Family-Friendly Review of Disney's Grand Californian Hotel | Ciao Bambino!

Review of Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel

I’ve had many of out-of-town guests ask me if it’s worth it to stay in a Disneyland hotel for their two or three day park visit versus staying off-property.  With this in mind, I set off for my stay at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, a beautiful craftsman-style lodge that sits at the entrance to California Adventure and adjacent to Downtown Disney.

There is a “wow” factor as you enter the lobby or great room of the Grand Californian.  It’s a gorgeous room with a floor to ceiling fireplace that evokes images of the American West lodges of the 1920’s. It’s the perfect spot to take a break and relax, ideally located, and full of perks.

Relaxing in great room at Grand Californian
The lobby is a perfect spot to relax after hours of walking in Disneyland.

Family-Friendly Review of Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel


The Grand California offers many conveniences for guests with the onsite Pinocchio’s Workshop kids’ club, early access to FASTPASS tickets for World of Color, multiple pools with water slides, the Storytellers Café character breakfast and attached entrances to both California Adventure and Downtown Disney.

It’s very easy to park the car and never leave the resort as everything that you want to do is at or within walking distance from the hotel.  There’s also a monorail stop in Downtown Disney which can save tired feet a lot of walking.

Enjoying the large pool at Disney's Grand Californian
An afternoon swim before heading back out to Disneyland.

Ultimate family-friendly accommodations. The rooms are upscale and decorated with a North Woods feel. There are many room options including standard rooms, rooms with bunkbeds, 1 and 2-bedroom suites and villas with kitchens. Some rooms have views of the World of Color show although even the rooms that don’t have views and overlook the landscaped parking area, where we stayed, are relaxing.

Perks Just for Hotel Guests

Early entrance into Disneyland and California Adventure.On certain days, hotel guests can enter Disneyland and California Adventure earlier than the general public with the Extra Magic Hour benefit that is available only for resort hotel guests.  The hotel will also provide you with a weekly calendar of events and schedules upon check-in or you can check the Disneyland calendar for daily schedules.

Staying at the Grand Californian also gives you first crack at the World of Color FASTPASS tickets located near the Grizzly Bear Run ride but you have to get up in the morning to get them, they are not given to you! Parent tip: All family members must be present to get the FASTPASS tickets for World of Color.

Direct entrance to California Adventure.The hotel has a direct entrance to California Adventure which is so convenient for families.  It made it possible for my kids to experience something that we never let them do – ride the Grizzly RiverRun water ride over and over until they were soaking wet.  I don’t normally let them do this because after a short while in the wet clothes they are not happy campers.  Staying at the Grand Californian meant we could enter the park at opening time, go on the ride many times and then walk back to the hotel, change and go back out again.

Special activities.Activities exclusively for guests may include story time, scavenger hunts and my favorite – a 45-minute power walk through California Adventure before it opens to the public.  Unfortunately this was not offered on the morning that we had available but this is an exclusive perk for hotel guests – almost like a sneak peek behind the scenes at California Adventure.

The kids get a visit from the chipmunks at the Storyteller's Cafe
You’re never too old for a character breakfast!

Character breakfast at Storytellers Café. First off, if you are looking for a character breakfast with iconic Disney characters this is not the experience for you.  The only instantly recognizable characters are the Chipmunks.  I wondered if my 5 and 8 year old would be disappointed that there was no Mickeys or Donalds around but I should not have worried.  The kids were so excited to see the characters and fully participated in the group sing-alongs and restaurant parade.  Parent tipThe earlier you arrive for breakfast, the more individual attention your kids will receive from the characters.  By 10 AM the restaurant was packed with a wait and it was challenging for the characters to get to each table.

So, is it worth the extra expense to stay at a Disneyland property?


After our visit, my husband and I both agreed that staying on-property allowed us to have experiences at Disneyland and California Adventure that we would not have had otherwise. My conclusion: You’ll find the most value from your stay if convenience is a top priority and/or if you are a big Disney fan, especially this summer with Cars Land opening on June 15, 2012!

If you go:The Grand California is the most upscale of the Disneyland hotels.  It’s a beautiful hotel and the price reflects the unbeatable location and conveniences it offers.

Editor’s Note: Ciao Bambino received a complimentary night stay at the Grand Californian. We were not asked to express any particular opinion. Photos courtesy of Kristi Marcelle and Disneyland.

Relevant Links:

Is a Disney Cruise the Right Choice for Your Family

10 Tips for Visiting Disneyland

Family Vacation on the Disney Fantasy

10 Surprises on the Disney Dream

Girls Getaway on the Disney Dream

Disney Cruise Line vacation review

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