A Nostalgic Retreat for Disney Fans: A Review of the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim, California
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To The Point
For Disney fans, there is no place where nostalgia and Disney history loom larger than at the Disneyland Hotel. Hotel pros: Immersive Disney theming and history, the best pool in the Disneyland area, extensive restaurant choices including on-site character dining. Cons: Rooms could use a refresh, increasingly expensive.
While the term “Disney magic” is completely overused, there are few places to which it applies more than the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim, California. The hotel opened just a few months after Disneyland itself and has a storied history. It has hosted celebrities, dignitaries and Walt himself over its more than six decades of existence. It was also one of the first hotels founded with family travelers specifically in mind in an era when most Americans didn’t travel with their children.
The hotel has changed dramatically in the intervening decades. It embraces and celebrates its history, while, of course, making changes regularly to appeal to modern guests. As one of only three on-property, Disney-owned hotels in California, however, the cost of any stay is considerable.
I’ve had the chance to stay in the Disneyland Hotel on three separate occasions over the past few years. I also visit regularly to dine on my family’s regular Disneyland trips. I’ll freely admit my bias. As a Disney superfan and history geek, it’s one of my favorite hotels anywhere in the world. It is certainly my favorite in the Disneyland area. But it’s not without its drawbacks and flaws. Here is what travelers (both Disney fans and Disney skeptics alike) need to know about staying at the Disneyland Hotel.
While I normally book my Disneyland hotel reservations directly on Disney’s website, my most recent trip to the Disneyland Hotel was for a work conference. The conference organizers had negotiated a special rate, so this stay was a bit out of the norm. For anyone in a similar situation with the chance to take advantage of a special group rate, I highly recommend it because the hotel doesn’t come cheap.
As with all Disney hotels, the price is inflated because of the Disney name and perks. Normally, standard rooms at the Disneyland Hotel range from about $400–$550 a night. Prices vary considerably depending on season and how far in advance you book. I fully expect those rates to increase when the Disneyland version of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens at the end of May. Guests at the Disneyland Hotel get early entry privileges into the parks, and many more people will likely be willing to pay the price premium to have access to the new Star Wars rides.
Disney will occasionally offer room specials during slower seasons. During February 2019, for example, I spotted a $389 a night rate with a “Save on a Magical Stay” offer that applied to select weeknight stays in late winter and early spring.
Unfortunately, there are not a lot of ways to save on a stay at the Disneyland Hotel using miles and points. The hotel is no longer available in the Chase portal for Ultimate Rewards points bookings. The best way to save money on a stay is by using flexible points currencies like the ones earned with credit cards like the Discover it® Miles, Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card or Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard. Or, you can pay for your stay with discounted Disney gift cards.
The Disneyland Hotel is adjacent to one end of the Downtown Disney shopping and entertainment district. The hotel is about a 10- to 15-minute walk through Downtown Disney to the esplanade between the two parks: Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Park.
While it’s not the closest hotel to Disneyland (Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa has that honor), it does have one location advantage. As soon as guests leave the hotel and pass the Downtown Disney security checkpoint, the Disneyland monorail is waiting to whisk them directly into Tomorrowland.
Riding the monorail cuts down on walking times and also can help guests dodge long lines at the esplanade entrance into Disneyland Park. Just be aware that the monorail has had its technical challenges over the years, so breakdowns and periods of unavailability aren’t entirely uncommon.
Although I’ve always stayed at the Disneyland Hotel with my children, my most recent stay was a rare kid-free trip. I arrived to the Disneyland Hotel via Uber from Long Beach Airport (LGB). Orange County’s John Wayne Airport (SNA) is a bit closer to Disneyland and is usually my airport of choice flying from Northern California. Recently, however, intra-California fares on Southwest Airlines have been substantially cheaper into LGB. In this case, it was worth the extra 10 minutes of drive time and extra $10 in Uber fare with the airfare savings in play. (Note that LAX is a much farther airport option that is more traffic-ridden and more expensive for ground transportation.)
There’s really no need for a car at the Disneyland Hotel for guests who plan to stay primarily in the Disneyland bubble. If you do choose to rent a car or drive in, the hotel charges $25 for self-parking and $35 for valet.
Upon entering the lobby, it’s impossible to miss the Disney decor. Normally, a giant historic lighted map of Disneyland Park on opening day is visible on the wall at the lobby entrance. Since my visit was in October, the area had been turned into a Halloween photo opportunity.
The hotel’s check-in desk is immediately to the left, across from seating areas shaped like the spinning teacups from Fantasyland. There is a small TV showing Mickey cartoons in this same area where kids can sit and wait while parents check in.
Because I was checking in late in the evening, there was no line at the front desk. I sped through the check-in process and headed off to my room in the Frontier Tower just minutes later. The hotel has three towers themed to match some of the original lands within Disneyland — the Fantasy Tower (where the lobby is located), the Adventure Tower (overlooking Downtown Disney) and the Frontier Tower (the farthest from the park gates).
I’ve stayed in or toured four different rooms during my visits to the Disneyland Hotel. I have yet to see the same room layout twice. On this particular stay, I had a two-queen room with partial views of Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel and Disney California Adventure Park from the balcony.
The room was spacious and was unsurprisingly full of many Disney touches. Being the fan that I am, I adore the over-the-top theming. There are Hidden Mickeys on the carpet, on the tile in the bathtub, in the lamp on the desk and on the lights beside the bathroom mirror, just to name a few. A black-and-white photo of Walt walking through Sleeping Beauty Castle hangs on every room’s wall. It’s all tastefully done with a higher-end feel than the cartoonish atmosphere of some of the value resorts at Walt Disney World.
The two beds were separated by a nightstand, though notably missing from this were any built-in USB ports or accessible outlets. The alarm clock had a single USB port on it, but I discovered it was broken when I plugged my phone in for the night. For the first time in my several stays the past few years, I noticed that the room felt just a bit dated and that a renovation might be in order. The flaws were all minor, but a discerning luxury hotel guest would notice them, particularly at the prices charged.
Behind the beds is the hotel’s most famous feature — a giant wooden headboard with a carving of Sleeping Beauty Castle in it. Flip the Tinkerbell switch on the nightstand lamp, and fireworks over the castle light up while playing the song “A Dream Is a Wish Your Heart Makes.” My kids call it the best night-light ever. It’s enough to warm the hardened hearts of even the biggest of Disney skeptics.
Across from the beds was a small armchair as well as a dresser and built-in flat-screen TV. The dresser’s three drawers were adequate for me as a solo traveler but would have been a bit insufficient for my entire family for any stay longer than just a few nights. There was a small refrigerator within the dresser unit, which is always a nice touch for families who need to store snacks or milk for the kids.
Next to the dresser was a small desk, which was equipped with several outlets for charging phones or a laptop (although no USB ports).
The bathroom in this particular room had a split layout on each side of the hallway leading into the room. On one side and open to the room was a vanity area with a single sink and a small closet. The closet had an ironing board, a safe and a bathrobe.
On the other side behind a closed door was the toilet and tub/shower. The bathroom would have been a bit tight for a family of four getting ready in the morning but it was sufficient for a solo traveler or couple.
Given the hotel’s history and the fact that some of the towers were built at different times, there is quite a bit of variety in the standard rooms at this property. For example, some two-queen rooms also have a sofa that turns into a daybed, allowing the room to sleep five. These rooms are allotted based upon the number of guests noted on the reservation, so don’t count on getting a day bed if you are a family of four trying to have separate sleeping quarters for siblings.
The hotel also has a number of rooms with bathrooms that are entirely behind a single door. I find this layout most helpful for travelers with babies and toddlers who may have an early bedtime. Being able to block noise and light from the sink area as well as the tub and shower has always worked better for my family.
If there’s a particular room configuration you really need, it’s smart to make a special request. In my experience, the Disneyland hotels are quite good about honoring these requests — although it often means you may have to wait for room availability if you check-in early in the day.
Food and Beverage
The Disneyland Hotel has a number of restaurant options at nearly every price point. Over the years, I’ve dined in them all. The dining choices are so excellent and well-themed that I often go out of my way to visit the hotel for a meal even when I’m not staying there.
The hotel’s fine dining restaurant is Steakhouse 55. Open for breakfast and dinner, the restaurant is a bit of a well-kept secret because of its more remote location for park guests. It’s the perfect escape from the theme park craziness for foodies.
All three of the Disneyland on-property hotels offer character meals. At the Disneyland Hotel, the character dining option is at Goofy’s Kitchen. Goofy’s is open for breakfast like all the character restaurants but is also the only location at Disneyland to serve dinner. Food is served buffet-style, with a few unique choices always on the menu like the restaurant’s well-known peanut butter and jelly pizza. Guests get a photo opportunity with a character upon entering (usually Goofy). Other regular characters include Mickey, Minnie, Pluto and Chip ‘n’ Dale.
For more casual dining, the hotel’s quick service restaurant is Tangaroa Terrace adjacent to the pool area in the central courtyard. During my stay, though, it was closed for renovation. It just reopened in February 2019 with more seating and a refreshed menu. Food includes tropical-inspired dishes, from Kalua pork poutine to pineapple pancakes. The restaurant is open in the early morning for pre-park coffee and breakfast as well as late night.
Last but certainly not least is my personal favorite, Trader Sam’s Enchanted Tiki Bar. Borrowing from the theming of Adventureland, this watering hole is a little bit Jungle Cruise and a whole lot Enchanted Tiki Room. The theming is over-the-top South Seas. Order one of the more unique cocktails, and you’ll find that several of them come with special effects or a bartender show. Trader Sam’s allows children until 8pm, but given the bar’s small size and popularity, the real challenge is finding a seat.
It’s impossible to miss the Disneyland Hotel’s most prominent amenity: the pool. In the hotel’s central courtyard are large replicas of the Mark 1 Monorails, which are actually the pool waterslides. There’s even a toddler-sized slide and splash area beneath. Disney conveniently makes life jackets of all sizes available to borrow for free by the pool.
The other pools — the D-Ticket and E-Ticket pool — are named with a nod to Disney history, harkening back to the ride tickets of old. The hotel also has cabanas available to rent. The pool does regularly close for refurbishments during colder months (in fact, it’s closed from January to May 2019), so always carefully check the pool status when booking a stay.
There is no spa on-site but guests can book an appointment at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, which is about a seven- to 10-minute walk away.
The hotel has many of the usual additional amenities of a large resort hotel: a fitness center, in-room dining, a small sundries store, a gift shop, guest laundry and a business center. The hotel hosts outdoor movie nights a few nights a week. Characters will even occasionally pop in the lobby for a visit. One of my favorite lesser-known amenities is the free hotel tours that discuss some of the its history and share Disney trivia (registration at Guest Services required).
Disney fans will feel right at home at the Disneyland Hotel soaking up the nostalgia and enjoying all the Disney activities and theming. In fact, it’s probably the best hotel of any hotel Disney owns for the true superfan. But guests should also be prepared for a little sticker shock on any stay. Disney magic is rarely available at a discount.
Are you planning a trip to Disneyland with your family? Here are more resources:
- 9 Things Families Should Know Before Visiting Disneyland
- Where to Stay at Disneyland: On vs. Off-Property Hotel Comparisons
- Skip the Lines at Disneyland: 10 Line-Busting Tips for Less Waiting and More Playing
- 10 Tips for Visiting Disneyland With Toddlers and Preschoolers
- Best Restaurants at Disneyland
- This Disneyland Meal Costs $15,000
- How to Save Money Buying Discounted Disney Gift Cards
- The 10 Best Disney Thrill Rides Around the World
- How to Use Points for Disney Tickets
Photos by the author unless where otherwise noted.
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