Guide to Disney’s Grand Californian Resort & Spa
A Brief History of the Grand Californian
Disney’s Grand Californian Resort & Spa signifies one of the most important yet flawed expansions in the history of theme parks. After more than 40 years in operation, Disneyland’s need to grow was inarguable. Park officials led by then-CEO Michael Eisner chose to build a second theme park beside the Happiest Place on Earth.
The park was Disney California Adventure (DCA), and its opening year was a debacle. Disney experts forecasted more than twice as many attendees as the park received on opening day AND during its first year. The lone bright spot (other than Soarin’ Over California) was its adjoining resort.
During the 1990s, park planners grew to appreciate the importance of logistics. Their research suggested that guests were more likely to stay at a facility located closer to a park. For this reason, when Disney constructed DCA, they built the Grand Californian right beside it. While DCA struggled for most of its first decade, the hotel was an instant success.
From 2001 on, DVC members clamored a presence at one of the three official Disney resorts on the Disneyland campus. In 2009, they finally got their wish when DVC added villas at the Grand Californian. In September of that year, the hotel became the 10th DVC participant…and the only one at Disneyland Resort.
The Style of the Grand Californian
Rustic is the buzzword for several DVC programs. While it’s most applicable at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge, it also fits here. Disney themed the Grand Californian around its majestic backdrop. The state of California contains several famous national parks, and it’s also famous for craftsman homes.
The resort joins the two themes in a gorgeous example of the beauty in nature. Many Craftsman houses have gardens. Disney Imagineers chose to scale that premise into a giant forest filled with beautiful trees authentic to the state of California. Disney also hired established locals to handcraft many of the items on display throughout the hotel.
The Grand Californian is somewhat of a pleasant incongruity in this way. It’s a celebration of the rustic, woodsy nature of many popular parts of the state; it’s also a five-star resort that has won numerous awards and is currently a AAA Four Diamond Award winner for 2018. Perhaps the most fitting is that it has the highest environmental ranking possible for the state of California, an indicator that Disney practices what it preaches with this nature-themed resort.
The DVC Aspects
Let me be clear. Staying at the Grand Californian isn’t easy, and it isn’t cheap. Save for a period of about ten weeks in January, February, and September, you’ll spend at least 20 points per night at this resort. Even the “Adventure Season” nights cost 17 points daily.
A week in a Studio starts at 129 points and soars as high as 224 points. I think it’s fair to say that you should expect to use 148 points a week here for most of the year. And that’s just for a Studio.
A One-Bedroom starts at 31 points per night or 235 points per week. Those totals max out at 76 points and 462 points during Premier Season. The honest evaluation is that it’s one of the costliest resorts among DVC properties.
The above only tells half the story, too. Since the Grand Californian is the only DVC option currently available at Disneyland Resort and the smallest DVC Resort in the Network at 50 villas, rooms book quickly. In my experience, more often than not, rooms aren’t available at the seven-month window, at least not for extended stays.
Longtime DVC members stress that this hotel is one where frequent guests should buy contracts. With Grand Californian points in hand, you can book prior to the seven-month window and should get the room that you want. Even then, booking at eight months seems like the safer bet. This place is in high demand, with DVC room occupancy rates near the top of the program. To stay here, you should buy here. Period.
Grand Californian Resort Amenities
I’ll get to the onsite amenities in just a moment. Let’s start with the most important one. The greater Los Angeles has some of the worst traffic in the world. You do NOT want to drive around any more than you must when you’re visiting Disneyland.
Given this fact, the Grand Californian has one of the greatest amenities imaginable. It’s right beside the entrance to Disney California Adventure…and I mean RIGHT beside it. You exit the hotel, and you’re only steps away from the backdoor into DCA. You not only avoid traffic, but you also save yourself the aggravation of going through the main entrance at Disneyland Resort. Best of all, this amenity is only available to guests at the Grand Californian. So, you know that the lines will be reasonable, too. It’s a game changer of a logistical amenity. As a special cherry on top, it’s only a few steps away from Downtown Disney to boot.
The other thing that you should know about Grand Californian isn’t exactly an amenity. After 16 years in operation, the hotel underwent exhaustive renovations in 2017. Anyone who hasn’t visited recently will love all the changes, especially in the rooms. You can watch the video of them here.
Given the hotel name, you’ve deduced that there’s a spa. It’s called Mandara Spa, and it’s an adults-only escape from reality. You can read the full list of services on the official site. Factoring in tips, most of the stuff costs $100 or more, but you’re worth it, aren’t you?
The dining options here are dynamic. Napa Rose isn’t just the best restaurant at the hotel. It has the perception of being THE top restaurant at Disneyland Resort. It also features some of the finest wines on the West Coast. Out of 750 Anaheim restaurants listed on TripAdvisor, it’s #12 at the time of publication. That should tell you all that you need to know about its quality.
In my opinion, the Storytellers Café is almost as good. It’s also ranked in the top 50 restaurants in Anaheim. This place is more family friendly, hosting the Mickeys’ Tales of Adventure Character Breakfast character meal.
The restaurant also has two lounges, one of which is an extension of Napa Rose. The other, Hearthstone Lounge, has a truly spectacular backdrop and is a great way to pass an hour or two. There is also a White Water Snacks counter service option that has hot food via counter service. You can watch a detailed review of it here.
The reality is that you’ll never go hungry at the Grand Californian. Everything at DCA is available if you don’t want anything at the hotel. I do want to remind you about restaurants in the area, though. The proximity to Downtown Disney adds countless other dining options to the list.
The Grand Californian features three pools. The Fountain Pool is the one that you’ll see on your way to Storytellers Café. The Mariposa Pool is the quiet pool at the resort, which means it’s a favorite of many DVC owners. The most dramatic feature is at the Redwood Pool. It’s a 90-foot waterslide that circles the stump of a Redwood Tree. It looks like this. Yeah, it’s fun.
Resort Pros and Cons
Collating a list of pros and cons for this resort feels a bit silly. Let’s be honest here. Anyone who is a DVC member visiting Disneyland Resort will want to stay here. Otherwise, you’re getting a cash room at Disneyland Hotel or Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel. At the time of publication, Grand Californian is the only game in town for DVC members.
Having acknowledged the obvious, here’s what’s great about the hotel. You have the most convenient theme park access possible here. You take an elevator down to the lobby, you walk outside, you turn once, and you’re at the bag check and admission lines for DCA. Nothing beats that anywhere at a DVC resort.
The Grand Californian is also the most elegant and stately of all official Disney properties in the area. While it doesn’t have a monorail station, the resort also has the same cool visual of monorail trains whizzing through the building. I think it’s fair to describe the Grand Californian as a unique combination of Grand Floridian, Disney’s Contemporary Resort, and Disney’s Wilderness Lodge. That’s a very strong pro, right?
The cons are self-explanatory. The points chart isn’t friendly. On most nights, you’ll spend 20+ points to stay here. And that presumes that you can book a room. Sellouts here are a presumption on most nights. You’ll need to own here to have the comfort that you can book a room. Even then, you should do so before the seven-month window opens for others.
The TL;DR about Grand Californian is that it’s a breathtaking resort. DVC members are fortunate that it’s a program participant. When you know far in advance that you will visit Disneyland, you should book a room here. It’s an unforgettable place to stay.