Dated but with Disneyland perks: A review of Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel
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Disney's Paradise Pier Hotel in Anaheim, California, is an on-property hotel often overlooked by many Disneyland travelers. It has to compete with the luxury and location of Disney's Grand Californian Hotel and Spa and the nostalgia and magic of the Disneyland Hotel, certainly an uphill battle. Paradise Pier is less expensive than its two on-property cousins, but its cost is still well above the prices of value and moderate resorts at Walt Disney World.
I've stayed the Grand Californian and the Disneyland Hotel on many different occasions over the years, but it wasn't until recently that I thought Paradise Pier made sense for one of my Disneyland trips. During the few weeks surrounding the grand opening of Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge, Disneyland guaranteed a reservation time for the new land to on-property guests. I knew I wasn't going to be spending much time in my hotel but desperately wanted that Star Wars reservation. Naturally, I went in search of the cheapest on-property room possible. That's when Paradise Pier finally fit the bill.
Though I often book my Disneyland hotel reservations directly on Disney's website, my travel companions and I booked this time through Get Away Today, a travel agency that specializes in Southern California vacations. Get Away Today has access to different room inventories than are sometimes available with Disney directly. It often can also offer cheaper prices than Disneyland's website. Such was the case this trip.
Standard rooms at Paradise Pier are often priced around $350 to $500 per night before tax. We were prepared to pay a Star Wars opening-weekend price premium, although it ultimately was not as much as I'd feared. We found a room for $485 a night, including tax.
Get Away Today purchases code as travel on many credit cards like the Chase Sapphire Preferred Card, Chase Sapphire Reserve and Citi Premier® Card, so there's no need to miss out on bonus travel rewards. Just be sure to read the fine print, because Get Away Today often has different rules regarding cancellations and when payment is due than booking a hotel through Disney directly.
Related: Use promo code TPG10 to price Disneyland vacations via Get Away Today.
There are not a lot of ways to save on a stay at Paradise Pier using miles and points. Like all Disney hotels, it's no longer available in the Chase Ultimate Rewards portal. The best way to use points is to redeem flexible currencies like the ones earned with credit cards like the Discover it Miles, Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card or Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite Mastercard. Or you can pay for your stay with discounted Disney gift cards.
Disney's Paradise Pier Hotel is the farthest of the three on-property Disneyland hotels from the parks. That said, its location is still pretty excellent. It's equally close to all but the closest off-property hotels on Harbor Boulevard. Its location also filters guests into the lesser-used security checkpoints entering the Downtown Disney shopping district on Downtown Drive. This means guests often have shorter security waits at peak times.
Located on Disneyland Drive, Paradise Pier Hotel is about a five-minute walk to the entrance of Downtown Disney. If you're timing the walk into the front gates of either Disneyland park or Disney California Adventure, plan on about 15 minutes.
Guests at Disney's Paradise Pier Hotel can also take the Disneyland Monorail. The monorail originates at the same side of Downtown Disney past the security checkpoints and drops guests into Tomorrowland. For much of the summer and early fall 2019, however, the monorail has not operated between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. So while it works as a transportation option for going to the parks in the morning and returning in the evenings, it's not always available for guests who want to return to the hotel midday for a nap or a swim.
For many years, guests of Disney's Paradise Pier Hotel regularly could take a shortcut through the Grand Californian to get into Downtown Disney and the parks. The two hotels are across the street from one another, and this shortcut shaved off a few minutes' walking time (not to mention making some of the walk through the hotel's air-conditioned corridors!). Unfortunately, there is now a well-enforced security gate in place that prevents guests from taking this route to the parks. It's always possible, however, to use this route returning to Paradise Pier at the end of the day.
On my most recent trip, I had stayed the two previous nights at Disney's Grand Californian before transferring to Paradise Pier. Just like at Walt Disney World, guests who have a split stay can ask for bell services to transfer luggage between the hotels. I dropped my bags with the Grand Californian's bellmen before going to the parks that morning.
After I was done in the parks for the day, I headed back to Paradise Pier to check in for my split stay. I've walked into the lobby many times before, so I knew what to expect, but first-timers should probably be prepared: It's most definitely not the lobby of a $400-a-night hotel. With low ceilings and wood paneling, it's quite dated. I'd say that the lobby is probably the hotel's weakest link, so don't let that first impression make you write it off.
A giant statue of Goofy holding a surfboard brightened up the atmosphere and helped communicate the hotel's beach theme. During Halloween and the holidays, the lobby regularly gets more festive decor.
The front desk employees on this particular visit were in the unenviable position of checking guests in as well as dealing with myriad problems arising with the Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge reservation systems. We had a lengthy wait. We understood, and anyone who travels to Disney destinations often is all too familiar with the IT hiccups that come with that territory! Our group's reservations were eventually sorted out, and we beat a hasty retreat to our room.
Paradise Pier is substantially smaller than the other two on-property Disneyland hotels. Since it is built as a single high-rise tower, walks to the room are thankfully quite short.
On this stay, we had booked a two-queen-bed room. We lucked into a room with a view overlooking the hotel's pool, technically a premium view. This room category had a direct line of sight into Disney California Adventure park, where the nightly World of Color show is often visible.
We asked for bell services to deliver our transferred luggage and found the service prompt and friendly.
To be honest, my expectations for the room itself weren't that high, particularly after having seen the lobby so many times over the years. The room was better than I expected.
The first thing I thought about it was that my kids would definitely have found it inviting and magical. The room was full of Disney touches, including a lifeguard Mickey lamp above the TV and hidden Mickeys on both the shower curtain and on the bed linens. A Pixar ball pillow adorned every bed, a recent addition to the decor that was added when Paradise Pier became Pixar Pier in Disney California Adventure park.
There were certainly dated elements within the room, but the overall layout more than made up for that. The room was more spacious than standard rooms at the more luxurious Grand Californian, where I had just stayed.
All standard two-queen rooms included an additional twin sofa bed, meaning more of the rooms could easily sleep five. In the case of my family, this provided separate beds for two siblings who didn't want to share. I found the beds quite comfortable, but I also logged about 33,000 steps in Galaxy's Edge the same day, so I could have slept anywhere.
The room had a nightstand separating the two queen beds. The nightstand's alarm clock had a built-in USB port, but there were no accessible power outlets in the area. In the far corner of the room near the window was a desk with a table underneath that pulled out for additional counter space.
The room had a large cabinet across from the beds that held the TV, a minifridge and several dresser drawers for guest belongings. The closet had an ironing board, safe and pack 'n play.
The bathroom was similarly dated but perfectly adequate. Our room had only a single sink, which was odd given the large vanity. The vanity was quite low as well, putting the sinks within reach for younger kids but ultimately feeling awkward for parents.
Unlike at the Grand Californian, standard rooms included a bathtub/shower combination.
Food and Beverage
Because Paradise Pier is the smallest of the three Disneyland on-property hotels, on-site dining options were more limited but completely sufficient for guests. There were two restaurants within the lobby, PCH Grill and Surfside Lounge, as well as a poolside bar and grill, the Sand Bar.
PCH Grill was open for breakfast and dinner daily and brunch on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Breakfast was buffet-style, with a few more unusual offerings beyond standard fare like Mickey pancakes. PCH Grill was also open for dinner daily, offering an Italian buffet.
During breakfast and brunch hours, PCH Grill was home to Paradise Pier's character meal, Donald Duck's Seaside Breakfast. This meal embraced the hotel's beach theme with surf decor. The characters got up and danced with kids to beach music every half hour. Guests got a photo opportunity with Donald upon entering, and other regular characters included Stitch, Daisy and Pluto.
Because of the smaller size of the restaurant, my family has always experienced much more character interaction at this meal than any other. In fact, it's my top Disneyland character-meal pick for families with younger kids. The character meal is open to anyone, not just Paradise Pier guests. The hotel provides free three-hour validated parking for anyone coming to dine.
The other two restaurants provide quicker and more casual dining. Surfside Lounge was a lounge area with table seating. It was open for breakfast daily as early as 6 a.m. and also served lunch, dinner and late-night food. Finally, the hotel had a poolside bar and grill called the Sand Bar.
The most important perk that came with a stay at Disney's Paradise Pier Hotel was Extra Magic Hour access to the parks. Guests of the hotel got to enter Disneyland park one hour early on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings and Disney California Adventure on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday mornings. Extra Magic Hour is incredibly valuable for dodging long lines and crowds at Disneyland and is a huge part of what justifies the hotel's price premium.
There are sometimes less-publicized on-property seasonal perks that can accompany a stay at Paradise Pier. I was able to secure a Galaxy's Edge reservation thanks to my stay. During the Halloween season this year, guests of the hotel can also often purchase same-day tickets to Disneyland's new Halloween party Oogie Boogie Bash, even though it has been sold out for many weeks.
As for the physical amenities on the property, the top amenity at Paradise Pier was undoubtedly the pool on the third-floor rooftop deck. Though not as awe-inspiring as the monorail pool at the Disneyland Hotel, the area was brightly themed and appealing to kids. The area included a large pool, a children's pool, a waterslide and a whirlpool.
As in all of its hotels, Disney provides life jackets to borrow for free on a stand nearby.
On select evenings when Disneyland has a fireworks show, the pool deck is a prime viewing location. The hotel plays the score so guests can hear the musical accompaniment in time with the visuals.
As for other amenities, the hotel also had a fitness center, in-room dining, a gift and sundries shop and guest laundry. Paradise Pier housed the Alamo rental car office that was previously in Downtown Disney.
Last but certainly not least, the hotel also offered a club level. Though these rooms don't make sense for a trip where I spent all of my time in the theme parks, these rooms can be a secret sweet spot for certain travelers, and can sometimes be found priced below a standard room at the Disneyland Hotel. For travelers who take advantage of the included food and beverages, there's money-saving potential when the prices are right.
Would I recommend Disney's Paradise Pier Hotel to a fellow Disneyland traveler? Yes and no. Guests considering a stay need to know that the accommodations simply will not live up to the high price. While I'd certainly prefer lower prices as a customer, the laws of supply and demand and Southern California real-estate markets dictate otherwise.
The bottom line is that the hotel serves an important, utilitarian function. For guests wanting to stay in the Disney bubble who will take advantage of on-property perks like Extra Magic Hour, it's the least expensive option. That alone makes a stay worth it for them.
Would I personally stay there again? Definitely, but likely only under a specific set of circumstances. A stay makes sense for me when the on-property perks are especially valuable and the price difference between Paradise Pier rooms and rooms at the other on-property hotels is significant. A few years ago, rooms at the hotel were often only $20 to $40 less per night than at the Disneyland Hotel. In those days, I'd gladly pay the small additional cost to go to the Disneyland Hotel. That price gap is growing and is now often $100 or more per night. That's when Paradise Pier, even with all its caveats, is a perfectly reasonable choice if you really want or need to be at a Disneyland resort.
Are you planning a trip to Disneyland with your family? Here are more resources:
- 9 Things Families Should Know Before Visiting Disneyland
- Where to Stay at Disneyland: On- vs. Off-Property Hotel Comparisons
- Skip the Lines at Disneyland: 10 Line-Busting Tips for Less Waiting and More Playing
- 10 Tips for Visiting Disneyland With Toddlers and Preschoolers
- Best Restaurants at Disneyland
- How to Save Money Buying Discounted Disney Gift Cards
- How to Use Points for Disney Tickets
Leslie Harvey is a mom of two who blogs at Trips With Tykes, is the co-host of the podcast Disney Deciphered and co-owns the Disneyland planning Facebook group, Disneyland With Kids.