June 25, 2024

Resort Review: Disney’s Once-Worst Hotel Gets Reimagined & Redeemed!

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Pixar Place Hotel offers on-site accommodations at Disneyland Resort themed after Cars, Toy Story, Finding Nemo and more movies by the animation studio. The resort overlooks and is within walking distance of Disney California Adventure. This review

Pixar Place Hotel offers on-site accommodations at Disneyland Resort themed after Cars, Toy Story, Finding Nemo and more movies by the animation studio. The resort overlooks and is within walking distance of Disney California Adventure. This review features room photos; info about pools, restaurants & amenities; pros & cons of staying here; and how it compares to the Grand Californian, Disneyland Hotel, and other options in Anaheim.

Before we get to all of that, let’s start with a brief history lesson of what’s now known as Pixar Place Hotel (scroll to the next photo if you don’t care). The hotel was originally opened in 1984 by the Tokyu Group, a Japanese company with similarities to OLC, owners of Tokyo Disney Resort. An opening ad in the Los Angeles Times touted it as a little bit of magic right next to the Disneyland monorail station. A few years later, the Emerald and Pan Pacific hotel chains merged and the hotel was renamed as the Pan Pacific Hotel in 1989.

In December 1995, Disney purchased the hotel not long after abandoning its WestCot project, a $3.1 billion project that would’ve brought an EPCOT-style second gate to Anaheim. By Spring 1996, the transformation into the Disneyland Pacific Hotel was completed. The Disneyland Pacific Hotel was strategically-located for Disney’s new expansion ambitions, which are basically what exists today–Downtown Disney, Disney California Adventure and the other two hotels.

With the opening of Disney’s California Adventure one year away, Disneyland once again renamed it, this time to Paradise Pier Hotel. As part of that transformation process, the property received thematic elements and decor to match the land in DCA that it overlooked: Paradise Pier. It was self-referential to that land in the same way that Disneyland Hotel still is to Walt Disney’s original Magic Kingdom.

Then the transformation of the park into Disney California Adventure occurred, rendering much of the DCA 1.0 concept art obsolete. References to the Sun Wheel, Orange Stinger, Maliboomer, and so forth were all gradually removed. Like the park itself, vestiges of DCA 1.0 remained in quiet corners of the hotel for several more years. No renaming occurred in the early 2010s; it remained Paradise Pier Hotel.

Then Paradise Pier, the land in DCA, became Pixar Pier in 2018. Again, no name change in the late 2010s; it remained Paradise Pier Hotel. Perhaps the bigger change occurred in the early 2020s with the year-plus closure of Disneyland. When Paradise Pier Hotel reopened in 2021, it was missing restaurants and other amenities. The following year, Disney announced the hotel would be transformed into a Pixar-themed hotel and renamed again.

That brings us to 2024, and the debut of the Pixar Place Hotel. New name, features and a fresh coat of paint, but substantially the same substance and ‘bones’ as 1984’s Emerald of Anaheim Hotel.

From my perspective, this history lesson is important context for a couple of reasons. The first is that Pixar Place Hotel is not brand-new, but rather, a reimagining of an existing resort. The second is that the existing resort was not designed or built by Disney, but rather, bought, renamed and remodeled.

With that said, the circa-2024 reimagining into Pixar Place Hotel amounts to the most substantial and consequential change to these towers since they were built. A remodeling of a third-party hotel from the 1980s can still yield excellent results, and for the most part, that’s the case with Pixar Place Hotel. Also, it’s not like Disneyland Hotel was Imagineered from the ground-up, either!

Also worth mentioning is that I have been the de facto president of the unofficial Paradise Pier Hotel Haters Club. This is noteworthy, I think, because I’ve been unquestionably hard on the hotel and have received a lot of pushback from readers and loved ones in response to that stance over the years. (Sarah was not a fan of Paradise Pier Hotel, per se, but she thought I was unfair to it and failed to understand what some fans loved about it. I stand by my hate. It was harsh but fair.)

To that point, I think that Pixar Place Hotel is a huge upgrade over its predecessor. I’ve watched this transformation move at a glacial pace over the last couple of years, and feared that it would be much ado about nothing–a new set of names and decorations for the same spaces, mostly lipstick on a pig.

That is not the case. While Pixar Place Hotel is far from my favorite hotel and I still wish it were razed and replaced, it is no longer my least favorite Disney resort anywhere in the world (when accounting for cost). It is markedly better in meaningful and material ways, and there are now legitimate selling points and compelling reasons for some people to potentially book Pixar Place Hotel (PPH) over Grand Californian (GCH) or Disneyland Hotel (DLH). Let’s dig into the pros & cons…

Starting outside, the hotel has received a fresh coat of paint with a sharp white and black colorway with pops of color replacing the old beige early aughts look. I don’t have a strong opinion on this one way or the other.

The beige looked undeniably dated, but the new high-contrast look reminds me of something on HGTV trying too hard to be eye-catching. The daytime exterior look is a lateral change.

What I do like is the lighting package on Pixar Place Hotel at night. This accentuates the pops of color and elevates the building. In the grand scheme of things, how the exterior looks–day or night–isn’t the biggest deal. Not only that, but there’s only so much Imagineering could’ve done given that they’re working with the bones of the existing towers (and much of that is windows, anyway).

Nevertheless, I appreciate the night lighting package. I’d also add that it looks nicer from the in-park vantages from which Pixar Place Hotel is visible.

This is even more pronounced inside, where the redone entrance area features a giant Luxo Jr. balancing on the Pixar ball. Equally as important, if not more so, are new color-changing light fixtures panels along the upper atrium.

This gives the lobby a moody and atmospheric quality, which is a marked upgrade over the old surfer Goofy statue and 90s looking planters. Seating was also added in this area, making it a nice spot to sit and relax while waiting.

There’s also a mobile with abstract depictions of Pixar characters in the early stages of Pixar filmmaking. The basic shapes and color studies, when coupled with the color-changing panels, are reminiscent of Piet Mondrian. It’s a good vibe and a massive upgrade to the first impression of the hotel.

Beyond the obvious that this looks nicer, I’d also add that the lobby at Pixar Place Hotel can be a more pleasant space than its counterparts. Grand Californian’s lobby is incredible–way better than this–and Disneyland Hotel has a lot of lovely spots. However, the experience of actually being there is often at odds with the excellent designs.

Whereas both of those hotels draw crowds of guests staying off-site, that isn’t really the case with Pixar Place Hotel. It’s just inconvenient enough and lacking in reasons to visit. This isn’t to say that the lobby of Pixar Place Hotel is never busy–it is, especially during peak times of the day–but it just has a totally different atmosphere than the GCH, which is often overrun with people.

I took these photos at about 8 p.m. on a day when both the parks and Grand Californian were very busy. Despite being brand new, Pixar Place Hotel was quiet. This is the type of thing that’s seldom captured or conveyed in reviews, but it can be a big deal to some guests and at certain travel times (peak season, convention/event dates, runDisney weekends, etc).

Now for one of the first big negatives about Pixar Place Hotel: the elevators.

This hotel is infamous for glacially slow elevator service. This is especially true if you’re trying to make rope drop or get back to your room after fireworks following a long day. Invariably, you will wait when demand is high. We’ve had waits of over 10 minutes for an elevator, which feel much longer when you have a tired kid or are running late for Early Entry.

A touchpad system was implemented several years ago, which has reduced waits, but it can still be an issue. We have never (knock on wood) had this experience at Disneyland Hotel or Grand Californian.

Speaking of other semi-recent changes, Pixar Place Hotel has a private entrance to Disney California Adventure. (Technically, I think Villas at Grand Californian guests could also use it based on its location.)

This is only accessible via a room key, and is basically a shortcut into DCA that allows you to bypass Downtown Disney. Pixar Place Hotel guests simply cross Disneyland Drive and enter the gated walkway near the path to the GCH. It’s a short ~5 or so minute walk, and you’ll enter by Corn Dog Castle and the Little Mermaid dark ride.

This is a game-changer. I don’t want to overstate the value of this entrance, but I honestly don’t think that’s possible. While not as ideal as the location of Grand Californian, which also offers easy access to Disneyland, this walkway gives Pixar Place Hotel a walking distance advantage over Disneyland Hotel. That’s especially true if you have Park Hopper tickets and can use DCA as a cut-through for midday breaks.

When it comes to normal park touring, the walkway is particularly advantageous for Early Entry. This is another big on-site guest perk, which is 30-minute access before park opening that’s only available to guests of the three Hotels of Disneyland Resort.

We’ve taken advantage of Early Entry at both parks and found it to be incredibly advantageous. See our Early Entry at Disneyland Photo Report and Early Entry at California Adventure Photo Report: Sarah’s Slingin’ Strategy for a step-by-step look at what we accomplished during the 30 minutes and thereafter for rope drop.

Early Entry is fantastic for Fantasyland or Tomorrowland in Disneyland or Avengers Campus in Disney California Adventure. It’s also a great headstart to Cars Land or Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. See our Guide to Early Entry at Disneyland for what you need to know about this pre-park opening access to Disneyland and DCA.

A final advantage of this entrance is that, aside from maybe the first hour of the morning, the line for bag check is virtually nonexistent. It’s shorter than what you’ll typically encounter at the DLH/Downtown Disney or GCH checkpoints, and far better than Harbor Boulevard.

One of the current selling points of Pixar Place Hotel is entertainment. Joe Gardner from Soul periodically does piano performances just outside the main lobby by the stairway to the second floor, which is a fantastic little touch.

On the pool deck, Bing Bong currently appears for meet & greet sets throughout the day. I hesitate to even acknowledge these characters, as they seem like the type of thing that won’t last, so I wouldn’t book a 2025 or 2026 stay on the basis of this entertainment.

(Conversely, not acknowledging them at all would be ignoring a definite selling point of Pixar Place Hotel. It’d also signal to Disney that entertainment “doesn’t matter,” thus helping to justify a potential cut. A real catch-22.)

Great Maple is the main restaurant in Pixar Place Hotel, replacing PCH Grill. We’ve failed at two attempts to dine here (the joys of having a baby), but it seems like a nice enough restaurant. Anywhere that serves Buttermilk Fried Chicken and Maple Bacon Doughnuts together is a winner in my book!

Nevertheless, I’m torn about Disney outsourcing this to a third party. On the one hand, it’s definitely better than no restaurant at all. Also, PCH Grill wasn’t exactly Disneyland Resort’s culinary pinnacle. On the other hand, losing Donald Duck’s Seaside Character Breakfast is a tough blow. Beyond that character meal, Pixar Place Hotel simply does not have the variety or depth of dining as either DLH or (especially) GCH.

Pixar Place Hotel does have a variety of other amenities, services, and stuff. Pretty much every basic that you’d expect of a high-end hotel, including but not limited to WiFi, a fitness center, gift shops, laundry room, car rental desk, the ability to charge purchases to your room, mobile order, and much more. Pretty much the same options you’ll have at Grand Californian or Disneyland Hotel.

One major difference is the pool area, which is located on the third-floor rooftop deck. While the pool is obviously the focal point, this whole area is incredibly pleasant. There are firepits, ample amounts of seating (and a wide variety of chair types), and the atmosphere is fantastic.

Strands of popcorn lights overhead and a lot of atmospheric lighting all around sets the right mood. Between the heat from the fire pits and the towers acting as a wind block, it’s fairly pleasant even on chilly Southern California nights.

Then there’s the new Pixel Pool and 186-foot-long Crush’s Surfin’ Slide, both inspired by Finding Nemo and his underwater friends. Little ones looking to get their feet wet can splash at Nemo’s Cove, while adults in search of a more relaxing retreat can spend time in the whirlpool.

I didn’t use the pools since it was like 50 degrees, but there were plenty of people in them day and night. (Ah, to be young and immune to cold weather!) During the summer season or whenever the weather is warmer, I suspect the pool area will end up being undersized. It’s small and was busy even in the winter.

All things considered, this pool deck is nice–especially if you’re using it for purposes other than the pool. During the day, you have just enough elevation to get nice views and a light breeze, plus ample sunshine.

On select nights, you can watch the Disneyland fireworks—and listen to a live synchronized broadcast of the stirring soundtrack—from the third-floor pool deck.

Here’s an ‘aerial’ view of the full pool area from the room.

Speaking of which, views from the rooms in the towers are varied, with some theme park views if you’re willing to pay extra. But why do that when you can enjoy that very same view with a simple hack: riding the elevator up and down?! Perhaps that explains those long waits, hmmm….

Joking aside, Pixar Place Hotel theme park views overlook Disney California Adventure, and are essentially an elevated view from behind Paradise Gardens Park. It’s a wide view that, at night, offers a prime vantage for World of Color.

If you opt for the cheaper room categories, you’ll be overlooking the pool (see above) and parking lots as far as the eye can see.

Now let’s head inside the guest rooms at Pixar Place Hotel, with a look at a standard king room.

This features one bed plus a sofa sleeper with pull-out queen bed. Standard rooms can also have two queen beds and a twin-sized sofa sleeper, which is advantageous because it can sleep up to 5 adults.

The footprint is the same as the old rooms, but that’s the only thing that’s unchanged. They’ve been completely gutted and redone, and it shows!

No longer are the rooms stuck in the 90s with a bit of window-dressing. These updated rooms are spacious and modern and, finally, on par with the many real-world hotels in Anaheim that have been built in the last decade. (The area has seen a hotel boom since Cars Land, with a ton of nice options–especially family suites.)

The rooms are also Pixar through and through, with colorful character-filled artwork and nods to the Pixar Lamp on the desk and the ball via the throw pillow on the bed. Color choices of blue, red, and yellow also evoke Pixar.

From my perspective, this is a massive ‘glow-up’ when compared to the old rooms. However, I still prefer the rooms of the Grand Californian or even Disneyland Hotel. These are basic modern rooms with a Pixar motif, rather than being truly themed or immersive. Not that there’s anything wrong with that–some parties may favor this. (Personally, I would’ve preferred rooms inspired by Toy Story or Incredibles or Nemo, etc. than this ‘art of’ style. Again, to each their own.)

This standard guest room is spacious, at least in the king bed configuration. The room sizes at all three of these hotels vary (especially Disneyland Hotel), so it’s difficult/impossible to compare them.

Having stayed in all of these hotels several times (including in the last year), my general impression is that the Pixar Place Hotel rooms have the largest ‘feels like’ size–unless you luck into one of the largest rooms at DLH. With that said, the balconies at GCH can be a gamechanger.

There was a time when this review would’ve bemoaned all of the ‘dead space’ between the couch, desk, and wall. As a new parent who has struggled to find adequate area for tummy time mats or a pack ‘n’ play, a bit of floor space has become a godsend.

Funny how perspectives change! (I wonder how much else I’ve been “wrong” about over the years…) And even if you don’t have babies, still so much room for activities.

Another massive improvement to these rooms is via lighting. No, not just the cool (and very substantial…and bolted down) Luxo Jr. lamp. I mean the amount of recessed and indirect lighting, and the degree of control you have over it with dimmers and various switches.

These upgrades have made their way to pretty much every redone resort room at Walt Disney World and Disneyland, so it’s unsurprising to see Pixar Place Hotel get this. Nevertheless, a nice upgrade over the old lighting.

As a person who uses it, I’m happy to see Pixar Place Hotel retain the desk. These have been disappearing from a lot of Disney rooms in favor of 5th sleeper pulldown beds, or more floor or storage space. With ample alternatives for all of that, it seems the (correct) decision was made to retain the desk. I’m also guessing the amount of convention business made the decision easier.

Speaking of storage, there’s plenty of that. The raised bed(s) offer room for suitcases, there’s plenty of closet space, drawers, and more.

Standard rooms also come equipped with a mini-fridge (not just a beverage cooler), single-cup Keurig coffee maker, disposable coffee cups, and stemless glassware. For the ephemera fans out there, the condiment kits and coasters are also unique to Pixar Place Hotel (for now), so…free souvenirs!

There’s also a safe, ironing board, alarm clock, hair dryer, phone and an abundance of USB and USB-C charging ports. You won’t need to pack a charging strip for a stay at Pixar Place Hotel. Plenty of ports here.

Speaking of free souvenirs, The Art of Pixar book that comes in every room is NOT one. I’m sure some guests won’t get the memo, and these will gradually disappear.

But for now, it’s a really nice touch–and a great book. Much better than that One Day at Disney book that appeared in all hotel rooms a few years ago.

The bathrooms have likewise been modernized and are mostly a bright white, with Pixar Ball artwork for pops of color.

Functionally, these are an upgrade. There’s storage space below the sink, an illuminated mirror frame, and more.

The bathroom can vary, offering either a bathtub and shower combination or just a walk-in shower.

What I’m unsure of is whether the bathtub version of the room has sliding panels and one of those uncomfortable tracks or a regular ole shower curtain. I know that’s a common question from parents, so there you have it.

Shampoo, conditioner, and body wash are dispensed from red, yellow and blue dispensers with Pixar Place Hotel graphics. Note that there’s no reference to the now-extinct H2O brand, but these are the same formulas as before. You’ll also find location and bar soap next to the sink, but sadly, that’s the extent of the packaged ‘take-home’ bath products.

Here’s a video tour of the Pixar Place Hotel standard guest room:

Finally, there’s the issue of price. Pixar Place Hotel should be cheaper than both Disneyland Hotel and Grand Californian by around $100 to $200 per night or so. Exact rates vary based upon season and discounts, and we’ve seen Pixar Place Hotel effectively more expensive than DLH on several occasions due to no availability in its lower room categories.

This is currently in equal parts due to the new hotel smell (Disneyland diehards love all things new) and that the reimagining actually isn’t done yet. I don’t know the percentage, but there are still a lot of rooms out of commission because they’re in the process of being redone. Both of these are temporary issues that we’d expect resolved by Fall 2024.

No matter how you slice it, Pixar Place Hotel is still pricey. One of our biggest past complaints about this property was the massive premium paid for the “Disney” brand, despite it being inferior to similarly-situated off-site hotels. That’s no longer the case. To be sure, this is not a real world luxury hotel, but I don’t think anyone is expecting that. Although a very apples-to-oranges comparison, I’d now consider it as a family-friendly and more perk-driven alternative to the Westin Anaheim (a hotel we love). Pixar Place is more expensive than that hotel, but not by much.

We’ve previously debated the merits of staying on-site versus staying off-site at Disneyland Resort, so I won’t rehash those here, but essentially, you pay a significant premium for being “on property.” Disneyland Resort doesn’t have nearly as many on-site hotel rooms as Walt Disney World, and this likely contributes to the rates.

Ultimately, Pixar Place Hotel is still my third favorite Hotel of Disneyland Resort, behind Disneyland Hotel (#2) and the Grand Californian (#1). It’s still not in the same league as the Grand Californian, which is a bona-fide luxury resort that holds its own against the real world heavy-hitters in Los Angeles and the beach cities, while also being an exemplar of themed design.

However, Pixar Place Hotel is now far from the worst Disney hotel in the world now. The gap between it and the top two Disneyland hotels is nowhere near what it once was, either. There are compelling reasons to choose Pixar Place Hotel over Disneyland Hotel, which was not the case before. The biggest selling points are its private entrance into DCA, quieter common areas, mood of the rooftop pool deck, Pixar-design details, fresher guest rooms, and more.

The lower entry-level price is also appealing, and once the dust settles, you’ll likely be able to stay 3 nights at Pixar Place Hotel for the price of 2 nights at DLH or GCH. We care a lot about the value proposition of resorts (it’s a huge part of why I was a Paradise Pier Hotel hater in the first place!), so this is a really big deal to us and enough to help tip the scales in favor of Pixar Place Hotel for many guests.

My previous recommendation was essentially to ignore this hotel and decide between Grand Californian and Disneyland Hotel, or stay off-site instead. That’s no longer the case. I’d now recommend Pixar Place Hotel to many families willing to splurge and wanting certain things, but not quite having the budget for Grand Californian (or maybe wanting something more overtly “Disney”). Pixar Place Hotel still might be third place, but it’s at least competitive–like the Angels to the Grand Californian’s Dodgers, instead of being bush league.

Not sure which Disneyland Resort hotel is right for you? Let a professional help you for free. Click here to get a quote from a recommended, no-fee Authorized Disney Vacation Planner. They get their commission from Disney, so there is no charge to you for them to book your trip and help you plan!

Planning a Southern California vacation? For park admission deals, read Tips for Saving Money on Disneyland Tickets. Learn about on-site and off-site hotels in our Anaheim Hotel Reviews & Rankings. For where to eat, check out our Disneyland Restaurant Reviews. For unique ideas of things that’ll improve your trip, check out What to Pack for Disney. For comprehensive advice, consult our Disneyland Vacation Planning Guide. Finally, for guides beyond Disney, check out our Southern California Itineraries for day trips to Los Angeles, Laguna Beach, and many other SoCal cities!

Your Thoughts

What do you think of Pixar Place Hotel? Do you like the Pixar details and decor, or do you feel that it lacks something that the other immersive, themed hotels have? Are the private entrance, Early Entry, location, pool deck, and other details big enough selling points for you to book Pixar Place Hotel over (for example) the Westin Anaheim? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? 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!

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