October 24, 2016

A Grand Californian Adventure: Part One

Aloha regular and new readers of Insights and Sounds!

Some of you may remember me from my trip reports to Walt Disney World last year. (Editor's note: The multi-part series starts here with a comparison between Disney and Universal.) Thanks to the generosity of this blog’s author Mark Taft, I am back to do an in depth investigative report on Disneyland’s 60th.

My wife Sue and I first stayed at the Disney Grand Californian Hotel back in 2010. As big fans of the Wilderness Lodge, one can understand why the thematic similarities would appeal to us. 

While some may call it “Wilderness Lodge Lite”, I feel the resort has its own identity/game plan and isn’t necessarily trying to totally mimic its Florida cousin.  Due to space limitations, GC definitely has a cozier, more intimate feel (eschewing the “WOW” factor one gets when walking into the lobby of WL). This lends itself to a more authentic feel that this could be a place that exists outside in the real world. Service and cast members are both top notch with security going above and beyond the call of duty (more on that later). The cast member who checked us in, Jeremiah, was extremely helpful and even comp us fast passes due to a slight mix up in the reservations. The rooms are clean and comfortable, but nothing extraordinarily spectacular. 

The Lobby. You just HAVE to click on this one to see it full size!

With two fantastic restaurants, and entrance straight into California Adventure, is this hotel worth the price tag? At a shade under $300.00 (which is what we paid back in 2010), the answer is an emphatic YES! At $550.00 per night, “Are you kidding me?” can be heard echoing throughout Radiator Springs Valley! Yes, this is what I reluctantly paid for during our stay there. There is no way I would have booked  at GC were it not my wife’s birthday. 

Sue is not a big Disney fan, but she was gracious enough to allow me to stop off at Disneyland before heading to Vegas. I have horror stories about our Super 8 Motel stay trying to save a  few dollars during our last visit. Not wanting a repeat performance, I bit the bullet and booked the hotel. Putting aside that no room (talking your standard affair, not a suite) is worth that type of money to me, we did have a wonderful time at the resort.

My wife and I were able to enjoy meals at both in-house restaurants, Napa Rose and Storytellers CafĂ©. We’ve been to Storytellers before, and always for the breakfast buffet. You can’t go wrong with the selection and quality of food here. And although I seem to run into Chip and Dale at every character meal, the service and theming make them more than bearable.  

Stories waiting to be told.

Overall, I think Storytellers is one of the nicest looking restaurants at any Disney resort and the way it integrates into the overall theming of the hotel is first rate. I definitely give Storytellers the edge over Whispering Canyon Cafe at the Wilderness Lodge.

While breakfast was on familiar ground, this was our first time dining at Napa Rose. It was either here or Carthay Circle Restaurant for my wife’s birthday, and Napa came in second (more on that in Part Two).  But it’s the end results that really matter…and Napa Rose was the clear winner. Not to say that Carthay was bad (it was great), but the food quality and selection at Napa was just that much better.  

We started off with the "Seven Sparkling Sins" as an appetizer. I can’t do any better than Disney’s official description,  so I'll just copy and past Disney's explanation:
"An array of tantalizations featuring spicy beef & peanut roll, curried crab taco, seared ahi nacho, shrimp in cucumber wrap with lemon dill creme, citrus cured salmon corn cake, tangerine grilled scallop and grape leaves with pheasant for two".
Immaculate in presentation, this appetizer proved to be worth the $45.00 price tag, with the spicy beef and ahi nacho my two favorites (probably because its so reminiscent of Hawaii food). As with our meals at WDW, we split the entree and went with the Skillet Roasted Prime New York and added a side of Truffled "Mac & Cheese" Orecchiette Pasta.

Although we had celebrated Sue’s birthday the night before, our waiter still presented my wife with a complimentary birthday dessert (Chocolate ice cream with a cookie foundation and a pinch of sea salt. The contrasting flavors of sweet and salty made it quite a treat!). Overall, it was our best dining experience of the entire trip!

Author Len and his wife Sue.

I suppose I should touch a bit on Downtown Disney…Disneyland’s shopping/dining venue. While there is nothing wrong with the assorted shops and restaurants, I think most folks coming over from the East coast will be sorely unimpressed. The Florida counterpart was already in a different league prior to the theming change, but now that Disney Springs is coming into fruition, the Anaheim complex seems even more underwhelming. It’s hard to place the blame squarely on Disney’s shoulders. The limited space really hampers what one can do in terms of creative ideas and visual synergy. Nonetheless, that area could use a strong thematic narrative like Disney Springs.

Up Next: Disney California Adventure

(Photographs copyright Len Yokoyama.)

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