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Holiday Must-Do List for Celebrating Christmas at Disneyland Resort

Holiday Must-Do List for Celebrating Christmas at Disneyland Resort


Combine the holiday season with a festive vacation, there’s no better way than by celebrating Christmas at Disneyland! From the dazzling holiday decor, spectacular entertainment, special holiday rides and attractions, there’s more than a few days worth to see and do. Celebrating Christmas at Disneyland is pure magic. And you can still have all the usual Christmas fun, from presents to Santa!

Marching toy soldiers playing trumpets in the Disneyland Christmas Fantasy parade
A Christmas Fantasy parade grand introduction by trumpeting toy soldiers.

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Celebrating Christmas at Disneyland 

These are a few of the top questions answered about celebrating Christmas at Disneyland:

Is Disneyland Crowded on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day? – Yes. Very much so. In fact, the park often reaches 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 my post for additional Tips for Navigating Holiday Crowds at Disneyland. You’ll learn lots of holiday hacks on having the best visit despite the extra crowds.

What Date is Disneyland Decorated for Christmas? – The holiday season at Disneyland runs from November 11th, 2022 until January 8th, 2023.

Beating the 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! After November 8th, 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.

READ MORE: Long lines will abound everywhere so be prepared with these 12 Things to Do Waiting in Line at Disney.

Answers to More Christmas at Disneyland Questions

Does Disneyland Have Mickey Very Merry Christmas Party? – Nope. But they make up for that by offering a ton of seasonal offerings that are included with regular day’s park admission (including Festival of Holidays at California Adventure park, keep reading for the details!).

Where Can I Get a Disneyland Candy Cane? – You may have heard that Disneyland sells amazing hand-pulled candy canes. However if your Disneyland Christmas time is brief, I highly recommend against using up precious park time standing in line to try your chance at buying one. They are available at The Candy Palace on Main Street at Disneyland & Trolley Treats on Buena Vista Street at California Adventure and if you want more details on the dates, see this post on Disneyland Daily.

Christmas floral designs at Disneyland

Practical 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. Normally we can just “wing it” at Disneyland but during the holidays you’ll definitely need to plan a bit more in regards to full-service dining, FastPasses and viewing shows. The Holiday season is always busy so read more about the Disneyland visiting tips for busy days.

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 MaxPass and book FASTPASS reservations. The app is how you can mobile order (more on that later). You can also see your dining reservations and PhotoPass pictures, all in the app.
Santa on a float in the Christmas Fantasy Parade at Disneyland
Christmas Fantasy Parade at Disneyland

More Christmas at Disneyland Pre-Planning Tips

Book Advance Dining Reservations if you want to eat in a restaurant or for character dining. Quick service locations are all walk-up and don’t require any reservations. But if you want to eat at a sit-down, full-service restaurant you’ll likely need an ADR (which you can book pre-trip online).

Discounted Disneyland Tickets!

My travel partners at Get Away Today offer both discounted Disneyland tickets and Anaheim-area hotels to fit any budget! Many hotels include exclusive discounts like free parking, complimentary breakfast or even free nights, just for booking through Get Away Today.

Disneyland tickets purchased now are good through December 31st, 2023. We never know when Disney will increase prices so there’s always a potential savings of hundreds of dollars for families. Purchase your multi-day tickets through Get Away Today now.

When you’re ready to book your full Disneyland vacation, my friends at Get Away Today are ready to help! Mention code REWRITTEN to receive an extra discount off your SoCal vacation package of two or more days.

Can’t Miss Resort Decor Celebrating Christmas at Disneyland

My most favorite part of visiting the Disneyland Resort during Christmas is seeing the detailed decorations that cover every corner! Even the resort hotels have special decor that’s worth checking out. Santa does meet n’ greet guests inside each of the hotel lobby’s (and you don’t have to be a resort guest to visit). Check with the hotel on days and times for Santa’s visit. 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.

Kids standing in front of retro Christmas trees inside Disneyland Hotel lobby
Retro themed Christmas trees inside the Disneyland Hotel lobby, 2012

Inside Disney’s Grand California Hotel & Spa, the lobby is totally decked out for the holidays. You’ll be in awe of the larger-than-life gingerbread house replica of the hotel! It smells absolutely heavenly in here. There are also special treats for purchase.

Gingerbread House at the Grand Californian 2016
Gingerbread House at the Grand Californian 2016
Disney's Grand Californian Hotel gingerbread house, 2018
Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel gingerbread house, 2018 (the fireplace is animated!)

As you walk from your Disneyland resort hotel through the Downtown Disney District, there are even more holiday decorations to get you in the mood. Pop inside the World of Disney shop here too and see the large holiday section of merchandise.

Festive Holiday Treats for Maximum Holiday Cheer

Seasonal churros at Disneyland
There’s a churro flavor for everyone this holiday season!.

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 Sugarplum Candy, Gingersnap and Churro Bites with eggnog gelato and caramel sauce. Around the parks you’ll find Candy Cane Beignets at the Mint Julep Bar, Cinnamon Caramel Corn at the outdoor carts, and a Minnie Wreath Doughnut filled with chocolate peppermint ganache. 

Grab a food guide inside the parks (I found them near City Hall at Disneyland & Chamber of Commerce at California Adventure). This double-sided pamphlet outlines all the seasonal eats in both park, along with some images and locations to find all.

READ MORE75 Disneyland Holiday Desserts to Try this Christmas from my friend Jessica at The Happiest Blog on Earth

Celebrating Christmas at the Disneyland Resort is simply magical! Here are the top tips on maximizing your vacation time with Christmas at Disneyland. This is the ultimate Disney guide on seasonal offerings including Christmas ride overlays, holiday food to eat, parades and shows and the beautiful decorations. There are family travel tips for meeting Santa, using MaxPass, Disneyland app and the time-saving Mobile Ordering. #Disneyland #Christmas | Disneyland Christmas | Holidays at Disneyland

More Seasonal Foods During Christmas at Disneyland

Even if sweets aren’t your thing, there are plenty of savory options available as well. Try pumpkin soup (Pacific Wharf Cafe) and house-made pozole (Paradise Garden Grill). I had the Thanks-mas Turkey Sandwich with cranberry sauce and stuffing (Jolly Holiday Cafe) for lunch…so yummy! Grown ups can also enjoy a warm bourbon cider, red sangria or another celebratory seasonal adult beverage (alcohol only sold inside Disney California Adventure).

These limited-time holiday offerings are available around the parks at select dining locations. And of course there are LOTS of fantastic foods to try at the Festival of Holidays marketplace kiosks. Some quick service locations offer Mobile Ordering (read more on this later).

Minnie doughnut at Disneyland during Christmas
The Minnie doughnut is big enough for two!

Celebrating Christmas at Disneyland Park with More Festive Decor

Start off the day at Disneyland Park by posing in front of the huge Christmas tree in the Main Street U.S.A. square. 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. We were there on a very busy holiday morning and only waited about 5 minutes. You’ll also find one or two PhotoPass photographers in front of Sleeping Beauty’s Winter Castle though this line tends to move more slowly, especially at night when the Castle is lit.

Victorian themed ornaments on Disneyland Christmas
New for 2018, the tree itself as well as the Victorian themed ornaments.

Each Land has its own holiday themed decor, from rustic in Frontierland to tropical in Adventureland. Even Toontown gets an appropriate holiday splash of color that’s bright and festive, with lots of large ornaments and over-sized bows! Check the Disneyland app to find out where PhotoPass photographers are stationed so you can capture the perfect holiday photo with your family.

Toontown Disneyland Christmas decorations
Christmas comes to Toontown at Disneyland!
New Orleans Square Disneyland Christmas decor
Each of the Lands (except Tomorrowland) have unique holiday decor.

What to Wear for Celebrating Christmas at Disneyland!

If you aren’t familiar with SoCal winter, you may either be over or under dressed. First off, I highly recommend checking the temperature forecast before packing shorts or sweaters. Our weather this time of year is very unpredictable – It could be rainy or it could be 90 degrees. We may have frost or there might be a hot and windy Santa Ana! This particular day it was misting and so foggy you could barely see Mickey Mouse on the Pixar Pal-a-Round Ferris wheel!

Photo Credit: Disney Photopass

This is what I’m recommending: Dress in layers and bring 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. We usually start off the day with a light jacket, with lightweight clothing during the day. Then return to the hotel and change into jeans and a long sleeved tee or sweater in the evening.

Photo Credit: Disney Photopass

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.

Holiday Mouse Ears
Holiday Ears abound, for sale all around the Disneyland resort

“it’s a small world!” Holiday

“It’s a small world” 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. It’s unique experience than the usual ride. The stand-by line could be upwards of 45-minutes or even longer after evening.

It's a small world Holiday facade
“it’s a small world holiday” by day.

Be sure to check out the facade of the ride near nightfall. We were standing in line last year when the attraction was lit and the gasp from the surrounding crowd was awesome. Then, every 30 minutes throughout the night, a music and light projection show happens on the facade with holiday projections. 

it's a small world holiday dramatically lights up at night.
The outside of it’s a small world dramatically lights up at night.

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.

Inside of it's a small world Holiday jungle theme
The inside of it’s a small world Holiday is completely made over for the season

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! If you know you’re going to be buying ALL the goodies, I recommend purchasing Disney gift cards at Target with your Red Card to take advantage of the 5% discount. Every cent counts, right? 

Pluto wearing a Christmas sweater in a Disneyland souvenir popcorn bucket
Special holiday popcorn buckets are usually a hot ticket souvenir.

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.

Disneyland Christmas souvenir straw clip and cup
Adorable souvenir straw
Christmas Tinker Bell plush at Disneyland
Even the stuffies like Tinker Bell get a holiday makeover!

Disney California Adventure Park Christmas Whimsical Decorations 

At Disney California Adventure Park, the buildings around Buena Vista Street are decorated with 1920s garland and vintage-style ornaments. There is a 50-foot Christmas tree here as well and the Photopass lines are considerably shorter than at Disneyland park. There are retro toys under the tree including a train. Be sure to read in more detail all about Christmas at Disney California Adventure park

Retro-themed holiday decor inside Disney California Adventure park.
Retro-themed holiday decor inside Disney California Adventure park.

The lines for getting pictures taken at Disney California Adventure’s tree are much shorter than at Disneyland! Photographers are usually stationed on opposing sides.

Photo Credit: Disney PhotoPass

Cars Land Holiday Decorations

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! Be sure to return after dark to see how the neon glows against these whimsical decorations.

Cars Land holiday decorations in Radiator Springs
Cars Land seasonal decor is whimsical and unique.
Celebrating Christmas at the Disneyland Resort is simply magical! Here are the top tips on maximizing your Christmas at Disneyland vacation.
Season’s Speedings from Cars Land!

Festival of Holidays Food Galore

Festival of Holidays offers flavors of the season at a variety of kiosks in the Park. Entry to Festival of Holidays is included in your park ticket and takes place inside Disney California Adventure park. Request a “Tasting Passport”. This little booklet includes a map with details on all the food and drinks available for purchase during the Festival. If you have specific dining issues (milk or gluten insensitive, vegetarian or vegan) see the key next to each item or refer to the index in the back of the booklet.

Front entrance to Disney California Adventure with Festival of Holidays sign

Dining options range from sweet to savory and there are beverages both alcoholic and non. I was able to sample several of the options during the Festival of Holidays. The Turkey & Stuffing Tamale with Cranberry Relish at the Merry Mashups kiosk was delicious and flavorful. Winter Sliderland kiosk offered the Beef Pot Roast on a Potato Roll with Horseradish Cream, which was amazing! Holiday Stuffing Mac & Cheese from the Favorite Things kiosk is can’t miss. For dessert, the Carmelized Apple Cake and “Hot Cocoa” Marshmallow Macaron (both found at Making Spirits Bright) are both rich and large enough for sharing.

Reuben Potato Tots with Russian Dressing & Rye Toast (at Festival of Holidays)

More Festival of Holidays Dining Tips

We found the lines to be reasonable early in the day and very crowded in the evening. Get your fill of these appetizer-sized dishes during lunch to maximize your time. Some of the beverages are available in a souvenir tumbler for just a few dollars more. This is a great option if you want a memento of your time celebrating at Festival of Holidays! I chose to get the Warm Peppermint Chocolate Float and it was delish.

Consider purchasing the Sip & Savor Pass if you want to make a day of tasting 8 food or non-alcoholic beverage items. You do not have to use the entire pass in one day. Magic Key holders receive a $5 discount off the cost of a Sip and Savor.

Festival of Holidays entertainment sign with times

Festival of Holidays Entertainment

After you’ve grabbed a few snacks from the Festival kiosks, grab a seat at one of the many stage locations to enjoy some of the live entertainment. We had the chance to watch the energetic Blue13 Dance Company. There’s more entertainment taking place at several stages around the marketplace including outside Paradise Garden Grill. 

Festival of Holidays dancers on stage
Festival of Holidays offers vibrant entertainment all day.

!Viva Navidad! Street Party is a Holiday Can’t Miss Celebration

Several times a day The Three Caballeros (Donald Duck, Panchito and José Carioca) host a dance party and Latin celebration. I’ve seen this show several times and have a few recommendations for best viewing with kids. Show up about 20 minutes early and stand in the area between the Silly Symphony Swings and Jumpin’ Jellyfish. This will put you front and center of the action and give you the best view of the characters. Mickey and Minnie are here too and their entrance amid the large puppets, dancers, drummers and flags is highly impressive!

!Viva Navidad! float at Disney California Adventure

I’d suggest watching during the day time hours when it’s still light enough to see clearly. It will start getting dark around 5 pm. The section in the middle is much better lit if you do watch during the evening hours. 

!Viva Navidad! Street Party during Festival of Holidays with Mickey and Minnie
The festive Viva Navidad street party will get everyone moving!

Celebrating Christmas at Disneyland with More Seasonal Rides & Attractions

There are several rides around the Disneyland resort that get a holiday make-over. Besides “it’s a small world Holiday”, you should also make a rope drop beeline for Haunted Mansion Holiday. This popular attraction receives new effects every year! It’s a holiday season can’t-miss and you should aim to visit this ride early in the day. Be sure to look for the gingerbread design inside the ballroom scene. It changes every year (and you can smell the gingerbread!).

Haunted Mansion Holiday

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.

Celebrating Christmas at the Disneyland Resort is simply magical! Here are the top tips on maximizing your Christmas at Disneyland vacation.
Stack of tires and some ornaments = Christmas tree in Cars Land!

Send Your Holiday Presents & Gifts Ahead of Your Trip

If you’re planning on spending your Christmas at the Happiest Place on Earth, you may be considering bring gifts with you. Save space in your luggage by having 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). 

Disney personalized Christmas ornament souvenir
Have a Disney artist personalize your holiday souvenir ornament.

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. It’s a great way to show the kids that Santa didn’t forget them, even when they’re away from home!

Celebrating Christmas at Disneyland Seasonal Entertainment & Shows

The ever popular “A Christmas Fantasy” parade takes place at Disneyland, with 100+ performers in the parade including Mickey, Minnie and a special guest from the North Pole…Santa Claus! I love parades as the perfect way for my 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.

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. Believe…In Holiday Magic, the fireworks spectacular will includes tons of twinkling lights illuminating Sleeping Beauty Castle, projections down Main Street USA and a magical snowfall as well! Snow falls in several locations at Disneyland during this event (check the Disneyland app to verify locations during your visit).

Sleeping Beauty's Winter Castle at night during Christmas at Disneyland
Don’t miss the gorgeous snow & icicles on Sleeping Beauty’s Winter Castle

Ways to Maximize Your Time and Money at Disneyland for Christmas

Even when it’s busy during the holiday season, you can still maximize your time and money spent during your Disneyland Christmas vacation. MaxPass is an absolute must when it comes to making the most of your time. My friend Leslie at Trips with Tykes perfectly explains how MaxPass works and why everyone should plan to use this at least one day during the busy holiday season at Disneyland.

Mobile Ordering is a Holiday Must

Another time saver is the use of Mobile Ordering at select quick service and snack locations throughout both parks. I personally have used Mobile Ordering many times and the time savings is amazing. You’ll use the Disneyland app on your phone to place your order. The app stores your credit card information (unfortunately gift card use is not available at this time).

Disneyland mobile ordering sign
Check the Disneyland app for participating Mobile Order dining locations.

Simply punch in what you want from the location of your choice & when you arrive, press the “Start My Order” button. Within a few minutes your order will be ready for pick up (just look for the Mobile Order Pick-Up sign). No need to stand in line or mess around at the register. Click the “I’m here” button and go to the counter when you get the notification that your food is ready. I was able to order my soup bread bowl at the door of Pacific Wharf Cafe. I clicked the button and when I walked inside they were already spooning the soup into the bowl!

Meeting Santa and Other Characters

Greet the characters dressed up in their holiday finest on Main Street U.S.A. at Disneyland. In Disney California Adventure park, favorite Disney characters will greet near Carthay Circle area. They wear holiday accents with their 1920’s inspired outfits (see Goofy’s candy cane tie). We always make a point to take pictures with our favorites first thing in the morning because this is a very popular feature during the holidays.

Photo Credit: Disney PhotoPass

Meeting Santa is a magical part of Christmas and no more so than at Disneyland! 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!

Capture the perfect Christmas Card-worthy image with these tips for holiday characters and where to find Santa at Disneyland.

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Celebrating Christmas at the Disneyland Resort is simply magical! Here are the top tips on maximizing your vacation time with Christmas at Disneyland. This is the ultimate Disney guide on seasonal offerings including Christmas ride overlays, holiday food to eat, parades and shows and the beautiful decorations. There are family travel tips for meeting Santa, using MaxPass, Disneyland app and the time-saving Mobile Ordering. #Disneyland #Christmas | Disneyland Christmas | Holidays at Disneyland

This is an updated post, originally published Nov 3, 2016

Tips for Holiday Characters and Where to Find Santa at Disneyland

Sunday 2nd of December 2018

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