During Disneyland’s Holidays celebration, both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure are transformed with holiday lights, decorations, festive foods, parades, fireworks, and many other special offerings. One of our TravelingMoms who frequents Disneyland often does a deep dive on the four special holiday attractions in the two parks during the 2018 holiday season. Get insider tips for dodging the long lines and what to look for in these special ride overlays.
Holidays at Disneyland
Disney knows how to have a celebration, so it’s no surprise that the holidays at Disneyland Resort are always a truly special event. The giant tree in Town Square on Main Street USA and Sleeping Beauty Castle covered in twinkling lights always set the Christmas mood. Cars Land in Disney California Adventure celebrates “Season’s Speedings” with whimsical automotive themed holiday decor.
I recently had a chance to sample all things Disneyland Holidays during the first week of the season, which runs from November 9, 2018 until January 6, 2019 this year. During the winter months at Disneyland, there are special holiday parades, musical performances, fireworks, food and merchandise, and a full scale food festival, Festival of Holidays.
4 Holiday-Themed Attractions in Disneyland & Disney California Adventure
But a central part of any Disneyland vacation is the rides. For those who come to Disneyland for the rides and attractions, Disneyland truly shines during the winter season. There are currently four attractions within Disneyland park and Disney California Adventure that feature special holiday overlays.
Want to ride all four of these attractions during your Disneyland Holidays visit? Here’s your complete guide to these four rides in 2018, with tips for dodging the Disneyland holiday crowds and spotting all the hidden Disney touches.
1. It’s a Small World Holiday
This attraction was Disneyland’s first holiday themed ride overlay, debuting in 1997. The exterior, decorated in 300,000 dazzling holiday lights, offers a can’t-miss view. Every evening, there is a special lighting ceremony around sunset. Check the Disneyland app or printed showtimes guide for the exact times. Additionally, the facade of the attraction features a special projections and holiday music show about every half hour.
On the interior, every inch of the world cruise features lights and festive decor. Each room displays holiday decorations in keeping with the countries featured. The traditional song (sometimes criticized for being a tad repetitive) is combined in a Christmas carol medley with Jingle Bells and Deck the Halls to mix things up. If you listen carefully, you might notice some special Disney touches, like Ariel in the South Seas room singing “Jingle Shells.”
The ride is well-suited for every age and stage, especially little ones. When my children first rode the attraction during the holidays in 2014, my 13 month old son furiously signed “more” when it came to an end.
Starting last year, it’s a small world Holiday offers Fastpass, which helps circumvent long wait times. I’d highly recommend paying extra for MaxPass, which allows guests to book Fastpasses on their smartphones. If you can’t get a Fastpass/MaxPass, your best bet for dodging lines is to visit this attraction within about 30 minutes of park opening. Or, get in line in the last half hour before the park closes.
2. Haunted Mansion Holiday
If you had a chance to visit Disneyland during Halloween, you’ve already seen the Haunted Mansion’s holiday overlay. Jack Skellington and his friends from Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas have overrun the mansion, decorating it with their rare brand of Halloween and Christmas mixed together.
Many of the classic Haunted Mansion touches are still there, including the projected singing head statues (currently harmonizing pumpkin heads). In the banquet hall room, look for the giant gingerbread house that is constructed anew with a new theme every year.
The Nightmare Before Christmas theming has the effect of minimizing the prominence of ghosts. As a result, the ride can seem a little less scary during the holidays for many little ones (although not to my 5 year old son who fiercely refused to ride this year!). Nevertheless, it still manages to be just as entertaining for the adults.
Haunted Mansion Holiday is the most popular of all the four holiday-themed attractions. Getting Fastpass/Maxpass for it is very important. Note also that Fastpasses may run out fairly early in the afternoon depending on park crowd levels, so watch availability closely if you are considering riding it later in the day.
3. Mater’s Jingle Jamboree
Up until last year, the special holiday ride overlays were confined to Disneyland park. But the offerings are now expanded to Disney California Adventure in Cars Land. There, Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree becomes Mater’s Jingle Jamboree. The overlay is not as extensive as the ones in Disneyland, but it’s still a lot of fun to spin along to themed holiday music and admire the Cars Land decor.
This attraction does not offer Fastpass, so the only way to ride it is by waiting in regular standby queues. It’s not necessary to ride it immediately at park opening, as lines don’t get long immediately. But definitely try to fit it in to your touring plans within the first 60-90 minutes of park opening. Often, guests visiting the very popular Radiator Springs Racers nearby will ride Mater’s next before leaving Cars Land. When lines are under 15-20 minutes (use the Disneyland app to watch them in real time), then that is the time to ride!
Mater’s has a height minimum of only 32 inches so it’s a ride that pretty much everyone in the family except infants can enjoy. I found it to be just the right speed for my preschooler who isn’t quite ready for thrill rides.
4. Luigi’s Joy to the Whirl
Just down Route 66 is a second themed Cars Land attraction. Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters becomes Luigi’s Joy to the Whirl during the Christmas season. Similar to Mater’s, the ride is set to special holiday soundtrack and decorated for the holidays outside and in.
This attraction also has a 32 inch height minimum and similar wait times and line patterns to Mater’s. It’s even a little more low key than Mater’s. If you are worried about whether your sensitive toddler is ready for either ride, I’d recommend trying this one first.
More Disneyland Holidays Information
If you are able to make the trip to Disneyland this year for the holidays, these attractions should be high on your list. Be aware that line at Disneyland can often be long during certain periods of the holiday season. Don’t miss tips for dealing with Disneyland crowds if you plan a visit during a busy time.
Consider purchasing your tickets from an authorized reseller like Get Away Today, where you’ll save on the same tickets you can get at the gate.
Further Reading about Disneyland during the Holidays: