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The Great Debate: Disneyland Hotel or Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel?

The Great Debate: Disneyland Hotel or Disney’s Grand Californian?The DIS IMG_2726

Our family recently had a split stay at the Disneyland Hotel and Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel. We have always stayed at the Grand; however, we really wanted to experience the ‘kiss goodnight’ at the Disneyland Hotel, immerse ourselves in the atmosphere of nostalgia, and experience the pools and dining options. This split stay was well worth the moving day and helped our family know which hotel would be our home away from home moving forward.  

Round One: Location 

The Grand has always had its own private entrance to Disney California Adventure Park (DCA), entering the Grizzly Peak area just outside Grizzly River Rapids. This option has always been invaluable to our family, as it cuts down on walking time and allows for quick visits back to the hotel. On this trip, we also discovered that those staying at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel also have access to Paradise Pier’s private entrance.

Although created for those staying at Paradise Pier Hotel, this second entrance utilizes the walkways of Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel. This entrance opens into the Paradise Gardens Park area of DCA, right between Goofy’s Sky School and outdoor shopping kiosks. This gate is a game changer. Now those staying at the Grand have access to their hotel quickly from two areas of DCA. This entrance is worth its weight in gold after a World of Color show. When using this gate, you are back in your hotel within minutes.  

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 The Disneyland Hotel cannot compete with Disney’s Grand Californian in terms of location. Even if you utilize the monorail system, you are still walking a distance to get there and have quick access to your hotel at any time of the day.  

If you or someone in your party has mobility issues or if you travel with young children who need naps during the day, or are traveling with a child or family member who is neurodiverse and may need breaks from the noise and crowds, Disney’s Grand Californian hotel for you. The location cannot be beaten. For this reason, round one goes to Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel by a landslide.  

Winner: Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel.  

Round Two: Pools 

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Throughout the years, the Disneyland Hotel has had amazing pools. As a child, I remember walking through the hotel, wishing we were staying on-site so I could experience the fun every child was having. From the Olympic-sized swimming pool from 1956-1999 to the Neverland Pool from 1999- 2011 and now the E-ticket Pool and Monorail slides, this was a top priority for my inner child to experience (and, of course, my own children).  

The excitement was high on our first day when we entered the pool area. My kids went straight to the slides and enjoyed them immensely. The pool’s unique shape allows for feelings of seclusion, even when it is crowded. The pool has easy access to Tangaroa Terrance and Trader Sam’s for drinks and food. However, combining the food and pool experience feels difficult. The pool feels like one destination, and the food another. For children, this pool is a dream; for adults, it feels less magical.    

Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel has always had a simple pool system. There is one water slide for older children (moderate at best) and one toddler slide. There are three pools, and they are simple in design and theme. Over the years, we have used the pool to cool off and take a break, but it has never been a ‘destination.’ Recently, the pool area has been reimagined by adding poolside dining and creating a more tropical resort atmosphere with a live steel drum singing duo.

This poolside transformation was unexpected and very welcomed. Here, parents can lay on their lounge chairs with a tropical drink in hand, listening to a live band, while their children play in the pool in clear view for safe monitoring.  


Children: Disneyland Hotel  

Adults: Disney’s Grand Californian 

Round Three: Restaurants 

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Dining is an integral part of your Disney vacation; having good dining options at your hotel is a must for many.  

Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel hosts five dining options for its guests. Napa Rose is the hotel’s upscale dining experience and beats out most restaurants on property for food, atmosphere, and quality of service. This restaurant comes with a hefty price tag, so if you are looking for a deal, Napa Rose is not for you.

In addition to Napa Rose, Storytellers Café is your buffet dining option, the Craftsman Bar for poolside dining, the Hearthstone Lounge for a cocktail, snack, or continental breakfast, or the Craftsman Grill for a quick-service option. For children and the young of heart, character dining is available at Storytellers Café.  

The Disneyland hotel has four dining options. Previously, the Disneyland Hotel had a fifth dining choice, Steakhouse 55, which was their upscale restaurant and has closed permanently. Current dining options include Tangaroa Terrace Tropical Bar and Grill, the famous Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar, The Coffee House, and for buffet dining, Goofy’s Kitchen. Goofy’s kitchen is also your restaurant choice for character dining.  

If I were choosing a hotel based on my favorite dining experience, it would be Disneyland Hotel for Trader Sam’s. Trader Sam’s has a cult-like following and has legitimately earned a stellar reputation based on theming, drink options, and unexpected surprises. Additionally, if I were specifically looking at character dining, I would choose Goofy’s Kitchen for food options, overall character experience, and cost.

However, when looking at the hotel’s overall dining variety and experience and the quality of meals and service, my pick goes to Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel. You cannot beat the Craftsman Grill’s quick service, the Craftsman Bar’s poolside dining, and the exemplary service and meal quality of Napa Rose. There is something for everyone at this hotel, and your dining experience will be part of your vacation.  

Winner: Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel  

Round Four: Rooms 

The famous ‘kiss goodnight’ influenced our decision to have a split stay between the Disneyland Hotel and Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel. We have wandered the grounds many times, experienced the theming dining, and seen the pools of the Disneyland Hotel. However, the ‘kiss goodnight’ can only be seen by those staying at the hotel; therefore, you need a reservation to experience this must-see attraction.

The anticipation and expectations were high, and we were not disappointed. The magical light show on the headboard was thrilling not only for our children but also for myself and my husband. It was a perfect way to end the day and say good night. That’s the good part. There are many things that I did not like about our room at the Disneyland Hotel.

The lack of balcony space is a deal breaker for me. With children, it is nice to escape the room with a glass of wine on the balcony after a long day in the parks taking a quiet moment to reflect on the day and plan the next day’s strategy. Chatting in the room with tired children and a blaring TV is not the same. In addition, the bathroom of our room was cumbersome. The bathrooms at the Disneyland Hotel are split, with the toilet and bathtub shower in one room and single sink /vanity in another across a small hallway. Overall, the room was clean and well-kept but lacked balcony space.  

At the Grand Californian, the rooms win by a landslide, in my opinion. You have a double sink and spacious vanity right next to the toilet/ shower room and a balcony space that allows separation for family members who need a break. I also found the theming of Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel creates a soothing and calm environment. At the Disneyland Hotel, you are emersed in a park-like atmosphere. So, if you are looking for a contrast to the parks while still surrounded by Disney’s magic and high quality, this hotel is for you.

Additionally, the views from the Grand can be outstanding. If you are lucky enough to have a park view, you can see people’s faces on attractions and even view World of Color. The room views are second to non at this hotel.  

Winner: Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel  

Round Five: Lobby  

Is there even a need to write this section? The lobby of Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel is true to its namesake; it is grand. This lobby’s beauty and the epic setting are awe-inspiring and manage, even on busy days, to feel serene and calm. This lobby has something for everyone, from the crackling fireplace with recliner chairs to the pianist playing Disney tunes and the miniature rockers for kids to sit and watch TV. There are plenty of cozy seating areas for you to rest and the Hearthstone Lounge and Disney’s Grand Californian shopping experience awaits.  

The lobby of the Disneyland Hotel is underwhelming in comparison and is situated in the Fantasy Tower (previously the Marina Tower and Magic Tower). The entrance has a relatively low ceiling, small seating space, and a more claustrophobic feel. To better understand the design differences, it is essential to note that the Fantasy Tower (then Marina Tower) was built in 1970 to accommodate the style and audience of this time period.

In comparison, Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel was built in 2001 and is more on-point for meeting the needs of today’s travelers. Room access is also better at the Grand, where the lobby is the gateway to your rooms. At the Disneyland Hotel, the entry only has access for those staying in the Fantasy Tower.  

Winner: Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel 

Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel is the best hotel based on location, rooms, restaurants, pools, and lobby. As the flagship hotel of Disneyland and representing Disneyland’s deluxe offering, this hotel should be the clear winner.

The costs to stay at the Grand are very high, and you pay for what you get. The Disneyland Hotel represents Disneyland’s moderate hotel offering. Here the costs are also high but measurably lower than at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel. As a moderate hotel, you expect the quality and service from Disney but willingly accept less accommodation for some services. 

It is important to note that I am comparing two phenomenal hotels where anyone would be grateful to stay. Both hotels add to your Disney vacation’s magic, wonder, and fantasy, and either choice is a winner. Enjoy your next stay at the Disneyland Resort. Have a magical day!   

Notable mentions:  

Bed comfort: Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel  

Nostalgia: Disneyland Hotel  

Shopping: Disneyland Hotel for kids, Disney’s Grand Californian for adults.  

History: Disneyland Hotel  


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