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Summer stay: Hyatt Regency Orange County

Even though I've lived in California for nine years, I never drank the Disneyland kool-aid until just a few months ago. A friend was holding her birthday celebration there, so I figured it was the perfect time to check out the beloved theme park. And once I did, I finally understood all the hype! (Let's face it: one ride on Space Mountain is all it takes.) Suffice it to say, I now look for any excuse to return to the House of Mouse.

Enter the Hyatt Regency Orange County, located just a hop, skip, and fairy's flit from the Disney grounds. In June, the hotel unveiled a $25 million renovation including two new restaurants, a lobby facelift, and all 654 rooms. So when I got an invite to check out the makeover and visit Disney, the answer was a resounding "Y-E-S!" My boyfriend Joe was more than up for the adventure as well.

Our whirlwind weekend started on a Friday evening, with plans to attend a baseball game at nearby Angels Stadium. While awaiting the hotel shuttle (it'll run ya $10, but it's still cheaper than stadium parking—plus no hassle!), we decided to sip some brewskis at the Hyatt's on-site OC Brewhouse. Turns out that anyone sporting game tix or Angels attire gets $3 pints and 1/2 off apps—score! I decided to sample the calorically-friendly Endless Summer Light, as well as the citrus-y Tangerine Wheat. Both were quite yummy (and I was pleased to find out that they're locally brewed—along with six of the other 12 draft beers on tap). Also on the tasty tip were the restaurant's sweet potato fries dipped in aioli. All in all, a good pre-stadium destination! (But save room for hot dogs and peanuts, natch.)

The next morning, we loaded up on room service so we'd have lots of energy for...wait for it...a day at Disneyland! (In-room selections come from on-site restaurant TusCA's menu; suggestion: try the Zucchini and Cheese Frittata—it's good.) Once we'd had sufficient sustenance, we headed downstairs to board the free park shuttle, which leaves the Hyatt twice hourly. Joe had never been to Disneyland before, so we were eager to do all the classics! And that we did—from Space Mountain to the Haunted Mansion to Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. We also loved the World of Color show and the Soarin' Over California Ride across the way at California Adventure. But my fave part? Seeing the King of Pop in 80s-tastic fashion in the 3-D revival of "Captain EO." (Shamon down to Disneyland and see for yourself!)

Though it was tempting to subsist solely on churros and fritters, we decided to go have a proper sit-down meal at TusCA. Both of us are Italian, and we wanted to try the treats on the authentic Italian menu designed by native Italian Chef Laura de Martin. Upon visiting, we learned that the hotel's rooftop boasts the OC's tallest herb garden, from which de Martin sources many of her seasonal ingredients. Like the OC Brewhouse, TusCA is based in the hotel's 17-story glass atrium lobby. For our meal, I tried the Spinach-Ricotta Gnocchi, while Joe noshed on the Lemon Rosemary Roasted Chicken with polenta and sauteed funghi. We also enjoyed liberal amounts of Italian Pinot Grigio!

The next morning brought some opportunity for much-needed R&R, so we decided to hit up the hotel's fitness center and pool before checkout. Turns out the fitness center was upgraded and expanded during the recent renovation—a converted former suite is now home to oodles of ellipticals and the like. For those that would rather get their active on outdoors, the hotel also has basketball and tennis courts with free equipment avail for check-out. And, of course, in true SoCal style, there are two pools (one in each tower). Although I didn't get to join in the fun, I liked that they show "Dive-In" movies by the pool on Saturdays—fun for the whole fam, indeed!

Pros- and cons-wise, I thought it was really cool that the Hyatt Regency offers two original restaurant concepts, as most of the neighboring Disneyland hotels seemed to feature standard chain fare. I also liked the modern, beachy feel of the lobby, and the roominess of the suites (although be warned: that roominess doesn't translate to the bathrooms!). However, since it's a popular family destination, the hotel is bustling and busy from early morning on—we found it hard to reach the front desk at times, and there was often a long line of people as well. But that was pretty much the only negative! All in all, I thought it was a great place to lay your head after a long day exploring the OC—Disney or otherwise. So, as Mickey would say, Hyatt, I'm sure I'll be "seein' ya (again) real soon!"

For more 411: Hyatt Regency Orange County, 11999 Harbor Blvd., Garden Grove, CA 92840; 714-750-1234

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