Ultimate Guide To The Holidays At The Disneyland Resort

Heading to the Disneyland Resort this holiday season?

We take our annual holiday trip at the beginning of December each year to see all the beautiful decorations and celebrate the season. To help plan our trip, and to help you plan yours, I have compiled a list of everything there was to do at Disneyland during this winter celebration (I love to make checklists, so that way nothing gets missed).

The Disneyland Resort has their Holiday Season starting November 13, 2015 and ending January 6, 2016, which should be very sparkly this year since the DLR is also celebrating their Diamond Anniversary! They haven’t yet announced specific events for this coming season, but this is what we have seen in previous years.

Here’s every holiday experience I can think of at the Disneyland Resort. Feel free to copy this list for your own holiday trip to the DLR. If you think of something I’ve missed, let me know in the comments.

Holidays At Disneyland

Themed Areas (Day/Night)

Main Street USA lit of for the holidays at Disneyland, California.

Main Street, USA lit up for the holidays at Disneyland, California.

Main Street, USA

Always charming, the streets and shops of Main Street, USA really come alive during the holiday season, especially at night. Lights and garland drape from every corner and the Disneyland Christmas Tree stands proudly in Town Square, setting the theme for the rest of the lands beyond.

Holiday Decorations at New Orleans Square, Disneyland, California.

Holiday decorations at New Orleans Square, Disneyland, California.

New Orléans Square

While not as extensively themed as Main Street, the alleyways and back passages of New Orléans Square also share in seasonal decorations. Winter banners and streamers pass between wrought iron balconies overhead, each containing a hint of Mardi Gras spirit to remind you of your surroundings.

Make sure to stop by the little shop that sells Christmas ornaments and other holiday doo-dads. It’s on the back of Royal Street by the now shuttered Court of Angels.

Attractions

Jingle Cruise Sign at Disneyland, California

Jingle Cruise overlay of the regular Jungle Cruise at Disneyland, California

Jingle Cruise

Apparently the Skippers have been a little lonesome for the holidays, so they re-themed the Jungle Cruise to remind them of Christmas back home. Introduced to Disneyland (and the Magic Kingdom) in 2013, I think the real winner on this holiday overlay is the new holiday spiel the Skippers do on each trip. There are a bunch of new jokes and puns set to the season, so make sure to ride a few times to get the full experience.

What’s your favorite Jingle Cruise joke?

The Nightmare Before Christmas invades the Haunted Mansion for the Holidays at Disneyland, California.

The Nightmare Before Christmas invades the Haunted Mansion for the Holidays at Disneyland, California.

Haunted Mansion Holiday

The yearly invasion of the Haunted Mansion by Jack Skellington and the characters from the Nightmare Before Christmas is always fun and never to be missed. Every year they change the haunted gingerbread house in the ballroom. One year it was a giant advent calendar populated by some spooky spirits .I wonder what it will be this year?

Do you like the holiday version or the regular version better?

Mele Kalikimaka (Merry Christmas) from It's A Small World at Disneyland, California.

Mele Kalikimaka (Merry Christmas) from It’s A Small World at Disneyland, California.

It’s A Small World Holiday

Seasonal carols and decorations blend seamlessly with the normal ride in the holiday make-over of It’s A Small World. Gliding by quietly in your ship, you’re taken on a journey of worldwide brotherhood and holiday cheer.

I credit this overlay with actually getting my Mom to ride IASW, which she hasn’t done in over twenty years! If you’re a person who normally avoids this attraction, give the holiday version a try to see if you can’t find something to like. Let us know how it works out for you.

Shows

Glittering 'snow' lights shine at night on Sleeping Beauty Castle's Winter Enchantment - Disneyland, California.

Glittering ‘snow’ lights shine at night on Sleeping Beauty Castle’s Winter Enchantment – Disneyland, California.

Sleeping Beauty’s Winter Castle (Winter Enchantment Holiday Lighting)

Watch Sleeping Beauty’s Castle shimmer to life under a blanket of glowing white snow, set to an amazing Disney musical score. You can experience this show from anywhere in the central Plaza, but we recommend you stand somewhere along Main Street because the really special part of this spectacular is when they make it snow. You heard me right: Disney blows “snow” along the entire length of the street, and standing there, with the lights dimmed along the storefronts, the castle aglow in front of you, and little “snowflakes” drifting down around you to magical Disney music is an amazing experience.

To be honest, this event is the main reason we go Disneyland around the holidays. The snowfall alone always makes my wife, Jamie, cry (evidently this has something to do with her being Canadian).

As an aside, the first year we frequented Disneyland as AP holders, we stood standing in the street just hugging and a man came over and said we looked like a postcard; that seeing the two of us made him believe in love and marriage.

Believe… in Holiday Magic

The folks at Disney take their usual fireworks display and “plus” it up for Christmas, complete with a seasonal music arrangement. Usually, we have time for either this or World of Color at Disney California Adventure, so we go see WoC instead. It’s a nice fireworks display though, so if you’re at the park for multiple days or take multiple trips, see this one day and WoC the next.

Christmas Fantasy Parade

Everyone loves a parade and all the Disney and Pixar characters show up for this one, replete with holiday regalia. If parades aren’t your thing, or you’re not interested in seeing Santa ride by, use this time to get on some of the bigger rides.

Meet Santa, listen to music, and make holiday arts and crafts at the Jingle Jangle Jamboree in Big Thunder Ranch, Disneyland, California.

Meet Santa, listen to music, and make holiday arts and crafts at the Jingle Jangle Jamboree in Big Thunder Ranch, Disneyland, California.

Jingle Jangle Jamboree

Tucked away in the back of the park (Big Thunder Ranch), the Jingle Jangle Jamboree is a Christmas carnival. We discovered this by accident one year and it’s a lot of fun. There are character meet-and-greets, craft activities for the kids, and stage entertainment. If you’re looking for a quiet place to get out of the crowd, work your way back to the Jamboree, get yourself a cup of apple cider, and put your feet up on a bench for a while. Vacations are supposed to be relaxing!

This will also be the last time you will be able to enjoy this since they will be closing down this whole area after the holidays to make way for the new Star Wars land. So make sure you get a chance to see it before it’s gone!

Candlelight Processional

Hundreds of garbed singers march in a procession down Main Street, USA to the train station, where they accompany a reading of the story of the first Christmas. The only remaining christian event held at Disneyland, the Candlelight Processional is something to see regardless of your religious affiliations.

In 2013 the park hosted almost three weeks worth of these events, but in 2014 it was confined it to the original two night event. We were in the park on one of the nights last year, and stood by the Corn Dog Truck as the choir began the procession, all holding candles with voices lifted in song. To get just a taste of the event, stand anywhere along Main Street to see them walk by.

For those intrepid few who would see the actual story reading, get to Town Square early and stake out a spot. There may not be any reserved seats this year, except for a select few VIP’s.

With a rambunctious two and a half year old, we probably won’t be braving the crowds for the story reading. We’ll usually stand along the street at the end nearest the Plaza, watch the procession sing by, and go on our way.

If you do happen to see the story being told, let us know what you think, or better yet, take some video and share the link with us.

Food

Get a Candy Cane

Every year, on select days and only at select locations within each park, Disney candy masters whip up a special batch of candy canes for sale to guests. These treats go like hotcakes and in fact you have to show up early and get one of a limited number of tickets to even buy one.

I’m not really a sweets person, so I’m not likely to wait in line for them myself. That being said, you can always watch the candy canes being made through the window on Main Street and live vicariously through those special few who do get one.

There are tons of holiday food options at Disneyland, including these seasonal Powdered Mickey Apples.

There are tons of holiday food options at Disneyland, including these seasonal Powdered Mickey Apples.

Christmas Culinary Treats

The bakers, pastry chefs, and candy makers at Disneyland make more than just candy canes for the holidays, and they have a number seasonal options choose from. Gingerbread cookies, Yule Logs, and Powdered Apple Snowmen are just a few of the treats available. I’m curious to see if they’re still selling Pumpkin Beignets at the beignet window in New Orléans Square.

Other

Frozen Meet and Greet

Elsa and Anna will both be on hand throughout the season to take pictures with you and your young ones. By the way, if you haven’t seen Frozen yet, watch it. It’s a great film for children young and old.

“Holiday Time at Disneyland” Tour

Learn about Disneyland Park history, and how they have established their own holiday traditions. Take a ride on some of the seasonally themed attractions, and enjoy the holiday parade from a private viewing area. There are parts of this tour that are refreshed each year so if you’ve been on it before it might be worth checking out again.

Have you taken the “Holiday Time at Disneyland” tour? Leave us a comment and tell us what you thought.

The Dapper Dan's serenade guests with holiday classics on Main St USA, Disneyland, California.

The Dapper Dan’s serenade guests with holiday classics on Main St USA, Disneyland, California.

Dapper Dan’s (holiday)

That merry quartet you see roving around Main Street, USA are on display as always, their act filled with carols and seasonal hymns. The Dapper Dan’s are Jamie’s favorite act at Disneyland, and we rarely visit without seeing them. Look for the gushing woman standing front row center at one of their acts and you’ll have found her.

Royal Street Bachelors (holiday??)

Do the Royal Street Bachelors play seasonal songs during the holidays? I can’t remember, and I can’t seem to find anyone else who does either, so I’ll leave this on the list for now and find out. The Bachelors are always fun to see, regardless of the time of year.

Buy a Christmas tree ornament for 2015

Whether it’s from the ornament shop in New Orléans Square, the Emporium, or one of the other shops on Main Street, we always buy an ornament from Disneyland this time of year. Specifically, we like to get one with the year written on it so we can remember all the great Disney trips we took. We don’t always like the yearly themed ornaments Disney has for sale, but there’s something for everyone and there’s always a magic marker.

Have your Disney Christmas ornament decorated and personalized by Cast Members at the Disneyland Resort (DLR).

Have your Disney Christmas ornament decorated and personalized by Cast Members at the Disneyland Resort (DLR).

You can also have your ornament personalized by a professional while in the park. Usually the China Closet on Main Street will write your name and date and possibly a special design if you ask with a smile. This is available at Julius Katz & Sons in DCA as well, but both locations do charge a nominal fee for this service. The parks always have such talented artists working as cast members and it’s a real treat to be able to take some of their handiwork home. However, if you don’t want to spend  the extra amount for personalization, once again there is always a nice felt marker at home that will do the trick.

At the end of the year, beginning of the new year there are also the New Year’s Eve Fireworks and cultural celebrations like Three Kings Day (Día de los Reyes Magos).

Holidays At Disney California Adventure

Themed Areas (Day/Night)

Carthay Circle Restaurant and the Buena Vista Street Christmas Tree lit up for the holidays at Disney California Adventure (DCA).

Carthay Circle Restaurant and the Buena Vista Street Christmas Tree lit up for the holidays at Disney California Adventure (DCA).

Buena Vista Street

Celebrating in style, the corners and window displays on BVS are festively adorned for the holiday season. The smells of holiday candy will waft around you as you pass Trolley Treats on your way into the park. A gigantic Christmas tree, counterpart to the one in Disneyland, sits in front of the majestic Carthay Circle Theater building, drawing you like a magnet down the street. Santa Claus is ready to meet you inside Elias’ Department store, just behind the Storyteller’s Statue, so make sure your little ones have their list handy! We’ve taken a picture with Santa each year with our son, and it’s become a lovely tradition for us.

Santa Mater greets you along 'Route 66' in Carsland, Disney California Adventure (DCA).

Santa Mater greets you along ‘Route 66’ in Carsland, Disney California Adventure (DCA).

Carsland

Also in its second holiday appearance, Carsland looks even prettier than usual in its holiday adornment. This land is extra special at night, when the neon signs of Radiator Springs light up along with strings of Christmas lights and decorations. A great place to watch this nightly transformation is the entryway to Blue Sky Cellar, which gives you an elevated and uninterrupted view down Route 66.

Don’t forget to check out the holiday themed items in the shops.

Shows

Water comes alive in front of Paradise Pier for World of Color: Winter Dreams Disney California Adventure (DCA).

Water comes alive in front of Paradise Pier for World of Color: Winter Dreams Disney California Adventure (DCA).

World of Color: Winter Dreams

The sweeping fountains and magical scenes from World of Color are never to be missed on a trip to the Disneyland Resort, and Winter Dreams is one show we particularly look forward to. This was the first completely new show ever programmed for WoC, and takes viewers on a journey around the world to show how different cultures celebrate the holidays.

I say completely new show, because the Imagineers have always reserved a section of the usual WoC to show off the latest Disney feature film (Pirates of the Caribbean, Tron: Legacy, etc.). That being said, one of the main reasons this show looks so great is that it’s hosted by, Olaf, the snowman from Frozen (go see it!).

What do you think of the holiday World of Color show? Leave us a comment.

Buena Vista Street Holiday Tree Lighting

Each evening, the streetmosphere folks get together with Mickey, Goofy and Pluto to sing some Christmas carols and light up the DCA tree. Make sure to stop by a watch, maybe while you’re munching down one of those special Disney candy canes.

Disney Viva Navidad

The spirit of the holidays have blown in from south of the border over at Paradise Gardens. Here you can meet up with your feathered friends from the Three Amigos and dance the day away with musicians, dancers and storytellers in an authentic Latin Christmas street party.

We’ve never spent much time in Paradise Gardens; its too far off the beaten path from our usual stops at California Adventure (California Screamin’, Carsland, etc.), so we’re excited that Viva Navidad gives us a good reason to head back that way.

Phineas and Ferb Dance Party (holiday)

To be honest, the usual Phineas and Ferb Dance Party isn’t really our scene. We’re too old and our son is just coming into the right age for this particular show. That being said, we will probably start including this on our trips for our little dancing man, and will be curious to see how the holiday version looks.

Food

Disney Viva Navidad

Traditional Mexican dishes complete the street party atmosphere at Paradise Gardens. We’re particularly looking forward to the Barbacoa, Chicken Mole, and Flan ( my favorite dessert).

Other

Elf Days at California Adventure Park

Now that Jack is a bit older we will definitely check this out. They’ve made the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail at DCA into an Elf training ground to prepare for Santa’s big day. This is a “Limited Time Magic” activity though, so if your little ones are old enough to cross the “Jingle Bell Bridge” and learn the secret Elf Handshake, enjoy the fun for this holiday special event.

Hotels

A giant Christmas Tree fills the lobby at Disney Grand Californian.

A giant Christmas Tree fills the lobby at Disney Grand Californian.

Disney Grand Californian Lobby Decorations

The massive interior of the Grand Californian lobby is filled almost to the rafter with an enormous Christmas tree. We love to sit by the fireplace and drink some hot tea, while being serenaded by the lobby piano player, tinkling out holiday songs on his grand piano. There’s not a lot to do here, but if you have a few minutes just stop by a absorb the Christmas spirit.

Trader Sam’s Christmas Drinks

Your friendly jungle salesman has a whole new deal for you: a Red Nosed Zebra straight to your table for the holidays. We absolutely love this little bar at the Disneyland Hotel, with its usually extensively themed interior dressed up for the season. Make sure to wander around and check out all the inside jokes the Imagineers have included, and don’t forget to pray to the Tiki Gods when the volcano gets unhappy.

Downtown Disney

Come ice-skate or grab some hot cocoa at Winter Village, in Downtown Disney, Disneyland Resort (DLR).

Come ice-skate or grab some hot cocoa at Winter Village, in Downtown Disney, Disneyland Resort (DLR).

Winter Village

Set between the ESPN Zone and AMC Theaters in Downtown Disney, the Winter Village features Olaf’s skating rink. We’re not much into ice skating ourselves, but it’s fun to watch little children scoot across the ice and slide on their backsides.

Donation bins for 'Toys For Tots' can be found in Downtown Disney at the Disneyland Resort (DLR).

Donation bins for ‘Toys For Tots’ can be found in Downtown Disney at the Disneyland Resort (DLR).

Toys for Tots

Looking for a way to give back this season? You can bring your new, unwrapped toys (valued at $10 or more) to the Disneyland Resort for donation to Toys for Tots. Did you know that Disney was one of the founding sponsors when the program began in 1947, and that Walt Disney took part in the creation of the Toys for Tots logo? Toy collections are from December 1 – 14 at the resort hotels, Word of Disney, and several other Downtown Disney locations.

Can’t make it to the parks this season? You can still share in some Disney holiday cheer by using The Merrier Card Maker to create a personalized Disney themed holiday card to send to your family and friends. Or, if you’re looking for a more unique present, a gift card this is a great way to go. Disney has created a holiday scene featuring Mickey, Minnie, Donald and Goofy by combining four of their $75 gift cards. Each one comes with its own ornament themed pin.

If you end up missing the fireworks when you visit the park this season, you can always catch the show later with the help of Disney’s new gift cards. The cards are designed with a transparent back so that when you place the card on your smartphone screen and play the video you can see fireworks going off behind the castle while holiday music plays. Ah, the magic of smart phones.

See ya’ real soon!

2 Responses to “Ultimate Guide To The Holidays At The Disneyland Resort”

  1. Grace October 8, 2015 at 3:12 pm #

    Great info about Christmas time in Disney.
    Do you plan an update for 2015?

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