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What’s it like to stay in a Disney hotel?

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What’s it like to stay in a Disney hotel? I get asked this a lot.

You’re planning your family’s Disneyland vacation and you’re searching for hotels in the Anaheim area in one browser window while the other is open to the Disney website. Somehow, you keep ending up on the Disney site because, let’s face it, when presented with the choices of hotels near Disneyland, those Disney hotels just look so appealing.

With lush swimming pools, character’s for breakfast, lunch, and dinner (No, not literally) and the theme rooms complete with fireworks that twinkle on the headboards, why wouldn’t you want to stay there? I know I do. In fact, I have stayed at every Disney owned hotel in California. I even stayed at one more than once. Yes, I now there are a lot of you out there who may have done the same thing, but this is for those people wondering “What’s it like to stay in a Disney hotel?”

This isn’t a specific review of the hotels, although I have written about them before. This is, in no particular order, my thoughts on What’s it like to stay in a Disney hotel?

  • You must have money, and you must not feel guilty about spending it. The Paradise Pier, for example, averages around $300 -$350 per night (this could have changed as of this writing, but that’s about what we paid.) The Grand Californian is much, much more, especially since CarsLand opened. The Disneyland Hotel, after it’s refurb, is priced somewhere in the middle. You can’t think about getting a hotel room down the street for $150 that’s bigger or has a kitchen. There is no room for guilt in a Disney hotel.
  • The rooms are smallish, but they worked for a family of our size. We had a two bed room with a sofa that doubled as a bed in The Paradise Pier. It was enough room for our family, and had an amazing view of California Adventure when I went to bed and woke up in the morning. We watched World of Color many times from the room. The Grand Californian room was a bit smaller, with granite in the bathroom area, a pack and play in the closet, and bunk beds with a trundle bed in the sleeping area. Our room overlooked Grizzly River, and at night I would sleep with the doors wide open so I could hear what was going on after the park closed. I even saw one of the Disney feral cats, just sauntering down the road at 3 am, because I was too excited to sleep.
  • You get perks for staying there – Early entry to the park so you can fast pass everything that needs fast passing in California Adventure, and you get in early so you can be there for the rope drop to the boardwalk if you want to do that. You won’t get early access to Disneyland unless they have a promo of some kind.
  • Each hotel has some sort of fun activities for guests – At The Grand, you can go on scavenger hunts throughout the hotel. Why not try pin trading with a Cast Member? Shop in the various stores in the hotel? At Christmas and other times during the year, there is story time by the fireplace in the main hall. Take your kid to the Hearthstone Lounge and buy them a glowing Little Mermaid straw. Visit one of the many restaurants and eat. Go to White Water Snacks and snack (NACHOS!). Sign up for VIP Access to Sephora or go on a tour of California Adventure early in the morning. It’s a resort. If it wasn’t in Disneyland, I’d have never left. Ask when checking in for a print out of activities scheduled during your stay.
  • You can pool hop at Disney hotels – Just flash your room key and you’ll get access to any of the Disney swimming pools. We went from Paradise Pier to The Grand to the Disneyland Monorail pools, all in the one afternoon, and had some serious fun. They have towels, drink service if you want it, and you can even request a swim diaper if you forgot one.
  • The beds are really comfy – I had the best sleep at the Paradise Pier, and that beach ball pillow makes a nice cuddle companion if you need one.
  • Expect to eat a lot of hamburgers if you’re eating in the cafe at Paradise Pier – The kids menu is pretty limited, which leaves them drooling over cookies. The Mickey pancake is really good though, and if you ask, they’ll make you a peanut butter sandwich. Everything is served on plastic Mickey head plates, so it’s cute, just not a lot of variety.
  • For history buffs, The Disneyland Hotel is your best bet – I stayed at the Disneyland hotel when I was a very impressionable 7 year old. I remember everything, including the boardwalk, the large swimming pool, the garden rooms where we had a lot of green foliage in the tiny yard, and the buffet restaurant where I tried grapefruit juice for the first time . All of that is long gone, but the absolute saturation of Disney history is still there. When I walked into the Disney hotel for the first time after years and years of being away, I just about fell over from the pictures of Walt, the Disney memorabilia, and the maps of the original Disneyland. I’m kind of a fan girl if you haven’t noticed, so if this sounds like you too, go directly to the Disneyland hotel. You can even wander through and check it out if you aren’t staying there.
  • The Gift Shops have quite a bit of everything – How I love the gift shops at the Disney hotels. They are full of merchandise that you can’t always find easily in the park, and they have Advil, diapers, and other medicine for sick kids. Out of all the gift shops, the one at The Grand is the ritziest and the Disneyland gift shop is the best. Go for the Goofy Sour Balls and buy yourself a back scratch-er. You won’t regret it.
  • The hotels are infused with magic – This is true. They really are. One of my kids lost a tooth while we were at the Paradise Pier and wouldn’t you know it, Tinkerbell came instead of the Tooth Fairy and  left him a autographed photo of herself and some coloring sheets. At the Disneyland hotel, Goofy stands around the front entrance to welcome you with laundry_hamper_The_Grand_Californianopen arms, which is a big thrill for little kids who are just busting at the seams after arriving. At the Grand, they had Santa hang out in the lobby, and we saw him many times. At The Grand, the housekeepers have the coolest outfits, like scullery maids, and they leave your fresh laundry outside your door in cute little baskets. Not to mention the little ‘kid’ lounges with a constant stream of classic Donald, Mickey, and Goofy cartoons. Magical I tell ya.
  • You can’t beat the location – The Grand Californian is the closest hotel to the parks, with The Disneyland Hotel following a close second. You can’t take the Monorail straight to the hotels as it lets you out in downtown Disney, but the Disneyland Hotel is the closest to the Monorail exit. The Paradise Pier is the farthest away as it’s out on the street, but you can cut time off your walking if you go through The Grand’s lobby.
  • You get free Wi-Fi – All of the Disney hotels offer complimentary Wi-Fi to their guests, and you can pick up a signal outside of The Grand near the Churro carts. In fact, that’s where you can relax as the kids go on Grizzly River over and over again while you remain dry and blanketed by the warm glo of wireless internet.
  • Expect some cast members to be ‘not so magical’ – I had this encounter with a security guard at the Paradise Pier that almost put me off Disney hotels forever. I had to leave my laundry in the laundry room and run up to my hotel room to get more change, and when I came back down she was talking about me to another guest. After she bitterly told me I couldn’t leave my laundry, she complained about me to the other guest right in front of me. I was blown away. It wasn’t that serious of an infraction, especially considering that other people were leaving their laundry. The guest even apologized to me after she left. I went to talk to the concierge about it and he apologized, but it seriously ruined my day. As far as I’m concerned, if you aren’t going to be happy at the Happiest Place on Earth, don’t work there. And that includes the hotels.

I hope you enjoyed my not so brief thoughts on What it’s like to stay in a Disney hotel and can decide whether the experience is for you or not.

Overall, I absolutely love it. The only thing stopping me from taking up residence for a month at a time is the cost, but I really do feel like it’s worth every penny.

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