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Busy Day Tips for Holiday Crowds at Disneyland (2023)

Busy Day Tips for Holiday Crowds at Disneyland (2023)


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 holiday crowds at Disneyland! These are the top tested tips for visiting Disneyland during the holiday season with advice on beating the lines.

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This article was originally written November 1st, 2017 and has been updated and republished with a new date.

Holiday Crowds at Disneyland – 2023 Guide

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!

Celebrating Christmas at the Disneyland Resort is simply magical! Here are the top tips on maximizing your Christmas at Disneyland vacation.
There’s a churro flavor for everyone this holiday season!

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Disneyland tickets purchased now are good through January 12th, 2025. Purchase your multi-day tickets through Get Away Today today and lock in the best pricing of the year.

When you’re ready to book your 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 (when booking 2+ nights with two or more tickets).

Disneyland During the Busy Holiday Season

Disneyland might be happiest place to visit for holiday celebrations, but large crowds can put a damper on the fun. It’s important to be prepared and to know what to expect this time of year. This article will include lots of tips on how to maximize your time in the theme parks.

  • Deciding When to Visit
  • Park Hopping Tips
  • Making Dining Reservations
  • Using the Disneyland App
  • Disneyland Early Entry
  • Best Tips for “Rope Drop”
  • Having a Touring Plan
  • Mobile Ordering
  • Disney Genie+
  • Lines, including Single Rider
  • What to Do in Queue
  • Seasonal Events, including Santa Claus & Festival of 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 going to Disneyland this year.

Disneyland Holidays – When Are You Going to Visit?

As the holidays are unfolding, dates are already filling early on the reservation calendar. The 2023 holiday season is sure to be busier than usual.

When is the best time to go to Disneyland?

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.

For tips on choosing the best days to visit, view this Disneyland crowd calendar article about the Best Times to Visit Disneyland.

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!

Thanksgiving Day – Crowded in the morning with slightly lighter crowds in the evening (when some families leave for Thanksgiving dinner)

Christmas Eve & Christmas Day – Extremely crowded and sold out dates across the board.

New Years Eve – Parks will reach capacity. It’s going to be over-the-top packed!

Other busy times – Include the entire week of Thanksgiving and the week of Christmas all the way through to New Year’s Day. Crowd levels will be at their peak in the last week of the year.

Looking for all the tips on meeting characters at Disneyland during the holiday season? I'm sharing where to find Mickey & Minnie, other Disney characters dressed for Christmas and where to find Santa at Disneyland! These time saving tips will guide you on how to meet n' greet, parade tips to see Disney characters in winter wear and where to get souvenir autographs at the Disneyland resort in California.

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.

Alternate Dates for Lower Crowds

  • 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.
These tips for Holidays at Disneyland will help you navigate crowds & enjoy the most magical winter vacation! #Disneyland
Love the auto-themed holiday decor in Radiator Springs, Cars Land

Buy Your Disneyland 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.

Once you’ve finalized your travel days, purchase tickets and book theme park reservations right away. Consider buying a Disneyland ticket with Disney Genie+ built in. Disney Genie+ is a great way to limit wait times, a definite “must have” during the holiday season.

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.

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. Decide which theme park you’d prefer to “rope drop” (ie: arrive before official theme park opening).

Starting at Disneyland

Consider starting at Disneyland in the early morning, to complete Fantasyland, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, and the newly opened Mickey’s Toontown. Hop over to Disney California Adventure in the evening hours to view World of Color.

Starting at Disney California Adventure Park

Disney California Adventure has a very festive vibe during the holiday season you don’t want to miss! Enjoy Cars Land and Pixar Pier, then be the first in line for the dining marketplace kiosks during Festival of the Holidays. Hop to Disneyland for nighttime activities, like the parade and fireworks spectacular.

Celebrating Christmas at the Disneyland Resort is simply magical! Here are the top tips on maximizing your Christmas at Disneyland vacation.
Retro-themed holiday decor inside Disney California Adventure park.

Download the Disneyland App

The Disneyland Resort encourages 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.

Through the app, you’ll be able to see where characters are greeting guests, attraction wait times, view Photo Pass pictures, and see restaurant menus. The Disneyland app is also where you’ll place mobile orders for quick service dining – such a time saver!

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.

These tips for Holidays at Disneyland will help you navigate crowds & enjoy the most magical winter vacation! #Disneyland

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.

Get a dining reservation if you want to eat at Lamplight Lounge!

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 MouseDining 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!
Seasonal eats are a big part of Disneyland during the holidays

Disneyland Early Entry

One of the perks to staying at a Disneyland Resort hotel versus a Good Neighbor hotel is early admittance. Stay on Disneyland Resort property and guests are allowed early entry into the theme parks. This “Early Entry” allows registered Disneyland Resort Hotel guests with (their valid theme park admission), entry 30 minutes prior to the official Park opening.

What about Extra Magic Hour at Disneyland?

Extra Magic Hour was the old system for early entry and it had a schedule for the days of the week. Extra Magic Hour no longer takes place. The new Early Entry system is for either park, dependent upon which reservation you hold.

(Image Credit: Disney PhotoPass)

Disneyland 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.

Read more about how to maximize the first two hours at Disneyland with these rope dropping tips.

Have a Plan for Busy Disneyland Days

You can’t just show up on a busy day and expect to be able to see and do everything. When it’s crowded at Disneyland, a plan is imperative.

Create a Top 5 List

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!

Work in Extra Activities

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.

Custom Designed Theme Park Plans

A great option is having a customized vacation plan, created for you by my friend Jessica at The Happiest Blog on Earth!

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.

Entrance to Pym Test Kitchen in Avengers Campus
Pym Test Kitchen in Avengers Campus is a popular new dining spot

Seasonal Overlays

The holiday season takes over several Disneyland Park attractions, adding to the seasonal magic! These attractions are ALWAYS popular during the holidays.

Cars Land – At Disney’s 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.

Haunted Mansion Holiday – Arrive early and “rope drop” Haunted Mansion Holiday at Disneyland park. This is a beloved seasonal favorite, featuring Jack Skellington and friends from A Nightmare Before Christmas.

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.

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 outer façade light up in a brilliant production.

These tips for Holidays at Disneyland will help you navigate crowds & enjoy the most magical winter vacation! #Disneyland
it’s a small world Holiday

What’s Disney Genie+?

FASTPASS and MaxPass are gone – Disney Genie+ is the new “line skipping” system!

The new Disneyland app feature allows guests to schedule Lightning Lane reservations remotely via their mobile device. The cost of Disney Genie+ pricing starts at $30 per person, per day. It’s well worth the add-on during the holiday season when crowds are heavy.

The cost of Disney Genie+ fluctuates, depending upon crowd level. It can often be higher to purchase via the app on the morning of your visit. It’s highly recommended to purchase a Disneyland ticket with Disney Genie+ built in.

This can also save you time in the morning. Just after scanning into the park, you’ll be able to book your first Lightning Lane.

Individual Lightning Lane Attractions

Rise of the Resistance in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and Radiator Springs Racers in Cars Land offer stand-by lines, but expect to wait a long time for these attractions. The best way to avoid the long lines is to purchase a paid Lightning Lane for these attractions.

These two rides do not participate in Disney Genie+ but the paid LL is still a way to skip the stand by queue. Expect to pay at least $20 per person, per attraction for the paid Lightning Lane feature (the cost is even higher on busier days).

Little girl scared of Chewbacca at Disneyland

Single Rider Option

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:

  • Matterhorn Bobsleds
  • Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run
  • Space Mountain

Disney California Adventure park rides with Single Rider lines:

  • Goofy’s Sky School
  • Grizzly River Run
  • Incredicoaster
  • Radiator Springs Racers
  • WEB SLINGERS: A Spider-Man Adventure
  • Soarin’ Around the World
Guests riding Radiator Springs Racers at Disney California Adventure park

What to Do In Disneyland Lines?

Lines are gonna be LOOOONNNNGGG. Some lines can be avoided via strategic use of rope drop and Disney Genie+. Other lines, like those for the bathroom can’t be helped.

Stay busy in queue. 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.

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.

Use the app to avoid lines. The Disneyland app offers mobile ordering for quick service dining food pick-up. Guests can also use the mobile check-out option when shopping for souvenirs.

Meeting Santa Claus at Disneyland

Guests can meet and greet with Santa at various locations around the Disneyland Resort, including both theme parks and at the Resort hotels.

Find out exact locations and additional tips for where to find Santa at Disneyland.

Hugs from Santa! – Photo Credit: Disney Photo Pass

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!).

Intimate character meet ‘n greets are back in the parks that include hugs and autographs. For Santa this year, expect the lap chat and hugs during your photo op.

These tips for Holidays at Disneyland will help you navigate crowds & enjoy the most magical winter vacation! #Disneyland
Meeting Santa at the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail in 2016

Navigating Crowds at Disneyland Holiday Shows

As with everything at the Disney theme parks during the peak season, Disneyland crowds will gather in droves to watch the holiday entertainment. These are some of the events and best touring tips:

Arrive Early – Crowds will form early along parade routes and for shows. Cast members may not allow guests to gather too far in advance but consider 45-60 minutes a good time frame.

Watch the Late Show – Earlier show times will be packed with young children, who often leave right afterwards. If you are able to watch late evening shows, these will be considerably less busy.

Must-See Holiday Entertainment

!Viva Navidad! Street Party at Disney California Adventure park. The Three Caballeros host dancers, musicians and traditional puppets in a South American holiday fiesta.

The 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 view about 45 minutes early.

These tips for Holidays at Disneyland will help you navigate crowds & enjoy the most magical winter vacation! #Disneyland
Christmas Fantasy Parade at Disneyland

Disneyland Nighttime Holiday Shows

Sleeping Beauty’s Winter Castle twinkles to life each night, with beautiful lights, icicles and snow-capped turrets. This winter enchantment happens several times each night and can be viewed from any location around the castle.

World of Color – Season of Light is a nighttime water projection show, featured only during the holiday season. There are multiple ways to view the show, most of which require advanced planning:

  • Acquire a virtual queue through the Disneyland app at noon on the day you wish to watch the show.
  • Book a World of Color dining package or dessert party, for an additional cost.
  • Visit the Paradise Bay viewing area 45 minutes before showtime to check in with a Cast Member for walk-up viewing options.

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.

Celebrating Christmas at the Disneyland Resort is simply magical! Here are the top tips on maximizing your Christmas at Disneyland vacation.
The outside of it’s a small world dramatically lights up at night.

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!

Ways to Avoid Crowds During Festival of Holidays

Dine early – 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.

Stand in line once – Purchase a Sip & Savor Pass, which includes 8 tabs to redeem for eligible items in the marketplace. Buy all of your food items at a single kiosk. Save the receipt in a safe location, then use that receipt to pick up your dishes at the various kiosks throughout the day.

Disney PhotoPass During the Holidays

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.

Use the Disneyland app – Find out the exact location of PhotoPass photographers on the Disneyland app.

Christmas Trees – You’ll be sure to find Disney PhotoPass on Main St., Carthay Circle, and in Cars Land, near the decorated Christmas trees. Take note that there may be multiple lines, as photographers are often stationed at various points around the same tree.

Cars Land hubcap tree

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 maximum 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.

These tips for Holidays at Disneyland will help you navigate crowds & enjoy the most magical winter vacation! #Disneyland
Decked out with whimsy in Toontown

Enjoying the Holidays at the Disneyland Resort

If the holiday crowds at Disneyland are putting pressure on your spirit, there are several ideas to ease the stress. By getting away from the rides and attractions, you can still embrace the holidays at Disneyland, using these tips.

Stroll and Take in the Atmosphere

In the bustle of sticking to the touring plan, you can miss a lot of what makes Disneyland during the holidays so special.

Walk through the Lands, taking in the gorgeous holiday decor that’s all over the Disney parks. Almost every area is decked out! Be sure to take the time to look at the decorations and take plenty of photos.

Listen to the music, including the Dapper Dans, who perform on Main Street throughout the day.

Holiday decor in New Orleans Square

Escape the Theme Parks

If the Parks are overcrowded, consider exiting the parks. Be aware that on max capacity days, you may not be allowed admittance back inside (even with a valid theme park ticket).

Try 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.

Celebrating Christmas at the Disneyland Resort is simply magical! Here are the top tips on maximizing your Christmas at Disneyland vacation.
Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel gingerbread house

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Taking Special Holiday Photos at Disneyland Resort

Saturday 11th of November 2017

[…] special book! Lines for Santa are often very long – be sure to read this post on the Holidays at Disneyland on Busy Days for all the crowded day […]


Wednesday 8th of November 2017

One of these days I would love make it out west during the holidays! These are great tips.

Julie Bigboy

Thursday 9th of November 2017

And I'd love to head east to WDW just once for the holidays! :)


Tuesday 7th of November 2017

I'd love to see Disneyland over the holidays! I also don't want to deal with the crowds. I think I will take you tip about going a week prior to Christmas.

Julie Bigboy

Thursday 9th of November 2017

Yes, the week or two before Christmas is so much better in relation to crowds and yet, all the same holiday magic!


Sunday 5th of November 2017

I would love to visit Disneyland around the holidays especially to see the Haunted Mansion Holiday! Excellent tips!

Julie Bigboy

Thursday 9th of November 2017

Oh yes, Haunted Mansion is AMAZING!! You would love it.

Becky @ Disney in your Day

Thursday 2nd of November 2017

These are great tips! I haven't been to Disneyland during the holidays (only WDW) so I love reading about the special shows, overlays, etc. that they have there!

Julie Bigboy

Thursday 9th of November 2017

It's really a fun atmosphere...just really busy!

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