Following our popular Self-Guided Yuletide Resort Tour post, a few people have asked if we have something similar for Disneyland’s hotels at Christmas. Since there are only 3 hotels at Disneyland Resort–all within a short walk of one another–this tour is going to be a bit different…otherwise it’d be over in like 45 minutes.
The good news is that there’s plenty of other things to do at Disneyland Resort’s hotels and Downtown Disney that can flesh out another several hours without requiring the purchase of theme park admission. Since the WDW version of this tour was prompted by something we actually did on Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party mornings to avoid purchasing an extra day on park tickets, we’re assuming this is motivated by a similar desire. Obviously, there is no similar Christmas Party at Disneyland, so the precise rationale for doing such a tour would be different, but you get the idea.
Presumably, doing a free hotels of Disneyland at Christmas tour is still motivated by a desire to save money on Disneyland tickets. I’m going to assume that you’ll be doing this tour on the evening of your arrival as to not waste the cost of a full day’s park ticket. I’m also assuming that if you are looking for this kind of Disneyland Resort Christmas tour, you don’t have a rental car for your visit to California. If you do, there are probably better ways to spend the half-day.
Even if those assumptions are wrong, you can refine this outline so it fits your circumstances. Or, if you’re just looking for pretty photos of your favorite place on earth–Paradise Pier Hotel–this has plenty of those, too.
Finally, every good tour needs a gimmicky name, so we’re going to call this one the “Disneyland Tinsel Trail Tour.” Yeah, it’s a totally corny name, but have you read this blog?!? Let’s roll…
Seaside Stroll to Paradise Pier Hotel
If you’ve read my Paradise Pier Hotel Review, you know it’s not exactly my idea of paradise. Honestly, I would not have shed a tear if I never stepped inside the place again. However, I read many (puzzling) comments expressing love for the place, so I figured we ought to at least stop by to see whatever meek holiday display they cobble together.
So, we headed to Paradise Pier Hotel the other night at 2 a.m. after closing down Disneyland. After responding to a series of questions from a truly puzzled security guard, who was probably thinking “these people are nuts” (rightfully so–you’d have to be to voluntarily go to Paradise Pier Hotel at that hour), I spent some time taking photos of the tree.
Boy, am I glad that we made the stop. Paradise Pier Hotel might do almost nothing else right, but they have one cool Christmas tree. This is the quintessential “California” Christmas tree, with breezy ocean colors and sea creatures adorning the tree.
While the hotel doesn’t do nearly as much as the other two hotels, this tree is undeniably cool, and well worth making a quick diversion to Paradise Pier Hotel to see.
If you’re lucky, you might also catch some carolers performing in the lobby, making it doubly worth the time it takes to stop. This should mean a lot coming from me, as I’m not exactly the president of the Paradise Pier 4 LIFE!!! Fan Club.
A pretty short and sweet stop, but the other hotels will be more than diversions…
Expedition to the Grand Californian Hotel
From there, it’s time for a harrowing hike to one of California’s finest lodges, set deep in the heart of Anaheim. On your incredible journey, you will cross not two, but one intersection as you…literally just walk across the street. Okay, it’s no grand journey at all, but once you enter, you’ll feel like you’re coming back to your mountain lodge after a long day’s hike.
Much like Wilderness Lodge at Walt Disney World best embodies the ambiance of a “real” Christmas, so too does the Grand Californian Hotel. It’s reminiscent of Yosemite National Park’s Ahwahnee Hotel, so it feels like you’re totally removed from sunny Southern California to…Northern California. Geographically, that may not seem like a huge change, but in terms of climate, it most definitely is.
Regardless, it’s easy to imagine being snowed-in at the Grand Californian Hotel thanks to its ambiance, and this is the perfect way to enjoy Christmas. From the grand fireplace to the lodge-style lounge to alcoves that evoke a sense of rustic luxury, the Grand Californian just gives off that vibe.
It doesn’t hurt that the hotel does Christmas right. From the lobby pianist playing holiday favorites to the towering Christmas try decked out in a classic Arts and Crafts style to the gingerbread recreation of the hotel, and more, the Grand Californian does a lot for Christmas.
Now, for the plan at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel…
Rest & Relaxation – Your strategy here is really going to depend upon the time of day you’re visiting the Grand Californian. During prime hours, the lobby can be quite busy, with few (if any) available seats. If this is the case, go upstairs to one of the higher-floor alcoves to sit and relax while listening to the pianist play Christmas music.
If it’s later at night and the pianist is no longer performing, there’s a good chance the lobby won’t be as busy, and you can grab a quiet seat by the grand fireplace in the main lobby’s alcove. As with most classy joints, you’re not allowed to dry your drawers by the fireplace. Not that we’ve tried or anything.
Holiday Feast – No Disneyland Tinsel Trail Tour pilgrimage would be complete without a feast. Fortunately, the Grand Californian has great options at both ends of the budgetary spectrum. For those wanting to splurge, Napa Rose is a fine dining option with a seasonal menu that, in our estimation, ranks as the best restaurant at Disneyland Resort. You can order from the full menu at the bar in Napa Rose, so that’s an option if you don’t want to go with the main dining room.
For the budget-conscious, White Water Snacks is a hidden gem that offers the best burger–the Carnitas Angus Burger–at Disneyland Resort, along with excellent nachos and other solid options. You can enjoy the weather and views of the woods by eating outside–or in the indoor eating area among the Christmas decor. While Hearthstone Lounge and Storytellers Cafe also serve more middle-of-the-road food options, I’d recommend skipping those: go big or go…Carnitas Angus Burger…here.
From here, navigate the maze of halls that lead out into Downtown Disney…
Walking in a Retail Wonderland
I don’t really know what to say about Downtown Disney at Disneyland. Unless you are easily impressed, or come from a mall-less land (shout-out to those of you in Iowa!), you’re probably not going to be blown away by this place.
Aside from World of Disney, it’s just a bunch of ordinary retail, with limited exceptions. It pales in comparison to several other malls that are close-by in Orange County, so I can’t recommend wasting valuable vacation time here.
Still, it is nice to do a quick pass through World of Disney to get souvenir shopping out of the way while you’re not in the parks, and then stroll through at night to see the lights and visit the few stores that are worthwhile and unique, like WounderGround, D-Street, and Marceline’s Confectionary (pick up a seasonal cupcake at the last stop!).
You might also pick up a Peppermint Mocha from Starbucks if that’s your thing. Turn right as you leave the Grand Californian to hit World of Disney, and then head back the way you came.
Once you walk to the end of Downtown Disney, you’ll be greeted by the towers of Disneyland Hotel…
Christmas of Yore at Disneyland Hotel
While the Grand Californian is the flagship resort, Disneyland Hotel is our favorite. The cross between self-referential nods to Disneyland history and a retro design style with some mid-century modern characteristics, Disneyland Hotel is right up our alley.
Historical Holiday Hunt – There’s a lot to see and do at Disneyland Hotel, so let’s dig right into that. You might as well just start at the front entrance, where you will see the retro-futuristic little light up bulbs pictured above in planters throughout the lobby area.
Cooler than actual flowers, and less hassle. The future is bright.
As soon as you head inside, you’re greeted by a huge, edible gingerbread version of Sleeping Beauty Castle. This is the coolest gingerbread display at Disneyland Resort, and rivals the gingerbread house at the Grand Floridian (I’d say it’s better, if only because it’s a castle!).
Then there’s the new Don Draper…err, Santa Claus…meet & greet spot where you can meet the jolly guy (Santa, not Don) in Mid-Century Modern style.
I could go on and on about the chic style and attention to detail here. It looks like it could be a set out of Mad Men, except with several little Easter Eggs that Disney fans will recognize (be sure to look out the window!).
Seeing Santa here is cool (I feel like he should be “re-imagined” as a chic but flawed character…maybe play up the compulsive B&E as an internal struggle with which he deals?) but I think it’s cooler to just explore on your own after Santa has retired for the day.
Gelatoni eyes the cookies and drink. Be careful, little guy, there’s more than milk in that cup!
From there, it’s over to the Frontier and Adventure Towers…
The Frontier Tower has themed trees that evoke Frontierland. These wouldn’t alone justify a trip to Disneyland Hotel, but they are nice icing on the cake if you’re already at Disneyland Hotel.
Cooler yet is the trees in the Adventure Tower. Is there any better tree topper than a spear with Indiana Jones’ hat on it? No, no there is not. (That is, until my “Cosmo Kramer Hair Topper” is released.)
If you’ve never spent any time in Disneyland Hotel, this is also a good time to explore it, generally, to see all of the historical displays paying tribute to Walt Disney’s original magic kingdom. The highlights in the two outer towers are pretty easy to spot, but make sure you poke around in the main building for the really detailed stuff, including a tribute to the Wrathers, the original owners.
Nightcap – Part of the reason you’ll want to do Disneyland Hotel last is that means doing a nightcap at Trader Sam’s. This is a must-visit bar any time of the year, but its special holiday menu and unique decorations make Trader Sam’s a double-whammy at Christmas. If you want to score bonus points on the Disneyland Tinsel Trail Tour Challenge if you order every seasonal drink. (Note: points have no cash value…or really any value of any sort, for that matter. Bragging rights, maybe?)
Hopefully this tour proves to be a fun way to spend a few extra hours on your arrival night or departure morning. There really is some cool stuff to see at the Disneyland Resort hotels during the Christmas season, but it’s also worth noting that there are a lot of cool things to do in the Anaheim area.
You’re minutes away from the Honda Center where the Anaheim Ducks play; the Anaheim Packing District is a happenin’ place to grab dinner and a drink; the Pacific Ocean at Seal or Huntington Beaches is ~$20 Uber ride away. Oh, and there’s GardenWalk. Uhh…nevermind that last one. While everything on the Disneyland Tinsel Trail Tour is well worth your time, don’t overdo it to the point that you feel like you’re “killing time.” Even if you don’t have a rental car, it’s easy to access the other stuff!
For everything else you need to know for a great holiday experience at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, read our Ultimate Guide to Christmas at Disneyland post.
As for figuring out the rest of your Disneyland trip, including how to save money on Disneyland tickets, our Disney packing tips, whether you should stay off-site or on-site in a Disney hotel, where to dine, and a number of other things, check out our comprehensive Disneyland Vacation Planning Guide!
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Have you experienced Christmas at the Disneyland Resort hotels? What did you enjoy most? Planning on visiting Disneyland for the holidays? Hearing from you is half the fun, so if you have additional Christmas tips for the hotels at Disneyland or any questions, please share them in the comments!