Disneyland Christmas 2013 Trip Report – Part I

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Early in 2013, we booked a trip to Walt Disney World for the first weekend in December. We had missed Reunion in 2012, and weren’t going to let it happen again. Even that early, airfare was somewhat pricey. Then, in June, I received an email alert from Airfarewatchdog (I plan on doing a post explaining how to leverage Airfarewatchdog alerts and ITA Software soon) with airfare from Indianapolis to Los Angeles for $110 round trip on numerous dates. I booked two trips that day, one in October and one in December, and planned on booking more later when I had time to consider other dates. It was clearly a price mistake, as airfare more than doubled in price a couple of hours later. The weekend I booked the December airfare was the same weekend as Reunion, so we had a dilemma. Since we hadn’t yet seen Cars Land or Buena Vista Street for Christmas, Disneyland won out. (Next year, Reunion!)

We only booked a weekend trip, leaving home early Saturday morning and returning on Monday, but it was well-worth the visit to see Disneyland Resort at Christmas. Our friend Guy picked us up from the airport. Guy is an interesting fella: he is well-versed in all things Disneyland, is a fan of wearing sunglasses when it’s not sunny out, is an enthusiast of Nike shoes and Captain EO, and has a dog that’s way cooler than him.

I had been checking the weather forecast prior to our trip, and it called for rain our first day. It rains around 11 days per year in Anaheim, so I was pretty excited. I know, “excitement” is not the normal reaction for rain, but it makes for some great photography, especially at Christmas when the reflections are especially great. Unfortunately, right after we checked into our hotel (the Ramada Maingate, which now replaces Desert Inn as our top pick along Harbour Boulevard) it stopped raining for the day. I guess that’s better than it raining on us for a few hours, and then stopping a couple of hours before night…

Sarah and I were both starving, so our first stop was somewhere to eat. We stopped at Cafe Orleans to see if they had any availability, and the wait was an hour. We then checked Blue Bayou, with similar results. Not wanting to wander aimlessly any longer, we opted to just do Hungry Bear Restaurant. This seems to be our default when we can’t think of anywhere else to eat, and while I like it, we eat there way too much.

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This fish sandwich is a special–I believe a hold-over from the Halloween menu. It was fairly good with a sizable chunk of fish, but nothing I’d seek out if you’re planning a visit. (That Sigma 35mm f/1.4 can make anything look great!) Hungry Bear normally does a great job with dessert, but I was disappointed to find no Christmas dessert and also that Trixie’s Pie (my favorite dessert there) had been removed from the menu.

Disneyland was pretty busy, but we figured ‘it’s a small world’ holiday might not have too long of a line, so we headed that way. The posted wait was 30 minutes, but everything we passed was longer, so we lined up.

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If you recall our Disneyland 2011 Christmas Trip Report, we were blown away by the holiday ‘it’s a small world’ overlay. Since then, we’ve seen the holiday overlays for it in Tokyo and Paris (Hong Kong and Florida don’t do the overlay), and our impression of it remains unchanged. It is definitely the best version of the overlay. There are simply more large-scale props and more substance overall. Plus, its scents really add something to the experience.

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The United Kingdom scene is my favorite part of ‘it’s a small world’ holiday. I love all of the candles around the tree, and I love the evergreen scent. In fact, I swear I can smell the remnants of this scent when we ride at other times of the year, but I think it’s more likely just the scene triggering my memory…or something like that.

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These bags are also a nice touch–I’ve been trying to get a particular shot of them for a while, and keep failing. Next time, I suppose.

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The finale room is a photographer’s paradise. Well lit and with lots of lights in the distance, it’s particularly “bokehlicious.” You’ll see what I mean when I post photos taken with my Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 lens on our next ride-through.

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After ‘it’s a small world’ holiday, we did a quick spin on Buzz Lightyear’s Astro Blasters. Since this version requires actual skill (not just knowing where the ridiculously high point targets are located), we find ourselves playing it a lot to try besting one another. It’s an okay ride, but you’d think it’s amazing given how much we do it…

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Next stop was Disney California Adventure, or “Disney CA” as everyone should start calling it. Think about it…CA for California or C.A. for California Adventure. Pretty brilliant, right? (Yeah, probably not.) Everything we hadn’t seen Christmas-wise was in Disney California Adventure.

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First stop was Clarabelle’s Hand-Scooped Ice Cream, where Sarah wanted to get some Christmas dessert she had seen on Instagram.

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Guy ordered this homemade chocolate dipped ice cream sandwich. I think he liked it.

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I got the Chocolate Chip Cookie Hot Fudge Sundae. It was okay. The cookies weren’t as fresh as I expected, and it was a bit too small to justify the $6+ price tag, I thought.

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Sarah got the Hand-Dipped Chocolate Ice Cream Bar with Candy Cane Sprinkles. At $5, this was even more overpriced than my dessert, but the difference was that Sarah absolutely loved it. I guess that makes the price more justifiable.

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Next stop was Cars Land. We were really excited to see the numerous decorations custom-made for the land.

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This gingerbread house of the Cozy Cone Motel is step up inside the lobby. It’s one of the coolest Christmas details in Cars Land, and while it’s not as large as the lobby displays in the Walt Disney World hotels, it’s also not as prominent. This is more like an Easter Egg for the minority of guests who decide to gaze inside the Cozy Cone lobby rather than something every guest will pass and stop to see. Given that, it’s quite impressive.

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The Cozy Cone lobby is known for these fun little details. Here’s another popular one. We love gazing into the lobby’s windows to see what we can spot each trip.

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Moving on to the Cars Land Christmas tree, we get into the type of car decorations found throughout it for Christmas. These decorations have proven somewhat divisive for fans, with some people viewing them as tacky or over the top. I don’t agree with this assessment. Although I think that one of Cars Land’s normal strengths is doing car culture (and not just a cartoonish caricature of it) well, I think these are fun ‘visual puns’ that give the land a whimsical feel for Christmas. If they were up year-round, I might feel differently, but they aren’t.

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The Christmas tree and “Santa Stanley” look great. The only downside is that a PhotoPass photographer was staged here at all times during our visit, and I got the impression that these photographers thought they “owned” the spot. I quickly snuck in for this and other shots in between guests, but I could feel their eyes on me. PhotoPass is a great service, but I do not think they should be able to monopolize locations.

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I think this alley makes for nice photos in the afternoon sunlight. I rarely see any other guests back here, so it’s also a nice quiet spot. As a photographer, I love the lack of people around this mural, but as a guest, I think some benches against it would a nice way to escape the crowds of Cars Land to relax in its ambiance. I’M SO CONFLICTED!

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We exited Cars Land through my favorite entrance to it (if you’re going to Cars Land for the first time, you have to enter through Pacific Wharf!).

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The ornament-heavy Paradise Pier tree is very pretty, but the Buena Vista Street and Cars Land Christmas trees both overshadow it now. That’s probably a good thing, as I didn’t think the Paradise Pier tree was large enough to pass as the park’s “main tree” on our 2011 visit.

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There was a short wait for California Screamin’, so Guy and I did that as Sarah walked around and snapped some photos with her phone. I love Cali Screamin’, not just as a coaster, but for the way it ties together Paradise Pier.

Next up was Silly Symphony Swings, which turned out to be a bit of a mistake given the cold weather.

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Guy told us that the Buena Vista Street Christmas tree lighting was worth seeing, so we headed over there to see it. There was no crowd for it until it started, so getting a front row spot for it is pretty easy if you show up 5 minutes early. The front is the outside part of the circle where the Christmas tree is located. Ask a Cast Member for the exact spot.

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The excellent Buena Vista Street Community Bell Ringers participate in the Christmas tree lighting as do Mickey Mouse, Pluto, and other characters. The lighting ceremony is worth seeing for the Bell Ringers alone–this act is a GREAT touch for the holidays, and they have quite a loyal fan following.

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It’s a pretty cool moment when the Christmas tree is lit. In total, the lighting ceremony is only about 10 minutes, but it’s worth seeing. It doesn’t bill itself as a big draw or something huge. It’s just one of the little things that cumulatively make the parks special. The tree lighting that Epcot used to do was another of those special “little things.”

After this, we high-tailed it over to Viva Navidad in the Paradise Garden area of Paradise Pier. This ‘festival’ ended up being the big surprise (in a very good way) of Christmas at Disneyland Resort for us. Prepare yourself for some gushing over that in the next installment! We’ll also have plenty of night photos of Cars Land, World of Color – Winter Dreams, and Disneyland at Christmas. We know this is a pretty short installment, but with it being only a two-day trip, it’s going to be a short trip report!

If you’re planning your own trip during the Christmas season, you should check out our “Ultimate Disneyland Christmas Guide,” which will give you tips for visiting, right down to snacks to try and when to experience certain holiday offerings!

As for figuring out the rest of your Disneyland trip, including what to pack, whether you should stay off-site or on-site in a Disney hotel, where to dine, and a number of other things, check out our comprehensive Disneyland trip planning guide!

For more Disneyland tips, special offers, and news, subscribe to our newsletter!

Your Thoughts…

Have you seen Cars Land at Christmas? Do you like or dislike it? What about the other Disney California Adventure Christmas offerings? Hearing from you is half the fun, so if you have additional thoughts or any questions, please share them in the comments!

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18 Responses to “Disneyland Christmas 2013 Trip Report – Part I”

  1. Matt says:

    Wife and I visited DLR for Christmas last year and the Cars Land Stuff is so much fun to us!

    We’re both jaded WDW pass holders(well I am) who keep watching all of the Christmas stuff slowly disappear. So when we went out there for her first trip, we absolutely loved all of the touches they had around both parks. Decorations, IASWH, HMH, etc.

    Haven’t seen the tree lighting at Buena Vista Street, but I’ve heard good things about that and Viva Navidad from the folks at WDW magic. Looking forward to being able to see both of them. Hopefully next year!

    Can’t wait for the next installment, thanks for the work you guys put into these reports!

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Totally agree about all of the little touches at Disneyland. I’ll be touching upon the ‘stuff slowly disappearing’ point in part 3.

  2. Vikki says:

    I was trying for the same shot of the luminaria bags on It’s a Small World. Now I don’t feel so bad about my attempts — if you can’t get a good shot I never will! And Sarah’s ice cream bar looks delicious — was that peppermint ice cream inside?

  3. Michelle C. says:

    Thanks for another great trip report! My fiance and I will be going to Disneyland in 2 weeks and I can’t wait to see Small World Holiday and all of the Cars Land holiday decorations for the first time ever…it looks amazing! My favorite part of your blog are the trip reports…keep ‘em coming!

  4. Tim says:

    We visited the Disneyland Resort for the first time at the holidays (possibly the same weekend) and we were very impressed by the scope and variety of the seasonal offerings.

    Can’t wait to hear your thoughts on Viva Navidad. We LOVED it. Honestly one of the best events I’ve seen at a Disney park (or any park) in some time. The food, the decorations, and especially the street party are just wonderful. The performers bring a genuine energy that is truly infectious. We hope it becomes an annual tradition at DCA.

  5. Kevin S. says:

    Thanks for the trip report! My wife and I were also there that weekend for a quick weekend trip. So it’ll be fun to read about the Park from a different perspective.

    We loved the decorations in Cars Land! We thought they were done well, and not tacky in the slightest. If anything, I would have liked to see a bit more Christmas lights in Cars Land. At night, when walking into Cars Land it felt too dark and not quite so festive. But then again, taking a stroll on Route 66 was quite nice and peaceful, it’s just that when I rushed there with my camera I was just expecting more vibrance. So I’m conflicted. Knowing you though, I’m sure your photos in your next trip report Installments will prove me wrong.

    Funny that you mentioned the Paradise Pier Christmas tree being overshadowed in DCA because my wife loves that one the most.

    I’m glad for all the decorations, even if they are trying to “hide” the fact that it they are “Christmas” decorations. Unsure how the Christmas tree lighting works in DCA (missed it unfortunately), but before the Candle Light Processional in DLR they lit the Christmas tree. For that lighting the announcer had everyone exclaim “Happy Holidays” in unison instead of “Merry Christmas” to the ire of many in the crowd. While it doesn’t bother me as much, but being in such a confined space surrounded by so many people you can’t avoid the ramblings.

    Can’t believe we didn’t make a quick stop in Clarabelle’s for that candy cane sprinkled ice cream bar. We’ve been on a candy cane/ peppermint frenzy after finding out that the candy cane flavored ice cream didn’t make it to the Park this year.

    Anyways, keep up the good work and I look forward to more posts!

    • Kimberly says:

      The Happy Holidays vs Merry Christmas is something see a great deal of espically in California, here we are so worried about being politically correct that all you do is make everyone cranky. Luckly they let you get Merry Christmas in the World of Color – Winter Show.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      I agree with you on all counts–especially about having even more decorations in Cars Land. I think that land lends itself to decorations.

      As for the candy cane ice cream, we were disappointed that it wasn’t at Gibson Girl, BUT it is in the park! You just have to go back to Big Thunder BBQ to get it. More on that in the last installment!

      • Christian says:

        I was bummed about not being able to get the Candy Cane ice cream at Gibson Girl/Clarabelle’s this year. I bought a quart of it at the local Walmart. I may just go into the parks & asked if can just buy the crushed candy cane cone by itself. Take it home & scoop the peppermint ice cream into it! Haha!

  6. Jennifer says:

    So excited for another DL trip report! We leave in 28 days for our first trip out and I’m frantically trying to read up on everything I can find to ensure a stress-free trip! I just wish they would leave the Christmas decorations up just a few more weeks, until after the Tinkerbell Half Marathon. oh well.

  7. Kayla says:

    Excited for this trip report fresh off our own DL Christmas weekend! I’m sure it will remind me of our trip, but with better photos :)

  8. Spencer says:

    Good stuff! We just got back from our first DLR christmas visit this weekend. You covered both of our favorite parts – The details in Carsland were great, and we were amazed at how extensive the Small World overlay was. Small World was crazy impressive, but oddly enough, we didn’t notice the scents you mention. Not sure how we missed that, as I usually love the scents. Definitely caught the gingerbread in Haunted Mansion & the DL Hotel, but didn’t catch it on Small World. Weird.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      With everything going on, I’m not surprised you didn’t catch the scents. Evergreen near the first Christmas tree and candy in the next scene around the strands of candy are the notable ones.

  9. KCmike says:

    We also visited the DL Resort just a few weeks ago for Christmas. We made it there on a Friday around 10am and then left in the afternoon on Monday. Short like yours but oh so much fun. I can’t get enough of the overlays of IASM and HM. It was nice to see Billy Hill one last time in Disneyland. I was unimpressed with Winter Dreams and will be interested in what you have to say about it. Everything else was top notch! We plan to take some time off Disney parks and maybe hit the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco next fall. Have you ever made it over there? Would be interested in hearing about it.

  10. Jacky says:

    Great report! My husband and I just got back from a 7 day trip at WDW. Any thoughts on why they don’t do the holiday overlay at it’s a small world? I would love if they did do that. I was very unimpressed with the Jingle Cruise, but the pictures from its a small world are just wonderful! Read you report on the Lights of winter just before we left. Epcot just doesn’t look right without them!

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