Every family needs and deserves the ideal getaway. To be considered “ideal”, in my estimation it must include the following components:
1. Fun for EVERYONE. Mom and Dad get to relax, and the children have the time of their lives!
2. It musn’t break the bank–that’s a no-brainer.
3. It must be comfortable, safe and conveniently located near great restaurants and fun activities.
Our diamond was not found in the rough, it was discovered in the retro.
Our family recently spent an amazingly wonderful weekend together at Howard Johnson’s in Anaheim, www.HoJoAnaheim.com.
Built in 1965, Anaheim’s historic HoJo is a mid-century marvel located just off the I-5 at Harbor (aka: a mere 8-minute walk to Disneyland’s entrance). Designed by architect and hugely successful urban planner, William L. Pereira (visionary of the iconic dome of LAX, the Disneyland Hotel, the UCI campus and the TransAmerica Pyramid building in downtown San Francisco), the Anaheim HoJo is unmistakably 1960s California.
Wet ye shall be, buccaneers!
I’d love to impart a local history lesson to my children as much as the next parent, but let’s be honest: the Anaheim HoJo’s big draw is Castaway Cove, the hotel’s private pirate-themed water playground. Yes, I said pirate. I’m certain my boys just felt a quiver of excitement run down their spines as I typed the word.
Built only two years ago, Castaway Cove is the only themed water playground outside of the Disneyland resort. Be assured, this isn’t any glorified sprinkler. As you can see in the photos, there are multiple heated waterslides, a toddler pool, fountains, jacuzzi, cargo net climbs, water cannons, and the most remarkable adrenalin rush in the form of a 300 gallon drench bucket which releases a torrent of water on joyful kids and parents every 2 minutes. (By some feat of engineering, those 300 gallons only soak the willing and wanting. A chaise directly in front of it offers the perfect vantage point without once getting sprayed!)
Think pirates are just for boys? While our young sons do love all things both watery and pirate-y, we mingled with several families visiting that weekend, most of which were groups enjoying a “girls weekend” away. There was one group we met which comprised two great-grandmas, a grandmother, two daughters-in-law and two grand-daughters. Those little girls didn’t stand a chance when their moms and grandma took turns operating the water cannons as they climbed the cargo net to the highest water slide. We were also pleased to discover the hotel is a favored annual destination for many guests–even before the water park was installed. It’s important to note the HoJo sits on 10 acres (most newer hotels in the area comprise only 1 acre, with only a small rooftop pool), and beyond Castaway Cove guests can explore a separate, large, Garden Pool (which will receive its own hot tub this year) and jasmine-scented garden walkways. The spacious rooms offer balconies overseeing the action and free parking is located away from the activity, so children are safe to roam about the entirely non-smoking facility.
Our weekend was the ideal mix of much-needed relaxation and whirlwind water fun. While “retro” best describes the exterior, our room was comfortable, modern, and boasted a terrific view. (The HoJo sits directly across from Matterhorn mountain and the Monorail tracks. Disney’s fireworks show explodes just to the right of the Matterhorn as viewed from the deck of Castaway Cove!)
With such close proximity to Disneyland and the fabulously stocked gift shop bursting with Disney souvenirs, I wondered whether our little ones would spend the entire weekend begging for The Magic Kingdom, but they were so satisfied by just playing in the water, and in the hotel’s well-equipped gameroom, it actually never came up.
My readers know all too well, I’m very particular about food and nutrition; a family vacation does not mean a trip away from good health. Mimi’s Cafe, one of the most well-respected and popular restaurants on the strip, sits directly next to the hotel, and area restaurants and shopping abound. Also, every guest room has a fridge for food storage and most have a microwave.
HoJo Anaheim will soon will be adding 14 pirate-themed 2-bedroom suites accommodating six comfortably. Parents can have their own bedroom with king-size bed, while the kids’ side will feature a bunk bed and sofa sleeper and separate bathroom.
Typically, an easy-on-the-budget hotel doesn’t compare with the service at a pricier, exclusive resort. We were very pleasantly surprised to discover the outstanding service and atmosphere of welcome at the HoJo. Every last housekeeper, groundskeeper or maintenance person greeted us and our children with genuine warmth, as if they were sincerely happy to have us visit. Could it just be the euphoria of 300 gallons of water dropped on our heads, or was this one of best family vacations ever?
Howard Johnson Plaza Hotel – Anaheim Resort
1380 South Harbor Boulevard, Anaheim, CA 92802
TripAdvisor’s “Best U.S. Hotel For Families” and “Best Family-Friendly Bargain Hotel in the U.S.” – 2005, 2006 & 2008!
photos by Joseph Lacko