spoon and Yelp, but I was not impressed.  The scallops arrived slightly under cooked for my taste, and the soup had a strange after taste.  My cocktail however, had just the right amount of vodka.  More on this restaurant and others in my next blog.

By Thursday I was over the French Quarter, and the dirty streets.  However, the conference ended hours before we had to head to the airport, so we decided to take one last trip through the city.  I am glad we did, because the experience was much more enjoyable than earlier in the week.  The humidity had evaporated, and the sun was shining.  The streets were alive, with tourists newly arriving to the city.  We finally heard the jazz music we had heard so much about, and enjoyed some true New Orleans dishes like blackened catfish and fried gator.

I was sad to have to leave just when things started getting good, but alas it was time to return home.  I hear mixed reviews of NOLA.  Some gush that it’s an amazing city with lively streets and even livelier nightlife, while others talk about how dirty the city is.  I have to admit that unfortunately my experience was of the latter.  I will note that the majority of my time spent in the city was during the week, and I am sure that things get much better during the weekend.  Whether or not you visit will depend on what type of experience you are looking for.

Visiting New Orleans was an interesting experience.  I’m not sure I’ll ever return to the “Big Easy”, but I am glad I was able to tour the city and form my own opinion.  I truly hope that the city recovers some day.