June 25, 2024

Review: Disney Vacation Club’s Best Resort Has (Arguably) Its Worst Rooms

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There's one Disney Vacation Club resort that we absolutely adore, but have not yet reviewed because we've been not-so-patiently awaiting its long-overdue room renovations. With the updated refurbishment calendar out and showing that won't happen




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There’s one Disney Vacation Club resort that we absolutely adore, but have not yet reviewed because we’ve been not-so-patiently awaiting its long-overdue room renovations. With the updated refurbishment calendar out and showing that won’t happen until 2025 at the earliest, it’s time for a quick look at the Villas at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel (VGC) and whether you should stay here or at the new Villas at Disneyland Hotel.

Let’s start with the basics. The Villas at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa is, as the name suggests, located at the flagship hotel overlooking Disney California Adventure (DCA). Whereas the hotel itself opened with the DCA theme park, the DVC wing was an expansion project that started in 2007 and opened in 2009.

Our first Disneyland trip came shortly after that, so I have no memory of the hotel pre-VGC. Honestly, I have a hard time even conceiving of it. Whereas most Disney Vacation Club wings are obvious expansions as they’re separate buildings with an apparent standalone quality, the addition of the Villas at Grand Californian is fairly seamless. I mean, you can see where it was added, but it feels and looks like it was always there. At least, to me, someone who has only been visiting since it was always there.

It undoubtedly helps that the DVC wing was designed by the late, great Peter Dominick. If that name sounds familiar, he was also the architect for Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa as well as Disney’s Wilderness Lodge and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge at Walt Disney World. The villas also reflect the same California Arts & Crafts style of the main hotel, which immerses guests in a turn-of-the-20th-century California Craftsman experience.

The DVC wing is much smaller than the hotel itself as well as most other Disney Vacation Club expansions. The original Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa features 745 guest rooms, including 44 suites. With the addition of the expansion wing, the hotel now offers 945 guest rooms, including 44 guest suites, and 48 Disney Vacation Club two-bedroom equivalent vacation villas.

These 48 villas include 23 Deluxe Studios (lock-offs), 23 1-Bedrooms (lock-offs), plus 23 dedicated 2-Bedroom units and 2 Grand Villas. (We actually had the chance to tour one of these impressive Grand Villas many years ago thanks to a kind reader!) That makes for a total maximum of 71 units, which is still small by Disney Vacation Club standards. Between the low supply and high demand, the Villas at Grand Californian are quite popular with DVC members!

This property is in high-demand because it offers all of the same selling points at the Grand Californian, which is a pretty great hotel. This is a review of the villas, specifically, so we’re not going to fixate on all of that. We will just say that from the rich themed design and attention to detail to the private entrance into DCA, the Grand Californian is unrivaled.

The rooms in the villas versus the hotel are probably a pretty big consideration for many potential guests, so let’s take a look at those…

The good news there is that at last year’s DVC Condo Association Meeting, Disney announced plans for a top to bottom hard goods refurbishment of the Villas at Disney’s Grand Californian.

This was originally slated to happen last year…then this year…now it’s 2025. Here’s hoping this is not delayed again, because this was overdue even a few years ago. We love the Grand Californian and will stay in the old rooms if it means not paying the hotel’s pricing, but they are definitely showing their age–just like Boulder Ridge at Wilderness Lodge prior to last year’s reimagining.

Hopefully the concept takes thematic and stylistic elements of the new-look GCH rooms–with a dash of Boulder Ridge–and combines that with the new Inova pull-down beds. That would be a huge win.

Emulating the look of the excellent new Boulder Ridge rooms would be a huge win for the Villas at Grand Californian. Those designs make significant strides in space-saving design, while adding innovative features like the pull-down Murphy sleeper that is somehow both a comfortable couch and a comfortable bed.

These new rooms seem like the culmination of a lot of lessons learned by DVC over the last decade–iterating on past successes and disregarding past failures–into something that coalesces perfectly. To that point, Disney Vacation Club has indicated that guest satisfaction scores have increased 20% among guests who have stayed in new rooms.

Personally, I think the current rooms at VGC are mostly fine. They’re old and tired, to be sure, and lacking the usability improvements of their newer counterparts. There are obvious improvements that could be made, but they’re not downright bad. On the plus side, they have thematic integrity.

I’d take the rooms at the Villas at Grand Californian over redone rooms from the 2016 to 2018 era (most of which are now also being replaced). Those are superior from the perspective of functionality, but feature an aesthetic that is trying a bit too hard to be chic and trendy.

They’re also lacking in style and substance as compared to the newest rooms (like last year’s update at Boulder Ridge) as compared to the 2019 to present rooms. In my view, this is why the VGC rooms are arguably the worst DVC rooms out there–because the current generation of rooms are such an improvement over the last one.

In my view, the Grand Californian should lean into its Arts & Crafts style with the 2025 reimagining. These rooms should have rich woods, lanterns, ornate details, and draw inspiration from the natural world. Guests who don’t like that or dismiss it as “too rustic” (it’s really not!) should buy and stay elsewhere.

Making everything modern and “on trend” also makes everything bland and less distinct. Fortunately, I don’t really think this happened with the rooms on the hotel side of the Grand Californian and it also hasn’t happened with the newest rooms at Wilderness Lodge.

The biggest challenge will be making the VGC rooms distinctly Craftsman–as it is thematically different from Wilderness Lodge. Not dramatically so, but by enough that the Pacific Northwest-inspired rooms at Boulder Ridge would be very off at the Grand Californian.

I’m not too concerned about this. The new DVC rooms from the last few years have been excellent, full of details and little Easter Eggs. Prior to that, I would’ve been worried that Disney would’ve heard complaints about the VGC rooms being “drab and dated” (as they undoubtedly have) by overcorrecting with sterile looks and overly bright spaces.

Now I’m much more confident that they’ll thread the needle well, updating the rooms while retaining the characteristics that make them special. The woods, the headboards and the beautiful artwork. Well, maybe not the exact same art, but new pieces that marry classic California with Disney characters. Again, that’s what we saw with Boulder Ridge, which was a very tasteful redo.

I like the look and atmosphere of the current Villas at Grand Californian rooms well enough, at least in theory. They’re cozy and comfortable, a nice way to decompress after a busy day in the parks. There’s a calming sense to them–just like the hotel as a whole (well, when it’s not packed with people) and the Arts & Crafts style.

Like the homes in Pasadena, these rooms are relaxing and lend themselves to indoor/outdoor living. Sitting on the balcony or patio with a morning coffee or post-parks snack is a great way to unwind. You feel a world away from Disneyland, despite being in the heart of it all.

Again, that’s in theory. The problem is that in person, that’s not exactly how the rooms present anymore. It’s difficult to tell from the photos, but the carpet is worn–as is the furniture. We’ve stayed at VGC a few times in as many years, and had some coffee tables and couches that were really dinged up, and carpet that had noticeable wear and tear ‘paths’ in areas with more traffic.

Between that and staying in one of the brand-new rooms at the Villas at Disneyland Hotel, it’s clear how antiquated the rooms are at VGC. Those pull-down beds and other little ‘quality of life’ features all add up in aggregate, and that sharp contrast makes these older rooms at the Grand Californian feel even more tired and outdated.

Speaking of which, if you’re trying to decide between this and the Villas at Disneyland Hotel, check out Grand Californian vs. Disneyland Hotel for a comparison (and contrast) of the selling points at each. That focuses on big picture stuff at the two hotels. This is primarily just about the rooms.

Whether the Villas at Disneyland Hotel or Villas at Grand Californian are right for you really comes down to how much newness and modern luxury matter to you. The rooms at VDH are very nice and fresh, offering every convenience and quality guests have come to expect.

The rooms at VGC are…not that. They’re for less fussy travelers who either want something calming or aren’t concerned with the pretension of modernity. As a whole, the Grand Californian is clearly nicer, but it’s less in-your-face. It’s refined luxury for the sophisticated and discerning traveler.

Perhaps more to the point, the VGC is better for those who prioritize the resort as a whole over the rooms themselves. In just about every other regard–from location to restaurants–Grand Californian beats Disneyland Hotel. It’s the better option for those who care less about rooms, and more about the whole package.

If you’re good with the more mellow and earthy style of the current Villas at Grand Californian rooms, it’s a fantastic pick. Having a kitchenette is great, especially when staying at the Grand Californian–where you can order one of the delicious pizzas from GCH Craftsman Grill and save part of it for leftovers to reheat.

Having your own food in the fridge is also useful at the Grand Californian, in general, as you’re so close to the parks and can easily do a midday break to have healthy snacks–or even a full breakfast or dinner in the room, if you so desired.

Staying in the Villas at Grand Californian studio rooms is also the cheapest way to stay at the Grand Californian, whether that means using your own membership or saving money by renting DVC points. This is far and away our favorite of the three Hotels of Disneyland Resort, and that’s true whether you’re staying in the older villas or newer hotel rooms. (Right now, we’d definitely take the latter if money is no issue, but it obviously is for a lot of guests!) See our our Grand Californian Hotel & Spa Review for an overview of amenities, why we love it so much, etc.

After spending a lot of time at the Grand Californian, particularly its common areas, I’ve come to really appreciate the resort. It’s like a mix between Wilderness Lodge and the Grand Floridian: it has a sense of cozy and earthiness like Wilderness Lodge, but with a more polished and classy pedigree. It’s clearly a luxury resort, but an inviting and more informal one–very in keeping with California. Its level of distinction is readily apparent in its furnishings and Craftsman design. The ostensibly “rustic” look might appear less-refined at first blush, but upon closer inspection, that couldn’t be further from the truth. I’ll probably always have the Walt Disney World “home” resort bias, but with each stay, the Grand Californian comes closer to dethroning Wilderness Lodge.

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 are your thoughts on the Villas at Grand Californian? Have you stayed at both VGC and the Villas at Disneyland Hotel? Which do you prefer? What do you think of the rooms, both currently and the likely outcome of the refurbishment? How would your review differ from mine? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? Other thoughts or concerns? Any questions we can help you answer? 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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