Choosing Between Disneyland Hotels

We haven’t written about Disneyland on Ciao Bambino. This was one of the early family travel topics that was addressed at length online, so I always figured that there was no need for us to cover it. Moreover, Ciao Bambino has always been about all those other places that are fun with kids.

That said, the magic of Disney is not available in other venues—just as the magic of experiencing new places and cultures is not part of the Disney experience, at least at the parks in the US.

Colleen Lanin is the Editor of and a Disney expert. She has experienced the park countless times with her children and has taken the time to evaluate all the logistical details of a successful visit. Where you stay in and around Disneyland can enhance (or detract) from enjoying the park. Here’s Colleen’s assessment of the difference between the three Disney-owned hotels. Thanks Colleen!

Photo credit Joe Shlabotnik on Flickr

Now that I have children, I’m becoming a bit of a Disney freak. Last year my family bought annual passes and visited Disneyland at least once every other month. We live in San Diego, about an hour and a half hour away, so it’s a pretty easy day trip for us. However, it’s more fun and relaxing to sleep in Anaheim so we can spend the whole day at the park.

I have stayed in all three Disneyland-owned hotels. Disney includes hints of characters and themes throughout their hotels without hitting you over the head with obnoxious colors and kitsch. All allow overnight guests to enter the theme parks early on specific days of the week. All are staffed by cast members who go out of their way to make sure your stay is memorable. But each has its own feel, amenities, and special touches.

Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa

Just as the name indicates, this is the grandest (and most expensive) hotel of the three. Entering the lobby feels as if you have stepped into a gorgeous National Park lodge. Decorated in the style of California’s Arts and Crafts movement, the wood beam construction and attention to detail is both cozy and awe-inspiring. Unlike many hotel lobbies that go unused, guests (and even those not staying here) often relax by the Great Hall’s focal point; the large stone fireplace at its center.

The woodsy theme is carried through to the spacious rooms. Look for woodland characters, like Bambi and Thumper, subtly included in the shower curtains.

Most conveniently-located of the hotels, it is connected to both Disney’s California Adventure and Downtown Disney.

There are three pools at this hotel. The Redwood Pool has a themed waterslide; the Fountain Pool has a turtle-shaped fountain; and the Mariposa Pool offers private cabanas at an extra charge.

Among the resort’s five restaurants, the Napa Rose is Disneyland’s most upscale option. If you have a night sans kids, a meal here is worth the splurge! Reserve a seat at the Chef’s Counter for an unforgettable experience. You are seated practically inside the kitchen, where you watch the chef prepare a several-course meal based on your tastes. My husband and I felt like judges on Top Chef as we dined on delectable dishes like squash blossoms stuffed with goat cheese, peppercorn-crusted halibut, and crème brulee in pastry crust with fresh raspberries.

My family attended the Chip N’ Dale Critter Breakfast for my daughter’s first birthday at the Grand Californian’s Storyteller’s Café. She was fascinated by Chip, Dale, and other forest creatures that stopped by throughout our meal. Beware that you are unlikely to see Mickey Mouse Clubhouse characters here.

The Mandara Spa is located at this resort. They offer pampering treatments like massages, facials, and the like.

Disneyland Hotel

Although the Grand Californian is more decadent, the Disneyland Hotel is my favorite of the three hotels for the price. The theme here is straight-up classical Disney. The Disney dream is not interrupted during a stay here. It feels like a toned down, more restful extension of the park.

A stroll through Downtown Disney is a pleasant way to wind down from an action-packed day as you make your way to this hotel at one end of the shopping and entertainment thoroughfare. The Disneyland Monorail is located just a quick walk away in Downtown Disney.

The Neverland Pool is a 5,000-square-foot-spectacle inspired by Peter Pan. I’m a sucker for a good pool, which is why I chose the Disneyland Hotel for two of our stays. Unfortunately, during our first visit my daughter’s arm was in a cast so we skipped swimming. The second time, the pool was closed for renovations. However, it looks like a swash-buckling good time, complete with waterslides and a “sunken ship” for kids to explore. We made due by visiting the hotel’s more standard Cove Pools.

Kids love steering the Safari Adventure Remote-Controlled Jungle Cruise Boats, located near the Neverland Pool. It’s little extras like this that make staying at a Disney-owned hotel so much fun.

Seven onsite restaurants range from the casual, poolside Croc’s Bits N’ Bites to the fancy Steakhouse 55. Goofy’s Kitchen offers a character buffet meal during which Goofy drops a bunch of non-breakable dishes and encourages children to join him in dancing and making music from the spilled kitchenware. I’ve tried all three character meals at the hotels, and if you can choose only one, I’d go to Goofy’s because it is the most interactive and involves old-school characters like Goofy and Pluto.

Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel

This hotel has a California beach theme. The décor is light and breezy in seaside colors like aqua and gold.

During our eighth wedding anniversary trip last summer without the kids, my husband and I were upgraded to a top floor room with an unbeatable view of Disney’s California Adventure Park’s boardwalk area.

Paradise Pier is further from the parks and less expensive than the other hotels. Although the walk is not horribly long, it can be tiresome after a long day on your feet. Plus, its location across the street from the parks made me feel less “a part of it all.”

The Rooftop Pool offers the biggest waterslide of any of the resorts, in addition to a large swimming pool.

An adorable feature, which I’m afraid is more for looks than actual use, is the Paradise Theatre. This beach-themed mini theatre off the Paradise Pier lobby plays non-stop Disney movies and cartoons.

The only restaurant here, PCH Grill, offers a character buffet breakfast with Lilo and Stitch. They ham it up with children, doing Elvis impersonations and “playing” songs on ukulele. Other Disney characters clad in Hawaiian garb, like Daisy Duck and Minnie Mouse, get into the action too.

Which to pick?

Although there are plenty of more affordable options just across the street from Disneyland, staying in a Disney-owned hotel makes a trip to the Happiest Place on Earth even more magical. No matter which hotel you choose, the luxurious Grand Californian, traditional Disneyland Hotel, or beach-themed Paradise Pier – perks like onsite character meals, themed pools, and extraordinary customer service may be worth the extra cost.

Colleen Lanin, The Travel Mama, is a freelance writer and the creator of, an information and resource center for anyone who wants to travel with children…and stay sane! Her articles have appeared in such magazines as Babytalk and San Diego Family. She is the author of the upcoming book, “The Travel Mamas’ Guide.” Colleen lives in San Diego with her husband and two children.

None of the Disney hotels are part of Ciao Bambino’s best family friendly hotel portfolio yet.  We’re working on deciding which one is the best fit.  Stay tuned.



  1. Disneyland Hotel is the best for young kids and for the entire Disneyland experience for the entire family. They make you feel like part of the family there too – spend a kid’s birthday there for extra special attention.

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