Celebrating Christmas at Disneyland is pure magic. From the dazzling holiday decor, spectacular entertainment, special holiday rides and attractions, there’s more than a few days worth to see and do. Here are the top touring tips for families to celebrate Christmas at Disneyland in 2022!
This is an updated post, originally published November 3rd, 2016 and has been updated and republished with a new date.
Celebrating Christmas at Disneyland
Disney parks go all-out for the seasons and the holidays are no exception! Combine the holiday season with a festive vacation, there’s no better way than by celebrating Christmas at Disneyland. There’s a lot to know about going to Disneyland during the holiday season.
Find out the best times to visit if you want to avoid crowds. Get the details on winter weather in Southern California, including what to pack. And of course how to maximize your time in the parks for the most magical experience! Keep reading for all the Disney Christmas fun, from timely foods, souvenir presents and how to meet Santa!
What to Expect During the Holiday Season at Disneyland
This article will continue to be updated as details of Christmas at Disneyland are released. These are the primary attractions to make note of during the winter holidays on a Disneyland vacation:
- A Christmas Fantasy parade
- it’s a small world holiday
- Haunted Mansion Holiday
- Elaborate Christmas decorations throughout the park
- Photo ops with Disney PhotoPass photographers
- Santa Claus meet ‘n greet
- Live Entertainment including music and dancing
- Sleeping Beauty Winter Castle
Top Questions About Celebrating Christmas at Disneyland
What Date is Disneyland Decorated for Christmas?
The holiday season at Disneyland runs from November 11th, 2022 until January 8th, 2023.
Does Disneyland Have Mickey Very Merry Christmas Party?
Nope. And Disney Merriest Nites was a one-off special event offered in 2021 but not returning this year. Disneyland makes up for the lack of parties by offering a ton of seasonal offerings that are included with regular day’s park admission.
Do you need a reservation for Christmas at Disneyland?
Reservations and park tickets are a must have, any time of the year. Park tickets are no longer sold at the front gates of the theme park. And a valid day reservation must be booked on the Disneyland website in advance.
Pre-purchase your Disneyland Park Hopper ahead of your trip. Then book reservations as soon as they become available for your travel dates.
Discounted Disneyland Tickets
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Questions About Disneyland Holiday Crowds
Is Disneyland Crowded on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day?
Yes. Very much so. In fact, the park will reach maximum crowd capacity. And that is a whole lot of people! The entire week leading up to Christmas and all the way through to New Years Eve will be packed. Go into the day knowing that the Disneyland parks will be very busy and plan for crowds.
READ MORE: Need Tips for Navigating Holiday Crowds at Disneyland? You’ll learn lots of holiday hacks to have the best visit despite the extra crowds.
When is the Best Time to Visit Disneyland During the Holidays?
Guests can get the best of both worlds – holiday decor and entertainment with lighter crowds. You just need to know when to visit! The season kicks off November 11th. After this date, aim to visit mid-week, avoiding the weekends and Veteran’s Day holiday.
Some of the holiday decor will still be going up early in the month. So you won’t have the full holiday effect, but crowds won’t be as heavy earlier in the season. Avoid the days leading up to Thanksgiving and through that weekend.
Early December mid-week is great crowd-wise but weekends will always be busy. The week leading up to Christmas and all the way through New Years Eve will have very heavy crowds. Once kids return to school you might have a few days in January to enjoy the seasonal offerings before they disappear.
Christmas at Disneyland Q & A
Where Can I Get Disneyland Candy Canes?
You may have heard that Disneyland sells amazing handmade candy canes. However if your Disneyland Christmas time is brief, I highly recommend against using up precious park time trying to buy one.
These hand-crafted candy canes are available at The Candy Palace on Main Street at Disneyland & Trolley Treats on Buena Vista Street at California Adventure. If you want more details on the dates, see this post from Casey on Disneyland Daily.
Other treats including Mickey gingerbread are easier to acquire, especially via mobile ordering! Keep reading for those tips.
What are Ride Overlays?
You’ve heard this term but don’t know what it means? A ride overlay is a limited time, seasonal makeover for certain attractions in the Disneyland theme parks. At Disneyland Park, look for “it’s a small world holiday” and Haunted Mansion Holiday (more details on both to follow in this article).
Over at Disney California Adventure park drive over to Cars Land for two additional rides that have received a seasonal overlay. Luigi’s Joy to the Whirl and Mater’s Jingle Jamboree have festive decorations and Christmas music playing during the ride.
Pre-Vacation Christmas at Disneyland Advice
Planning a visit to Disneyland during the holiday season requires a certain amount of preparation that you might not need other times of the year. Sometimes guests can just “wing it” at Disneyland.
But during the holidays you’ll definitely need to plan a bit more. You’ll want to make some pre-vacation plans in regards to full-service dining reservations, using Disney Genie+ and research shows times and locations.
Come up with a pre-visit Disneyland Christmas itinerary. Get familiar with some of the attractions on the Disneyland website. Watch some YouTube ride videos.
Join the Disneyland With Kids Facebook group and ask questions that are specific to your family needs. Having a basic itinerary with a few must-do items is essential.
Download the Disneyland app on your smart phone. You’ll want to add this app to your phone before you get in the park. Get familiar with the features at home. After scanning your ticket at the park, you’ll be able to purchase Disney Genie+ and book Lightning Lane reservations.
The app is also where you’ll mobile order (more on that later). View show times, find characters, see dining reservations and PhotoPass pictures, all in the app.
Ways to Maximize Your Time at Disneyland for Christmas
Even when it’s busy during the holiday season, you can still maximize your time spent during your Disneyland Christmas vacation.
Arrive early to the theme parks, around an hour before official opening. This will allow time to get through security and be admitted onto Main Street for “rope drop”.
Disney Genie+ is an absolute must when it comes to making the most of your time. My friend Leslie at Trips with Tykes perfectly explains how Disney Genie+ works and why everyone should plan to use this at least one day during the busy holiday season at Disneyland.
Your Disneyland ticket with Disney Genie+ includes complimentary downloads of PhotoPass images. This includes photographs taken on rides as well as memories captured by PhotoPass photographers around the theme park. Here’s how to maximize park time while still fitting in photo stops:
Arrive early to the theme park for Disneyland rope drop. Crowd levels in Town Square will be lighter in the morning than later in the day.
Start off the day at Disneyland Park by posing in front of the huge Christmas tree in the Main Street U.S.A. The 60 foot Christmas tree is a stunning backdrop to holiday photos.
There’s usually a long line for photos with PhotoPass photographers but pay close attention. There are often several lines formed and more than a few photographers posted here so you can get that cherished holiday family photo in front of the Disneyland Christmas tree.
More PhotoPass Holiday Tips
Moving down Main Street, guests will also find several PhotoPass photographers in front of Sleeping Beauty’s Winter Castle. This line tends to move more slowly, especially at night when the Castle is lit.
Each Land has its own holiday themed decor, from rustic in Frontierland to tropical in Adventureland. Check the Disneyland app to find out where PhotoPass photographers are stationed so you can capture the perfect holiday photo with your family. Within the app, click the navigation button at the bottom then the PhotoPass tab on the dropdown at the top.
“it’s a small world!” Holiday
“It’s a small world” is a classic attraction that receives a amazing makeover for the is my favorite ride at the Disneyland park. I simply adore the message, the sweet retro decor and yes, even the song. If you usually skip this attraction, consider riding during the holidays. The holiday ride is a unique experience that’s different from the usual ride.
The stand-by line could be upwards of 45-minutes or even longer after evening. Use Disney Genie+ to schedule this attraction for a much shorter wait time.
Inside the attraction, you’ll witness a most amazing holiday makeover with songs of the season blending with the traditional song. It’s an entirely new look that celebrates the holidays in each country represented.
Outside, be sure to check out the facade of the ride near nightfall. Every 30 minutes throughout the night, view a short projection show that happens on the building front with holiday projections, music and lights. We were standing in line last year when the attraction was lit. The gasp from the surrounding crowd was awesome and should not be missed.
Haunted Mansion Holiday
This popular attraction featuring Jack Skellington and other Nightmare Before Christmas characters is a holiday season can’t-miss. Be sure to look for the gingerbread design inside the ballroom scene. It changes every year (and you can smell the gingerbread!).
Besides “it’s a small world Holiday”, you should also consider a rope drop beeline for Haunted Mansion Holiday. This attraction also offers Disney Genie+ so book it early in the day before Lightning Lane times are filled up. Aim to visit this ride early in the day if using the stand-by line.
Avoid riding Haunted Mansion Holiday in the evening when crowds for Fantasmic! gather in New Orleans Square. It can be extremely challenging to navigate through the horde to reach the ride entrance.
READ MORE: Long lines will abound everywhere so be prepared with these 12 Things to Do Waiting in Line at Disney.
A Christmas Fantasy Parade
The ever popular “A Christmas Fantasy” parade takes place at Disneyland every holiday season. With 100+ performers in the Christmas parade including Mickey and Minnie Mouse. The marching toy soldiers are a tradition, as they march down the parade route. Stay until the end to spot a special guest from the North Pole…Santa Claus!
Parades are the perfect way for kids to see all their favorite characters without the massive meet n’ greet lines. You’ll be able to wave at Pixar friends like Buzz & Woody, blow kisses to Anna & Elsa from Frozen and spy Pluto & Goofy building their gingerbread house.
The parade is shown during both the daytime and at night. The evening parade can be very chilly so be sure you’re dressed appropriately for cold weather. Bring a blanket to sit on the concrete.
Sleeping Beauty’s Winter Castle
Stay in the parks until dark and be rewarded with entertainment that lights up the night! Sleeping Beauty’s Winter Castle has a magical lighting ceremony twice nightly. This wintertime enchantment includes rousing holiday music and a stunning lighting effect on the icicles, wreaths and castle turrets.
A crowd will form around the front of the castle but it’s not as wildly busy as during fireworks, so you should be able to view more easily.
Holiday Magic Fireworks
Get into the holiday spirit with a viewing of Believe…In Holiday Magic, the seasonal Disneyland fireworks display. Fireworks and pyrotechnics are shown on select nights (usually weekends), with projections only the rest of the week.
Be sure to check the Disneyland app during your visit to verify which show will be happening that night. Keep in mind that windy conditions may cause fireworks to be canceled, as can happen frequently during the winter months. This will be announced over the loud speaker.
Believe…In Holiday Magic, the fireworks spectacular will includes tons of twinkling lights illuminating Sleeping Beauty Castle, projections and a magical snowfall as well! But don’t think you have to stake out a prime spot front of the castle for the best view. This charming holiday show can be viewed in several locations!
In addition to Main Street USA and Sleeping Beauty Castle, watch the show from the Rivers of America or on the facade of it’s a small world (my personal favorite location). “Snow” falls in all of these locations at Disneyland during this event.
This annual telling of the scriptural Christmas story happens on two nights during Christmas at Disneyland. A celebrity reader appears alongside the symphony orchestra and choir. The Candlelight Processional takes place on the steps of the Main Street USA train station, preceded by the actual processional on the usual parade route.
If you’re interested in viewing, read this thorough article from Tom Bricker at Disney Tourist Blog. But my inclination for families is to tell them to avoid the area completely. The crowds here are like no other and guests aren’t able to just stop to watch. Cast members will shuffle guests through without allowing any pause.
I’ve been in the parks during Candlelight Processional and exiting the park through the Town Square on these nights is next to impossible. My recommendations on Candlelight Processional nights:
- Stay far away from Main Street and visit other areas of the park during that time.
- Park Hop to Disney California Adventure in the late afternoon to avoid the impending gathering.
- If you have to exit the park during the show times, use the Monorail. This will deposit you directly into the Downtown Disney District. This option is guaranteed to have long lines as other guests will have the same idea.
Holiday Shopping – Souvenirs to Deck Your Halls
Do your holiday shopping inside the Disneyland parks and you’re sure to come home with gifts for everyone on your list! There are fun souvenir items with a seasonal theme at all price points both inside and outside the parks.
A good place to start is by shopping on an off-day in the World of Disney store at Downtown Disney. They have lots of wonderful souvenirs available here. If you’re shopping in the parks and staying at a hotel of the Disneyland Resort, you can also have packages delivered back to your hotel so you don’t have to tote them around the parks all day.
Plaza Point is the new favorite place to pick up holiday souvenirs. This holiday shoppe offers year-round Christmas merchandise including personalized ornaments. Cast members hand paint names on ornaments throughout the year.
Gift Giving on Vacation
If you’re planning on spending your Christmas at the Happiest Place on Earth, you may be want to bring gifts with you. Consider purchasing holiday presents and bringing them with you to surprise the family at the hotel.
Save space in your luggage and have presents sent ahead to your hotel. Pre-order presents on Amazon and have them sent to you so they’re waiting at the hotel!
Just make sure the address includes the word “Guest” on the front and the date of your arrival at the resort hotel. You’ll be able to pick up your boxes at mail services upon arrival (a fee will be incurred for this).
Best Gifts to Bring to Disneyland
Many families bring a small Christmas tree to set up in the hotel room, complete with gifts and stockings. It’s a great way to show the kids that Santa didn’t forget them, even when they’re away from home!
These Budget-Friendly Disney Stocking Stuffers are small enough to bring in the luggage and keep with the vacation theme. Choose a mix of fun and practical items that can be used on the trip!
If you have family that will be at Disneyland and you want to send them a special something, contact Disney Floral & Gifts to order stockings stuffed with Disney goodies, delicious treats, or even a full “in-room celebration” with a bounty of gifts and delights. (editor’s note: Disney Floral & Gifts has not yet returned to the resorts)
Meeting Santa and Other Characters
Characters are dressed up in their holiday finest on Main Street U.S.A. at Disneyland, ready to say hello to guests! Some characters are available only at a distance on the Main Street train station steps. Other characters may be participating in close-up interactions for hugs, conversation and autographs.
If you see characters, stop to take pictures with Disney favorites first thing in the morning. This is a very popular feature during the holidays and crowds build into the afternoon.
Meeting Santa is a magical part of Christmas and no more so than at Disneyland! Inside Disneyland park, Santa can be found at a meet ‘n greet inside Critter Country. Capture the perfect Christmas Card-worthy image with these tips for holiday characters and where to find Santa at Disneyland.
If you miss him here, Santa Claus can also be greeted at Disney California Adventure, inside the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail or in the lobbies of the three Disneyland Resort hotels. Check the Disneyland app for specific times.
Festive Holiday Treats for Maximum Holiday Cheer
If you have a sweet tooth (like me!), you’ll love to see and taste all of the delicious treats available to help you celebrate Christmas at Disneyland! There is a churro to please everyone including candy cane, chocolate cherry-pistachio, mint chip and a churro with apple spice dipping sauce.
Around the parks you’ll find maple beignets at the Mint Julep Bar, apple flavored cotton candy at the outdoor carts, and a peppermint cookie doughnut with chocolate cookie Mouse ears.
Even if sweets aren’t your thing, there are plenty of savory options available as well. Try the Thanks-mas Turkey Sandwich with cranberry sauce and stuffing at Jolly Holiday Cafe…so yummy!
A printed food guide seems to be a thing of the past, as most guides are now virtual via the Disneyland app. Scroll down on the home page to view the “Disneyland food and merch guide” to find classic treats and what they call “buzzworthy new releases”.
The Disney Parks Blog releases their holiday foodie guide close to the season kick-off. Within the online menus of each dining location, see the section of “seasonal offerings” for the limited-time holiday treats and eats.
Christmas at Disneyland Mobile Ordering
The use of Mobile Ordering is a must-do for saving time during the busy holiday season. Mobile ordering is available at select quick service and snack locations throughout both parks. Mobile Ordering is an amazing time saver that every guest should consider using.
Use the Disneyland app on your phone to place your order. The app stores your credit card information. Disney gift cards and Disney Visa redemption cards can also be used for payment. Simply use the menu to add what you want from the location of your choice.
When you arrive during your chosen time slot, press the “Start My Order” button. Within a few minutes your order will be ready for pick up at the designated Mobile Order window.
No need to stand in the regular line or wait at the register. Click the “I’m here” button and go to the counter when you get the notification that your food is ready.
Disneyland Holiday Dining Packages
A Disneyland dining package is the best way to score a reserved spot for viewing of popular holiday entertainment. Advance dining reservations are required for Disneyland dining packages.
Fantasmic! Dining package has several participating restaurants with different levels of dining and viewing. Guests receive a reserved spot for the Fantasmic! show, with the higher cost packages receiving the best viewing locations. To dine and watch the show at the same time, choose the River Belle Terrace option.
Tomorrowland Skyline Lounge Experience serves select dinner menu options as well as desserts and unlimited sodas. The balcony seating offers a nice view of the nightly fireworks spectacular.
Plaza Inn Dining Package offers a meal along with reserved viewing space for A Christmas Fantasy Parade.
What to Wear for Celebrating Christmas at Disneyland!
If you aren’t familiar with SoCal winter, you may either be over or under dressed. Weather this time of year is very unpredictable – It could be rainy or it could be 90 degrees. There may be frost or it might be a hot and windy Santa Ana!
See the photo – on this particular holiday season weekend it was misting and so foggy you could barely see Mickey Mouse on the Pixar Pal-a-Round Ferris wheel!
This is what I’d recommend when packing for Christmas at Disneyland:
First off, I highly recommend checking the temperature forecast before packing so you’ll have a better idea what to expect.
Dress in layers and pack a little bit of everything. It’s often chilly enough for a hoodie in the mornings, warm in the afternoons and then cool again after nightfall. My family usually starts off the day with a light jacket and wears lightweight clothing during the day.
Pack in a change or clothing or return to the hotel in the evening. Plan to change into jeans and a long sleeved tee or sweater at night.
READ MORE: Is there wet weather in the forecast during your holiday vacation? Check out the practical tips for Surviving a Disneyland Rainy Day.
How Disneyland Hotels Celebrate Christmas at Disneyland
My most favorite part of visiting the Disneyland Resort during Christmas is seeing the detailed holiday decorations that cover every corner! Even the Disneyland resort hotels have special decor that’s worth checking out.
Important to note that you do not have to be a resort guest to visit the hotel lobby or to make dining reservations at hotel restaurants.
Here’s what to look for at the Disneyland Resort:
- Santa Claus makes a special appearance throughout the season inside each hotel lobby. Check with the hotel on days and times for Santa’s visit.
- Each resort hotel has themed Christmas trees and decor within their lobby. If you’re visiting the Disneyland Hotel stop inside each of the separate towers as each one has a different themed tree in the lobby. The dramatic multi-story Christmas tree inside Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa is a showstopper!
- Also at Disney’s Grand Californian, check out the larger-than-life gingerbread house replica of the hotel! It smells absolutely heavenly and will have you craving gingerbread cookies. Fortunately the lobby also offers seasonal treats for purchase.
- Walk through the Downtown Disney District to spot additional holiday decoration including carolers and other musical entertainment.
Shop for Clothes and Accessories in the Parks
Fortunately if you didn’t pack for the current temps, there are plenty of souvenir outfits to choose from inside the parks! Everyone is encouraged to dress in their seasonal best for all the holiday photo ops.
Disneyland makes it easy to find something that will dress you head to toe for the holiday. You’ll find hats, Minnie Ears, tees, sweaters, and leggings and joggers. There’s always plenty of seasonal and limited edition jewelry, light-up necklaces and holiday trading pins too.
How to Celebrate the Holidays at Disney California Adventure Park
I highly recommend purchasing a Disneyland Park Hopper Ticket which will allow you to visit both theme parks. After 1 pm, guests can “hop” easily across the esplanade to the other Disney park. Here are the highlights for Christmas at Disney California Adventure!
Is a family photo in front of Christmas trees a Disney vacation must-do? The lines for getting pictures taken at Disney California Adventure’s tree are much shorter than at Disneyland! PhotoPass photographers are stationed on opposing sides and the line moves quickly.
- This year Santa Claus will be meeting children at Redwood Creek Challenge Trail at Disney California Adventure Park and in Critter Country at Disneyland Park. Kids will even have the opportunity to sign Santa’s “Nice List” guest book!
- Cars Land is amazing during the holidays with auto filter garlands, white-wall tire wreaths and a Christmas tree decked out in shiny hubcaps! Be sure have your picture taken with the “snowcar” complete with top hat and pylon nose!
- World of Color – Season of Light has returned to light up the night this Christmas season.
- In Disney California Adventure park, favorite Disney characters greet near Carthay Circle area. Check out the holiday accents with their 1920’s inspired outfits (see Goofy’s candy cane tie, so cute!).
SoCal Theme Park Holiday Fun
Looking for the complete Southern California wintertime experience? Visit these other SoCal theme parks that offer winter season events:
- A Very Furry Christmas at Sesame Place – Young guests will enjoy this seasonal offering at the newest Southern California theme park including a Furry Friends Christmas Dance Party and characters dressed in their winter best.
- Jungle Bells at the San Diego Zoo – This nighttime event is included in a regular park ticket and includes live music and entertainment, seasonal decorations with an appearance by Santa Claus.
- SeaWorld Christmas Celebration – Special winter holiday themed live shows, seasonal dining and entertainment.