The two best hotels in the Disneyland area in Anaheim, California are undoubtedly Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Spa and the Disneyland Hotel. I hear often from friends and readers who are struggling to make a decision between these two properties for their own Disneyland vacation. Disney’s Grand Californian is closer but is also more expensive. The Disneyland Hotel has a better pool and more Disney theming, but the rooms are not as recently updated.
How to choose between the two? I’ve stayed at both the Disneyland Hotel and the Grand Californian many times over the years. Both have a lot of redeeming features, but sometimes one of these hotels is better for a certain family, their travel preferences, the ages of their kids, or the length of their trip. They key in making the right choice is knowing the differences and considering all these factors. Find out which hotel is best for you in this ultimate Disneyland Hotel vs. Grand Californian comparison guide.
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What Do the Disneyland Hotel and Disney’s Grand Californian Have in Common?
First things first — before we dive into the differences, it’s important to know what benefits and features the two hotels both share equally. Both are Disney-owned hotels, so guests have access to the same on-property perks. The most important benefit is access to Disneyland’s Extra Magic Hour (EMH). EMH gives guests early entry into Disneyland park on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturday as well as early entry into Disney California Adventure park on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays.
Other on-property benefits include preferred access dining reservations, package delivery, and room charge benefits. Of course, the Disney theming and service are standard.
So now let’s get down to the nitty gritty differences.
Disneyland Hotel vs. Disney’s Grand Californian: Location
When you are walking 20,000+ steps in a single day on a Disneyland vacation, hotel location matters. Luckily, both the Disneyland Hotel and Disney’s Grand Californian are within easy walking distance of the two parks at Disneyland.
Disney’s Grand Californian is, however, closer to both parks. I’d estimate the Disneyland Hotel is about a 12-15 minute walk from the entrances to both parks, while the Grand Californian is about 5 minutes to Disney California Adventure and 10 minutes to Disneyland park.
In fact, Disney’s Grand Californian is so close to Disney California Adventure that the hotel has a private park entrance by Grizzly Peak. I’ve personally found this access to be so valuable with my son at the toddler/preschooler age. Being able to hop back over to the hotel for a nap or a swim break is huge. I also find the location ideal for a short one or two day trip where every minute counts.
Although the Disneyland Hotel is a longer walk from the park gates, it boasts one location benefit of its own: monorail access. Disneyland’s monorail starts from a location just inside the security checkpoint of Downtown Disney just steps from the hotel’s exit. The monorail runs directly into Tomorrowland in Disneyland park. Using it sometimes helps guests skip longer lines at the Disneyland park gates in addition to cutting down on walking time.
One word of warning – the monorail does break down on occasion and often doesn’t run during very hot weather or during evening fireworks. So you can’t count on it 100% of the time for transportation.
Which hotel has the location edge? Disney’s Grand Californian
Price Differences Between the Disneyland Hotel & Disney’s Grand Californian
Let’s face it – a Disneyland vacation doesn’t come cheap, particularly for on-property hotel stays. Both the Grand Californian and the Disneyland Hotel are quite expensive. Prices have only been going up dramatically the last few years. I anticipate additional price increases when Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens on May 31, 2019. Many more guests will likely seek to stay in an on-property hotel to take advantage of the planned special privileges (on-property hotel guest will get a guaranteed reservation time to enter the land in its first weeks).
But just how expensive are these hotels? Historically, the Disneyland Hotel has always been a bit less expensive than Disney’s Grand Californian. I priced out a few different dates over the next year when both hotels had standard room availability to demonstrate. (Note: Standard rooms are often some of the first rooms to book up, so prices will often be higher when all the room types aren’t available. Book early!)
Here are the results of my price sampling (*indicates a specific sale price):
|Date||Disneyland Hotel||Grand Californian|
|Feb 26, 2019 (Tues)||$389*||$512*|
|May 7, 2019 (Tues)||$445||$559|
|July 13, 2019 (Sat)||$561||$729|
|Sept 20, 2019 (Fri)||$549||$731|
|Dec 5, 2019 (Thurs)||$475||$626|
The February dates had a special 20% off sale that applied for non-weekend days, so always be on the lookout for deals like this. Roughly speaking, expect to find the most basic rooms at the Disneyland Hotel between $400-575 and the Grand from $500-750. If you ever see the Disneyland Hotel priced in the $300s or the Grand Californian in the $400s, then it’s time to hop on the deal.
Even if you are splurging on a Disneyland vacation at one of the two priciest hotels, there’s no reason you shouldn’t be saving as much money as possible on your splurge! Save on your Disneyland park tickets with Trips With Tykes partner Get Away Today. Or book your entire vacation package with Get Away Today and use promo code TYKES10 for an extra $10 off all package stays of 2 nights or more. Check out my other money-saving Disneyland tips too.
Which hotel has the price edge? Disneyland Hotel
Disneyland Hotel vs. Grand Californian: Rooms
So what are you getting for your money in the rooms at both of these hotels?
The Grand Californian rooms were all recently refurbished in 2017-2018. In my opinion, the refurbishment is a major upgrade. The rooms are bright, and the layout works well for the modern traveler, with plenty of charging ports and space under the bed to store suitcases. Disney theming is subtle, with Chip ‘N’ Dale tastefully displayed in the wooden wall over the beds.
Bathrooms have dual sinks open to the room and a shower and toilet behind a closed pocket door. Rooms with tubs are in short supply so families who need a tub to bathe younger kids should make a special request. All rooms have a refrigerator, a single cup coffeemaker, a TV, desk, a dresser with several drawers, and either a chair or a couch.
The Grand has both two queen and king bed rooms. Some of the two queen rooms include a special trundle bed under the couch that enables the room to sleep 5. Not that these rooms are not guaranteed, however, unless you have 5 people listed in your reservation. The Grand Californian also has Disney Vacation Club villas available for families who want more space and the amenities of a condo (but note that availability is always tight, particularly if you are looking to rent DVC points for a stay).
Take a video tour with me of a room at the Grand Californian, filmed November 2018:
(Note: This video tour was originally broadcast in the Disneyland with Kids Facebook Group that I co-own with three other Disneyland expert bloggers. Come join our 14,000+ member group to ask your Disneyland vacation planning questions and see more hotel room tours live!)
There is a bit more variability in the rooms at the Disneyland Hotel because the hotel has three towers that were built at different times. In fact, I’ve never had the same room layout twice!
The one thing that all rooms have that truly makes the Disneyland Hotel special is a wooden headboard with Sleeping Beauty Castle carved into it. Flip a switch and the headboard lights up and plays “A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes.” Disney magic at its finest. For a Disney super-fan like me, it pretty much trumps everything else. Hidden Mickeys abound throughout the room decor, so it’s fun to search for those with your kids.
As far as the other room details at the Disneyland Hotel go, a lot of the essential features of the rooms are the same as at the Grand Californian – refrigerators, coffeemakers, TV, desk, dresser, etc. There are king rooms as well as two queen rooms available (some of which sleep 5 with an extra sofa day bed).
In the bathroom, most rooms at the Disneyland Hotel still have showers over tubs which can matter to families. Some room layouts additionally have the entire bathroom behind a single door, which may work better for families with young kids sleeping in the bedroom while adults are using the sinks and shower. If this layout is important to you, it never hurts to make a special room request!
As much as I am reluctant to say it because I adore every aspect of the Disneyland Hotel, the rooms feel a tiny bit dated right now. I most recently stayed at the property in October 2018, and it was the first time I thought the rooms could benefit from an update. I noticed it most due to the lack of charging ports and outlets in the desk or bedside table, but there are other small things that a discerning luxury hotel guest would notice too.
Under the circumstances, the Grand Californian has the best room offerings overall right now (with the caveat about the bathrooms for families with younger children). But when the Disneyland Hotel gets its next refurbishment, I’m fully prepared to come back and revise this post!
Check out the video tour of a room at the Disneyland Hotel (filmed October 2018):
Which hotel has the rooms edge? Disney’s Grand Californian
Amenities & Atmosphere
Outside of the rooms, the hotels both have themed common areas and lots of amenities that add value to any stay.
The Grand Californian is themed in the arts and crafts style, with dark wood tones and a true luxury feel. The open lobby usually makes guests gasp a bit at the grandeur. In contrast, the Disneyland Hotel’s theming is all whimsical classic Disney. If there is ever a place where you can feel the spirit of Walt and really soak in the theme park’s history, it is here.
As for the amenities, let’s start with the pools. At the Grand Californian, there are several pools in the central courtyard, one of which has a small waterslide originating from a redwood tree trunk. It does the job for families, but my kids never got particularly excited about the offerings.
Over at the Disneyland Hotel, the pools are a can’t miss. Two giant waterslides shaped like the Disneyland monorails dominate the landscape. There’s a splash area underneath and a kiddie slide for little ones. This is one reason I recommend the Grand for shorter stays and the Disneyland Hotel for longer ones – because you really need the time to spend an afternoon by the pool at the Disneyland Hotel!
The Grand Californian also has a full service spa – a feature that may matter more to the luxury traveler. I never have time when visiting with my kids for that kind of R&R and pampering, but kudos to you if you do!
Both hotels offer tours to guests wanting to see more of the property or learn about its history. There are special events that vary seasonally as well, from holiday decor to seasonal activities.
Which hotel has the amenities edge? Disneyland Hotel
Dining at the Disneyland Hotel vs. Disney’s Grand Californian
Last but certainly not least is the food! Both hotels have multiple restaurants, from more inexpensive quick service options to high end white table cloth restaurants. Even if you are staying in one hotel, it’s always possible to dine elsewhere, so the restaurants probably shouldn’t play the most important role in your hotel decision making. But nothing beats the convenience of having one of your favorites so easily accessible.
Both properties have a restaurant that serves a character meal, so it’s easiest to start there. Disney’s Grand Californian is home to Storytellers Cafe, which hosts the Mickey’s Tales of Adventure character breakfast every morning (with additional brunch times Friday, Saturday, and Sunday).
Starting in March 2019, the hotel will offer an additional very expensive character meal with princesses at the hotel’s Napa Rose restaurant.
The Disneyland Hotel’s character meal is held at Goofy’s Kitchen. Goofy’s serves both breakfast and dinner daily with the characters. The dinner option can work very well for families to dine on their arrival day. You can save on a park ticket that day and still have a Disney experience.
See my complete guide to Disneyland character meals for even more details about these offerings.
The signature restaurant at Disney’s Grand Californian is Napa Rose, almost universally mentioned by foodies as Disneyland’s best. If a fine dining experience is on your Disneyland bucket list, this is the place to do it. Children are welcome, but it’s probably better enjoyed by guests with older kids given the prices.
I personally think the higher-end dining at the Disneyland Hotel at Steakhouse 55 is excellent too, if a bit underrated. Its location is more remote for park-goers so it doesn’t get as much attention. As a result, it’s a very nice place to dine with older kids and feel like you are escaping the Disney crowds and craziness on occasion.
For more casual dining, the Grand Californian has both Hearthstone Lounge and Whitewater Snacks. Whitewater Snacks has lots of grab and go options. With its location close to the entrance into DCA, it’s a popular place to pick up a quick breakfast before rope drop. Hearthstone Lounge is off the lobby and is a more popular place for evening snacks and drinks.
Over at the Disneyland Hotel, the main casual dining restaurant is the Tangaroa Terrace, which just recently reopened after renovations with a new and exciting menu. I’d be remiss not to also mention Trader Sam’s Tiki Terrace next door. This tiki bar is nothing short of amazing with its unique drink concoctions, themed decor, and humorous special effects. Kids are allowed inside until 8pm. See my complete look at Trader Sam’s for more details.
Which hotel has the dining edge? Too close to call.
What About Paradise Pier?
If you know your Disneyland basics, you probably know that there are three Disney-owned on-property hotels in Disneyland. The third is Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel. So why have I not included Paradise Pier in this comparison post?
The first reason is simple. I’ve never stayed there. I’ve visited many times and have dined several times at its main restaurant, PCH Grill. As much as possible, I try to provide first-hand in-depth experience and advice here at Trips With Tykes. I don’t want to steer anyone wrong with only partial information.
But the second reason I’m not doing a three way hotel comparison is because I think Paradise Pier is in a different tier than the other two Disneyland hotels. Luxury travelers or travelers looking to really have a truly special splurge Disneyland vacation usually decide between the Grand Californian or the Disneyland Hotel.
Paradise Pier is often a bit of an afterthought. Most guests staying there are usually primarily making price-driven decisions – choosing to stay there because it gives access to the Disneyland on-property benefits at the lowest on-property price. It has fewer amenities than the two more luxury hotel properties and is priced accordingly. But I’ll certainly give my full review if and when I have a chance to finally stay at Paradise Pier!
Disneyland Hotel vs. Disney’s Grand Californian: The Bottom Line
As someone who has happily stayed in both the Grand Californian and the Disneyland Hotel many times, I think most guests will be very happy with both hotels. True luxury travelers used to a certainly level of hotel service and amenities are probably going to be most comfortable at Disney’s Grand Californian. Guests on shorter stays may also appreciate its location advantage.
Disney super-fans, however, are probably going to prefer the Disneyland Hotel with its extra themed touches and Disney history and magic. In addition, its less expensive price makes it accessible to that many more families. Those factors are what tip my personal scale in favor of the Disneyland Hotel, but my preferences have definitely evolved over the last several years. I imagine they will continue to do so as prices change and hotels get various upgrades and renovations.
Headed to Disneyland? Check out one of these related articles to help you plan your trip:
- Value of Off-Property Hotels at Disneyland
- Guide to Disneyland MaxPass
- 20 Tips for Disneyland with Toddlers
- Everything You Need to Know About Flying to Disneyland
- 7 Must-Have Disneyland Apps