If you’re already a Disney fan, you know that visiting Disneyland during the holidays holds a special thrill. From the moment you pass through the gates, you’re immersed in the Disneyland Christmas magic. Our Day Trips TravelingMom tells you what you need to know about the classic holiday offerings at the Disneyland Resort.
Why You Should Visit Disneyland During the Holidays
Disney is a delight 365 days a year, but Disney really pulls out the stops during the holidays! The entire resort is decorated top to bottom, including Downtown Disney District, the 3 resort hotels and both theme parks. There are Christmas trees, swags of evergreen garland and over-sized ornaments everywhere. It was easy for us to find a great spot for our family Christmas card photo.
If you’re looking for food, whether unique or traditional for the holidays, there’s enough here on the menus to please even the pickiest eaters. And nobody entertains like Disney. The Disneyland Christmas parades, shows and evening entertainment are joyful for all ages. My family and I live close to the Disneyland Resort, so we recently made a day trip to see the parks in their holiday glory.
Keep reading for my reasons why you need to visit Disneyland before January 8, 2017. (That’s when the holiday offerings end this year.)
Disneyland Christmas – What’s New?
Disney likes to keep its parks fresh. That means shelving some events, reviving others and introducing totally new delights. Check out these new holiday events, happening only at the Disneyland resort.
Festival of the Holidays
This holiday season at Disney California Adventure Park, the Festive Foods Marketplace is offering snack-sized plates of dishes from around the globe. The 14 kiosks serve up freshly prepared snacks and drinks. Each kiosk celebrates either a culture or tradition of the holidays. For example, Southern Home Holidays serves up sweet potato pie, Mistletoe Morsels offers Swedish dishes and Treats for Santa has traditional cookies and punch.
Rich and hearty offerings are served in small portions, including chorizo bean sopes, roasted lamb and a Kahlua pork slider. These are more “gourmet” than the usual park fare and the prices reflect that. A dish costs anywhere from $6.25 for carrot & chickpea fritters to $8.75 for smoked duck with a vegetable spring roll. With our family of six, we just couldn’t justify the cost of indulging in these small dishes, Instead, we opted to share a hearty soup in a bread bowl from the Pacific Wharf Cafe.
Desserts are more reasonably priced so we bought a few sweet treats and shared. The mocha yule log with candied chestnuts at only $4.75 is a special treat that won’t break the bank. My husband was thrilled to see the variety of beer options available and treated himself to an IPA. There are also many wines to choose from. Non-alcoholic sips include frozen chocolate milk, pumpkin spice hot chocolate and Merry Berry sherbet punch.
Traveling Mom Tip: Lines at the kiosks were short when we arrived in the park around 2 pm. By nightfall, the queues had grown. Arrive early in the day with your appetite ready to avoid the crowds!
The Three Caballeros (Donald Duck, Panchito and José Carioca) host !Viva Navidad! That’s a festive celebration that includes mariachi and samba music, folklorico dancers and Mickey and Minnie in full Latin-American garb. We all joined in the lively street party, dancing and clapping along to the vibrant sounds. The party takes place several times a day in the Paradise Pier area of Disney California Adventure Park. Be sure to check out the 12-foot-tall Santa and Mrs. Claus mojiganga puppets.
Traveling Mom Tip: Choose the shows that are earlier in the day to capture the full essence of this energetic show. I wished we’d seen the show before dark when we could have taken in more of the brightly colored costumes. By nightfall the area was poorly lit and it was difficult to see all of the aspects of the party.
If you are visiting after the New Year, there will also be a Three Kings Day celebration. From January 5th-8th Disney California Adventure park will be celebrating with displays, kids’ crafts and traditional sweets for sale.
Six live performance groups will be entertaining the crowds this holiday at Disney California Adventure park. During our visit we had the pleasure of dining in the Pacific Wharf area and listening to the pleasant harmony of RAISE, an a cappella group that sings R&B-style holiday music. Mariachi Divas is already a park favorite and these ladies had us singing and dancing along with their bilingual songs.
For the kids, there are stations near the food kiosks with complimentary children’s craft tables to create art or to color. Also, several times a day Princess Elena of Avalor (of the namesake television show on the Disney channel) serenades guests with a “magical grand arrival” and then greets children for photos and autographs.
Traveling Mom Tip: Consider dining in the Pacific Wharf area for lunch so you’ll be able to take in a show during your meal. We were able to see two acts while we dined and the groups had the kids up and dancing in front of the stage.
World of Color-Season of Light
World of Color-Season of Light is a new nighttime holiday show at Disney California Adventure Park. It combines lights, beloved movie clips and Christmas music. Sprays of mist become the screen for projected animation of Disney and Pixar films in a winter-themed production.
TravelingMom Tip: Take note that being sprayed with mist on a chilly winter night may not be ideal, so consider that before choosing to stand in the front row!
It has been 6 years since we’ve watched the original World of Color, so I was looking forward to seeing this new seasonal show. But I have to be totally honest: My kids just didn’t have the stamina to make it to the World of Color-Season of Light viewing. After awakening at 6 am and a busy day spent walking through the parks, they were tired and ready to head for home. I was so disappointed to miss it!
Traveling Mom Tip: If seeing the World of Color-Season of Light show is on your agenda, consider taking a mid-day break back at the hotel to rest up the family so you’ll have the stamina for a late evening show. Keep in mind that the World of Color shows are standing room only, even if you have a FastPass or a special dining package!
Traditional Classics Return
Disney knows that guests not only want fresh and new but they also cherish the yearly favorites. These are some of the classic Disneyland holiday delights that are returning this year.
Haunted Mansion Holiday, “it’s a small world” Holiday and the Jingle Cruise return, with subtle changes this year that only enhance each attraction. There’s a delightful new character represented inside the Haunted Mansion Holiday graveyard. The facade of “it’s a small world” Holiday sparkles again with thousands of twinkling lights. This year celebrates the 20th anniversary of this seasonal overlay so when you take your voyage, be on the lookout for the “Hidden 20s” in the scenes.
This was my first time on the Jingle Cruise and yes, the jokes are as delightfully corny as the original ride! I had a few good belly-laughs at the silly holiday decor on this seasonal mash-up.
Traveling Mom Tip: The attractions with holiday overlays are extremely popular and only Haunted Mansion Holiday offers FastPass. Grab that FastPass early and then ride the other two attractions within the first hour of opening to beat the crowds. Be sure to check out this post about navigating holiday crowds at Disneyland for more seasonal tips.
Dancing reindeer and gingerbread, a toy workshop and Santa atop his sleigh! A Christmas Fantasy Parade is back. We watched the parade just across from “it’s a small world” Holiday, which is generally a less crowded viewing area (versus Main Street U.S.A). If you haven’t seen Paint the Night yet, be sure to catch it before it leaves Disneyland just after the new year.
Traveling Mom Tip: If you plan on viewing both parades on the same day, watch A Christmas Fantasy Parade at the earliest time and Paint the Night at the latest time. This will free you up in between shows for taking in plenty of other attractions or park hopping, if you wish.
Not to be missed are the amazing holiday decorations that are so carefully themed throughout the different “Lands” and areas of the Disneyland Resort. Taking a photo in front of the towering Christmas trees inside each park is a must-do. Two of my favorite areas with seasonal decor are Toontown and Cars Land.
Toontown in Disneyland Park is so bright and colorful, with over-sized garlands that are so appropriate for this zany “Land.” The holiday decor in Cars Land could not be more perfect! From the Christmas tree studded with hub caps to the air filter and white-wall tire garlands that drape over Route 66, Cars Land is positively charming for the holidays.
Traveling Mom Tip: Keep a lookout for the PhotoPass photographers that are stationed around the park. They take wonderful photos of your family with the seasonal decorations. But you don’t need to purchase the Disney PhotoPass plan. You can hand your camera to the photographers and they will take your photo for you without charge. Find out more about taking great family photos at Disneyland.
Believe…In Holiday Magic Fireworks Spectacular
After a year hiatus for the 60th Anniversary celebration, Believe…In Holiday Magic fireworks spectacular has returned to the Disneyland Park. All the sparkle, the stirring music and yes, even the snowfall has returned! Fireworks shows at Disneyland are not to be missed.
Traveling Mom Tip: Watching from in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle on Main Street U.S.A. is always magical but you’ll still be able to experience the show (and snow!) with slightly smaller crowds if you watch from the area in front of “it’s a small world” Holiday.
A Visit with Santa
Santa is stationed in multiple areas of the Disneyland Resort this year. We chose to check in with Santa at Disney California Adventure park, in the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail. What a charming location, with homey rustic touches (and a couch almost long enough to hold my big family!)
You can also meet Santa in Critter Country in Disneyland Park and at select times inside the Resort hotels.
Traveling Mom Tip: Log your name on Santa’s “Nice List” like my son did on our visit. He joyfully wrote the names of each family member inside Santa’s book. See more way to celebrate Christmas at Disney!