The holidays at Disneyland are beyond magical. The entire resort, hotels and theme parks are sparkling with seasonal decorations. Holiday ride overlays, delicious foods, and special entertainment add extra enchantment for vacationing families. Naturally all this extra pixie dust also brings in extra crowds! These are the top tested tips for visiting Disneyland during the holiday season with advice on beating the lines.
Holidays at Disneyland 2021
Are you ready to experience Disney magic during the holidays? Sleeping Beauty Castle is dusted with the snow and icicles. Parades and shows have a holiday theme. Several rides and attractions have holiday overlays. Stunning themed winter decorations abound in both Parks. Not to mention all the delicious and festive foods!
For many families, the holiday season is the only time they are able to visit the Disneyland Resort. So what do you do on busy holidays at Disneyland? Here are tons of tested tips for visiting Disneyland during the holidays!
Lots has changed about planning a trip to Disney. If you haven’t been to Disneyland this year, read up on all the must-know things about visiting Disneyland in 2021.
Discounted Disneyland Tickets!
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Disneyland tickets are good through December 31st, 2022. 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.
Disneyland Holidays – When Are You Going to Visit?
Since the Disneyland parks reopening, crowd levels have been somewhat restrained. But as the holidays are unfolding, dates are already filling early on the reservation calendar. The 2021 holiday season is sure to be busier than usual.
Some days will be more crowded than others during the holidays at Disneyland. Without a doubt, if the date is “sold out” on the reservation calendar, it’s going to be busy. Removing FASTPASS or Maxpass from your usual touring plans, count on the lines being long. Disney Genie+ is expected to be released soon and this article will be updated when that occurs.
Here’s what to expect on popular holiday dates in 2021:
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 and sold out dates across the board.
New Years Eve – 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.
Experience the Disneyland Holiday Season with Lighter Crowds
The best tip is to see what dates are available on the reservation calendar. If the date hasn’t sold out, on the one park per day, Park Hopper or Magic Key calendars, chances are it won’t be as packed in the parks.
Consider early November (before the week of Thanksgiving). Look at the week after Thanksgiving all the way to the week before Christmas.
Visit on a weekday, in particular, Tuesday, Wednesday & Thursday. These mid-week days of the week will be less crowded than weekends, Monday and Friday during this time period.
Buy Your Tickets in Advance – It’s a Must!
In the past, guests could plan a last-minute Disneyland vacation. No more. Now everyone must have a valid park ticket, purchased online, along with an accompanying park reservation.
If you haven’t already, I highly recommend purchasing your ticket and hotel package from Get Away Today. You’ll have the assistance of a dedicated travel agent, at no additional cost to you.
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).
Park Hoppers – Which Park to Visit First?
For families with a park hopper ticket, it can be a hard decision choosing which park to visit first. Here’s a tip for anyone visiting on a day when Disney Merriest Nights takes place. This new after-hours event takes place inside Disneyland on select nights in November and December.
Consider choosing Disneyland as your starting park on the days when Disney Merriest Nights events take place. The park will open to event guests beginning at 5:00 pm, upon which Disneyland will start to feel more crowded.
Hop over to Disney California Adventure at that time to complete your evening. Yes, crowds will be greater at DCA, but it might be a good time to take in some of the least packed attractions. This might include character drawing lessons inside the Art of Animation Building or watching live entertainment.
Advance Dining Reservations for Full Service Dining
Once upon a time, guests didn’t really require Advance Dining Reservations (ADR) at Disneyland. However this no longer holds true – Everyone should book dining reservations asap.
There’s a chance that some locations will offer walk-up availability through the Disneyland app. However the wait may 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! Read more in this article about dining at Disney without Advance Dining Reservations.
Score Coveted Dining Reservations for Disneyland
Rather than stalking the Disneyland app to book ADR, try MouseDining. There’s a way to upgrade your account for additional features but for most people, their free program is adequate. Here’s how this system works:
- Open the MouseDisney website and search for the restaurant you want to dine at.
- Add in your dates to see if a reservation is available.
- If everything is booked, simply set up an alert with more details including meal, preferred time, and party size.
- MouseDining will email you when a reservation comes available!
Download the Disneyland App
The Disneyland Resort is encouraging all guests to have the Disneyland app. In fact, much of what you can do in the park can only be accomplished through the app. Add the app to your smart phone or device pre-visit. Play with the Disneyland app at home to get used to its features and functionality.
You’ll be able to see where characters are greeting guests, attraction wait times, view PhotoPass pictures, and see restaurant menus. The Disneyland app is also where you’ll place mobile orders for quick service dining – such a time saver!
Extra Magic Hour – Not Currently Available
*Editor’s Note* – Extra Magic Hour has been currently paused without a return date.
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
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. You’ll also have a huge advantage of lighter morning crowds than those guests who decided to arrive in the afternoon.
Have a Plan
You can’t just show up on a busy day and expect to be able to see and do everything. Special activities including purchasing hand-crafted candy canes and buying seasonal merchandise will consume a lot of time. Figure out what’s most important for you and your family to accomplish on your Disneyland trip.
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. Anything else that happens afterwards will just be extra special fun!
Mobile Order Early in the Day
Avoid the mealtime rush by ordering quick service restaurant meals early. This could be as soon as you enter the park. Quick service meal time slots actually do fill up, and you don’t want to be without a decent meal when hunger strikes! I suggest placing all of your meal and snack orders within the first hour of opening.
Plan ahead where you’ll want to eat and enter an approximate time. This time can always be adjusted later. You’ll place your order in the Disneyland app and receive a push notification when your dining time arrives.
The holiday season takes over several Disneyland Park attractions, adding to the seasonal magic! These attractions are ALWAYS popular during the holidays.
Haunted Mansion Holiday – Arrive early and “rope drop” Haunted Mansion Holiday. This is a beloved seasonal favorite, featuring Jack Skellington and friends from A Nightmare Before Christmas, celebrating it’s 20th installment in 2021. The wait for this ride can be one of the longest in the park. Follow the tips for rope dropping at Disneyland, then head straight for this seasonal attraction.
*CURRENTLY CLOSED* it’s a small world Holiday – Another delightful holiday overlay, it’s a small world Holiday is an all-age attraction. The entire inside and out of this ride are decorated for the season. Don’t miss the beautiful light display on the building outside too. Several times a night, watch the facade light up in a brilliant production. Editor’s Note: This attraction experienced issues during the overlay process and is currently not operating. The outside lighting show is still showing but the ride is not open.
Cars Land – At Disney California Adventure park, look for Luigi’s Joy-to-the-Whirl and Mater’s Jingle Jamboree. Both rides in Cars Land feature seasonal songs and decor.
World of Color – Season of Light will not be returning for 2021.
What’s Disney Genie?
FASTPASS and MaxPass are gone – Disney Genie has been recently announced and expected to preview before the end of 2021. Lightning Lane will be the new quick line (ie: formerly the FASTPASS line).
The new Disneyland app feature allows guests to schedule Lightning Lane reservations remotely via their mobile device. When I have more details in regards to the complimentary Disney Genie and paid service of Disney Genie+, I will update this post.
Virtual Queue Attractions…Sometimes
Rise of the Resistance in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and WEBSLINGERS: A Spider-Man Adventure in Avengers Campus have recently opened their stand-by lines. In the past the only way to ride these attractions was via a virtual boarding pass.
Disneyland has announced that they may revert back to a virtual queue on days they determine to be the most crowded. Find out how to score these coveted Disneyland boarding groups by reading my friend Leslie’s articles at Trips With Tykes.
Opt for Single Rider
For families with older children, consider using the Single Rider lines. Each person in the single rider line will be seated in ride vehicles to fill in empty spots. Guests cannot request to sit together and will be seated next to a stranger.
Disneyland Single Rider attractions:
- Indiana Jones Adventure
- Matterhorn Bobsleds
- Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run
- Space Mountain
- Splash Mountain
- Star Tours
Disney California Adventure park rides with Single Rider lines:
- Goofy’s Sky School
- Grizzly River Run
- Radiator Springs Racers
What to Do In Line?
Lines are gonna be LOOOONNNNGGG. Some lines can be avoided via strategic use of rope drop and Disney Genie. Arrive early and you’ll be rewarded with shorter lines in the first two hours at Disneyland.
Do you only have one day at Disneyland? 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!).
Expect to find a “socially distanced” experience during the holidays at Disneyland 2021. All character meet ‘n greets are taking place with space between guests and characters. For Santa this year, you can expect to take a distanced photo and say hello, without the lap chat or hugs.
Shows and Entertainment
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. Best viewing spot is near Bayside Brews, near Paradise Garden Grill. The street party will stop in front of this location and features Mickey and Minnie in a lively show with live music and festivities.
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. However you should still find a place to sit about 45 minutes early.
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 and operational.
Avoiding Crowds at Festival of Holidays
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. This seasonal event is included in a regular day ticket and is naturally, a very popular part of the holidays at Disneyland.
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-alcoholic). The holiday desserts are not to be missed!
There are ways to avoid crowds during Festival of Holidays. Pay attention to when Marketplace dining booths open and aim to eat early. For example, I arrived to Disney California Adventure park around 2:00 pm and there weren’t any lines at all for the Festive Foods Marketplace. However by 6:00 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.
READ MORE about the seasonal Guide to Disney Festival of Holidays with Kids.
Enjoy the Holiday Atmosphere
There’s more to just rides and shows at Disneyland during the holidays. Take advantage of the seasonal spirit by capturing the memories with Disney PhotoPass. These photographers are stationed throughout the park. Find out their exact location on the Disneyland app. You’ll be sure to find them on Main St. and Carthay Circle near the decorated Christmas trees.
Important to note that Disney PhotoPass photographers can no longer use your personal phone to take photos. You could always trade cameras with another park guest. Or splurge on the PhotoPass package to get the unlimited photo downloads to feature on your family holiday cards!
Don’t miss taking in the gorgeous holiday decor that’s all over the Disney parks. From the enormous tree on Main Street U.S.A., 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.
Holidays at the Disneyland Resort
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!
The Disneyland Resort hotels are also open to non-guests. The Disney Grand Californian is particularly beautiful during the Christmas season. There’s a towering Christmas tree and gingerbread recreation of the hotel in the lobby. Hot cocoa and treats are for sale and anyone can sit near the roaring fire and listen to live piano music.