Holidays at Disneyland – The Merriest Time of the Year!
This is my most favorite season to celebrate at Disneyland with Halloween being a close second. All the warm and fuzzy feelings you get during this time of year get to be enjoyed the The Happiest Place on Earth! There’s so much to see and experience with the Holidays at Disneyland including attractions, food, shows, decorations, characters and merchandise.
Not to worry, I’ll be covering it all, as well as some best practices, tips and tricks and ways to save on your Holiday vacation to the Disneyland Resort. One thing you can expect for sure is an amazing visit filled with Holiday memories that will last a lifetime. If you’ve never travel during this season it’s a must-do!
The Holidays at Disneyland typically run from early November through early January. For 2019-2020 the Holidays start Nov. 8th, 2019 and run through Jan. 6th, 2020. If you arrive earlier than this you may see some decorations already up, including on the castle, which is a great sneak peek. Look for the official start and guides to the Holidays Nov. 8th.
There are no special event parties like there are in Walt Disney World so don’t worry about having to purchase a separate admission ticket or early park closings. The parks actually tend to stay open pretty late during this Holiday season so you’ll be able to get a lot done.
I hope you’re a fan of wreaths and garlands because during the Holidays at Disneyland there’s a ton hanging around for your enjoyment! From the outside of the parks in you’ll find all the buildings, lampposts and windows draped with these wreaths, garlands and bows making for an extra-special time.
At Disneyland Park you’ll see the Holidays welcoming you at the front gates as you enter. A picture in front of the train station will not be one to miss as decorations here make for a great background. Of course the real surprise is right around the corner as you pass under the train and into Liberty Square.
You’ve heard of the Rockefeller Center Christmas Tree right? We’ll Disney has their own version and it’s pretty magical. Prepare yourself for a towering tree trimmed with ornaments and gifts like you’ve never seen. And yes, you can get your picture taken in front of it. Just make sure you get there early as the line for it can get quite long.
As you stroll down Main Street U.S.A. you’ll see the rooftops and windows draped with wreaths, garlands and lights. Of course your focus will be Sleeping Beauty Castle as you come to the end of the street. It’s received an entire makeover draped with snow, ice and lights. While it may seem amazing at first, wait until you see it at night.
The rest of Disneyland Park is is on the Holidays at Disneyland as well. More wreaths and garlands can be seen around the park but my personal favorite is New Orleans Square. Nobody can throw a celebration like the Orleans!
You’ll find this land draped in ornaments, wreaths, bows, lights and so much more. A giant decorated wreath welcomes you to this land as you head in towards the shops next to Pirates of the Caribbean. This is a great place for some pictures with the family and by itself. It’s a sight to behold, especially at night time as the lights are turned on.
Of course Disneyland Park isn’t the only place that’s in on the fun. Over at Disney California Adventure Park you can expect to see a lot of the same things including decorations, lights and another giant 50 ft. Christmas tree.
Carthay Circle Restaurant is also decorated with a giant Christmas wreath. This park has really transformed over the years, getting into the Holidays at Disneyland just as much as Disneyland Park.
You’ll find the same decorations throughout the park until you come upon Cars Land. This is the place to be at California Adventure Park if you’re looking for some Holiday spirit! They spare no expense here with decorations galore up and down Radiator Springs. Right at the entrance you can see the big billboard with Season’s Greetings and a fun little car dressed up.
You can get your picture taken here and it looks like a postcard! It does get a decent line throughout the day so the earlier you can get there the better.
Start your stroll down the road and you’ll see lights, garlands with tires, trees, posters and more! You’ll definitely want to have your camera out for this place especially at night time when everything it lit up. It’s a “haul” iday celebration you won’t want to miss.
Like Halloween at Disneyland, the Holidays at Disneyland features some changes to classic attractions to get in on the Holiday spirit. One of the most popular attractions during this time is Haunted Mansion Holiday. Though it technically changes for Halloween, these last all the way through the Holidays as well.
Jack Skellington and his friends have decked the halls at Haunted Mansion and turned it into a Holiday nightmare. The Mansion itself feature some..unique decorations including pumpkins and a giant clock counting down the days till X-Mas. Inside the mansion you’re sure to run into Jack himself along with everyone from Halloween Town.
The attraction is a blast to do during the Holiday Season but tends to get busy around 11am-close. I would highly recommend grabbing a Fastpass if you’re not going to go there first thing in the morning.
While I’ve probably enjoyed Haunted Mansion Holiday during the Halloween Season, my first stop for attractions during the Holidays is actually “it’s a small world.” This is a sight to behold at night time and cannot be missed! What you’ll find yourself looking at is over 50,000 lights covering “it’s a small world” and it is amazing!
It’s one of the most picturesque attractions during the Holidays at Disneyland. Of course the attraction itself is a great time but the outside of it is something I could look at for hours. Make sure you head over there when it’s dark outside so you can catch these lights. They also do a show about every 30 minutes or so that includes the lights, clock tower and projections that are really cool. Be sure to grab a times guide to see when they play.
Heading over to California Adventure Park the biggest attractions that have changed for the Holidays are going to be in Cars Land.
Both Luigi and Mater have gotten in on the Holiday spirit and are pleased to share it with you! First up is Mater with his Jingle Jamboree. You can enjoy a whirl around Mater’s Junkyard in a little tractor as he sings some classic Holiday songs with his own unique lyrics. This attraction does have a height requirement of 32″.
And just down the road is Luigi who’s also decked out for his Joy to the Whirl celebration. Join him and his family as they dance and sign to some of your favorite holiday songs. This attraction also has a height requirement of 32″.
Although they aren’t attractions in the parks, the 3 Disneyland Resort Hotels are also dressed up for the Holidays with their own unique decorations. Be sure to stop by the lobby of each, especially Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa to see some really cool creations!
Festival of Holidays
If you thought that California Adventure Park couldn’t get any better during the Holidays at Disneyland you thought wrong! The Festival of Holidays is inspired by several festive celebrations including Christmas, Hanukkah, Diwali, Kwanzaa and Three King’s Day.
I love this multicultural experience and it’s celebrated in several different ways including music, shows and food.
For me the biggest draw is the food as I’m a big foodie at the parks and love all the different offerings they have. They do this through the Festive Foods Marketplace. If you’ve ever been to the Food and Wine Festival at California Adventure Park then you’ll know what I’m talking about.
They basically set up little shops along Buena Vista St. starting just past Carthay Circle Restaurant and ending all the way down at Boardwalk Pizza, Pasta, Salad. Each marketplace offers unique food and drink celebrating something different. They typically will have 2-3 food items and 2-3 drink items per marketplace.
Each food item is fairly small, definitely not a full meal by any means, so it may take a few stops at several marketplaces to get full. During the day time is the best time to hit these marketplaces without worrying too much about lines. It’s at night and on the weekends when this place really gets packed.
There will be a guide to the Festival Marketplaces so you don’t miss out on all the great food and drink.
Some of the individual celebrations include Disney ¡Viva Navidad! which offers a street party featuring the Three Caballeros and and some seriously fun music, a decorative Paradise Gardens and live music bands each day.
For Three King’s Day, running January 3rd-6th you can enjoy some festive singing, dancing and arts and crafts where you’ll celebrate 3 Wise Men!
For both of these celebrations you’ll want to head over to Paradise Gardens which will feature all this stuff plus some great dining and character opportunities.
To cap it all off guests can visit Santa and some of his workings at the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail. Get a photo with the big guy himself and see what kind of toys his workshop is making this year. Santa’s visit goes from Nov. 8th till Dec. 24th, 2019.
If you love getting your photo with Mickey, Minnie and the gang, the Holidays at Disneyland offer some really unique opportunities. Catch Mickey and his pals in their best Holiday attire around both parks. At Disneyland the best place to catch them is at the front of the park in Liberty Square, typically over by the Opera House with Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln.
Lines start forming so get their quick. One of the best ideas is to wait until the character leaves because the line typically does to. Just stand in that area and wait for them to come back and you could be one of the first in line to see them!
Of course be sure to bring your autograph book with you and a camera. While photopass is sometimes available most of these encounters will require you to provide your own.
Over at California Adventure Park you’ll catch most of the characters at the front of the park as well, along Buena Vista St. near Elias and Co. Same advice applies here. There’s going to be some decent lines but try and catch them when they are just forming. If you see a character come out and start walking somewhere toward this area there’s a good chance they are going to stop for photos so just follow them.
I covered a lot of the food offerings for California Adventure Park above with the Festival of Holidays which actually does cover a majority of new food offerings during the Holidays at Disneyland. Of course several quick service and sit-down restaurants will feature some unique foods in celebration of the season. You’ll also find hot chocolate in abundance throughout the parks including the Starbucks locations. I actually find Disney’s own brand to be better.
Of course I have to mention gingerbread and candy canes. If tradition continues, the Candy Palace will hand make candy canes fresh each day that are ginormous! A line forms right when the park opens in order to get one of them and they typically are gone very quickly. If you want one head right over there!
Gingerbread cookies will be sold at pretty much every merchandise store but mostly confectioneries including on Main Street U.S.A. Pooh’s Corner and Trolley Treats in California Adventure Park. While I’m not the biggest fan of gingerbread, the smell just gets you and I always end up buying some.
Be sure to take advantage of mobile ordering while you’re at the parks. It’s a great way to skip any lines including the Marketplace shops. You’ll need to download the official Disneyland app in order to do this. On this note, there are actually several useful things you can do on the app during the Holidays at Disneyland so download it before your trip starts.
Shows and Parades
Starting at Disneyland Park there are several shows and a parade that you’ll want to see. First up is Sleeping Beauty Castle that’s already decked out in snow, icicles, wreaths and lights. During the day it looks amazing but at night when it lights up, it’s magical!
Each night a short 5 or so minute show is put on when the castle is going to be lit up. You’ll want to be standing right in front of it to see its splendor when it lights up. Some nights they do this twice just so people get the chance to see it but check your times guide for details.
Moving along to Fantasyland and “it’s a small world,” while the lights are turned on in the evening time there’s always a little show that’s put on every 15-30 minutes. The show includes a lighting up of the attraction plus music, dancing and projections onto the attraction itself. It’s actually really cool and I make it point to see it a few times a night.
If you love parades then you’ll love the A Christmas Fantasy Parade that’s put on each evening down Mainstreet U.S.A. This year the parade includes Toy Soldiers, Gingerbread Cookies and the following floats:
- Anna, Elsa and Olaf bid you a warm winter welcome from their fantastic Frozen float.
- Mickey and Minnie work with Chip ‘n Dale to organize an avalanche of letters to Santa.
- Woody and Buzz give a playful wave from atop giant wooden building blocks.
- The Disney Princesses dance and curtsy at the Candlelight Ball.
To cap the parade off, Santa will be waving hello and wishing everyone a Happy Holidays from his float.
You’ll want to arrive about 1 hour early in order to get a decent seat. The parade typically starts by “it’s a small world” and end at Liberty Square. There’s a decent amount of seating between these two points but it fills up quick.
Lastly, Disneyland Park puts on a fireworks show that’s sure to please. It’s called “Believe…In Holiday Magic” and is put on several times a week in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle. You’ll enjoy some pyrotechnics like never before plus a great story and some amazing music and projections. This is my favorite show during the Holidays at Disneyland.
In order to get a good seat you’ll want to show up about 1-1 1/2 hours before it starts. Be sure to check your times guide to make sure it’s being put on. Also, because the show is based on weather conditions, it may or may not be cancelled due to high winds/rain. Keep in mind that it may not be windy where you’re at but several hundred feet up it could be blowing hard.
Over at California Adventure Park guests will be able to enjoy a brand new World of Color show called Season of Light. Water, lights, fountains and water screens are just a few of the elements that help put this water show on each night. Stories are told with some of your favorite Disney characters including Frozen, Cinderella, Toy Story Beauty and the Beast, Inside Out and more.
World of Color – Season of Light has several viewing options but the best one is through Fastpass. You can grab one to the show over at Ariel’s Undersea Adventure attraction, more towards Grizzly River Run. You can also get a show pass with Disney MaxPass from your phone. Be sure to do either one of these in the morning time as they run out quickly.
There are a few sections that don’t require a Fastpass to the show but I don’t recommend them as they don’t offer a very good viewing area.
Yes, there’s more things to spend your hard earned money on than park tickets and food. It’s the Holidays at Disneyland merchandise is the big one and there’s a ton of it! Everything from clothes to toys and kitchenware, there’s something for everyone at each store throughout the parks and Downtown Disney.
If you really want to get some holiday shopping done then head over to World of Disney in Downtown Disney. It’s the biggest shop at the resort and has everything you’d even want. Shop Women, Men, Kids, Baby, toys, clothing, jewelry, art, music and more. Remember that if you’re an annual passholder you can receive a 10-20% merchandise discount on your purchase so don’t forget to bring it.
Some of the special holiday stuff at the stores will include ornaments, shirts and jersey tees, plush toys, kitchenware, jackets, backpacks and purses and more. If you’re in the parks you should checkout either the Main Street Emporium or Elias and Co. Both of these are the biggest shops carrying the most stuff during the Holidays at Disneyland.
As usual, there will be collectible things like pins and popcorn buckets. These always go fast so if you really want one be sure and grab them early. I’m talking November 8th early.
With all this shopping you may not have room in your stroller or hands to carry all these things around. You have two great options to solve this problem. First, if you’re staying on property you can have it sent to your hotel for free. Just let the cashier know before you checkout. Second, you can actually store it over at the stroller rental kiosk just outside Disneyland Park. You have to pick it up before park closing though.
While California is pretty nice all year round, November – March can be colder months, mostly in the evening times with temperatures dipping down into the 60’s. It’s always a good idea to check the weather before your trip just in case it forecasts rain. You always want to be prepared.
You shouldn’t have any issues wearing long pants and a tee shirts or light jacket during this season. I personally always carry a light jacket for the evenings which is when it gets colder. You’ll really start to feel it if you’re sitting waiting for a parade of fireworks show. See my What to Pack Guide for more details on what to bring.
Savings and More
This is the end of my Holidays at Disneyland guide but there’s still a lot of planning to do for your vacation! Don’t miss my guide on discounted tickets to Disneyland which can help you save a ton of money. I also offer a very extensive planning guide for Disneyland vacations that cover all the bases of your trip. Lastly, make sure you read up on current news and offerings so you don’t miss out on anything.
Dean has been writing and blogging for over 10 years. He specializes in Disney theme park news including updates, openings, special events and general advice for travelers. He doesn’t shy away from the good, the bad and the ugly. His previous work includes being a Cast Member at Disneyland and working as a travel agent.