Our December Disneyland preview and free crowd calendar offers analysis for choosing the worst & best days to visit. There’s also tips for Christmas at Disney California Adventure and Disneyland, and what you should expect from a winter visit to Southern California.
As with November, December features highs and lows, with some of the absolute worst crowds of the year, along with weekdays earlier in the month that are not nearly as bad. This is a result of mostly-light tourist numbers earlier in the month, coupled with Christmas vacation and school breaks in Los Angeles and Orange Counties (and around the country) later in the month.
Then there’s the the big reason so many people descend upon Disneyland in December: Christmas. It’s the most wonderful time of the year at the Happiest Place on Earth! Truly–not just in the cliched sense. Disneyland Resort is normally a magical place, but during the holiday season, it just oozes magic. For more on what makes this season our favorite time of the year in the parks, read our Ultimate Guide to Christmas at Disneyland. We aren’t the only ones who think this is the most wonderful time of the year at Disneyland, and the crowds bear that out…
Fortunately, this improved a bit last year, and that trend should continue this year. As with this Halloween season, Disneyland Resort has gradually increased the Christmas offerings at Disney California Adventure to better distribute crowds between the two parks.
To accomplish this, Festival of the Holidays and World of Color – Season of Light have been added to the slate of seasonal offerings at DCA. You can read our Guide to Festival of the Holidays at Disney California Adventure for tips on the best way to experience that.
Weather is a bit of a mixed bag. First, it’s Southern California’s rainy season. This is almost meaningless, as average rainfall during the month is only around 2″, but that’s still much more than the norm. The average high in Anaheim during December is around 70º and the average low is around 47º. Personally, we like these cooler daytime temperatures, as this type of weather is perfect for racing around a theme park, especially if you’re carrying a backpack or have kids in tow. However, once the sun goes down, it can be a bit too cold, especially if you stay past 9 p.m. or watch World of Color.
Due to the potential for rain and frigid temperatures in the evening (or even during the day if it gets unseasonably cold), we recommend consulting our What to Pack for Disney in Winter post. Some of that might seem like overkill for Southern California, but it’s better to be over-prepared than under-prepared. Trust me, I’ve made that mistake before.
As for the December Disneyland crowd calendar, we’ll start with some instructions. These are identical to those for our November Disneyland Crowd Calendar (and every month before that), so if you’ve already read that, skip down to the calendar itself and the notes below…
Crowd Calendar “Instructions” – This is a simple Disneyland crowd calendar with a “stop light” system. Our methodology is based upon historic wait time data, anecdotal observations, special events, Los Angeles and Orange County school schedules (plus holiday breaks in California, Utah, and Nevada), dynamic ticket prices, and more. Expect Disney California Adventure crowds to almost always track Disneyland crowds–with a few exceptions–albeit with a proportionately lower number of guests.
We do not recommend using this as a proxy for crowds at other Los Angeles-area theme parks, like Universal Studios Hollywood, Knott’s Berry Farm, or Six Flags Magic Mountain. Disneyland Resort crowds are unique; they are artificially manipulated by Disney and also impacted by extraneous variables that do not impact the aforementioned theme parks to nearly the same degree.
First up, a huge caveat. It is becoming increasingly difficult to predict Disneyland crowds. This has been the case for the last year-plus, which is why we opted for the three tiers in the first place, rather than a 1-10 scale. This issue is even more pronounced for December and the months thereafter.
While we are still fairly confident in our analysis of crowd trends, it is worth noting that we’ve erred on the side of under-predicting crowd levels. Stated differently, we think the green days here will be the less busy days and the red days will be the most busy, but don’t be surprised if some of our yellow days are more like “orange” days, and our green days are more like…whatever color you get by mixing green and yellow.
It seems like the “new normal” for Disneyland’s holiday seasons (effectively, early September through early January) is skewing towards being more crowded. If you’re a tourist visiting and want to avoid crowds, the best bet is going to be getting as much done Monday through Thursday before 5 p.m., and Friday before noon. (Even the many red Fridays on this calendar should be fairly light in the mornings.)
Expect evenings to be busier as many local Annual Passholders will visit Disneyland and Disney California Adventure after work to get their Christmas fix, and for the holiday season entertainment. Quite often, you’ll find that yellow days are green in the morning and red in the evening.
hese daily crowd trends go out the window beginning the weekend before Christmas, and continuing through the end of the year. At this time, Disneyland and DCA will see far fewer Annual Passholders (most will be blocked out) and far more tourists. Generally speaking, tourists are much more likely to show up at the parks earlier in the day, meaning the parks will be crowded all day long.
During the height of Christmas season, we recommend Park Hopper tickets. Tourists with these should strongly consider mornings at Disneyland before Park Hopping to DCA. Locals from Los Angeles and Orange County who arrive after work tend to make Disneyland more crowded in the evenings.
For most of the month, 1-day tickets have Peak Season pricing. There are 8 days with Regular pricing, and 0 with Value Season pricing. From a crowd perspective, this is good news, as these price points discourage spontaneous visits by locals.
Read our Tips for Saving Money on Disneyland Tickets post for multi-day ticket recommendations to avoid having to deal with seasonal pricing. On the plus side, there are some multi-day ticket discounts currently available for all guests.
There is no hard ticket party like Mickey’s Halloween Party during the Christmas season, which does make crowds more predictable, and decreases the likelihood of attendance surges. One thing that does cause attendance surges is rain.
If there is rain in the forecast, we highly recommend visiting Disneyland on that day. Locals tend to avoid rainy days at Disneyland and DCA, making the parks considerably less busy than normal. This leads to a surge in attendance the day following the rain (avoid those days, or visit DCA the day after a rainy day). This might sound a bit odd or extreme, but (Southern) Californians are not used to rain, and tend to stay inside when it’s raining. We are not even kidding or exaggerating.
Early December is Southern California’s off-season in terms of tourism. Even though Disneyland and Disney California Adventure can be busy in early December, it’s primarily with Californians. As such, off-season occupancy rates will be reflected in hotel prices the first couple weeks of December. With almost zero transition, the week before Christmas through New Year’s is peak season, with exorbitant rates reflecting that.
You can find deals on off-site hotels, the first couple of weeks, but don’t expect the same for closer to the holidays. We rank our favorite (and least favorite) hotels in the area in our Disneyland Area Hotel Rankings & Reviews post. Check out discounted hotel + ticket vacation packages on Get Away Today to save money on off-site hotels.
Overall, December tends to be busier, colder, and wetter than November, which is why it falls a bit on our Best and Worst Months to Visit Disneyland. With that said, it’s still a wonderful month to visit. Even if you’re traveling during a time with yellow or red crowds, there are ways to beat the hordes of other tourists–namely by rope dropping the parks, having an efficient itinerary, and efficiently using FastPass (or better yet, MaxPass when it’s really busy–it’s worth the money). Beyond that, Disneyland Resort’s Christmas season is incredible, with holiday entertainment that makes the hassle of any crowds worthwhile.
If you’re preparing for a Disneyland trip, check out our other planning posts, including how to save money on Disneyland tickets, our Disney packing tips, tips for booking a hotel (off-site or on-site), where to dine, and a number of other things, check out our comprehensive Disneyland Vacation Planning Guide!
If you’ve visited Disneyland during December, what did you think of the experience? Have you braved the crowds during Christmas or New Year’s weeks? Did the holiday entertainment make the insane crowds ‘worth it’ for you? What are your thoughts on Holiday Time at Disneyland? If you’ve visited Southern California in December, do you have any tips to add? Share any questions, tips, or additional thoughts you have in the comments!