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Disneyland Christmas is an even more magical time of year at the Anaheim, California theme park! A Disneyland regular shares her tips for getting the most out of your visit.
The Disneyland Resort transforms into a winter wonderland during the holiday season! For 2019, the Holidays at Disneyland kick off on November 9 and run through January 6, 2020, transforming the parks into the Merriest Place on Earth. These two months are filled with Christmas decorations, celebrations, parades, festive ride overlays and delicious seasonal treats that will fill even the Grinchiest Grinch’s heart with holiday cheer.
The Disneyland Resort celebrates not only Christmas, but Chanukah, Kwanza, New Year’s Eve and Three Kings Day with the kind of holiday magic only Disney can provide!
From the moment you pass through the gates and approach Main Street U.S.A., you’ll be immersed in holiday magic. The first thing you’ll see is Disneyland’s magnificent, 60-foot tall Christmas tree, decorated with nearly 1,800 ornaments. The building facades along the street are decked out in poinsettias and holiday wreaths and garland. It is truly a beautiful sight!
TravelingMom Tip: A family photo in front of the tree on Main Street U.S.A. is a holiday must, so plan to do this early in the day before kids get cranky and mom’s hair gets wind-whipped on Space Mountain. Even if there is a line, this classic shot is worth the wait!
On the other end of Main Street, Sleeping Beauty Castle glows each evening during the holiday season with shimmering icicles and twinkling lights. There’s even snowfall and holiday music.
Disneyland Holiday Ride Overlays
While the entire park gets into the holiday spirit, two rides at Disneyland receive magical holiday overlays.
Haunted Mansion Holiday
First up is the Haunted Mansion in New Orleans Square, which actually undergoes its holiday transformation in September to be a part of Halloween celebrations. Jack Skellington and his friends from The Nightmare Before Christmas take over this classic ride, causing Halloween and Christmas to collide! Incidentally, the Haunted Mansion, called Haunted Mansion Holiday this time of year, is celebrating its 50-year anniversary in 2019.
If you smell something fabulous while on the ride, it is likely gingerbread! Each year, a new gingerbread house is featured in the Haunted Mansion Holiday. You’ll see it as you pass the ballroom scene.
TravelingMom Tip: Haunted Mansion Holiday is easily one of the most popular rides during the holiday season, so be sure to get there early and grab a FASTPASS or reserve a MaxPass if you are springing for it.
“it’s a small world” Holiday
The second attraction to receive a seasonal overlay during Disneyland Christmas is “it’s a small world.” Reimagined and called “it’s a small world” Holiday, the ride replaces its standard catchy tune with “Jingle Bells.” Don’t worry; they’re equally guaranteed to get stuck in your head for the rest of the day!
Inside the boat ride attraction, the animated children are enjoying the distinctive holiday traditions of their cultures. Every setting is adorned with traditional lights and decorations. Outside, more than 50,000 colorful lights, music and video projections add to the holiday magic. The clock that chimes every quarter of an hour wears a giant Santa hat.
TravelingMom Tip: Every night after sunset, be sure to catch for the show that projects onto the façade of the “it’s a small world” Holiday building. It plays every 15 minutes so if you happen to be waiting in line at that time, it’s a good time to watch it!
Holiday Entertainment at Disneyland
One of the best things about Christmas at Disneyland is the entertainment. Disneyland offers a number of holiday entertainment options.
The fireworks spectacular “Believe… in Holiday Magic” should not be missed! Set to festive holiday music, the 15-minute fireworks show ends with a magical snowfall finale.
TravelingMom Tip: Although the fireworks can be seen from multiple spots throughout the park, for the best view plan to stake out a spot on Main Street. You’ll have to get there early to secure a good spot! Send a runner for snacks or coffee while the rest of your family holds down the fort waiting for the show to begin.
“A Christmas Fantasy” Parade is the classic Christmas parade that features Mickey, Minnie, Anna and Elsa, and of course Santa Claus. There are even dancing gingerbread cookies and toy soldiers. The parade typically runs twice a day – at 3:30 and 6:00 – but be sure to the check the Disneyland app or your Entertainment Guide.
TravelingMom Tip: The parade travels in both directions – from “it’s a small world” Holiday in the back of the park to Main Street U.S.A. in the front for the early show, and then vice versa for the later show. I like catch the earlier parade and sit by “it’s a small world.” Not only is it usually less crowded, but the parade passes through this area first, meaning you’ll be done watching and back on the rides long before all the people lining Main Street!
Disney California Adventure Park
Like Disneyland park, Disney California Adventure decks the halls big time during the holiday season!
Right inside the entrance you’ll find a dazzling, 50-foot Christmas tree in Carthay Circle, getting you into the holiday spirit from the moment you arrive at the park. The tree and surrounding buildings are decorated with vintage-style ornaments in keeping with the theme of Buena Vista Street, inspired by Los Angeles as it appeared in the 1920s when Walt Disney arrived. There is also a Menorah and Chanukah decorations typically on display in the window of Julius Katz & Sons on Buena Vista Street. (At Disneyland, you can also spot a Menorah in a window on Main Street U.S.A.)
Pacific Wharf, Cars Land, Hollywood Land and Grizzly Peak will also sparkle with holiday décor throughout the season.
Disney California Adventure Holiday Ride Overlays
Cars Land is the one land totally transformed for the Christmas season. Two attractions receive special ride overlays. Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree becomes Mater’s Jingle Jamboree and Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters turns into Luigi’s Joy to the Whirl.
The decorations in Cars Land are as clever as they are cute! You’ll find a Christmas tree made with hub caps and white-wall tire garland that drapes overhead across Route 66. The whimsical “Snowcar” greets guests at the entrance to Radiator Springs, and each character also gets a holiday makeover. The shops and restaurants in town are decorated, as well!
Holiday Entertainment at Disney California Adventure
After a brief hiatus, the nighttime spectacular “World of Color – Season of Light” returns for 2019. This holiday-themed production features lights, lasers, water, fire and hundreds of fountains bringing Disney animation to life. It is located on the lake in front of Pixar Pier and is a not-to-be-missed holiday event.
TravelingMom Tip: Be sure to reserve a FASTPASS or MaxPass for World of Color early in the day. It will not impact your ability to reserve passes for other attractions (meaning you won’t have to wait to get another one) and the sooner the reserve, the better spot to view the show you’ll be assigned. The FASTPASS kiosk for World of Color is located next to Grizzly River Run.
Also returning to Disney California Adventure is the popular “Disney ¡Viva Navidad! Street Party.” Located in the Paradise Garden area of the park, ¡Viva Navidad! features folklórico and samba dancers, live musicians, photo opps and Mickey and Minnie dressed in traditional Latin-American outfits.
The party is hosted by the Three Caballeros: Donald Duck, Panchito and José Carioca. Part parade and part fiesta, it is fun to listen to the music and see little kids dancing with the Three Caballeros and others in the street!
Disney Festival of Holidays
For the fourth year in a row, the Festival of Holidays celebrates holidays from around the world at Disney California Adventure. Much like the popular International Food & Wine Festival at Epcot in Walt Disney World, this seasonal event features festive foods and beverages from across the globe. There is also live entertainment and craft stations for kids. You’ll find multiple cultures and holidays represented – including Christmas, Chanukah, Navidad, Diwali and Kwanzaa.
The Festival of Holidays made its debut at Disney California Adventure Park in 2016 and continues to grow in popularity. We attended last year and had a fun time just wandering from booth to booth and sharing bites! One of our favorites was the warm peppermint chocolate float. Other holiday foods available at the Festival of Holidays include tamales, Swedish meatballs, eggnog and gingerbread.
The food is served in small, shareable portions. You can purchase items a la carte or purchase a Sip and Savor Pass, which allows you to choose eight dishes, desserts or non-alcoholic drinks from any of the festival kiosks.
Lines get longer as the day goes on, especially at night when people are more apt to want to try the beers and alcoholic drinks available during Disney Festival of Holidays. If you want to sample lots of different foods and maximize your time, I recommend visiting earlier in the day, perhaps even planning on calling this lunch.
TravelingMom Tip: There are live performances daily at several venues throughout the Festival of Holidays. Be sure to download the Disneyland app and check for show time and locations when planning your visit!
Pictures with Santa Claus
No Disneyland Christmas celebration is complete without the chance to meet the big man himself! This year, Santa and his elves can be found at two locations at the Disneyland Resort. At Disney California Adventure, he’ll be at the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail. This rustic, woodsy setting is perfect for family photos! In addition to getting photos with Santa, kids can have fun exploring Redwood Creek and the special holiday games and activities that will be there through Christmas.
At the Disneyland park, Santa can be found in Critter Country.
Both locations have Photopass photographers on hand, but hours vary. Be sure to check the park guides or Disneyland app for specific information.
Downtown Disney and Disneyland Resort Hotels
The holiday magic extends beyond the parks! Be sure to visit the Downtown Disney District where the decorations are amazing, and stores offer festive shopping, dining and live entertainment.
The three hotels at the Disneyland Resort – Disneyland Hotel, Disney’s Grand Californian and Paradise Pier Hotel – are beautifully decorated and worth a visit even if you are not staying there.
Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel has a giant gingerbread house on display in the lobby. There is also a towering Christmas tree and hot cocoa and treats for sale. This, combined with a roaring fireplace, comfy seating and easy access via a direct entrance from Disney California Adventure park, makes this hotel the perfect spot to escape and take a break during the holidays.
TravelingMom Tip: Staying at one of the Disneyland Resort hotels during Christmas time? You can order ahead and surprise your family with personalized holiday in-room celebrations and decorations to make your trip extra magical.
Disneyland Holiday Tips
While the holidays at the Disneyland Resort are spectacular, big crowds are often a major downside. Here are some tips for managing the crowds and getting the most out of your time during the holiday season.
1. Arrive Early to the Parks
The best advice you can get to beat the rush at Disneyland Christmas is to arrive early. The crowds are lightest at opening time. Arrive 15-30 minutes before the parks open to take advantage of lighter crowds.
2. Use FASTPASS or MaxPass
Having a good FASTPASS strategy is imperative to beating the crowds at Disneyland, especially during holiday time! The Disneyland FASTPASS system allows you to skip the lines for some of the most popular attractions in Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Parks.
MaxPass is even better! However, there is an extra fee (currently $15 per person, per day). MaxPass allows you to manage your FASTPASS selections from the Disneyland app on your phone, saving even more time.
The really cool thing about MaxPass is that it also includes PhotoPass, allowing you to view and download unlimited photos taken on rides and by Disney photographers. During the holidays, many Disney characters are dressed in special holiday costumes, creating awesome photo opportunities!
3. Download an App to Check Wait Times
Download the Disneyland app so you’ll be able to check wait times in real time. The app will give you an overview of posted and predicted wait times for all the rides at both Disneyland Park and Disney’s California Adventure. Otherwise, you have to do it old school — checking the Tip Board on Main Street or just showing up only to find long wait times.
4. Splurge on Some Holiday Treats
Disneyland is known for its delicious and beautiful treats year-round, but during the holidays there are some extra special offerings.
You can save time at many restaurants by using mobile food ordering on the Disneyland app. This feature allows you to view a restaurant’s menu and pricing, place your order, pay, and pick up your meal or snack without ever having to wait in line.
5. Make Dining Reservations Early
If you are planning to dine at a sit-down restaurant – especially on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day or New Year’s Eve – make a reservation as soon as you can! Reservations will fill up early on these holiday dates and really throughout the whole busy season. You don’t want to miss out on a special dining experience this time of year!
6. Don’t Forget to Stop and Shop
Disneyland unveils some amazing merchandise during the holidays! Even though your kids will resist (if they are anything like mine) leave time to poke through some stores. Whether you are buying souvenirs, Christmas gifts or a special commemorative ornament, the stores in the theme parks and at Downtown Disney are an attraction in themselves.