Holidays at Disneyland – When Are You Going to Visit?
Some days will be more crowded than others during the holiday at Disneyland season.
Thanksgiving Day – crowded in the morning with slightly lighter crowds in the evening (when some families leave for Thanksgiving dinner)
Christmas Eve & Day – extremely crowded
New Years Eve – the Parks will reach capacity – over-the-top packed!
Other busy times include the entire week of Thanksgiving and the week of Christmas all the way through to New Years.
Want to experience the holiday season but with lighter crowds? Consider early November (before the week of Thanksgiving). Or the week after Thanksgiving all the way to the week before Christmas. Weekdays (in particular, Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday) will be less crowded than weekends, Monday and Friday during this time period.
Buy Your Tickets in Advance
On busy days, you might be standing in line to get your ticket upwards of an hour! Consider pre-purchasing your tickets to save time. Even better, purchase a package (I recommend Get Away Today). You’ll have the assistance of a dedicated travel agent (at no additional cost to you) and your package will help you to save both time and money.
Save Money at DISNEYLAND!
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Advance Dining Reservations
While you might not normally need Advance Dining Reservations (ADR) at Disneyland, during the holidays, you should make them. The wait will be very long for a table service meal during busy times. Best to have the ADR, especially for coveted Character dining, special holiday meals and favorite restaurants like Carthay Circle and Blue Bayou.
If dining full service isn’t important, you’ll be able to eat at quick service locations. No ADR necessary! Check out this post about dining at Disney without Advance Dining Reservations.
Download the Disneyland App
The Disneyland Resort now offers WiFi, though it’s still sketchy at times. However the app is extremely helpful so be sure to download it pre-visit. You’ll be able to see live where characters are greeting guests, attraction wait times, view PhotoPass pictures, read restaurant menus and access your FastPass return times (with purchase of MaxPass).
Extra Magic Hour
Stay on Disneyland Resort property and guests are allowed early entry on certain days. Extra Magic Hour allows registered Disneyland Resort Hotel Guests with (their valid theme park admission), entry one hour prior to the official Park opening. Here’s the schedule: Disneyland Park on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Disney California Adventure Park on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays.
Always Rope Drop
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.
Have a Plan
You can’t just show up on a busy day and expect to be able to see and do everything. Have a plan in place on your top 5 essentials for the day, whether it be a ride, attraction, show or parade. Make those things happen first and anything else that happens after that will just be extra special fun!
This new Disneyland app feature allows guests to schedule their FastPass reservations remotely via their mobile device. On a busy day, this will save you SO much time from having to walk physically to the attraction on order to grab your FastPass. MaxPass is an additional charge to your Park ticket. Given that MaxPass also includes unlimited PhotoPass downloads, the extra cost is well worth it.
The holiday season takes over several Disneyland Park attractions, adding to the seasonal magic! These attractions are ALWAYS popular during the holidays. Grab your FastPass ticket for the World of Color – Season of Light first thing in the day. Book your FastPass asap for Haunted Mansion Holiday because this is a beloved seasonal favorite and the wait can be very long. it’s a small world Holiday is delightful! Don’t miss the beautiful light display on the building outside too.
What to Do In Line?
Lines are gonna be LOOOONNNNGGG. Some lines can be avoided via strategic use of Extra Magic Hours, rope drop and MaxPass. If a stand-by line is longer than 30 minutes you might be better off skipping it. Otherwise you’ll be using up a lot of your Park time in queue. Consider only visiting those most popular rides during the early hours or very late at night when the crowds have thinned.
Other lines, like those for the bathroom or quick service dining can’t be helped. Keep fidgety kids busy with the strategies on this post about standing in line at Disney.
My kids enjoy the World of Disney Eye Found It Card Game. It’s small, requires no batteries or charger and young children can play too.
Rest in the Park, Not at the Hotel
Usually I recommend to vacationers that they leave the Parks mid-day and return to their hotel for a swim and nap. Then, once recharged, to return back to the Disneyland Resort for evening fun. However…if the Parks are at max capacity on very busy days, if you leave the Park you may not be allowed back in. Even if you have your Park ticket! Instead of leaving the Parks on these days, consider resting inside the Park by finding a dining location or bench to relax on.
Guests can meet and greet with Santa at the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail inside Disney California Adventure park and in Critter Country at Disneyland Park. He’s also been spotted inside all three of the Disneyland Resort hotels (I’ve personally seen him in the lobby of the Grand Californian with a very short line!) Times vary so be sure to check the Disneyland app when inside the parks.
If meeting Santa at Disney is high on your list, make that top priority of the day. We waited until about 8 pm, thinking the lines would slow. We STILL waited 45 minutes! I’d recommend meeting Santa first thing in the day if possible (before your kids meltdown or fall asleep!).
Shows and Entertainment
A Christmas Fantasy Parade is absolutely delightful, with charming seasonal spirit including dancing reindeer, gingerbread and lots of Disney characters in their holiday best. We like to watch from the it’s a small world mall. Considerably less crowded than Main Street U.S.A (but you should still find a place to sit about 45 minutes early).
Disney California Adventure park offers the !Viva Navidad! Street Party. The Three Caballeros host dancers, musicians and traditional puppets in a South American holiday fiesta. For additional tips about things to do in this park, read the Ultimate Guide to Holidays at Disney California Adventure.
At night, Sleeping Beauty’s Winter Castle twinkles to life with beautiful lights, icicles and snow-capped turrets.
Stay After Fireworks
The Believe…In Holiday Magic fireworks spectacular should not be missed. If you want to see it from the front (to view the castle projections), you should stake out a spot on Main Street U.S.A. several hours before the show. However you can totally watch the fireworks from other locations, including the Rivers of America or the it’s a small world mall.
After the fireworks, massive crowds will rush out of the park, tiny tots in tow! Try not to get hung up in the crowds (that’s why we watch the fireworks from the it’s a small world area). Fantasyland will be closed for a while after the show but other areas will remain open for fun. We were able to stay until closing and my kids rode The Matterhorn Bobsleds twice in a row without any wait!
Other Holiday Things at the Disneyland Resort
The Festival of Holidays is a must-do inside Disney California Adventure park, a celebration with live entertainment, food and crafts from around the globe. When we visited last holiday, we arrived to Disney California Adventure park around 2 pm and there weren’t any lines at all for the Festive Foods Marketplace. However by 6 pm, lines were 20 guests deep! If you see something with a short queue, go for it right then and there because crowds do build as the day goes on.
The Festive Foods Marketplace serves up multicultural food and drink at Disney California Adventure park during the holiday season. Each of the kiosks offers something different including gourmet appetizers, comfort food, draft beers, and fancy drinks (alcoholic and non). The holiday desserts are not to be missed!
READ MORE about the seasonal Guide to Disney Festival of Holidays with Kids.
I absolutely adore just admiring the gorgeous holiday decor that’s all over the Disney parks. From the enormous tree on Main Street U.S.A., the auto-themed holiday decor in Cars Land and even the whimsical holiday spirit in Toontown, almost every area is decked out! Be sure to take the time to look at the decorations and take plenty of photos.
If the Parks are overcrowded, consider taking a stroll over at the Downtown Disney District. Guests can dine and shop amidst holiday decor, seasonal touches and live music. Grab a seasonal treat from Marcelline’s and just wander, soaking up the holiday magic!