I was a hosted guest of the Disneyland Resort & received complimentary admission and MaxPass for me and my family. Please note that my posts contain affiliate links. Clicking through and making a purchase helps me in a small financial way, thank you.
How Do You Find Favorite Characters & Santa at Disneyland?
Your best bet for finding accurate character meet n’ greet locations is the Disneyland app. The Disneyland app will have all the details on who is greeting where, with a map to find them. Download the Disneyland app before your visit and refer to it in the parks.
Which Characters Dress Up for Christmas?
Some characters will be dressed regularly and some will be completely dressed up in holiday outfits. Other characters will have “winter touches” to their usual costumes.
The “Fab 5” will dressed up in their holiday finest on Main Street U.S.A. My favorite look is Minnie Mouse, who is seasonal from the top of her beret to her red and green skating skirt! My little one especially loved the pom-poms that hung from her sweater. I love the seasonal looks and special winter-wear that the characters have during Christmas!
You may notice that some characters have several different looks. We spotted Pluto wearing two different winter-wear looks, including the holly covered antlers or a Santa hat with a snowflake dog-tag. Some characters like Winnie the Pooh will wear a winter scarf with their usual costume. Other characters like Buzz Lightyear and Woody from Toy Story will not have seasonal outfits.
Finding Disney Holiday Characters First!
We like to take care of character meet n’ greets first thing in the morning. The kids are still neat and tidy and everyone is (hopefully!) in a good mood. The crowds are generally lighter first thing. Another benefit of taking photos in the daylight hours is better photo quality.
Not an Extra Magic Hour day for the Park you want to visit? While others are sleeping in on vacation, you should be arriving to the Park gates at least 30 minutes early for “rope drop”. Even better? 45-60 minutes before the Park opens 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 – the Park 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!
Holiday Character Tip: Sometimes the character needs to take a break and the “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.
Photo Tips for Character Meet & Greet
Take advantage of MaxPass for the full access of all PhotoPass pictures taken that day. You can purchase MaxPass on the Disneyland app after entering the park. You’ll scan in your ticket and pay the $10 (per person, per day) via the app. This will allow you to receive unlimited downloads of your PhotoPass and ride photos. That’s in addition to the FASTPASS access as well (read my friend Leslie’s complete post about the benefits of MaxPass at Trips with Tykes).
While I am always pleased with the PhotoPass quality, there have been two separate occasions (both at Disney World though), where my PhotoPass pictures never came through to my account. We were so disappointed! I suggest that everyone always have a few photos taken with their own camera or phone camera too, just in case.
PhotoPass photographers do not mind taking pictures with your personal camera or phone camera. Just make sure the settings are ready and the camera is on and ready to go! You can simply hand it over & they will take several shots with your camera and a few additional photos with their PhotoPass camera.
Character Meet n’ Greet Tips: Some of the best photos are un-posed. Make sure you move back and let the PhotoPass photographers capture a few photos of the character interactions with the kids and see the magic unfold!
!Viva Navidad! is a Latin celebration of the season that takes place from November 9, 2018 to January 8, 2019. !Viva Navidad! features a festive street party, dining in Paradise Garden Grill, live entertainment and character meetings.
Mickey and Minnie are clothed in full Latin-American garb for this lively street party that features mariachi and samba music and folklorico dancers. 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.
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 so the lines are considerably lighter than in other locations. I personally have seen Donald Duck (wearing a sombrero!) and Mickey and Minnie in their Latin-American outfits in this area. Princess Elena of Avalor also greets guests in this area, in a separate greeting location.
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 gone).
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 didn’t want to be there!).
Santa at Disneyland for 2019
You’ll find Santa at Disneyland in multiple areas of the Resort this year. The most popular (and most crowded location) is the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail in Disney California Adventure park. The entire trail has been made over for the holidays, with seasonal games & activities. Guests visiting Santa’s Holiday Visit can pick up an activity map which outlines the fun available.
Santa can be found in the Ahwahnee Camp Circle, just to the left of the trail’s entrance. What a charming location, with homey rustic touches (and a couch almost long enough to hold my big family!) Everyone will have the opportunity to sign Santa’s “Nice List” guest book!
Despite the long lines, 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”!
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 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. The Treats for Santa kiosk also sells warm bourbon cider for adults and non-alcoholic hot chocolate.
Santa Claus in Critter Country
Santa can also be found at Disneyland park, inside Critter Country. We waited about 15 minutes shortly after the meet n’ greet opened to sit with Santa. He took his time chatting with my daughter and posing for photos. Everyone in line received a tiny candy cane treat!
How Long Can You Expect to Wait in Line to See Santa at Disneyland?
If meeting Santa at Disneyland is on your must-do list, then schedule your day to be there immediately upon 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.
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!)
Meeting Santa at Disneyland Hotels
Santa also has a limited schedule meeting guests inside the hotels of the Disneyland Resort. The Disneyland Hotel, Paradise Pier and Grand Californian Hotel will have themed Christmas decorations. Santa will be there on occasion to meet with guests. I’d recommend calling the hotel directly to find out dates and times so you can coordinate. You do not need to be a resort guest to visit the hotels or to meet with Santa! I’ve found the lines for Santa at Disneyland to be considerably longer inside the parks than at the hotels.
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 guests cozy up to the fire with holiday treats (they are for sale in the lobby). It’s a very relaxing way to take in the spirit of the season!
Yes, you read that right! From December 25th through January 8th, Santa Goofy will take St. Nick’s place at the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail location for a festive holiday meet n’ greet. This sounds like a fantastic and unique meet n’ greet that shouldn’t be missed if you’re in the parks during this time!
Where Else Can We See Holiday Characters & Santa at Disneyland?
If you want to see the characters dressed up for the season without waiting in any lines, your best bet is to watch A Christmas Fantasy Parade! Mickey and Minnie, Goofy, Donald and more are decked out for the holidays in fun and festive winter attire. Watching and waving to the characters in the parade is a great option for kids who are too shy for meet n’ greets but who still want to see their favorite characters.
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, but you should still find a place to sit/stand about 45 minutes early. And 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 waves and says hello to children in the crowd.
While they are a combination of Halloween and Christmas, the character greeting of Jack Skellington and Sally from Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas is another favorite. But you won’t find them located near their attraction, Haunted Mansion Holiday. 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).
Over at Disney California Adventure park during the holidays, you’ll even find that the vehicles in Cars Land have gotten into the holiday spirit! Two of the attractions have ride overlays but there are also holiday decorations covering all of Radiator Springs with seasonal touches. Don’t miss the “SnowCar” located at the entrance to Cars Land!
More Holiday Character Greeting Tips
- Characters in holiday attire can still sign autographs. Just have your book open to a blank page, your pen uncapped and ready to go!
- 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.
Save Money on a DISNEYLAND Vacation!
Purchase discount tickets and vacation packages from my affiliate Get Away Today. Use the Promo Code REWRITTEN and receive an extra $10 off any 2-night or longer Southern California package. (Hotel and 2 ticket minimum purchase to qualify for the discount).
Read more seasonal tips including the Holiday Must-Do List for Celebrating Christmas at Disneyland Resort
This is an updated post originally published Jul 22, 2014