Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa has completed its resort-wide reimagining and refurbishment, bringing new rooms, a refreshed lobby, pool area, club level lounge, and dining offerings to Disneyland Resort’s flagship hotel. This is the most extensive refresh since the hotel opened with Disney California Adventure, and brings a contemporary approach to the Arts & Crafts style.
In this post, we’ll primarily focus on the new guest rooms, as those are the most significant change. We’ll share photos and video of these, and also offer commentary as to whether they stack up with the old room design, or if these are another case of Disney going overly generic and bland with a room redesign.
Of course, “new” here is a relative term. The new rooms and most aspects of the project started debuting over a year ago, with the pool and bar work wrapping up this summer. If you’re a high roller who books the Grand Californian once per month, this is old news to you. However, this was our first time revisiting the guest rooms at Grand Californian, so it’s all new to us…
In looking back at our original Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa Review, I shake my head a bit. (Don’t bother looking for the cringe-worthy elements, I’ve gone back and edited it.) It was written while we still lived in the Midwest, when the bulk of my exposure to California was Disneyland and the state’s National Parks. Consequently, my mistaken assumption was that the Grand Californian was in large part, rather than in minor part, based upon the Ahwahnee Hotel at Yosemite National Park.
Subsequent to that, we lived in Southern California and learned about the area’s architecture. Most importantly, we visited Pasadena for the first time (and several times thereafter). Those visits included tours of Gamble House, an exemplar of the Arts & Crafts movement, along with seeing several other Craftsman style homes in the city.
All of that reshaped my opinion of Disney’s Grand California Hotel & Spa fairly considerably–and entirely for the better. I’m still far from an expert on architecture, style, or interior design, but I find the topics endlessly fascinating. More to the point, I recognize the Grand Californian’s actual influences, and have a lot of respect for what the hotel accomplishes.
With that out of the way, let’s take a look at the old rooms at Grand Californian before we offer further commentary:
The old style has a lot going for it, including some strong elements that typify the Arts & Crafts movement, most notably in the detailed headboards, lamps, and wood-work around the room.
There are also a few things that evoke the early aughts (or 90s), most notably that wallpaper border. Perhaps the biggest criticism we heard about these rooms is that they were a bit drab.
Here’s a video of the new rooms at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa:
Now, let’s take a look at the new rooms:
These guest rooms were redesigned from top to bottom, with everything from new flooring to fixtures, walls, furnishings, and bathrooms. At the room’s entrance, there’s faux hardwood flooring that transitions into soft, bright-toned carpeting.
Linens and pillows are restyled in a bright, white palette. Throughout the room, everything appears a bit lighter and airier. There’s also indirect ceiling lighting to give the room a moody feeling at night.
The headboards are made of quarter-sawn oak, a hallmark of Craftsman design. This frames the centerpiece of the new Grand Californian rooms: a blossoming orange tree mural overhead with Chip n’ Dale playing in the branches.
Here are a few closer looks at this orange tree:
All rooms are powered with the latest features and premium amenities, including 55-inch smart TVs, Keurig coffee makers, and built-in USB chargers.
These are little technological improvements, but appreciated ones nonetheless.
When opening the sofa sleeper bed, you’ll find artwork of Bambi and other woodland critters.
This is another nice touch, and I think Disney’s decision to incorporate artwork from the library of classic animated films in these designs has been a savvy one. Although one could argue that Country Bear Jamboree concept art would’ve been an even bigger hit among the 4-12 year old demographic. (At least, among all the cool kids in that age range.)
Countertops of the room’s desk, dresser, and coffee station incorporate pieces of green glass from wine bottles, adding a bit of faux texture to the surface.
Above the coffee bar, textured copper detailing adds depth to the aesthetic of the room while enforcing the Craftsman story.
The bathroom contains two sinks, an illuminated mirror, shelving, hair dryer, Disney H20 products, and make-up mirror. The toilet and shower are separated from the sink area by sliding door.
The shower is probably the most “controversial” element of this, as it completely replaces the bathtub. This is perfectly fine by me, though. The bathroom was dated before, and this strikes me as a nice modernization.
All in all, I’m fairly happy with these changes to the room. In fact, I’d say that this stands in stark contrast to most of the hotel room redesigns at Walt Disney World. (Judging by the end result, I’m guessing this was a different design team than WDW’s room overhauls.)
My biggest fear when this was announced is that it’d strip the rooms of their theme, doing to them what happened to Beach Club at Walt Disney World (one of the biggest offenders). Once concept art was released, I feared the new style would be a way of substituting characters for richly-themed spaces.
Arguably, some of the latter has happened. The orange motif is pretty strong, and that tree with Chip n’ Dale is definitely the pièce de résistance of the new look. It’s a pretty fun and whimsical feature, and I personally like it. However, “whimsical” is not one of the words I’d use to describe the Craftsman style.
This isn’t to say an Arts & Crafts design can’t be fun. Certainly, you want an element of sophistication in a hotel room that’s routinely priced at over $500 per night, but balancing that with a bit of Disney whimsy–especially when families are the hotel’s primary demographic–seems like a fair approach.
If anything, my bigger criticism of the room would be the choice of lamps and lack of bed runners (because of course that’s one of my complaints!). Using Mission style lamps to establish an Arts & Crafts theme seem like such a no-brainer that it really boggles my mind that they weren’t used here. It’s about as confounding as if the design were to have no wood.
When it comes to Disney room redesigns, I think it’s easy to cherrypick elements that are thematic downgrades or arguably “worse” than their predecessor. For instance, the new headboard is less ornate and to my personal tastes than the old one, and the new lamps are a serious downgrade. However, on balance, I think the right creative choices were made to appease a variety of guests, all wanting different things out of a hotel room.
Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel’s guest rooms still evokes a sense of the Arts & Crafts style and are still richly themed, just as before. Now, they are also luxurious and tastefully themed, while having some Disney whimsy and fun. The new look is also lighter and airier, which addresses one of the main complaints about the old rooms. It’s also not as visually busy or dated, making this a modern style that isn’t devoid of theme. All things considered, this is a fine example of a great Disney room redesign. I’m a fan.
Disney has also totally redone and renamed the club level lounge, which is now known as the Veranda. It’s highly doubtful we’ll ever stay club level at the Grand Californian, so above is a stock photo of the new style.
Per Disney, it draws inspiration from the architectural and furniture designs of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, a visionary of the Arts & Crafts movement in Glasgow, United Kingdom. New hardwood flooring, custom-designed rugs, finely-crafted artisanal furniture and specially-commissioned art adds to the sophisticated tone of the lounge.
Here, I can’t say I’m a fan. I’m not sure why Grand Californian Hotel needs to deviate from a quintessentially California style with this more modern and European interpretation. It just seems like it’s trying too hard to be chic and contemporary, when the essence of the Craftsman style is something more timeless and classic. I’m guessing it’s due to feedback from club level guests who felt the old style wasn’t luxurious enough, but it’s still unfortunate.
Finally, the new GCH Craftsman Bar, which is located at the hotel’s pool. Per Disney, this new bar is inspired by the Gamble House’s original garage and current book store with its exposed rafters, shingled walls and wood accents. This opened shortly after we left, so I’m going by this Disney Parks Blog post on GCH Craftsman Bar, but my first impression from that is very favorable.
One visual motif of the GCH Craftsman Bar is wisteria vines and blooms, which is prominent on the light fixtures, the trellis, a tile mural, and many of the artisan-crafted elements around the bar. The Craftsman Bar marquee is a mix of stained glass, metal and wood, with the wisteria vine seamlessly woven across these multiple materials.
With the opening of GCH Craftsman Bar, nearby White Water Snacks has been renamed GCH Craftsman Grill. You might recall our recent “White Water Snacks: Disney’s Best Food You’re Not Eating” post from last month, which spent extensive time talking about how this venue needed a new name, and guest perception based upon the old name was probably its biggest issue. Well, hopefully we were right, and this new name fixes the problem, making GCH Craftsman Grill a not-so-hidden gem!
What do you think of the new(ish) rooms at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa? Do you agree or disagree with our review? Do you think they balance theme, luxury, and Disney whimsy as well as we do? Any questions? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!