Christmas at Disneyland. Does it get any better? My family doesn’t consider our holidays complete without a visit to the parks during the festive winter season. From fabulous seasonal food to vibrant decor and spectacular shows, Christmas at Disneyland simply can’t be beat. Disneyland’s holiday season runs November 9th through January 6th, so hurry to the parks and immerse your family in the holiday magic.
Updated for 2018!
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As usual, Disneyland is decked out in its holiday best with a massive, 60-foot Christmas tree in Town Square on Main Street. The tree has some new decorations this year including 3,5000 lights, 1,500 Victorian-style ornaments, and 100 faux candles. 10,000 poinsettia and 10,000 cyclamen plants have been planted around the Disneyland Resort to keep the gardens festive as well.
More than 126,000 sparkling lights drip down Sleeping Beauty’s Castle like icicles, and vibrant holiday decorations trim nearly every nook and cranny of the park. The ever-popular “Christmas Fantasy” Parade starring Santa Claus returns to put us all in the Christmas Spirit. Disney traditions continue with Disneyland’s “Believe… in Holiday Magic” fireworks show which is capped off with a snowfall finale.
Tip: Head to Disneyland mid-week during early to mid-December when the park is lower on crowds but high on holiday magic. If you do visit Disneyland during weekends or busy holiday periods, take advantage of the extended park hours and Maxpass to get the most out of your family’s Disneyland experience.
For over 20 years, the ride we all know and love has transformed into a holiday wonderland with “it’s a small world” Holiday . The ride’s 300+ audio-animatronic dolls take a break from singing the namesake song and instead belt out Deck the Halls and Jingle Bells. A FASTPASS is available for this popular ride. The attraction is especially worth visiting at night when the front facade as well as the surrounding trees and topiaries are decked out with 400,000 multi-colored lights. On every quarter hour, the facade also features a brilliantly-colored projection show.
Fun fact: It takes three dozen cast members 35 days to install the facade and 18 days to decorate the interior!
Haunted Mansion Holiday continues to enchant visitors with its seasonal tribute to Christmas as celebrated in Jack Skellington’s Halloweentown. The ride is quite different from what you experience during the rest of the year and many regulars, my family included, think that the holiday version is even better than the original. Fastpass is available for this ever-popular ride. This is the 18th year a gingerbread house will be in the Haunted Mansion ballroom. This year’s design includes a five-foot gingerbread spider pulling the gingerbread mansion off its foundation!
To celebrate the season, all your favorite Disney characters dance about during A Christmas Fantasy Parade. Disney princesses, along with Mickey and his gang, make appearances alongside the guest of honor, Santa Claus. Marching tin soldiers, life-size gingerbread cookies, and rollerblading snowflakes join in the fun as well.
An important part of any Disneyland holiday experience is enjoying some of the special treats which are only available during the holiday season. Every year specially selected desserts are available for purchase at several eateries around Disneyland. Tasty treasures include the chocolate mint yule log at Plaza Inn, peppermint holiday sundae at Gibson Girl, gingerbread creme brulee at the Blue Bayou, candy cane beignets at the Mint Julep Bar in New Orleans Square, and a variety of gingerbread men, cookies, cupcakes, holiday caramel apples, marshmallow snowmen, and festive churros that can be found throughout the park.
Savory food options include a roast beef tv dinner, snowman pancakes with bacon scarves, and chile rellenos served “Christmas style” with red and green sauce. If you really want to become a Disney holiday food aficionado, line up early in the morning when the park opens for a wristband so that you can purchase one of Disneyland’s coveted handmade candy canes. Call the Candy Cane Hotline (714) 781-0112 to get an updated schedule before your visit. Image Wikimedia Commons/Buckley.
If you still can’t get enough of Disney during the holidays, consider taking the Holiday Time at Disneyland Guided Tour which will give you an up-close look at what goes in to both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure’s holiday transformation. In addition to the tour guests will receive reserved seating at the parade, holiday-themed treats, and a special collectible pin. Reservations for this tour can be made at Disneyland City Hall on Main street or by calling (714) 781-8687.
Read reviews of rides, attractions and dining at Disneyland Resort from parent’s who have been there.
Be sure to stop by the gingerbread house in the lobby of Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa. The exterior of the gingerbread house resembles the outside of the hotel and stands 7 feet tall! It is topped with “snow” which is created with 600 pounds of powdered sugar, 12 gallons of egg whites, and 250 pounds of fondant. There are 25 hidden Mickeys in the display. Hot chocolate and holiday-themed snacks are sold from one of the house’s windows.
If you are staying at any of the Disneyland Resort properties this season take time to check out their holiday displays, entertainment offerings, and special holiday menus. Disneyland Hotel features a retro theme with silver trees and bright colors while Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel has an underwater-theme Christmas tree with fish ornaments.
Cars Land has been transformed into holiday wonderland- Radiator Springs style! Where else will you see trees trimmed with hub caps, bright orange tinsel encircling a tower of bright orange road cones, a snowcar, and a tow truck donning a Santa hat? Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters gets in the spirit as Luigi’s Joy to the Whirl and Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree is Mater’s Jingle Jamboree for the duration of the season.
Buena Vista Street is trimmed in its holiday best, complete with vintage-style ornaments. At the center of Carthay Circle is a 50-foot Christmas tree. Over on the Pacific Wharf, themed garlands adorn the fronts of the restaurants. My favorite is the Chinese takeout-themed garland in front of Lucky Fortune Cookery.
This year kids will find Santa hanging out at the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail where Festive Elf games and cookie decorating await. Keep your eyes open for the occasional “snow” fall. From December 25 through January 8, Santa Goofy can be found at this location.
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In its third year, one of the biggest additions to the holiday fun at Disney California Adventure is the Festival of Holidays that celebrates the diversity of the season and cultural traditions from around the world. Here is a list of this year’s kiosks and what they have to offer:
Brews & Bites: Chorizo queso fundido with chips and beer flights as well as beer by the glass. The queso and Festive Progressive Flight have been Trekaroo tested and approved!
Favorite Things: Holiday ham shanks with brown sugar-pineapple glaze, Rueben potato tots with Russian dressing and rye toast, cranberry sangria (yum!), and an eggnog cocktail with whipped cream and nutmeg dusting.
Holiday Duets: Shrimp and Grits with Andouille sausage, curry cauliflower soup with braised lamb and mintchurri, hidden Mickey and Minnie cookies, and warm peppermint chocolate float.
Making Spirits Bright: Like wine? This is the booth for you! Mimosa flight, white and red wine flights, and sparkling wine.
Vision of Sugarplums: This dessert-centric kiosk features white chocolate cranberry blondies, eggnog wreath eclairs, warm stocky toffee pudding with butterscotch sauce, horchata fudge, warm Bourbon cider with Bourbon-infused whipped cream, and s’mores frozen chocolate milk.
Merry Mashups: The highlight of this kiosk is the turkey and stuffing tamale with cranberry relish which is even better than it sounds! The lox and everything bagel nachos are a fun brunch treat. There is also a holiday punch with lime sherbet and sprite, a hot cocoa marshmallow macaroon, and a sparkling wine punch.
Winter Wonders: How does pumpkin soup with maple cashew cream sound? How about chana masala with grilled garlic naan? Top it off with a vanilla and cranberry trifle and pomegranate lemonade.
Blissfully Braised: Braised pork belly adobo with garlic fried rice, cornbread cakes with braised collard greens and smoked bacon gravy, and blood orange ginger mule.
Grandma’s Recipes: Dreaming about some homemade comfort food? Head here for candied yams with marshmallow cream and toasted pecans, beef pot roast on a potato roll with horseradish cream, and a gingerbread Mickey.
Winter Sliderland: Enjoy a roasted turkey slider with cranberry sauce, holiday stuffing mac and cheese, milk chocolate candy cane pot de creme, and celebrate with a frosty rosé.
Spicy Celebrations: If you love all things spicy, this is the kiosk for you. The Nashville hot fried turkey is served over bread and topped with dill pickles. It isn’t super spicy but it is tasty and has a nice little kick. There are also jalapeno latkes and a pomegranate margarita with a chipotle-smoked sea salt rim.
A Twist on Tradition: The entree at this kiosk is a chickenless mole with Spanish rice. Wash it down with a winter michelada. Want dessert? Try the Black Forest yule log.
Six different performing groups will keep things festive as you stroll the booths at the Festival of Holidays. Mariachi Divas sing bilingual holiday tunes. Mostly Kosher combine a variety of musical styles in a celebration of Hanukkah. If you love Bollywood- and who doesn’t- don’t miss the Blu13 Dance Company. The Sound brings soulful a capella holiday music to the Pacific Wharf and Paradise Gardens. Precision drumming keeps spirits bright when the Holiday Toy Drummers perform. Finally, don’t miss the Phat Cat Swinger band which puts their own brassy, swingy twist on holiday classics. Over at Viva Navidad, folklorico dancers and live musicians put a Latin spin on festive fun.
Part of the fun of the Festival of Holidays is shopping for fun gifts at various product kiosks. Highlights include crystal figurines by Arribas Brothers, holiday macarons by Kayla’s Cakes, fun bath and body products from Rinse Bath & Body Co, and bottled sauces from Saucy Lips. My favorite gifts are the personalized Disney ornaments.
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Looking to do Disneyland on a budget? Check out these tips on how to save money at Disneyland during the holidays.
Lead photo by Disneyland Resort.