Disneyland Resort’s Holiday Guide – The Merriest Time Of The Year

Goodbye Halloween, hello Christmas! The pumpkins are missing from Main Street, Oogie Boogie has left California Adventure, and the characters are back in their regular wardrobes again. Just like that, Halloween has been packed away and the holidays are starting to appear in the parks! Ornaments and garlands have already been hung throughout Disneyland and California Adventure, and it will be full-blown Christmas time in the parks by November 12th! In addition to Christmas being recognized in both parks, California Adventure will be celebrating Hanukkah, Diwali, Kwanzaa, and Three Kings’ Day as well. I love that Disney honors the unique traditions that come with each holiday this time of year. It is one of the most magical times of year to visit; there is at least one celebration that everyone can enjoy! Disneyland’s holiday season starts on November 12th and ends January 9th. 

THANKSGIVING AT DISNEYLAND

Before we dive right into Christmas, you may be asking, “What about Thanksgiving?”  While the parks do not have any specific Thanksgiving decor or entertainment, they do have Thanksgiving meals at select restaurants. Reservations are accepted up to 60 days in advance and usually fill up quickly, so consider this your reminder to plan in advance for next year if you are hoping to spend Thanksgiving with Mickey! 

Dining Options for Thanksgiving Meals 

This year, there are three options for Thanksgiving brunch, lunch, or dinner:

  • Napa Rose (located in the Grand Californian hotel.) The four-course feast from Chef Andrew Sutton includes a prix fixe menu for $135 per adult and $25 per child (ages 3 to 9.) Kids will have the option between a turkey dinner or anything from the regular kids’ menu. Thanksgiving dinner is served from 4:00 to 8:00pm. Reservations are required.
  • Storyteller’s Cafe (also located in the Grand Californian hotel.) If you’re looking for a good middle ground between a nicer meal and a casual experience, this is a great option. Storyteller’s Cafe is a character dining option that offers brunch and dinner buffets for Thanksgiving. Reservations are required.
    • Brunch is served from 7:00am to 2:00pm with classic Thanksgiving food and a variety of breakfast options. The price is $55 per adult and $32 per child.
    • Dinner is served from 3:00pm to 9:00pm. Classic Thanksgiving and homestyle comfort food are served. The price is $78 per adult and $35 per child. 
  • Goofy’s Kitchen (located in the Disneyland Hotel.) This is the most casual dining option for Thanksgiving. It is another character dining experience with both brunch and dinner Thanksgiving buffets. Reservations are required.
    • Brunch is served from 7:00am to 1:00pm. Brunch is $55 per adult and $32 per child.
    • Dinner is served from 1:30pm to 9:00pm. It is $75 per adult and $35 per child.
    • Earl of Sandwich. Located in Downtown Disney, this quick service sandwich shop offers a Holiday Turkey sandwich all year round! No reservation is required to grab a Thanksgiving meal packed into one sandwich!

My family doesn’t have a Disneyland tradition on Thanksgiving day, but I have heard from many Southern California residents that they love making it part of their Thanksgiving. In years past, I’ve heard that the park is much emptier while the majority of people are at home enjoying their Thanksgiving dinner. With the new reservation system this year, and the fact that it is the first year open again after the Covid closure, I am anticipating that it will be a typical busy holiday day in the parks. So many people are eager to get their dates on the reservation system and add new Disney traditions after going so long without it! 

CHRISTMAS TIME AT DISNEYLAND

It's a Small World attraction decorated in Christmas lights with snow falling

The holidays are generally busier at Disneyland; there really is something so magical about being there with the extra goodies, Christmas decor, and holiday buzz in the air! Disney tickets make for the perfect Christmas gift as well. One of my very favorite childhood Christmas memories was the year that our parents gifted my siblings and Christmas morning! For all these reasons and more, you can expect extra crowds and fewer reservation dates open during the months of November and January.

A Christmas Fantasy Parade

We are so excited to see the Christmas Fantasy Parade back at Disneyland this year! This parade has everything that screams Christmas: reindeer, dancing gingerbread men, and even Santa Clause himself. Mickey and Minnie are joined by some favorite characters, including Elsa, Anna, and Olaf in this cheery parade! It runs daily from November 12th to January 9th at 3:00pm and 5:00pm. The 3:00pm parade starts at the top of Main Street USA and makes its way down to it’s a small world. The 5:00pm parade goes in reverse, starting at It’s A Small World and up to the top of Main Street USA. We recommend snagging a spot early to get a good view. I love to pack dinner, or put in a mobile order to go, and eat outside of It’s A Small World while waiting to catch the 5:00pm show right as it starts!

Believe in Holiday Magic Fireworks

Possibly the most magical part of the holidays at Disneyland is a magical snowfall on Main Street USA, followed by a firework show! 

“it’s a small world”

This classic ride is decked out for the holidays and, in my opinion, is the best way to experience the ride! There are extra lights and decor all throughout the ride, making it more magical than usual. It almost seems naked once the Christmas decor has been removed. It is definitely a must-do with little kids every holiday season!

Every night at 5:15pm, you can watch the exterior of it’s a small world light up with twinkle lights and a light show as the sun goes down. You can catch this show every 30 minutes throughout the night.

Wintertime Enchantment at Sleeping Beauty’s Winter Castle

Sleeping Beauty’s castle gets a magical makeover for the holidays with blue lights, icicles, wreaths and ornaments. It makes for the perfect holiday backdrop for family photos.

Haunted Mansion Holiday

Disneyland Castle decorated for the holidays

Of course, it wouldn’t be the holiday season without Jack Skellington and Sally taking over the Haunted Mansion! This Halloween meets Christmas attraction stays decked out in The Nightmare Before Christmas through the whole Christmas season.

Disney Merriest Nites

New to Disneyland this year is the separately ticketed event “Disney Merriest Nites.” We covered all the details and what to expect here. If you are planning to attend Disneyland during the holiday season, keep in mind the park will be closing at 8:00pm for this event on the following nights:

Thursday, November 11

Tuesday, November 16

Tuesday, November 30

Tuesday, December 7

Thursday, December 9

Plaza Point Holiday Shoppe

New to Disneyland this year is a holiday shoppe that feels like it comes straight from a Christmas storybook! All the holiday decor and ornaments can be found in this one stop. Peaking in the windows at night is magical all by itself! Personalized engraving is offered right in the store so that you can add your personal touch to any ornament. My family has a tradition of getting a Disneyland ornament every Christmas; I love the option to personalize this year’s with our family name and date. I think the first Christmas back in Disneyland after Covid deserves an extra special ornament! 

Meet Santa at Pooh’s Thotful Spot in Critter Country 

There isn’t a schedule available for when Santa will be around Pooh’s Thotful Spot, at least not yet, so keep your eye out for him here this holiday season! In the past we have been able to visit with Mrs. Claus as well. We hope to see her again this year! 

Decor

Walking down Main Street, the store fronts and lamp posts are decorated with ornaments, wreaths, and extra twinkle lights to set the holiday spirit. The star of the holiday decor in Disneyland is the giant Christmas tree that stands right in the middle of Main Street USA! You can’t miss it while entering the park, and will want to plan on snapping a photo of the family! One of the benefits of taking a photo around the tree is that all sides are picture worthy; the wait is not as long as the giant pumpkin during Halloween time where there are only two sides.

Treats and merchandise 

As always, any holiday season comes with it’s own treats and merchandise! Some holiday treats include:

  • Chocolate-Cinnamon churro, Holiday Cookie churro, Pink Coconut churro, Bride churro
  • Peppermint Holiday sundae
  • Churro Funnel Cake a la’ Mode
  • Holiday brownie
  • Santa hat macaroons
  • Mickey Gingerbread cookie
  • Peppermint beignets

CHRISTMAS TIME AT CALIFORNIA ADVENTURE

Holiday Souvenirs

When people think of visiting Disney parks, Disneyland usually comes to mind before California Adventure. California Adventure may be the 2nd choice between the two, but the park has really upped its game during all the holidays! It not only celebrates more holidays, but has more food options and entertainment as well. If you are planning a trip and on the fence about getting a park hopper ticket, October through December is a time when you definitely want to make a visit to California Adventure! 

Disney Festival of Holidays

This festival has a holiday celebration for everyone! Christmas, Hanukkah, Diwali, Kwanzaa, and Three Kings’ Day are all celebrated with their unique traditions. I love that California Adventure recognizes the special traditions that come with each of these holidays, from the cultural dances and music down to the food. Disney Festival of Holidays includes:

  • Mickey’s Happy Holidays: a dance party with Mickey and friends, and the Holiday Toy Drummers. We always love a dance party with Mickey!
  • The Holiday Toy Drummers: catch them marching to their own parade throughout the park. This is toddler boy favorite!
  • Mostly Kosher: musical performances in honor of Hanukkah
  • Mariachi Divas: classic holiday tunes
  • Spirited Blue13 Dance Company: a Bollywood party in honor of Diwali 
  • The Suffragettes: a cover band playing classic holiday hits
  • Phat Cat Swingers: a classic swing band performing holiday music

Disney ¡Viva Navidad!

Located in Paradise Gardens Park, this holiday party includes authentic music and dancing. This party moves into the streets of California as a “Merry Mayhem” with Donald Duck and his amigos! This mini-parade is full of mariachi and samba musicians, dancers, and amazing 12-foot-tall mojiganga puppets of Santa and Mrs. Claus.

Santa’s Holiday Visit at Redwood Creek Challenge Trail

Blue, green and gold Jingle Bell Pops on holiday plate

It wouldn’t be Christmas without a visit from Santa! The Redwood Creek Challenge Trail has been completely made over with holiday games, activities, and decor. In addition to seeing Santa and taking a photo, you can also play some elf games and find some hidden toys and decorations throughout the trail. Santa can only be seen up until Christmas Eve, so be sure to plan your visit before the big day!

Buena Vista Christmas tree lighting

The beautiful 50-foot tree is back on Buena Vista street! Each night at 5:30, stop by to see the lighting of the tree. It is another magical must-do, and yet another perfect photo backdrop.

Decor

Just like Halloween, Radiator Springs really pulls out all the stops when it comes to Christmas decor! Christmas garlands with tire wreaths hang above the street. Mater’s Jamboree is transformed into Mater’s Jingle Jamboree, and Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters becomes Luigi’s Joy to the Whirl. We love the way the gang from Cars goes big for the holidays!

Food and treats

California Adventure brings holiday food from all around the world with the Festival Foods Marketplace. You can make your way through the streets of California Adventure moving from kiosk to kiosk to experience all the traditional holiday food. If you are planning to hit every kiosk, be sure to take advantage of the Sip and Savor pass! Purchasing the pass gives you 8 “entitlement tabs” you can redeem for food. It’s a foodie’s dream come true for the holidays! 

The majority of the holiday themed sweets and treats found at Disneyland can also be found at California Adventure. Some other treats include:

  • Cinnamon and Sugar holiday tart
  • Hot cocoa marshmallow macaron
  • Holiday trail mix
  • Mickey snowman cookie decorating kit
  • Chocolate-pecan churro
  • Peppermint churro
  • Chocolate-Hazelnut-Strawberry Churro

HOTELS

All three hotels (Disneyland, Paradise Pier, and Grand Californian) have beautiful trees and visits from Santa in the main lobbies or foyers. The Grand Californian’s lobby is a personal favorite of mine. The tree is beautiful, the soft piano music in the background sets the scene, and there are chairs by the fire to warm up on a cold night. It is worth a walk through if only to use the California Adventure entrance! 

There is so much to look forward to at both Disneyland and California Adventure this holiday season, and we can’t wait to celebrate! If you have any holiday traditions in the park, be sure to share in the comments! 

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