Disney’s Grand Californian Review
by Barbara E. Herrera, June 2005
As a long-time Disney-phile who grew up in Orlando and has done dozens and dozens of "Jaunt Reports" regarding Walt Disney World, I sulked for a very long time about having to move to San Diego; I knew I would miss "my" Disney World oh so much.
I lived in San Diego for at least two years before ever going to Disneyland (DL), instead getting my Disney fix at the Disney Store. However, once Disney's California Adventure (DCA) opened, I hot-footed it to Anaheim and continue visiting at least once a month. DCA was so similar to the Disney-MGM Studios and Epcot, I finally felt like I could be home, at least briefly, while living in San Diego.
Early into the DCA trips, we began staying at Disney's Grand Californian Hotel (GC). We tried Paradise Pier once and despite the important request for a non-smoking room, we were given one anyway. That was after being taken to two other rooms, both occupied and filthy! Not impressed. We moved to the GC and have never looked back.
In various combinations, our family has stayed at the GC at least eight times. We've always stayed Park View and have stayed on the Concierge level three times. We've stayed from two to 10 days and have never been disappointed. Overlooking the park, during the day, we could hear screams of joy from those on various rides throughout DCA. I love staying where I can hear the never-ending whoosh of Grizzly Run. My own private waterfall.
When we call for something we need — feather pillows, towels, or another blanket — the staff is there within moments, even when the resort is full. The resort is always clean and housekeeping is kind and usually prompt. Turn-down service is not only reserved for Concierge, either.
I love the lobby. The way the carpet seamlessly becomes marble tiles of the exact same design and color — incredible! The furniture in the lobby is far more comfortable than say, Animal Kingdom Lodge (I despise their lobby furniture. It's like sitting on cloth covered bricks!)
Living in San Diego, I am about 90 minutes away from DL. Yet, as a writer, I will sometimes drive up with my computer and sit in the lobby of the GC for an entire day of writing. The lobby has Wi-Fi and I find, facing the fireplace, the left corner wall-seat to have the best Wi-Fi service in the area. I arrange a chair, a small table, put my stuff on the wall seat, plug in and work all day. I'll take my computer with me when I run to the potty or grab food, but other than that, I am perfectly comfortable with the sounds of Disney all around. On weekends and during the evening, the piano player adds to the great ambience. I do find the lobby chilly year 'round so always plan by bringing a sweater or two and dressing the part. The fireplace, while beautiful, isn't so much for the heat. Rocking chairs, child-sized rocking chairs, comfortable leaning-back regular chairs and small tables allow for comfortable yacking and relaxing. To get warm, or dry your shoes after Grizzly Run, the very wide ledge in front of the fireplace (granite?) can get toasty.
If you could step through the fireplace to the other side, you would find yourself in another fireplace. Around the wall and out the doors, a gorgeous outdoor fireplace is a more warming location to sit. Rocking chairs and small tables encourage those who ordered drinks at the bar a few steps away (inside) to come and sit awhile. However, ashtrays also encourage the smokers – cigar and cigarette – to light up as they have a nice place to relax. I choose to sit out by the outdoor fireplace (which is always on no matter what time of day or year) when non-smokers are around.
The grounds are lovely! I've seen the plants be changed every couple of months and they are definitely themed to look wild, but are just so beautiful.
We've been in the pool a few times — and have merely sat by the pool, too — and they have a great slide the kids love. The usual Disney cleanliness applies. Towels for guests, food close by, gated entrances (the key gets you in), and helpful staff/lifeguards all make the experience all the better. I have not been in their Jacuzzi, but I know others that have and loved it — clean (important!).
We've used their spa services and with minimal notice, they were able to accommodate us easily. Massages were upwards of $100, so be prepared to pay for the relaxation. Unlike at WDW, there is no location (that I have found) on DL property that has a hair salon.
The game room is nearly empty during the day, but quite busy in the evening. Not having kids who patronize game rooms anymore, I don't know about the quality of the games available.
We have eaten at Storyteller's at least a dozen times for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I like breakfast best, but mostly because of the grilled asparagus. I can't get enough! Having had a gastric bypass, they usually allow me to have the kid's all-u-can-eat buffet price, too. I don't eat more than one plate full. Service is spotty at best; I wish they were more Disney-like in that area, but when it is good, it is very, very good. When it is bad, it is mediocre. Food choices are decent for all meals and you can get server service instead of the all-you-can-eat if you choose to. Storyteller's breakfast is a character breakfast with Chip and Dale, Brother Bear, and various other characters — they change without notice.
An aspect I love about Storyteller's is the theming. From carpet to light fixtures to chairs, storybook characters seem to jump to life. Very lovely.
Now, where my heart lies is Napa Rose. Ahhhh, Napa Rose. As a former WDW food writer and major food reviewer of WDW restaurants, I have to say that Napa Rose is our hands-down favorite Disney restaurant. Better than Jiko. Better than California Grill. (We haven't been to Victoria and Albert's, so take that into account.) Michael Jordan, a short white bald Italian man, is the GM of NR, as well as the sommelier of all of Disneyland Resort. His taste in wines is impeccable! And his choice of seasonal foods to put on the menu is just the best. Organic heirloom tomatoes grow in his yard at home and find their way a couple of hours later onto your plate. We have never had anything less than spectacular at NR.
One of our son's lives for two things on the menu (that are typically unchanging): the Sizzling Rock appetizer for two and the amazing Cabernet reduction sauce that goes with one of their steaks. Not being a red meat or pork eater, I have to trust the rest of the gang as they speak of the steaks, lamb, and pork are fantastic, melt-in-your-mouth, cut-with-a-spoon tender and flavorful. I have had varieties of free-range chicken, quail, duck (which I ask for well-done), and very often, an entire vegetarian (ovo-lacto) platter.
Occasionally, they will have something called the Lobster Martini on the menu. A combination of lobster (plenty of it, too!), avocados, mangos, jalapenos (a teeny tiny amount that just barely offers a kick), tomatoes, cucumbers… all in a creamy mango sauce. Even when it isn't on the menu, if they have the ingredients, they make it for me. One of the advantages of going often — and I appreciate it!
We usually have John as our server, a sommelier in his own right (Michael Jordan is nearing his Master Sommelier exam), and are blessed with kindness, care, and service I have rarely found, even in WDW restaurants. Jordan insists on on-going trainings and with the often-attending celebrities, the servers have plenty of opportunities to practice their skills.
Attention to detail is wonderful! Napkins folded when you leave to run to the bathroom, crumbs whisked away after each course, glasses kept filled with the beverage of your choice… examples of why we would return over and over, paying $100 per person average for a meal.
I can't end without mentioning the amazing wine cellar Napa Rose keeps. Actually, there are three parts to their stock of award-winning wines (many of which are signed collectibles). One small portion sits in the restaurant itself, another, larger wine room (30,000 bottles) is in the hotel's basement, and yet another warehouse kept right off Disney property, but at the disposal of Jordan at any time. Of course, California wines are highlighted, but I suspect Mr. Jordan has a small stash of wines from other countries – French, Australian, Spanish, etc.
We've been to Napa Rose with just the two of us, with groups of four, and with delightfully large groups of 20 or so. Always, always, our experience is impeccable. Go!
Why, I think it's time to head 90 minutes north again!
EDITOR'S NOTE: Barb Herrera, a Licensed Midwife, used to write under the nom de plume of "gardenia." Living in San Diego, California, her heart remains in Orlando where her Cast Member mom still serves guests after 33 years. Barb darts back to hot, humid, lush Orlando every chance she gets.