We all really enjoy Christmas. And you already know by now, we LOVE Disney. So when you combine Disney and Christmas together… well basically that’s the perfect marriage.
All senses are tickled by the Christmas spirit. Christmas carols ring through Main Street. Garlands, shiny baubles and twinkling lights accentuate the grandeur of the shops of Main Street. As you walk, take a deep breath of the candy cane air dappled with the scent of freshly popped popcorn.
There are so many really special things about Disneyland at Christmas. Nothing will put you into the holiday mood faster than some Disney cheer, so November is one of our favourite times to go to kick off the Holiday Season. The decor is stunning. The Christmas parade is super fun. Sitting with my girls drinking an eggnog latte and watching a Christmas parade is what dreams are made of.
In true Disney fashion, there are extra holiday treats in both parks. And at night, the sky lights up with the special “Believe…In Holiday Magic” Fireworks Spectacular. After the fireworks, it “snows”! They have extended the areas that it snows to more than just Main Street, which is magical! More about that later.
When to Go
There are LOTS of reasons to visit during the Christmas Season. When you go can make or break your holiday merriment, depending on busyness. One thing you do want to be careful of is American Thanksgiving Week. Being Canadian, we really didn’t have any idea what “busy” at Disneyland could look like. We’ve been during peak seasons before, and it was fine. We were there the week before American Thanksgiving for most of the trip, and then the Monday of Thanksgiving Week, and it was PACKED. I’m talking wall to wall people. And we like crowds! We don’t mind waiting an hour for one of the mountains. But this was NUTS! By eleven in the morning you couldn’t see the ground. The lineup for Pirates of the Caribbean was wrapped around New Orleans Square several times, and all the way up to Haunted Mansion. You know those extra lineup queues at Monsters, Inc.? They were FULL! So check the crowd calendars.
They keep the decorations up for about a week after New Years, so this is also an option. But be warned! People swarm the parks for the first few days of the New Year before school is back in, so I don’t recommend it for this major reason. My husband and I went at this period, and for 2 out of our 3 days one or both of the parks were MAXED out. Max capacity meant that they stopped accepting new entries into the parks. One of the days, only the California Adventure side was maxed out so we were able to turn back into Disneyland. On the day when both parks were at capacity, they informed us of this when we went to leave the one park , so we chose to remain rather than be denied access… and this was only about 3 pm in the afternoon!
This also meant every lineup was minimum 2 hours long. This made it super frustrating because you don’t get to do much except for wait in lines, and you really don’t get to experience many rides every day (I think our max was 4 rides per day due to this). However, once school was back in, our last day was better as far as lineups go, and it was still right before they took down the decorations so that made it worthwhile. And like Erica said, the lines took up more space than normal so trying to get around was frustrating since there were chains everywhere.
Heidi and I were able to pop in to the parks on an adults-only vacay this past November. We agonized over picking the perfect date, since we were flying in to Palm Springs for the week. We only wanted to spend one day in the park, since we were already paying for a house in Palm Desert. Disneyland doesn’t release their park hours until six weeks before. The hours can change quite drastically from “peak” hours to “non-peak” hours. Peak season you can enjoy Disneyland from 8 am until 12 am, and DCA from 8 am until 10 pm. During the quieter days, the hours can flip to 8 am – 11 pm, or 8 am – 8 pm in DCA. As we were just adults, sans babies, we wanted to be sure to squeeze in as much Disney time as humanly possible.
We picked Monday November 12 since it had the long hours we were looking for. We had checked several crowd calendars, and all of them said that Monday was a lower day. Fun fact, the Veterans Day stat (the holiday was the Sunday, we were in the park on the Monday) was crazy busy. We didn’t think about the fact that with it being a holiday, there would be a lot of AP holders in the parks that day. The only way we were able to do as much as we did was thanks to the MaxPass. I have mixed emotions about the MaxPass. A post will follow soon.
Disneyland Holiday Overlays
The Haunted Mansion becomes Haunted Mansion Holiday in the Halloween season and stays that way until the New Year. I love Haunted Mansion Holiday. It features the movie “The Nightmare Before Christmas”. You will see the lineup for this ride become significantly longer than other seasons, which means you can take a look at the hilarious tombstones while you wait! This is a great one to FASTPASS, as the line up can be 60 minutes or more. (Definitely FASTPASS it early as they can run out before noon on high volume days!) I think the majority of us prefer the holiday version to the regular version. It’s much less scary than the classic. Lot’s of fun Christmas touches like snow and one of the rooms smells like gingerbread. They turn this ride over in September since “The Nightmare Before Christmas” bridges the gap between Halloween and Christmas. You do not have to see the movie to appreciate this ride.
“it’s a small world” Holiday is a combination of the regular songs and Jingle Bells! Even if you don’t go on this ride, make sure that you take a peek at it. It is absolutely stunning. The lights are so beautiful, and rumour has it that it is an excellent spot to view the Christmas Fireworks! None of the adults wanted to go on with me this trip (adults only) and I was a bit sad. That ride has “Holiday Spirit” all over it!
Jungle Cruise became Jingle Cruise for a few short years, but has since been shipped off to the Magic Kingdom Park at Walt Disney World. Which we didn’t realize until AFTER we’d waited 25 minutes for it, thinking that it was still the Jingle Cruise. *Sigh*. I was sad that this left DL but it’s the only overlay in WDW so I guess it’s only fair! I don’t really understand why Disney Holiday Magic can’t be all over both parks though. My favourite part was always the names of the boats being Christmas themed, so if you get to experience it in WDW keep an eye out for that.
DCA Holiday Overlays
Cars Land is always a fun spot to check out during the holidays. For both Halloween and Christmas they go all out for decorations. If you weren’t already planning on heading over there, be sure to check it out. Right at the entrance you will see the Seasons Greetings at Radiator Springs. Then you will see Mater’s Jingle Jamboree and Luigi’s Joy to the Whirl. The music for these rides change to Christmas themes. Make sure you experience Cars Land at night for a truly magical experience.
Food is always part of a Disney experience for us, and the holidays is no exception! From holiday churros to new beignet flavours, we are all about it. And if you can pair a holiday treat with your favourite Starbucks holiday beverage, even better! So far, every holiday season they have had a different flavour of beignets. One year was gingerbread, which was delicious. This year was candy cane beignets. Now, I am a die-hard beignet fan. It is a must for me when I’m in Anaheim. The candy cane beignets are my favorite to date. I do love peppermint flavoured anything, so keep that in mind.
This year DCA was trying something new called The Festival of Holidays and it was brilliant! It had a very familiar feeling to Epcot with lots of different booths where you could get holiday-themed food, treats, and drinks (both alcoholic and non-alcoholic). The booths were stretched out along the park and they had maps and food passports to help you find what you wanted. The small plates ranged from around $5-$10 USD. But since they were small that’s a fast way to blow your budget. My husband and I only ended up splitting a couple of things, but there were lots I would have liked to have tried.
Mickey’s Merry Christmas Party (WDW)
One of the things that has really changed in the last couple of years is they’ve added parties that are in addition to regular tickets. For Halloween, you can go to the party for both DL and WDW. You can read more about Halloween at Disney here. We have never been… but from all of our Instagram stalking, we do know a few things about it that may help you. On party days in WDW the park closes for those with regular tickets early, and those with party tickets go in for a special Christmas experience.
- Have a plan. Know if you are going to want to get in line for characters, or rides. There are long lines for everything, so you really want to know ahead of time what is most important (one of the “it” photo spots is with the Seven Dwarfs, and we heard through the grapevine that some people waited 2 hours!)
- Book early. If you know the party is something you want to do, get your tickets ASAP. The weekend parties sell out the fastest.
- Read online about shows.
Sample Dates for Mickey’s Merry Christmas Party 2018
November 8, 9, 12, 13, 15, 16, 25, 27, 29 and 30; and December 2, 4, 6, 7, 9, 11, 13, 14, 16, 18, 20 and 21. Party fun takes place from 7 p.m. – midnight.
Please, please, please, check the weather report before you go. Put Anaheim on your phone’s weather app, and take a look at the temperatures throughout the day. Yes, it is California. Yes, it will probably be sunny. No, you will not be able to wear shorts and a tank top all day. The morning is cool. It was about 26 C (79 F) when we were there a couple weeks ago. But remember, that is at the peak of the day. You only get that temperature for a couple of hours.
We found the best way to be prepared for the warm days and cool nights was to purchase a locker. There were six adults on our trip, which meant that we were able to split the locker three ways. The locker had more than enough room for three large backpacks. Around 5 pm it became quite cool. Cool enough that I wanted pants, closed shoes, and a sweater with several layers under to keep me warm. Of course, it didn’t help that we went on Grizzly River Run at 5. We got soaked. Like, absolutely to the bone drenched. Hair, done. But I mean, we got a special button reserved for the crazies who go on past 5 pm, sooooo, worth it? Pack ponchos, that’s all I’m going to say. We knew to do this but we didn’t get to a dollar store in Palm Springs so it never happened. Regrets.
It was a calculated risk. We did have a complete change of clothes (minus under garments, which would’ve helped incidentally), so on our way back to the locker, we grabbed our souvenirs and deposited them in the locker. We did a Park Hopper for the one day since I neeeeeeeded to go on Guardians of Galaxy. But also, we moved faster since we were a smaller group of adults, we like the food better on the DCA side, etc. SO we decided on the locker outside of Disneyland in the eating area. There is a bathroom right there that you can use to change in, and when we switched parks we made a quick stop at the lockers. We also had a change of shoes so that we could be in flip flops for the heat of the day (also for the water rides) but have closed shoes for the colder evening.
A Christmas Fantasy Parade
Grab an eggnog latte and enjoy the merriest of parades on Main Street. Usually there are two viewings per day. Take a look at the entertainment schedule here.
Santa’s Holiday Visit
Make sure to visit Santa Clause and get a photo. You can find him at Redwood Creek in DCA. They have holiday-themed games and other fun things to check out. Make sure to pick up a map to outline all the fun.
“Believe…In Holiday Magic” Fireworks Spectacular
A special fireworks presentation with real snow! Pro Tip: If Main street is super crowded, we love seeing them from “it’s a small world” in Disneyland. There are still projections and snow, but not the huge crowds.
World’s Happiest Turkey
A random fact… when the president pardons the turkey, they get to go to “The Happiest Place on Earth”. First it was at WDW, and then Disneyland. We had the pleasure of seeing them a couple of times. I’d love to see them go back to this tradition! I believe they go to Virginia Tech now.
You can now find snow in several parts of the parks. It’s nothing short of magical, and we live in the North, so we have actual snow. You will find it in Disneyland on Main Street, The Rivers of America and by “it’s a small world”. On our recent trip, the fireworks were cancelled due to high winds but they still had the snow which was awesome. In California Adventure you can find snow every 20 mins after 5 pm on the path between Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel and Grizzly River Run.
Enough about us. We want to hear from you! What is your favourite part of the holidays at the Disney Resorts? Tag us on Instagram (@stressfreemickey) in your favourite photos so we can see!
Have a magical day!
Erica, Heidi, Elisia and Danielle