The only real benefit to staying at the most expensive hotel in Anaheim (and it could be an important one to many guests) is the Grand Californian’s direct access into Downtown Disney and a convenient side-door entry into California Adventure Park.
It’s important to note the official name is Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa. Notice the “& Spa,” which I’ve left off the headline of this review. That’s because there is no spa, at least for the better part of the year. The previous spa closed in June of 2019, and the new spa won’t open until at least summer 2020. (I peeked inside the construction site, and it’s still just a hollow shell. Judging by what I witnessed, my guess is it won’t open until 2021.) Meanwhile, they don’t even offer in-room massage as an alternative, despite continuing to advertise the name “Hotel & Spa” on everything and everywhere.
In 2017 the hotel emerged from its first major refresh since opening 16 years ago. The highlight of the Grand Californian is the over-the-top Disney-esque interpretation of Craftsman design, which is impressive throughout but nowhere more so than the dramatic six-story lobby outfitted with a roaring fireplace, beautiful Craftsman furniture and gigantic stained-glass-and-wood chandeliers. This is a truly spectacular lobby and a perfectly appropriate gathering place for such a grand hotel.
As for the guest rooms, oddly there’s no way to reserve a particular type of bed. For example, I prefer a king room, and I thought that’s what I booked. But when I get to the front desk, I’m informed that they’ve assigned me to a room with two double beds. “What?”
“We don’t offer bed-type guarantees at the time of reservation,” the receptionist says. “We allocate room types only upon check-in and based on availability throughout the day.”
Not satisfied with two smaller beds, I persist. And I wait. Finally, after standing at the front desk for 20 minutes while she searches the hotel’s inventory, a room with a king bed comes available. That bed turns out to be very comfortable, at least as far as the mattress and linens go. But the pillows are strangely lumpy and cheap. The towels are threadbare but plentiful. Meanwhile, the handle on the shower door is loose and barely hanging on — didn’t housekeeping notice this?
More importantly, the hotel feels very cheaply built. The walls are paper-thin. I can easily eavesdrop on conversations by my neighbors on either side. Sitting in bed, I can hear a couple in the next room (presumably also in bed) talking at a normal, polite volume (a blessing in disguise, I suppose). On the other side, I hear children understandably excited about Disneyland heatedly negotiating their plans for the day with mom and dad. Luckily I didn’t have to endure a honeymoon romp or something like that. I expected a lot better from a hotel that charges upwards of $700 a night.
In the elevator to my room, I spot a poster advertising breakfast in the Hearthstone Lounge, the attractive fireside bar just off the lobby. But when I show up there for breakfast the next morning, I’m told Hearthstone doesn’t serve breakfast and, as far as the employee knows, has never served food in the morning. So I double-check the elevator poster and, yes, it’s still advertising breakfast.
Other breakfast options include the princess photo op at Napa Rose, a three-course affair for $125 per person, or else the cheaper chipmunk and Mickey Mouse breakfast at Storyteller’s Cafe for $25 per person ($50 after 11 am). The third and final option, the fast-casual Craftsman Cafe, is closed on the final morning of our visit due to an electrical outage, thus the only options that day were the pricey costume experiences. It’s a morning of utter chaos and no apologies as a result as hotel guests descend en masse upon the Storyteller’s Cafe with no reservations.
Dinner at Napa Rose is perhaps the biggest disappointment. This wasn’t a big surprise, but I had kept my hopes high just in case. Years ago this was a truly great restaurant. But for the past several years, it has been sliding downhill fast. The wines are good, sure. But the service is corny and the food is mediocre at best — and you’ll pay hundreds of dollars per person for the experience. I suppose they know their audience, though. This is “fancy” food for tourists who don’t eat fancy food very often and just don’t know any better. (Bring the corporate card if you can.) The kitchen doesn’t have to try very hard because they know they’re going to be busy regardless how much effort they put into it, so why bother?
Bottom line: Despite its 4-star rating from AAA and a non-diamond “verified luxury” plaque from Forbes Travel Guide, the Grand Californian can only be dubbed “luxury” when considered in context with the sad nearby competition in Anaheim. They really should remove the word “spa” from the name, or else warn you when you make a reservation. And they are long overdue for a total revamp of their food-and-beverage management. Anaheim desperately needs something better than this. Perhaps the upcoming JW Marriott or Radisson Blu (both due to open this year) will inspire this place to step up its game. I doubt it, but I’ll keep my fingers crossed.
Rates from about $750. 1600 Disneyland Dr, Anaheim, 714-635-2300, disneyland.disney.go.com