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.

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Travel: Little Desert Getaways

Hotel Miramonte

As a California native, Palm Desert is a common vacation destination for my family and myself.  Taking little trips throughout the year is vital for many reasons.  Hitting the road and spending time away from the day to day grind can refresh your mind and prep you for a whole new week.

Miramonte Villas

I tend to stay at the same hotels when I vacation, but this last trip I decided to shop around.  I found a great offer on Expedia for the hotel Miramonte in Palm Desert, California.  I checked out the customer reviews and photos, and was impressed enough to give the hotel a try.  I had some vacation time saved up, and so did my best friend Marta.  Before we knew it the trip was here, and we were headed for a couple of days in the sun.

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While many travel sites may photoshop images to help sell you on an experience, the hotel Miramonte was actually much more impressive in person.  We exited the car excitedly and headed towards the large wooden gate doors.  As we walked through the big heavy doors we could see the gardens peaking through.  The grounds of the hotel are very lush, and vibrant.  Many of the plants and flowers are the same types found in Tuscany.

051The architecture of the hotel is unique.  The buildings were designed to replicate Tuscan Villas.  Each “villa” is named after a town in Italia.  The lobby of the hotel had high ceilings, chandeliers, and stone worked flooring.  The customer service at the front desk was excellent.  In addition to the beauty of the hotel, the space boasts convenience due in part to the boutique size of the resort.  We were able to walk to our room in under 3 minutes.  We requested a room on the bottom floor, so that we could walk straight out from our patio area to the pool area.

The hotel was vacant on a Wednesday afternoon, which was fine by us.  We had the pool area to ourselves, and a friendly waitress who checked in on us often.  I had yet to open up my birthday bottle of champagne, so we popped that open and started in on our mimosas. The pool is a good size, and the jacuzzi was large.  The pool temperature was great, because it was 106 degrees outside that day.  The lobby shop at pool mats, and the waitress offered to have them blown up for us.  We enjoyed a day of laying out pool side.

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If you are looking for pure relaxation you must make a reservation at the Well Spa, the hotel spa.  Often times, hotels will hike up the cost of spa services charging around $150 to $200 for a massage.  I was pleasantly surprised by the prices and services offered at the Well Spa.  There are three massages priced at under $150, and the purify facial is just $99.  To view the full list of spa services visit here.

Also located at the Hotel Miramonte is a fine dining restaurant and full service bar.  The Grove Artisan Kitchen serves “farm to table” fresh foods.  The website boasts, “The menu features organic produce, fresh herbs, local ranch raised meats and poultry, fresh Pacific seafood, house-made pastas, prime dry-aged meats and innovative vegetarian dishes.”  To view the menu or make reservations visit here.  Unfortunately my bff and I were too sun bathed and relaxed to get dressed up for dinner, but fortunately for us the hotel does provide in service dining.  Marta ordered the Greek salad, and I ordered a turkey club.  We shared vanilla bean ice cream and fresh berries for desert.

We had an amazing stay at the hotel Miramonte.  The views of the desert landscape and dark mountain ranges simply adds to the architectural and arboricultural beauty of this resort.  I would definitely recommend it.

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.

Travel: Bare Necessities

meeshme.com

When I tell people I travel for work they always say, “You’re so lucky!” Having a job that required travel was always a dream of mine, so when I heard that my current position would mean traveling several times a year I was ecstatic.  Since working at this company I have traveled to Vegas, New York, Chicago, Denver, Seattle, and next month New Orleans.  While I have loved getting to experience new cities and states, I have to say there are certain elements of traveling for work that can ware on you.

Airport security is one element of travel that deflates my excitement bubble.  The long lines, the need to remove practically everything you’re wearing, the pat downs in private places.   Then there is the boarding process.  I always have to remember to check in as soon as possible to ensure that my bag gets on the plane.  One lost bag is all it takes to make you never want to check your luggage again.

Since travel is such a big part of my life, taking trips on the weekends in addition to my continuous work trips, I have learned to pack lightly.  I titled this blog “Bare Necessities”, because I have learned to only pack only the things I absolutely need, things that have multiple uses, and items that meet airport regulations.  It’s much easier to lift that big, and fit it in the overhead compartment of the plane if it’s light.  Traveling light can be hard for women, what with all of our shoe options, but it’s a necessity when you travel frequently.

I have mastered the art of packing light, and made traveling much more convenient.  When I pack for a trip I consider how many days I will be there, how much time I will be spending on my feet, and weather conditions.  It’s a lot easier to pack light during the warmer months.  Here is a list of my travel bare necessities:

meeshme.comConditioner

While I can make use of hotel shampoo, my hair is too dry for hotel conditioner.  My strands need moisture and protection, so I always pack a travel size conditioner.  You can find travel sized conditioner at your local pharmacy like CVS or Walgreens.  Many super markets also sell travel sized options.  My favorite travel conditioner right now is Nexxus Humectress.  This conditioner makes even my dry and brittle hair soft.  You can purchase it here for $4.99.

meeshme.comFlats

I have made the mistake of packing heels to conferences.  I will take what is normally an incredibly comfortable pair of heels, knowing that I can last hours in them.  Hours yes, days no.  By the middle of the second day of a conference I am always wishing I had packed flats.  Note that not all flats are more comfortable than heels.  The wrong flat can be just as painful as your highest heel.  It’s important to look for support in a flat, and to make sure it’s not fitting you tightly or rubbing against the skin of your feet.  The last thing you need is a blister during a conference.  My favorite pair of flats where actually purchased during a conference when I could stand my high heels no longer.  I bought them for $99, but they are now on sale at Guess for $69.  View them here.

meeshme.comComfortable Work Dress

I like a pencil skirt just as much as the next girl, but packing all of those layers can take up space.  Every conference going woman should have at least one conference dress.  Sticking to basic colors will help you vary the look, and it won’t stand out enough to be remembered.  If you like to stand out like me, pick a dress that can go from the office to dinner.  Adding a blazer to a dress during the day can provide the professional look you’re looking for, while adding accessories and cute heels at night will dress up the look.  Comfort is important as well.  You should be able to travel in this dress, eat in the dress, and wear it for hours.  There are plenty of places to purchase this type of dress, so it will depend on your personal style.  Stores where you can find professional work attire include Ann Taylor where I found the dress pictured.  You can get it here for $88.

meeshme.comUndergarments

We often pay more attention to what we wear on the outside than on what’s underneath, but this could be a big mistake.  Wearing the wrong bra can either create too much cleavage or create a painful situation.  A bra that’s too tight can create creases and indentations.  The same is true for the wrong pair of stockings.  Have an outfit that shows off every little imperfection? Don’t forget to pack shape wear.  Dress liners, tummy hiders, and other shape wear can help you feel confident in any outfit.  You never know when you’ll experience bloating or the after effects of a heavy meal.  I always pack my Hanes Shapewear just in case.  You can find them at Target between $15 and $30.

Before you pack for your next trip think about what items you really need.  Pick items you can mix and match, items that you can wear day and night, and don’t pack too many pairs of high heels ladies!

Twenty Seven

I took quite a bit of time off from the blog recently to attend a work conference, and celebrate my twenty-seventh birthday.  Why is it that life speeds up so much after high school? Before you turn twenty-one the days are endless, the weeks drag on, and summer vacation never seems to come.  Now I blink, and I’m turning another year older.  I can’t get used to saying one age, before it’s time to say another.

This year I decided to take a break from the Vegas celebrations of the past, and spend time with family.  Besides my cousins and my brother, my best friends Marta, Naty and Vlad are my family; as well as, my boyfriend Chris.  The group of us spent the weekend at the Disneyland Resort.  I’m not ready to grow up and face 30, so a weekend at Disneyland was my way of protesting twenty-seven.

We stayed at the Disneyland hotel, and had a blast.  We enjoyed drinks at the Tiki Room inspired Trader Sams, went down the monorail themed water slides several times, and sun bathed.  For dinner we ate at Carthay Circle and The Story Teller’s Cafe located inside Disney’s Grand Californian hotel.  The weekend was full of laughs, good food, and good people.  I can’t think of a better way to celebrate getting older, than to celebrate that I’m still young at heart.

Here are some pictures from my weekend of celebrating.

Travel: Viva Las Vegas

As I prepare to leave for Vegas this week, I am inspired to post about my love for the real city that never sleeps.  My love affair with Las Vegas began when I was 7, and my extended family took a trip to Las Vegas.  I’ve celebrated many a milestone in Vegas.  I was at the club at midnight for my 21st, drove straight there after graduating college, and spent every birthday there ever since.  Now it’s my boyfriend’s little sister’s turn.  She turns 21 this week, and we’re taking her to sin city to celebrate right.

Las Vegas is a shape shifter a cameleon.  It can be the city you want it to be.  Most people know Las Vegas as sin city, but there’s more than just sin going on in this lively city.  With critically acclaimed restaurants featuring world famous chefs, top rated spas, live stage performances, and shopping locations Vegas can fulfill your every desire.

When I visit Vegas there are a few things I have to do.  Here is a list of my top Vegas destinations:

meeshme.comSurrender: Nightclub Encore Hotel

Attempting to get me to go to a Hollywood club these days is a dangerous mission.  I did the Hollywood scene early on in my 20s and enjoyed it, but now it’s just tired.  However, mention going out in Vegas and I’m always game.  There’s something different about the atmosphere, the people, the music that makes it more enjoyable.  My biggest issue with staying out past midnight these days is that my heels become unbearable.  Unless you’re up for buying a table, or get invited to one, standing around all night becomes painful.  Which is why I love Surrender.  Partially indoors, partially outdoors, this club has something for everyone.  The inside is beautifully decorated, but the outside is amazing.  With LED lights, water fountains, and a pool reflecting light, the scenery at Surrender is worth the price of admission.  There’s always a hot DJ performing, and the crowd is well mixed.  Palm trees and bright lights make you feel like you’re in Miami.  The best part of the outdoor area is that there are places where you can sit and rest your feet, even if you don’t have a table.  Drinks don’t come cheap at around $18 a cocktail, but then again you are in Vegas.  The indoor dance floor is small, but that’s because party goers can dance anywhere they like in the massive outdoor area.  To buy a ticket or book a table reservation visit here.

chateau2-500x300Chateau: Nightclub Paris Casino

Located at the top of the Paris Casino Chateau is as romantic as a Vegas club gets.  The Paris Casino itself is a wonder to behold.  The replica of the Eiffel Tower is a wonder, and the Arc de Triomphe truly makes you feel as though you are driving around the streets of Paris.  To enter Chateau you walk up a beautiful stairway located inside the casino.  When you first enter Chateau it looks like any other Vegas club.  The black walls, DJ stand, and dance floor are nothing out of the ordinary.  Then you take a trip to the balcony where the magic happens.  Located beside the Eiffel Tower replica, the balcony provides a view of the entire Vegas strip.  Big bulbs light the Chateau sign above the bar.  The light from the bulbs reflected on the white furniture turns the entire balcony gold.  You can’t leave Vegas without experiencing this view.  To book your table visit here.

encore spaThe Spa: Encore Casino

I literally couldn’t believe what I was seeing when I first walked into the spa at the Encore spa.  I was there to workout, but was distracted by the amazing furniture and attention to detail.  The couches, the lighting, it’s reminiscent of a Moroccan palace.  One of the best ways to enjoy Las Vegas is to purchase a spa service.  Practically every casino features a spa where you can enjoy massages, facials, and spa amenities like hot tubs, saunas, and steam rooms.  When you’re in need of relaxation the spa at the Encore is just what you need.  Feel like a princess for the day at this lavish indoor spa facility.  Prices for massages range between $150 and $250 on weekends, facials are priced at similar rates.  The spa offers waxing services as well.  If you’d like to stay in shape while on vacation, the gym at the Encore is located within the spa.  The facility is smaller than other casino gyms, but features brand new top of the line equipment.  You can also request a personal trainer.  To view the whole Encore spa service menu visit here.

margaritavilleMargaritaville: Restaurant Flamingo Casino

Enough with the pricey destinations right?  Margaritaville is not the destination when you’re looking for class and eligance.  Margaritaville is the place to go when you need something hearty to soak up all the alcohol you drank the night before, or when you want to continue drinking throughout the afternoon.  The giant volcano located next to the bar erupts throughout the day as they play the Margartiville theme song.  Don’t sit too close to the giant glass next to the volcano.  A dancer takes a slide down into the glass filled with water, swishing a way and getting you wet.  The best nachos I’ve ever had are found at Margaritville, along with a pretty amazing margarita.  These nachos come piled as a high as a mini mountain.  Definitely for sharing, this cheesy dish comes with your choice of steak or chicken.  Order these nachos and you won’t be disappointed.  To view the full menu visit here.

serendipitySerendipity: Restaurant Caesar’s Casino

I first obsessed over a frozen hot chocolate from Serendipity in New York.  I was on a family vacation, and was miserable.  I had become deathly ill during the trip, and had an icicle fall from a building and hit me over the head (don’t ask). Nothing was going my way.  I couldn’t eat anything, nothing tasted good, and my brother insisted on going to Serendipity because it was in one of his favorite films.  The New York location is tiny, but charming.  I ordered my frozen hot chocolate, because I had seen it in one of my favorite films One Fine Day.  It was amazing.  Fast forward a few years later, and a larger Serendipity location was built in Las Vegas in front of Caesar’s Palace Casino.  The restaurant isn’t as charming as the New York location, but serves all the same treats that make the original so famous.  Still nothing beats my frozen hot chocolate.  If you’re in a hurry, the window located at the back of the restaurant serves quick items to go.  To see a full menu visit the website here.

wynn buffetWynn Buffet: Wynn Hotel & Casino

You can’t leave Vegas without eating at a buffet, it’s a staple.  Practically every casino has one.  I’ve heard people swear by the Bellagio buffet, the Mirage buffet, the Paris buffet, but they are all wrong.  The buffet at the Wynn hotel is by far the best.  The buffet at the Paris Casino is charming.  I was excited to dine there, because the inside reminded me of Fantasy Land inside the Disneyland park.  cobbled floors, lamp posts, and charming homes make up the inside of the restaurant.  It’s such a shame that the food doesn’t hold up to the decor.  The Bellagio buffet was boring, and the interior was nothing special.  The Mirage buffet is great for seafood, but again nothing to die for.  Then there is the Wynn buffet with it’s huge flower bouquets, vibrant colors, and amazing food choices.  There are many more choices for the health conscious eater as well.  Buffet prices vary depending on time of day, but it’s typically around $30 per person.

Fashion-Show-Mall-Las-VegasFashion Show Mall

Located next to Treasure Island, and across from the Venetian hotel, the Fashion Show Mall has everything you need.  There are plenty of malls and store locations on the strip, but the Fashion Show Mall has it all in one place.  No matter how much I travel I always find that I’ve left something behind.  Whether you need a party dress for going out, flats to walk around the strip in, or a swimsuit to hit the hot tub, the Fashion Show Mall has what you need.  If you’re looking for a good deal check out the outlets on your way into the strip.

I hope you get a chance to visit the strip soon, and check out these incredible destinations.