The Christmas season at Disneyland is fully magical, with festive surprises throughout the Disney parks. Mickey & Minnie are dressed for holiday time, along with dozens of other character favorites (including Santa Claus straight from the North Pole!). Read the best tips for meeting holiday characters at the Disneyland Resort and where to find Santa at Disneyland.
I have been a hosted guest of the Disneyland Resort & received complimentary admission for me and my family. This article originally published July 22, 2014 and has been updated and republished with a new date.
Where to Find Holiday Characters and Santa at Disneyland
If you’re planning to visit Disneyland, meeting Disney characters is always a highlight. The happiest place is home to a number of beloved characters that meet with guests throughout the year.
When is the holiday season at Disneyland?
The holiday season happens from November 10th, 2023 until January 7th, 2024. During the Christmas season, Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure park are decked out with extravagant holiday decorations.
Holiday character greetings at Disneyland
During the Disneyland holidays, guests can meet n’ greet with characters dressed in seasonal outfits. Characters are available to meet with families in beloved locations in the Disneyland resort.
This spots include Main Street U.S.A., Redwood Creek Challenge Trail, special seasonal character dining meals, and in the lobbies of the Disneyland resort hotels.
Ways to see seasonal characters at Disneyland
There are several additional ways to see Disneyland characters dressed in holiday attire. These are excellent ways to visually see characters, without the long lines of traditional meets.
Locations for charactering viewing include A Christmas Fantasy parade, Mickey’s Happy Holidays processional, and !Viva Navidad!.
How Do You Find Characters at Disneyland?
Your best bet for finding accurate and up-to-date character meet n’ greet locations and times is within the Disneyland app. The Disneyland app has all the details on which character is greeting in certain locations.
It is highly recommended to download the Disneyland app before your visit. Even outside of finding character details, the app is also helpful for finding show times, mobile ordering, and other park-related planning tips.
Finding Character Locations and Times
Click the navigation button, then the drop down the “characters” tab. There is an interactive map on which to find characters, as indicated by the Mickey Mouse silhouette.
From here, click the individual silhouette to see which character is meeting in that location. Then click the character box pop-up to see the details, including the time of appearances.
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Which Disney Characters Dress Up for Christmas?
Some characters will be dressed regularly during a Disneyland Christmas. Other Disney characters will be completely dressed up in holiday outfits. Some characters will have “winter touches” to their usual costumes.
Do Disney characters change their holiday looks each year?
The seasonal looks may vary each year. Special winter-wear that the characters wear during Christmas may be different from the images in this article (which reflect previous years).
Disney characters may sport several holiday costumes
You may also notice that some characters have several different looks. We spotted Pluto wearing two different winter-wear looks in a single visit. That include holly covered antlers in one location and a Santa hat with a snowflake dog-tag in a second spot.
Mickey Mouse and friends (the “Fab 5”) will dressed up in their holiday finest on Main Street U.S.A. You may also visit with them in their respective houses within Toontown, where they’ll be wearing different costumes. They can also be spotted in the Christmas Fantasy Parade, wearing a variety of ensembles.
Some characters don’t dress in seasonal outfits
Some characters, like Winnie the Pooh, will wear a winter scarf with their usual costume. Other characters, like those in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, do not have seasonal outfits.
Meeting Santa at Disneyland
Meeting Santa is one of the highlights of Christmas time at Disneyland! My family has been going to Disneyland during the holiday season for a long time. I just have to share these “retro” Santa at Disneyland photos with you from years past.
Disney California Adventure park – 2007. Santa was in a laid-back California vibe (check out that shirt and those cool sunglasses!) There was a fun Christmas surf set-up in Sunshine Plaza (now reimagined into Buena Vista Street).
Disneyland – Frontierland 2008. They had Santa with a nifty curled mustache inside a rustic cabin for his meet and greet.
Disney California Adventure park – Elias & Co. shop – 2012. A 1920s retro Santa for our baby son’s first meeting with St. Nick (but you’ll see one of the older kids was a little shy during this magical moment!).
Where to Meet with Santa at Disneyland in 2023
You’ll find Santa at Disneyland in multiple areas around the Disneyland Resort this year. These locations include:
- Redwood Creek Challenge Trail in Disney California Adventure park
- Critter County at Disneyland Park
- Disneyland Resort hotel lobbies
Santa Claus makes special appearances beginning at the start of holiday time at the theme parks, November 10th, 2023. His visits end on Christmas Eve, December 24th each year.
Where Can Guests Meet Santa Goofy?
Yes, you read that right – When Santa stops coming to Disneyland, Santa Goofy takes St. Nick’s place! From December 25th through January 7th 2024, Santa Goofy meets guests at the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail location for a festive holiday meet n’ greet.
This is a fun and unique character meet n’ greet that shouldn’t be missed if you’re in the parks during this time!
Meet Santa Claus at Redwood Creek Challenge Trail
The most popular Santa theme park greeting location is at the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail in Disney California Adventure. Expect this spot to have the most activities, as well as the largest crowd levels.
The Redwood Creek Challenge Trail Santa’s Holiday Visit is the most popular and also the most crowded location. Check the Disneyland app to know when Santa Claus will begin greeting guests. Plan to arrive before official opening to be towards the front of the line.
Santa’s Holiday Visit Activities
The entire trail is made over for the holidays, with seasonal games & activities. Guests coming to Santa’s Holiday Visit can refer to the activity map, which outlines the fun available.
- Meet Santa
- Elf Games, including Rubber Duck Races
- Treats for Santa
Santa can be found in the Ahwahnee Camp Circle, just to the left of the trail’s entrance. It’s a perfectly charming location, with homey rustic touches. The couch is almost long enough to hold my big family!)
Every guest has the opportunity to sign Santa’s “Nice List” guest book! This book is located at the entrance to the queue.
Despite the crowds, Santa Claus always takes his time to chat with each child and to pose for plenty of photos. My 3 year old daughter happily chatted about her Christmas wish list toy – “A unicorn that shines and sparkles in the night”!
Disney Photo Pass photographers are on hand to capture the special memories.
Treats for Santa
One fun thing that kids can do after meeting Santa is to decorate a sugar cookie. These cookies are for sale at the Treats for Santa Festive Marketplace kiosk inside the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail.
The Treats for Santa kiosk also sells warm bourbon cider for adults and non-alcoholic hot chocolate.
The Mickey Snowman Cookie Decorating Kit comes with a large cookie, several tubes of icing, and a tub of sprinkles. The kit can be purchased using a Festival of Holidays Sip & Savor Pass.
Read more about celebrating the holidays in this ultimate guide to Christmas at Disney California Adventure park.
Meeting Santa Claus in Critter Country
Santa can also be found at Disneyland park, inside Critter Country. Due to the tucked-away spot, this location tends to be less crowded than the Disney California Adventure meet ‘n greet.
We waited about 15 minutes shortly after the meet n’ greet opened to sit with Santa Claus in this location. Santa took his time chatting with my daughter and posing for photos. Everyone in line receives a tiny candy cane treat afterwards.
For more details on the seasonal events happening at the Disneyland park, read more of the tips for Celebrating Christmas at Disneyland.
Meeting Santa at the Disneyland Resort Hotels
Santa Claus is available to meet n’ greet at both the Disneyland Hotel and Grand Californian Hotel. I’ve found the lines for Santa at Disneyland to be considerably shorter at the hotels.
Check the available times – Santa has a limited schedule meeting guests inside the hotels of the Disneyland Resort, generally in the evening hours. I’d recommend calling the hotel directly to find out dates and times ahead of your visit.
Everyone is welcome – A key note, is that you do not need to be a resort guest to visit the hotels or to meet with Santa!
Seasonal activities – The resort hotels have themed Christmas decorations as the perfect backdrop for holiday photos, along with some seasonal activities!
I highly recommend a visit specifically to the Grand Californian Hotel during the holiday season. The enormous gingerbread house and towering Christmas tree are a highlight of the beautiful lobby.
A pianist plays holiday music and takes requests for songs. Guests cozy up to the fire with holiday treats (for sale in the lobby). It’s a very relaxing way to take in the spirit of the season!
How Long Can You Expect to Wait in Line to See Santa at Disneyland?
If meeting Santa at Disneyland is at the top of your must-do list, then schedule your day to be there immediately upon opening.
Santa doesn’t start meet ‘n greets at park opening
Be aware that Santa may not be greeting guests right upon park opening, so check your Disneyland Parks app. On the day of our visit, the park opened at 8 am but Santa didn’t start meeting guests until 10 am.
How long are Santa wait times?
Santa Claus takes his time with each group, chatting and posing for photos. This process can make the wait times lengthy.
Depending upon the location, wait times can stretch to an hour-long. Check the Disneyland app for more accurate wait times during your visit.
Wait times will be consistently high all day long
Two years ago we waited until about 8 pm to meet with Santa at Disneyland, thinking the lines would slow towards evening. However, we STILL waited 45 minutes!
I’d recommend meeting Santa first thing in the day if possible (before your kids meltdown or fall asleep!)
Read more about the Holidays at Disneyland, with a specific focus on how to maximize your time on busy days.
Tips for Meeting Disney Holiday Characters
One of the best tips I have about meeting Disney holiday characters is do meet n’ greets first thing in the morning. There are several reasons early day character greetings work best:
Line Queues May Be Shorter at Rope Drop
The crowds are generally lighter first thing in the morning. Just as you can use this Disneyland rope drop strategy to avoid ride wait times, you can do the same with character meetings.
Guests should arrive to the park gates 45-60 minutes early during the holiday season for “rope drop” (the time before the parks open officially). Early birds may have the opportunity to walk on Main Street U.S.A. and line up at the “rope” when the Park opens.
We met Pluto during rope drop. Disneyland wasn’t even officially open yet, but he was meeting guests on Main Street U.S.A. I can’t guarantee that this will happen on your visit, but arriving early is never a bad idea at Disneyland!
Families Are Camera-Ready in the Morning
If capturing Christmas card-worthy photos is important, do character meet ‘n greets earlier in the day. In the morning hours, kids are generally neat and tidy. Everyone is (hopefully!) in a good mood and you’ll be better able to get a great photograph.
Better Photo Quality in the Daytime
Another benefit of taking photos in the daylight hours is better photo quality than after night fall.
More Holiday Character Greeting Tips
Do Disney characters sign autographs during the holiday season? Characters in holiday attire can still sign autographs. Just have your book open to a blank page, your pen uncapped, and be ready to go!
Characters sometimes need to take a break. The cast member “character handler” will let you know when you get in line if the character will be leaving. Many times the character will return after a few minutes, so you can hang tight in your place.
Be courteous and considerate to others waiting. If there is a line a mile long waiting to meet Mickey, now is not the time for everyone in your group to grab a selfie. Take a few photos, get the autograph book signed, and move along so the next family can have their time.
Using PhotoPass at Disneyland Character Meet & Greets
Purchase Disney Genie+
Purchasing Disney Genie+ is one of the best ways to capture holiday memories. Disney Genie+ main highlight is booking attraction times and a shortened wait through the Lightning Lane lines.
An additional benefit is unlimited downloads of your Disney Photo Pass images. This includes both in-park photographers and on-ride photos.
Guests can also purchase Disney Genie+ on the Disneyland app after entering the park. You’ll scan in your ticket and pay the cost per person, per day via the app. The amount fluctuates, based on crowd levels and seasonality.
Buy Disney Genie+ ahead of your vacation to save money! I highly recommend purchasing a Disneyland ticket with Disney Genie+ to take advantage of the Lightning Lane lines and complimentary Photo Pass. Pre-purchasing ahead of time locks in the varying cost, and can be a significant savings.
Ask PhotoPass photographers to use your camera
Photo Pass photographers do not mind taking pictures with your personal camera or phone. Just make sure the settings are ready, and that the camera is on and ready to go!
You can simply hand it over and Disney photographers will take several shots with your camera. They will always take a few additional photos with their PhotoPass camera at your request.
Request holiday Magic Shots
Magic Shots are a whimsical post-production addition that are added to certain Photo Pass images or in special locations around the theme park. Guests must make the request for a Magic Shot to the Disney PhotoPass photographer.
Include posed and unposed images
Some of the best photos are un-posed. Make sure to step back and let the Disney PhotoPass photographers capture a few photos of the character interactions with kids before posing.
Read more about taking special holiday photos at Disneyland!
Holiday Characters in the Christmas Fantasy Parade
If you want to see the characters dressed up for the season without waiting in any lines, there are several options in both theme parks. Watching and waving to the characters from afar is a great option for kids who are too shy for meet n’ greets, but who still want to see their favorite characters.
To start, your best bet is to watch A Christmas Fantasy Parade. Mickey and Minnie, Goofy, Donald, Chip ‘n Dale, and more are decked out for the holidays in fun and festive winter attire.
Best Place to View A Christmas Fantasy Parade
We like to watch the parades from the it’s a small world area. This area is considerably less crowded than Main Street U.S.A. Guests should still find a place to sit or stand along the parade route about 45 minutes early.
Yes, you’ll even see Santa at the finale of A Christmas Fantasy Parade! Santa Claus chats live from atop his sleigh to the guests watching the parade. He even waves and says hello to children in the crowd.
!Viva Navidad! is a Latin celebration of the season that takes place during Christmas at Disneyland. These activities are a part of the Festival of Holidays, which encompass seasonal observances from around the world.
!Viva Navidad! features a festive street party, dining in Paradise Garden Grill, and live entertainment with character meetings in Paradise Gardens Park.
Best Place to Watch the Viva Navidad Street Party
Mickey and Minnie Mouse are clothed in full Latin-American garb for this lively street party. The lively show features mariachi and samba music, Mexican folklórico dancers, and 12-foot-tall mojiganga puppets of Santa and Mrs. Claus. You’ll also find Donald Duck, Panchito and José Carioca dressed up in traditional Latin attire during the show.
This area is dimly lit at night so definitely make time to watch the show during the day. You’ll grab the best view of the show by standing near Bayside Brews.
Viva Navidad Character Greetings
There is a character greeting location in the !Viva Navidad! area as well. It’s tucked in an out-of-the-way location that can’t be seen by those walking past.
I personally have seen Donald Duck (wearing a sombrero!) and Mickey and Minnie in their Latin-American outfits in this area. Mirabel from Encanto also greets guests in this area, in a separate greeting location.
Can’t Miss Holiday Characters at Disney Parks
There are multiple other locations during the holiday season to spot festive Disney characters! These include photo-worthy areas, meet ‘n greets, and ride overlays.
Disney California Adventure Park
Cars Land has inspiring holiday decorations covering all of Radiator Springs! The seasonal touches include two of the attractions that have ride overlays.
During the holidays, you’ll even find that the vehicles in Cars Land have gotten into the holiday spirit! Don’t miss the “Snow Car” located at the entrance to Cars Land!
Mickey’s Happy Holidays takes place in the Hollywood Land area of Disney California Adventure. This lively street party parade includes Disney and Pixar characters in seasonal attire, along with the beats of the Holiday Toy Drummers.
The Nightmare Before Christmas is a seasonal mash-up and the characters overlap holidays. Offering a combination of both Halloween and Christmas, the character greeting of Jack Skellington and Sally from Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas is another favorite. Guests can spot them within their attraction Haunted Mansion Holiday, along with a popular meet ‘n greet.
But you won’t find them located near their ride. You’ll actually find them tucked away inside a building in the New Orleans Square area at 21 Royal Street (check the app for guide map).
“it’s a small world” Holiday is a seasonal overlay to one of Disneyland’s most classic attractions. The ride offers more than a little holiday cheer, with the entire attraction made over for the winter season. Beloved Disney characters are found throughout, including Ariel the Little Mermaid, Aladdin, and Mulan.
Goofy’s Kitchen Holiday Meal
From December 1, 2023 through January 1, 2024 guests can celebrate the holidays at Goofy’s Kitchen with a special seasonal meal! The breakfast, brunch, and dinner buffet will be loaded with holiday dishes.
Characters will be dressed in festive attire as they move through the room, greeting guests at their tables. Chef Goofy always meets diners for a Disney Photo Pass photo when they enter the dining room.
Character dining is a great way to meet with characters, while also enjoying a hearty buffet meal. Find out more about Disneyland Character Dining locations and tips for families.
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