Grand Californian Hotel & Spa Review

Happy Monday, friends! Before we get into all the details about the fabulous Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, we are so excited to announce our MKM Hat Set giveaway winners from yesterday/today’s contest (see one post back to check out the hats coming to MKM Supply Co. on Wednesday)! DRUM ROLL PLEASE…our winners are:

nanette.munoz3@gmail.com

– and –

dianesred1@yahoo.com

Congratulations! You each will receive an email from us within the next hour with instructions on how to claim your prize. Yay!

Now, back to business. If you’re interested in learning more about the Grand Californian Hotel, read on! We can’t wait to share! 🙂

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We had the most wonderful stay a couple weeks ago at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa! Disneyland’s website boasts about the hotel’s “craftsman-style elegance” and it’s so very true. All the details around the hotel are eye-catching and amazing (typical Disney Resort – everything done 110%!) and all the little tributes to our beloved state are just beautiful. Every time we walk into the lobby, we immediately feel relaxed – vacation mode to the max!

A few of our favorite perks to staying at the Grand Californian:

  • Special theme park entrance to California Adventure! The entrance is located between Napa Rose Restaurant & White Water Snacks – it drops guests on the west side of the park in front of Grizzly River Run.
  • Extra Magic Hour (more info on this further down in this post).
  • If you arrive to the hotel and your room isn’t ready, you can leave your bags at the Bell Service desk while you enjoy the parks, Downtown Disney, etc, then just come back to the hotel when you’re ready!
  • When you check out, you will be given an all-day access card to use the pools or other hotel amenities (card good until midnight!), so you don’t have to leave right away. You can also check out, leave your bags at the Bell Service desk and head into the parks!
  • All three Disney Hotels have the complimentary Birthday, “I’m Celebrating!”, “First Visit” and “Happily Ever After” buttons that are given to guests at City Hall in Disneyland, Chamber of Commerce in California Adventure and pretty much every shop in both parks. You can save time waiting in line at the park to pick-up a button and just ask for one at the hotel’s front desk!
  • Read on for some more perks and benefits to staying at the Grand Californian!

Checking In

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If you need a spot to occupy your kiddos while you check-in or out, there is the cutest little mini set of rocking chairs and chairs set up right in front of a TV in the lobby playing classic Disney cartoons!

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This is most definitely the place to go during the cooler months of the year! The ambiance of the hotel and sitting by this fireplace in the lobby (grab a hot chocolate to enjoy!) are what Fall and Winter dreams are made of!

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Auntie Shelly (our baby sis) and Reagan enjoying the coziness.

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Room keys! All Disney resorts will give room keys with names printed on them! Littles love having their own personal key and a free souvenir to take home to put in their purse or wallet (along with all the other random things that they collect …ha!)

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When you check-in, you’ll receive this activities calendar full of all the happenings at the resort!

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You’ll also receive this map of the entire resort when you check-in – it will come in handy if you’re not familiar with the area!

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Kids before they sprinted (always running!) down the walkway to the elevator to our room!

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ROOMS

The Grand Californian offers 5 different basic room options/views – Standard view with views of Disneyland Drive, rooftop or parking area, Woods-Courtyard view offering views of the courtyard, Deluxe Partial view with views of part of California Adventure or Downtown Disney, Downtown Disney view and Premium view offering views of California Adventure and the pools. We chose a Standard view because well, EXPENSIVE. Honestly, we didn’t mind because we weren’t going to be spending much time in our room anyway, and for ONE night, we weren’t going to spend big bucks for a premium view!

Suite options include the Standard View – Club Level with views of Disneyland Drive or the Courtyard, the Premium View – Club Level with views of the pool or California Adventure and 1-bedroom suite (sleeps up to 10 adults), 2-bedroom suite (sleeps up to 10 adults), 3-bedroom suite (sleeps up to 12 adults) and lastly, the Signature Suites (sleeps up to 12 adults).

Concierge Service at the “Craftsman Club” for Club Level guests – This special room is open daily from 6:30 AM to 10:00 PM on the sixth floor near the Great Hall elevators. The service includes COMPLIMENTARY food and beverages ALL DAY LONG. Continental breakfast is served from 6:30-10 AM and includes pastries, fruit, cereal and juice, coffee, etc, Afternoon Tea is from 11:00 AM to 4 PM and includes tea, other beverages and treats, “Grand Hours” are from 5-7 PM and includes appetizers, cheese, wine and beer and “Sweet Endings” is from 8-10 PM and includes desserts and after-dinner drinks. The room even has a good view of Disneyland’s fireworks!

***Some of the rooms at the hotel are newly renovated (we lucked out and got to stay in a renovated room – photos below!), and just FYI – they don’t have a bathtub!

You can read more about room options and pricing here.

Also, the Disney Hotels run specials at certain times throughout the year, so be sure to check the website for deals and discounts!

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Hallway carpet details.

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How cute is this?! This was on the wall in our room between both beds.

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Bathroom details – our bathroom only had a shower, no bathtub like we had when we stayed at the Disneyland Hotel.

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See the little hidden Mickeys on the bathroom wall!? So fun!

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The pull-out couch in our room – it was such a pleasant surprise to see this artwork from Bambi! LOVE!

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Ghirardelli chocolates left on our beds when we returned from dinner!

Room Service

The hotel offers all sorts of delicious goodies on the room service menu! We could have lounged with breakfast in bed or some other delicious and fancy spread of food, but we kept it simple – we knew exactly what we wanted to get when we arrived – Mickey and Minnie cookies with glasses of milk! This is not on the menu, but just call the room service number from your room phone and they’ll know what you’re talking about! The kids were so excited – clearly Reagan couldn’t wait for the photo to be over with so he could get his little bear paws on a cookie! HA!

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Near disaster with the milk here…HAHA!

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We can’t even handle how cute this spread is!

DINING

CHARACTER DINING

All 3 Disney Hotels offer a character dining experience. The Grand Californian is home to Critter Breakfast with Chip ‘n Dale at the Storyteller’s Cafe featuring fun with some Disney critter friends and a delicious spread of all-you-can-eat Farmer’s Market buffet style foods!

Character dining is available for breakfast as well as a weekend brunch from 11:30-2:00 PM (includes breakfast foods on the buffet with some lunch items as well). Brunch is also sometimes available on select Mondays and holidays.

Disney characters DO NOT appear during lunch and the food is not buffet style! Characters also do not appear during dinner time, but the food IS offered as a buffet.

Reservations can be made online or by calling (714) 781-3463 up to 60 days prior to your visit. If you do not have a reservation ahead of time, they will sometimes take walk-ins on a limited basis.

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The entryway to Storyteller’s Cafe. LOVE.

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ALL character dining experiences offer complimentary buttons! 

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At most Disney character dining locations, the characters will stop to do a little dance with their napkins (it’s kind of the signature thing)! The kids LOVE it…flying and spinning napkins everywhere!

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I mean…the cutest.

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Round 1…followed by 3 more rounds of all the things!

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Bagels and Lox with a Mickey caper situation on top (just gettin’ creative for the photo, ha)!

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Eggs Benedict

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Chilaquiles

Hearthstone Lounge

Hearthstone Lounge is a wonderful little place at the hotel to sit down and enjoy a coffee, breakfast pastry, or an adult beverage & appetizer in the evening!

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Hot Chocolate babe.

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DETAILS!

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Thanks for the coffee cup inspiration, Walt!

White Water Snacks

White Water Snacks is such a delicious hidden gem of a restaurant! We actually eat here quite often when we’re at California Adventure or when we’re on our way out from California Adventure. The food is great, it’s never really that crowded and they offer a lot of the food items that the parks do, such as Mickey’s Premium Ice Cream Bars, Mickey Waffles, and more. See below for some of the eats!

The Carnitas Burger is LIFE CHANGING.

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Peanut Butter and Jelly lunch pack

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Mickey Jello and a Mickey’s Premium Ice Cream Bar

Napa Rose Restaurant and Lounge

We didn’t eat here this time around just because we had all the kids with us and we’d prefer to enjoy it without all the babes in tow (NOT that this restaurant doesn’t allow kids, you can totally bring your kids!), but if you’re looking for a “fancier” option (perhaps a date night!?) serving some amazing food & drinks, this is the perfect place to go!

Guests get to enjoy a delicious meal with a lovely view of California Adventure! The lounge side of the restaurant is perfect if you’re just looking to relax and enjoy a drink, appetizer or dessert. You do not need to be a hotel guest to eat at the restaurant or the lounge!

Reservations can be made up to 60 days in advance online or by calling (714) 781-3463 between 7:00 AM and 9:00 PM PST. Complimentary VALET parking is available for up to 5 hours with validation.

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Preferred Access Reservations

One of the many benefits to staying at any of the three Disney Hotels is receiving preferred access to a limited number of reservations at the parks, Downtown Disney and the hotels! These reservations not only include dining, but also the makeover experiences at the resort for kiddos! Reservations can be made by calling (714) 781-3463 up to 60 days in advance. See below for participating restaurants and boutiques.

Participating Restaurants include:

  • Blue Bayou at Disneyland
  • Plaza Inn at Disneyland
  • Ariel’s Grotto in California Adventure
  • Carthay Circle Restaurant in California Adventure
  • Goofy’s Kitchen at the Disneyland Hotel
  • Napa Rose at the Grand Californian Hotel
  • Catal Restaurant in Downtown Disney
  • ESPN Zone in Downtown Disney
  • La Brea Bakery Cafe in Downtown Disney
  • Naples Ristorante e Pizzeria in Downtown Disney
  • Rainforest Cafe in Downtown Disney
  • Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen in Downtown Disney
  • Tortilla Jo’s in Downtown Disney

Participating Boutiques include:

POOLS

The Grand Californian is home to four themed pools – the Redwood Pool featuring a 90-foot-long waterslide that surrounds a giant redwood tree, the Fountain Pool and a Mickey-shaped Children’s Pool and lastly, the Mariposa Pool which includes a hot tub and 4 private rentable cabanas. A couple of the pools are currently undergoing refurbishment, so during our stay, we actually used the Disneyland Hotel pool (they’re allowing guests to do this while the pools are down), which was totally fine with us because our kids live for the Monorail slides! Ha!

The pool offers complimentary life vests and swim diapers!

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Entrance to the Fountain Pool.

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The Fountain Pool 

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You can sort of see the slide in the distance – it wraps around the redwood tree stump!

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Pretty California Poppy details at the Fountain Pool.

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We headed to the Disneyland Hotel (with our Mickey treats to enjoy by the pool) so our kids could go down the Monorail slides 5,000 times in a row (they’re obsessed!). Not sure why we thought it’d be a good idea to pose with our chocolate-covered Mickey-shaped rice krispy treats… HA! These treats are from Marceline’s Confectionery in Downtown Disney – they offer pretty much all of the same treats that both parks sell!

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Overalls can be found here and Julie’s dress can be found here.

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Pina Colada, Apple Mule and a Coco-jito (we think that’s what it was called) from the Disneyland Hotel pool menu – ALL WERE AMAZING. 

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FROM THE DISNEYLAND HOTEL POOL MENU – Slow-roasted Kālua-style Pork Sandwich from the poolside menu at the Disneyland Hotel pool (also available at Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar at the Disneyland Hotel) – it’s made with Barbecue Sauce and Tropical Slaw on a Hawaiian Roll. Includes choice of one of these sides: Sweet Potato Fries, Classic French Fries, Island Fruit, or Tropical Slaw.

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FROM THE DISNEYLAND HOTEL POOL MENU – Tangaroa Terrace Salad made with a blend of fresh Lettuces, Cabbage, Black Kale, Caramelized Pineapple, Grape Tomatoes and chicken lightly tossed in a Tropical Vinaigrette and topped with Toasted Macadamia Nuts! SO GOOD. 

Shopping

The Grand Californian Hotel gift shop offers a wide variety of Disney souvenirs as well as essential items like sunscreen, some over-the-counter medications, snacks and lots more. See below for some of the items that can be purchased at the shop.

Another great option for shopping is Downtown Disney! The hotel offers easy access to Downtown Disney (drops you right in the middle of it all) and there are plenty of places to shop like the gigantic World of Disney store, Sephora, Curl Surf, The Lego Store, Build-A-Bear and more!

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Some of the same souvenirs from the parks available at the hotel gift shop!

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A lot of the same treats sold at the parks are also at the hotel gift shop!

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Diapers, wipes, some over-the-counter medicine, bandaids and lots more available at the hotel gift shop.


Fun for Kids

Morning Wake-up Call

One of the highlights of our kid’s trip was the morning wake-up call from Mickey! This is so easy to set up! All you have to do is hit the “wake-up call” button on your hotel room phone. Someone will answer and ask what time you’d like the call, and what time you’d like a follow-up call. Easy peasy!

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A Magical Night at the Movies

On select nights, the hotel hosts “A Magical Night at the Movies” where guests get to enjoy a Disney movie screening at the Parkview Terrace (5th floor patio)! The patio and viewing area offers wooden benches and a cozy fireplace hearth. The seating area opens 30 minutes before show time – we recommend arriving as early as possible to get the best spot. Food and drinks ARE allowed!

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You can find out what movie will be playing in the schedule you receive when you check-in, or just look for these signs set up around the hotel. 

Trivia Challenges

If you’re visiting Disneyland during your stay at the Grand Californian Hotel, stop by the Guest Services desk in the lobby to pick up a trivia question sheet for FREE! The current 4 trivia sheets to choose from (you’re welcome to take all 4!) are Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage Trivia Challenge, “It’s a Pirate’s Life for Me” Trivia Challenge, “it’s a small world” travel trivia, and the Jungle Cruise Trivia Challenge.

Once you’ve picked up your trivia question sheet(s), head to Disneyland to start your quest for the answers on one of the four attractions (you don’t have to go the day you get the sheet, just anytime during your visit to the park)! Once you have all the answers, head back to Guest Services for your prize (see below for the cutest prizes)!

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Trivia Challenge sheets – the Pirates one comes with two glow sticks because the ride is so dark! HA!

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PHOTO FROM OUR DISNEYLAND HOTEL STAY – Luggage Tag prizes for each Trivia Challenge sheet! Aren’t these SO cute? They’re a sturdy rubber material, not paper. 

The Grand Quest

Embark on a fun scavenger hunt journey around the Grand Californian Hotel with your little ones! You’ll get to search for clues and find answers hidden throughout the hotel! After you’ve completed the hunt, head to the Guest Services desk for a special treat (usually a cookie)! Registration is NOT required, just head to the Guest Services desk any time to pick up the instruction sheet.

Play Areas

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The Grand Californian doesn’t offer as many giant grassy areas as the Disneyland Hotel, but there are a few here and there! We always take advantage of open spaces – our kids need all the running around/play time they can get! This grassy area is located next to the entrance to the Fountain Pool, across from Storyteller’s Cafe (running off all of their buffet eats)!

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This wide open space is one of our favorite spots to let our kids play (if they’re not hosting a wedding reception or event here)! There’s usually always nice shade coverage and it’s so great if your little ones need to get their energy out. Also, the Monorail travels through on the track overhead and our kids freak out with excitement as it goes by! You can find this spot next to the Downtown Disney entry point from the hotel. 

Get Up & Go Power Walk (for guests ages 14 and up)

A fun, fast-paced 2-mile walk through California Adventure well before it opens! The walk begins at 6:00 AM and requires guests (ages 14 and up) to be able to keep up with a 15-minute mille pace. Athletic shoes are required. Strollers are not permitted, which is why we didn’t take part in this! Also, guests are not allowed to take cameras.

Sign ups are required at the Guest Services desk in the main lobby. It is FREE to participate.

Private Build-A-Bear Workshop

A one-hour Build-A-Bear Workshop experience in Downtown Disney for Disney Hotel Guests! The experience includes special shopping time and a plush toy of choice to create (minimum of $12.00 purchase)! Sign-ups are available at the Guest Services desk in the Main Lobby.

Engineuity presented by RIDEMAKERZ 

Enjoy a morning at RIDEMAKERZ in Downtown Disney “building your ride” (for a fee) before the store opens to the general public! So fun for littles!

Learn to Draw Mickey Class 

Learn to draw Mickey! See the Guests Services desk to find out exact location and times!

Extra Magic Hour

Extra Magic Hour is early entry to the parks for Disney Hotel Guests ONE hour before general admission Guests! Extra Magic Hour is offered at Disneyland on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday and at California Adventure on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday – that means EVERYDAY of your stay at one of the Disney Hotels means you get to head into the parks an hour before general admission Guests! So worth it.

We recommend arriving AT LEAST 30-45 minutes prior to the gates opening for early admission, just so you can take advantage of the FULL hour in the parks. The closer you are to the Main Gates while you’re in line, the better, which is why getting there early is best.

All you have to do is give your admission ticket or annual pass AND your hotel key to the Cast Member taking tickets at the Main Gates.

You can read the difference between Extra Magic Hour and Magic Morning here.

We actually prefer Extra Magic Hour at California Adventure more because there aren’t as many guests in the park due to Magic Morning (again, click the link above for more info) guests only being allowed into Disneyland for their extra hour in the park! Extra Magic Hour at California Adventure is ONLY for Guests staying at one of the three Disney Hotels, which means there are fewer people.

Keep in mind, Extra Magic Hour only gives Guests access to Buena Vista Street, Paradise Pier, Cars Land and Guardians of the Galaxy Mission: Breakout, and Main Street, Fantasyland and Tomorrowland in Disneyland.

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The babes were ready to frolic the empty Extra Magic Hour walkways.

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When do you ever see Cars Land look like this? During Extra Magic Hour!

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Showing our Extra Magic Hour enthusiasm because Cars Land is EMPTY. A rare and beautiful sight.

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Toy Story Midway Mania standby wait time was 5 minutes – this never happens! Fast Pass is available for this attraction once the park opens to everyone. 

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We were able to get a Fast Pass for Radiator Springs Racers right when Extra Magic Hour started! Fast Pass distribution usually doesn’t start until the park opens to everyone, but Radiator Springs Racers is such a popular attraction (that typically runs out of Fast Pass quickly), so you’ll likely find it open when Extra Magic Hour starts.

Hotel Amenities

Parking – Self-parking is $20 per night, PER vehicle and Valet is $30 per night, per vehicle. If you’re visiting any of the 3 Disney hotel table-service restaurants, but you’re not staying at any of the hotels, you will receive 3 hours of free parking with validation or 5 hours of free parking with validation from Napa Rose or Mandara Spa at the Grand Californian Hotel.

Laundry – If you need to wash clothes, there is a 24-hour laundry room available on the first floor of the hotel next to the Disney Vacation Club area as well as on the second floor above the Napa Rose elevators. The laundry machines and soap vending machines accept credit and debit cards only.

Merchandise Delivery – If you purchase merchandise in either park, and you’re staying at one of the 3 Disney Hotels, don’t carry your bags around all day! Just let the Cast Member at the check out counter know that you’d like your items sent to your room and they will be delivered FREE OF CHARGE! Items purchased can be picked up at the Bell Services desk after 7:00 AM the following day.

We hope this information helped anyone looking to book a stay at the Grand Californian! It really is an amazing place, but if we are being 100% honest, we will always prefer the Disneyland Hotel over the others – there’s just something a little more special about it (more of a Disney feel)! The Disneyland Hotel is also the best option (in our opinion) for kids. You can read more about our Disneyland Hotel stay here.


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