By Jennifer Stuart
The Holidays at Disneyland are always an amazing and magical time. This year the holidays will be running from November 9, 2018 -January 8, 2019. Read on for what to expect at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure for the Holiday Season.
Disneyland feels extra magical at Christmas. Expect to see the parks heavily decorated. Town Square is home to the signature towering 60 foot Christmas tree. Main Street USA is fully decorated with the storefronts, lampposts and rooftops all wrapped in festive wreaths and garlands. The Castle is transformed into Sleeping Beauty’s Winter Castle. With a snow covered roof and garlands for decorations it looks very festive during the day but is truly lovely at night. It shimmers to life at nightfall—with snow-capped turrets and glistening icicles.
Look for festive decorations throughout all the lands (except Tomorrowland for some reason). We love how they differ in each of the lands and reflect the theming of that particular area. It's Mardi Gras Christmas in New Orleans Square and a Pioneer style holiday in Frontierland.
Disney California Adventure
At Disney California Adventure Park the decorations extend throughout the park as well. There is a matching Christmas tree in Carthay Circle, decorations on Buena Vista Street, and Carsland has a wonderful winter makeover. Buena Vista Street feels particularly Christmasy and we love how the decorations have a vintage feel. Make sure to look at the great theming and details in the shop windows. The Christmas tree makes a great backdrop for family photos and take time to explore the ornaments and details on the tree. Look out for Vintage Mickey and Friends under the tree and a working train set.
The highlight is definitely Carsland where the imagineers must have had an amazing time coming up with Cars-inspired holiday decorations. If you have been to Carsland at Halloweeentime you will know what we mean. The details here are really top-notch!
Don't miss the daily tree lighting as watching the lights come on in Carsland is always a magical experience. Check with cast members for times.
Downtown Disneyland also gets decked out for the holidays. Christmas trees, twinkling lights and decorated flower beds abound. We also recommend swinging through the Disney Hotels -- The Grand Californian has a particularly festive feel. Check out the giant gingerbread house and enjoy treats from the trolley in the lobby.
The fireworks are always a special experience and not to be missed. We highly recommend making time for watching them during the holidays. Good vantage points can be had from the Rivers of America or near It's a Small World, but of course the most popular (and crowded) spot will be from Main Street USA. The version of the fireworks for the holidays will be Believe in Holiday Magic, narrated by Julie Andrews.
Insider Tip: Unlike Disneyworld, fireworks at Disneyland can often be cancelled due to high winds and the fact that there are houses directly adjacent to the park. Plan to see the fireworks early in your trip so that you won't be disappointed.
Insider Tip: We usually advise watching the fireworks from closer to It's a Small World to avoid some of the crowds but there is something extra special about watching the holiday Fireworks on Main Street. (Be sure to get there early).
Meet Santa Claus
You can meet Santa Claus in Disney California Adventure. Santa's elves turn Redwood Creek Challenge Trail into a holiday playground filled with seasonal games and outdoor activities for you to explore. Meet Santa and tell him how good you have been until Dec 25. After that time you can meet Goofy for autographs.
This is another of our personal top picks for the holidays at Disneyland. The parade is very fun and festive with gingerbread men and skaters and dancing snowmen and all your Disney favourites. Look for Mickey, Minnie, and friends as well as lots of Princesses. The toy soldiers are one of our favourites and of course no Christmas parade would be complete without Santa Claus.
Parades usually run twice a day in the afternoons at around 3:30 and 6:00pm - but as always check showtimes with Disney. If there are two parades the first starts from It's a Small world and works it's way to the Town Square and the second parade will run the route in reverse, starting with Towns Square and ending at It's a Small World.
Click here for a link to the entertainment Schedule at Disneyland to check the times for your visit. Or check entertainment schedules right on the official Disneyland app. Read our post on 10+ Reasons Why You Need the Disneyland App for your vacation.
If you haven't watched a parade at Disneyland -- general practice is that you can save a spot with a towel or blanket as long as one person is sitting on it. (Blankets/towels etc. left unattended will be moved aside by cast members). We like to have one adult hold the spot on our Matador blanket while the other grabs treats with the kids to eat while we watch the parade. (An additional perk is that the kids won't be sitting as long).
Insider Tip: Main Street is always THE most popular place to view the parade and people will often camp out for hours for a spot. We have always had good luck finding spots closer to Matterhorn Bobsleds or It's a Small World with MUCH less waiting (an hour in advance can usually snag you a very good spot). Just remember to check with Cast members to make sure that the spot you are picking is one that you won't be asked to move from later (i.e. they need it for a walkway). They are always happy to help and can sometimes suggest an even better spot.
Festival of the Holidays and Festive Foods Marketplace
Celebrate holiday festivities inspired by diverse cultural traditions at Disney California Adventure Park. This includes the very popular Festive Foods Marketplace Booths. These booths stretch mainly from Carthay Circle up towards Carsland and all the way to Paradise Gardens. These booths feature "holiday foods" and are eagerly anticipated every year. Look for some returning favourites as well as many new items. There is no substantial designated seating areas, so you will see most people sitting on benches and planters throughout this area or walking and sipping on delicious treats. As this takes place in California Adventure some of the booths will be serving alcoholic options for guests 21 and over.
Insider Tip: pick up the handy tasting passport at the marketplace booths. It gives a list of the booths with all the menus for easy reference.
Clickhere to link to the Festive Foods Marketplace Booth menus for 2018.
Festive Foods Marketplace Booths
As mentioned above the Festive Foods Marketplace Booths area great spot to enjoy some special holiday themed food at Disney California Adventure. Annual Passholders can also purchase a tasting pass.
Other Special Festive Food
There is more than just the Festive Foods Marketplace to enjoys seasonal foods and treats. Disney has learned over the last few years what a popular draw new and inventive seasonal foods can be. They have considerably expanded the amount of specialty foods that are offered over the past few years. Special mention needs to go to the Holiday Yule Log at the Plaza Inn which has remained a fan favourite for many years. We personally love the Gingerbread Mickey Beignets from the Mint Julep Bar and you can't go too far wrong with any of the holiday Macarons. An new trend that has developed in the past year or so is the explosion of specialty churros. We LOVE Disneyland churros but the specialty ones can have mixed results. There are 10 different specialty churros being offered this year. Personally we would like to try Churro Bites with eggnog gelato and caramel sauce at the Hungry Bear and the Gingerbread Churro from the cart near Sleeping Beauty's Castle.
Clickhere for a list of seasonal food items that are being offered throughout both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure for 2018.
These deserve a special mention as the giant handmade Candy canes from the Candy Palace on Main Street USA and Trolley Treats on Buena Vista Street have reached legendary status over the years. There is a whole procedure involved with managing to get one of these highly coveted treats. You will need to get a wristband in order to pick one up at a later time in the day. Think of it like a fastpass return time.
We suggest lining up at the park at least an hour before park opening and going directly to the candy shop as soon as you are inside the park. Join the line and you will receive your wristband. (No holding spaces for friends as they will be asked to go to the back of the line).
The dates for 2018 are:
Disneyland (Candy Palace)
November 23, 26, 28, 30
December 3, 5, 7, 10, 12, 14, 17, 19, 21, 24
Disney California Adventure (Trolley Treats)
November 24, 27, 29
December 1, 4, 6, 8, 11, 13, 15, 18, 20, 22, 25
Each candy cane is $12.99 USD
Here is a link to a Youtube video about making the candy canes.
Viva Navidad is a celebration that is included in the Festival of the Holidays at Disney California Adventure. It is entered in the area of Paradise Gardens. Look for Character meets, beautiful decorations and guest bands to set the festive atmosphere. While you’re there, stop by Paradise Garden Grill to savor the authentic Mexican specialties they’re serving up throughout the holiday season.
Holiday Ride Overlays
It's a Small World Holiday
Many rides at both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure get holiday theme overlays. Our favourite is It's a Small World Holiday. It closes near the end of October to prepare for the transformation. It is not just the outside. The inside of the ride receives a complete holiday makeover -- looking at holiday celebrations around the world.
Insider Tip: We suggest riding both during the day and at night. If you can only do it once -- ride at night. The facade is beautiful at night! There is something extra magical about cruising underneath the multicolour lights.
Insider Tip: It can be really fun to watch them turn on the lights on the facade of It's a Small World every night. This usually happens starting around 5pm but check times with either a cast member or on the Disneyland website/app.
Haunted Mansion Holiday
The Haunted Mansion Holiday overlay is added in September for Halloweentime and extends through the holiday season. The Haunted Mansion is transformed with jack o’ lanterns, wreaths and terrifying toys based on The Nightmare Before Christmas. This is a full overlay both inside and outside as Jack Skellington takes over the Mansion. Also look for Sally, Zero and Oogie Boogie.
Luigi's Joy to The Whirl
Similar to the Halloween overlay, Luigi's Rollicking' Roadsters gets a Christmas themed makeover for the holidays. It is essentially the same ride but with a Christmas soundtrack and decorations.
Mater's Jingle Jamboree
Mater's Jingle Jamboree is another ride that receives a Christmas overlay by re-theming the ride as a Christmas ride and changing the music.
We love to meet Disney Characters and we really love to meet them when they are dressed in special outfits. For the holidays you can meet Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy and Goofy in holiday outfits. Also look for Chip and Dale to be wearing holiday scarves. We find that there are a lot of opportunities to meet characters during the holidays particularly on busy days when Disney is looking to enhance the guest experience as wait times for rides can soar. We loved meeting all the bears from the Country Bear's Jamboree last year as they are not often available to guests at Disneyland. It was a great childhood throwback. The best way to check Character meet times and places is to look on the Disneyland app.
The Holiday AP (Annual Pass) corner will be returning for another year. The AP corner is located in Paradise Gardens in Disney California Adventure. There will be a Special AP photo op as well as a commemorative magnetic photo frame. The AP corner will be open daily from Nov 9 - Nov 30, 2018 from 11am to 5pm. The Festive FoodsSip and Savour Pass is also being offered again for 2018. The price of the pass is $54 for 8 tasting coupons. (note not redeemable for alcoholic beverages)
Insider Tip: you must show annual pass and valid ID to purchase the pass. DO NOT rip the coupons off the lanyard ahead of time. The cashier must see you rip it off.
World of Colour
Usually there is a Christmas version of World of Colour In Disney California Adventure to anchor the nighttime entertainment there. It is deservedly popular. However the on-going refurbishments to the show's electrical systems means it will probably not be running this year. It is not yet on the Entertainment Schedule but we will update this if that changes. As always we recommend checking any plans with cast members or on the Disneyland app.
Photos by Jennifer Stuart and Kim Stuart
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