By Jennifer Stuart
The most magical time of year in the Happiest Place on Earth can be a wonderful experience. The holiday season at Disneyland runs from November 8, 2019 until January 6, 2020. Read on to find out what to expect this year at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure for the holiday season.
We have broken down what to expect this holiday season at Disneyland by park and then further in to categories to make it easier to find the information you are looking for.
Disneyland feels extra magical at Christmas. The decorations are one of the things that is really very special. They do a particularly good job of decorating for Christmas and you will notice that the decorations are very specific to different areas of the park. The only areas that do not get a holiday decor makeover are Tomorrowland and Star Wars Galaxy's Edge.
Insider Tip: Make sure to peer into the windows as you walk down Main Street to see all the great seasonal details inside. Also take the time to ride the Omnibus. Sit on the top floor and you can get a great view of Main Street and the Castle with all the decorations.
The decorations at night are very beautiful. Standouts include Main Street, Sleeping Beauty Castle and It's a Small World Holiday. You can watch the lighting of the castle and It's a Small World holiday nightly and it is very magical. Check the Entertainment Schedule for details.
Holiday Ride Overlays
Haunted Mansion Holiday
Every year the Haunted Mansion is closed for several weeks in order to add this incredibly detailed overlay which turns the experience into a whole new ride. Jack Skellington as Sandy Claus and his friends from Nightmare Before Christmas take over the Haunted Mansion and turn it into Haunted Mansion Holiday. This overlay lasts for both the Halloween and Holiday seasons, returning to the original Haunted Mansion in January.
Insider Tip: Look for the gingerbread house in the ballroom scene - it changes every year.
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.
Holiday Seasonal 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.
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 Town 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.
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 Disney World, 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).
Disney California Adventure
At Disney California Adventure 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!
Holiday Ride Overlays
Mater's Jingle Jamboree
Mater's Jingle Jamboree is another ride that receives a Christmas overlay by re-theming the ride and changing the music.
Luigi's Joy to The Whirl
Similar to the Halloween overlay, Luigi's Rollickin' Roadsters gets a Christmas themed makeover for the holidays. It is essentially the same ride but with a Christmas soundtrack and decorations.
World of Color
A seasonal World of Color show returns to Disney California Adventure. It was unfortunately not running for the 2018 holiday season due to maintenance work that took longer than expected. This is a lovely seasonal show and if you enjoy World of Color you should definitely make time for this show. As a reminder you can pick up fastpass tickets for this show at the distribution carts near the Little Mermaid ride. These fastpasses do not impact your ability to get other fastpasses for rides.
Holiday Seasonal Food
The main attraction for seasonal food in DCA is definitely the Festival of the Holidays Marketplace, but that doesn't mean there isn't plenty of seasonal food in other locations.
Every year new treats are released for the season. Look for us to post updates to Facebook as well. Consider following our Facebook page for the latest Disneyland information.
Festivals of the Holidays Food
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 snacking on delicious treats. As this takes place in California Adventure some of the booths will be serving alcohol 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.
Click here to link to the Festive Foods Marketplace Booth menus for 2019.
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.
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.
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 24.
As you would expect there is a large selection of seasonal merchandise. Some favourites return yearly and other items are only available for one year. Christmas merchandise starts creeping into the stores near the end of the Halloween season so there is some overlap of the seasons before Disneyland goes full holiday season in November. Hot items are always special seasonal popcorn buckets and sippers.
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 2019 are:
Disneyland (Candy Palace)
December 2, 4, 6, 9, 11, 13, 16, 18, 20, 24
Disney California Adventure (Trolley Treats)
Each candy cane was $12.99 USD last year.
Here is a link to a Youtube video about making the candy canes.
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.
If you enjoyed this post, you may be interested in some of our other Disneyland posts.
Photos by Jennifer Stuart and Kim Stuart
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