Disneyland Resort’s Christmas season runs from mid November 2014 through early-January 2015 and promises a ton of holiday entertainment, decorations, and attractions. Is there anything better than experiencing Disneyland and Disney California Adventure during the holiday season? Perhaps only experiencing Walt Disney World, which, with its four parks and myriad of resort hotels, has a bit of an unfair advantage over the more compact Disneyland Resort. Pound for pound, though, Disneyland Resort arguably has the better Christmas offerings, especially in 2014 now that Disney California Adventure’s Cars Land and Buena Vista Street fully embrace Christmas.
This “Ultimate Guide” will give you tips about visiting Disneyland at Christmas, including Jingle Cruise, World of Color – Winter Dreams, Haunted Mansion Holiday, ‘it’s a small world’ holiday, the Believe… In Holiday Magic fireworks, A Christmas Fantasy parade, Candlelight Processional, The Holiday Time at Disneyland Tour, Disney California Adventure’s decorations and offerings, and everything else Disneyland has to offer at Christmas! Along the way we’ll offer some of our tips and tricks for best-experiencing the Disneyland Resort at Christmas-time, and we hope this thorough guide will prove helpful for everyone from first-time guests to yearly visitors.
This isn’t merely the Disney-marketing copy you’ll find on every other site offering the same generic information about Christmas at Disneyland with “helpful” tips such as making such to check out Sleeping Beauty’s Winter Castle. Of course you will check it out…any idiot who strolls into the park is sure to check it out by virtue of strolling into he park. Instead, we’ll try to offer things that are less intuitive or well known. Unfortunately, we haven’t visited Disneyland Resort at Christmas since Cars Land or Buena Vista Street opened, so we don’t have photos of its decorations, but we’re heading back for Christmas this year, so we’ll update the guide once we have photos of everything new!
Unlike a Christmas overlay to Captain EO (fortunately, there isn’t one!), this guide will be sure to make your holidays at Disneyland better!
If you’ve read the “When to Visit Disneyland” page or our Disneyland Trip Planning page, you may know that the holidays at Disneyland are a veritable “Tale of Two Seasons” when it comes to crowds. There are times when crowds are relatively low, and times when the parks are so slammed that you’ll think it’s “One More Disney Day” all over again!
Luckily, Christmas lasts for nearly 60 days at Disneyland, so if you want to visit during this time of year, you have plenty of options and days to choose. Intuitively, it might seem like a no-brainer to travel during the lighter crowds (if you’re able). However, there is one benefit to traveling during busier times, namely, longer operating hours as Disneyland really trims weekday operating hours if there aren’t crowds–with 3-5 fewer operating hours on a lightly crowded weekday versus a moderately crowded or busy weekday. If you’re like us, and you don’t mind navigating heavy crowds these times can be great to go to experience these longer operating hours.
If you don’t handle crowds well, definitely try to visit Disneyland at Christmas during the week before Thanksgiving week or the first two weeks of December. Weekdays have lighter attendance than weekends.
Disneyland (park) is perhaps the most heavily decorated of all the US Disney theme parks (well, depending upon how you count the lights at Disney Hollywood Studios’ Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights). Main Street is unquestionably the most decorated of the lands, with New Orleans Square being a distant second, and Frontierland and Critter Country having the next greatest number of decorations. Fantasyland and Toontown also get in the spirit. Tomorrowland and Adventureland (besides Jingle Cruise) do not get into the season for thematic reasons, (there will be no Christmas in the future) but the rest of Disneyland features a variety of lights, garland, flowers, and other festive decorations.
In addition to Christmas decorations, there are several Christmas attraction overlays at Disneyland that are huge seasonal draws, plus the standard Christmas fireworks and Christmas parade:
Haunted Mansion Holiday – Haunted Mansion Holiday is what happens when two holidays collide. Since October 2001, Disneyland has transformed its Haunted Mansion into an attraction inspired by Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas for the fall and winter, with this overlay that works as both a Halloween and Christmas attraction. Jack Skellington plays Sandy Claws as he makes a good-faith, but wholly misguided, attempt at presenting his version of a Christmas celebration. His efforts are a fully-fledged “takeover” of the Haunted Mansion, complete with a giant cake in the Haunted Mansion’s ballroom that is custom-made each year (we consider this the highlight of the attraction).
Haunted Mansion Holiday is incredibly popular with guests (Haunted Mansion purists typically are about the only people who aren’t fans of it) and we think it’s a lot of fun and incredibly well done. Besides using the infrastructure of the existing Haunted Mansion attraction, it bears very little resemblance to the classic attraction. For all intents and purposes, it’s a brand new attraction. It gets popular later in the day, so we highly recommend doing it early in the morning.
Visit our dedicated ‘Haunted Mansion Holiday page for more information, photos, and our video ride-through of Haunted Mansion Holiday.
‘it’s a small world’ holiday – The classic children of the world attraction is transformed for the holidays, with the substance of the attraction itself receiving a shift to a peace on earth/happy holidays one. Everything from the attraction’s title song to large set-piece props in the attraction are changed. The most substantial addition inside “it’s a small world” since it debuted in 1997 is a large snowman that was added to the finale room in 2011. This 14-foot tall snowman is made of crystal snowflakes and lit with thousands of lights.
Overall, the most substantial addition to the attraction is the lighting added to the facade on the exterior of the attraction. Words don’t do it justice nor does the photo above. It’s truly something you have to see in person to fully appreciate. Because of these lights, ‘it’s a small world’ holiday can attraction much longer lines at night. Normally, we would advise that you experience it earlier in the day to avoid these crowds. And we do advise you to do that. However, you’ll want to experience ‘it’s a small world’ holiday more than once, and you should make at least one of those rides at night. Floating into the lit facade is a great experience, and waiting in line isn’t all that bad because you have such a beautiful sight in front of you!
Visit our dedicated ‘it’s a small world’ holiday page for more information, photos, and our video ride-through of ‘it’s a small world’ holiday.
Jingle Cruise - This new-for-2013 seasonal storyline of the Jungle Cruise has the premise that the Skippers have grown homesick for the holidays, adding Christmas decorations to the Jungle Cruise queue and boathouse with homemade decorations. The Skippers have also added new Christmas jokes to their spiel. There’s also a new Christmas radio loop for the queue. Expect it to expand even further in 2014.
Early reviews for Jingle Cruise have been mixed at best, and in many cases, downright bad. We’ll reserve judgment until we see it in person, but it sounds like most fans aren’t satisfied with the level of effort that went into the overlay. We are glad that no decorations have been added to the show scenes, but it remains to be seen (for us) whether the decorations in the queue and spiel are subtle and nuanced, or just plain underwhelming.
Jingle Jangle Jamboree – Located back at Big Thunder Ranch, Jingle Jangle Jamboree features a meet & greet with Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus and plus other characters dressed for the season. There are also crafts and a variety of fun reindeer games for kids. The highlight of the Jamboree is Billy Hill & the Hillbillies, this year in their last season (sadly) as they perform their typical music-comedy-variety show with Christmas music.
While we’re sad that (presumably) the real reindeer won’t be back again this year, we love Big Thunder Ranch, and we feel that it’s one of Disneyland’s hidden gems, with a totally different atmosphere than you’d expect. We also love Billy Hill & the Hillbillies, and we’re quite disappointed that this holiday season is the end of their run at Disneyland. You can expect to find us back here for a few shows this Christmas!
A Christmas Fantasy Parade – “A Christmas Fantasy” Parade includes six units, “A Christmas Fantasy
Opening” featuring Mrs. Claus sorting letters in Santa’s Mailroom; “Winter Wonderland,” featuring Mickey and Minnie enjoying a romantic skate on a frozen pond surrounded by trees covered in glistening white snow; “The Candy Shop,” with Goofy and Max leading bakers of a Gingerbread House; “Candlelight Christmas Ball” featuring the Disney Royal Couples; “Santa’s Toy Factory” has toys, including those from Toy Story, playing around; “Finale,” with Santa Claus. The parade has approximately 105 performers, including dancers inspired by Babes in Toyland.
This parade has been around since 1994, and it shows. The parade is okay, but it does not even begin to compete with Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade at Walt Disney World. We still recommend seeing it as it is worthwhile, just desperately in need of an update. Crowds for this parade can be an issue, especially on weekends. Try to see it during the week if you can, and go to the earlier showing (if there is one), which occurs before locals get out of work.
Believe… in Holiday Magic! Fireworks – Disneyland’s Christmas fireworks show features standard Christmas pyro and a new age/country-ish soundtrack by Kellie Coffey, who sings “Can You Remember,” which is a modified version of “Remember the Magic,” the theme song from Walt Disney World’s 25th Anniversary. The fireworks contains instrumental versions of many traditional Christmas songs after “Can You Remember,” with some pyro and effects on Sleeping Beauty Castle to match the tempo of the music. The show concludes with the Hub and Main Street a-glow in white lights and falling snow, which is a real “wow” moment.
The Christmas fireworks at Disneyland are a bit divisive among fans. Personally, I love them, even their new-age(ish) soundtrack sung by Kellie Coffey. Sarah is not such a fan, considering them both inferior to “Remember… Dreams Come True” and the Magic Kingdom’s Holiday Wishes fireworks. I think “Believe… In Holiday Magic!” is inferior to both of those excellent shows, but that doesn’t make it bad. It’s still an enjoyable, sentimental fireworks show that gets you (or me, at least) in the holiday spirit. The falling snow and white lights at the end gave me goosebumps the first time I saw it. Your mileage may vary, but I highly recommend Disneyland’s Christmas fireworks.
Visit our dedicated ‘Believe… In Holiday Magic!’ page for more information and photos.
Candlelight Processional – Disneyland’s Candlelight Processional has been a tradition since 1958, with celebrities like Cary Grant, John Wayne, Dick Van Dyke, Gary Sinise, Kurt Russell and James Earl Jones narrating the Christmas story at the Main Street Train Station while the Candlelight mass choir is sings beautiful holiday songs. Unlike the 2012 Candlelight Processional, which had numerous dates throughout the season, the 2014 Disneyland Candlelight Processional is expected to be performed only 2 nights at Disneyland, the first weekend in December, with two performances each night.
We have only done Candlelight Processional at Epcot, and we enjoyed it very much. It sounds like Candlelight Processional was handled poorly with the expanded schedule last year, but the reason that schedule was expanded was because there was so much demand for the four shows in previous years that guests camped out from park opening until the time of Candlelight Processional in order to view it. If you’re going this year and really want to see it, keep that in mind…
There is also a Frozen Meet & Greet in Fantasyland to promote the new release. Since the film has a winter/Christmas setting, we suppose this is part of the holiday offerings (but this meet & greet would’ve been added even if the film were set in the Bahamas).
One final thing worth mentioning in Disneyland (park) before we move on to Disney California Adventure is the Holiday Time at Disneyland Tour. We weren’t huge fans of this tour, but depending upon your interest in learning about Christmas history, access to attractions (and reserved parade seating), and budget, you may enjoy it. You can read our full review of the Holiday Time at Disneyland Tour here.
With that, let’s head across the Esplanade to Disney California Adventure to see its Christmas offerings!
Prior to the 2012 overhaul of Disney California Adventure, decorations were hit or miss, depending upon construction. The park always had a Christmas tree, and giant decorations in ‘a bug’s land’, but everything else was fairly fluid. After its grand reopening last year, Disney California Adventure stepped up its game in terms of decorations in a big way, with Buena Vista Street and Cars Land being the big winners. Each received decorations carefully themed to those lands, with the Cars Land decorations being especially clever and comical. The holiday entertainment on Buena Vista Street also has a holiday twist, with carolers out to give added ambiance. Plus, there’s the nightly Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony! (Here’s some more info on Christmas on Buena Vista Street, along with its Christmas music loop!)
Disney California Adventure doesn’t have any Christmas attractions, but in 2013, it saw the debut of World of Color – Winter Dreams, plus some other entertainment. The same entertainment is expected for 2014, plus additional surprises:
World of Color – Winter Dreams - Winter Dreams is an entirely new version of World of Color replacing the normal show for the holidays. Hosted by Olaf the snowman, from the upcoming “Frozen,” World of Color − Winter Dreams features new animation from movies such as Toy Story, and combines that with winter scenes from Disney films including Bambi, Beauty and the Beast, Fantasia, and Prep & Landing. World of Color – Winter Dreams features Christmas music and special effects, including new water effects.
We recently got a chance to see World of Color – Winter Dreams, and we loved it. Probably more than the regular World of Color, actually. While Olaf is a bit annoying (more than in the movie) and fails to toe the line between unknowing innocence and obnoxiousness, it’s still a great show. The opening ‘Glow’ song by the World of Color Honor Choir is beautiful, and it’s awesome that Disney utilized fans from across the internet to produce it. Beyond that, there are some really cool scenes, including Toy Story Nutcracker, and the upgraded technology for Winter Dreams is really impressive. While we weren’t big fans of Olaf as narrator, he does work well to give the show a loose narrative thread that it was previously lacking. Beyond the odd juxtaposition of beautiful/elegant winter moments with over the top ones, World of Color – Winter Dreams is an excellent show that is an absolute can’t miss. You’ll probably want to see it more than once! Now, let’s just hope that next year they can dig into the archives and pull some material from Muppet Christmas Carol!
Disney ¡Viva Navidad! – Disney ¡Viva Navidad! is a celebration of Latino holiday culture taking place in the Paradise Garden area of Disney California Adventure, which will be specially decorated for the holidays. The daily festivities include dancing and live music, crafts and face-painting for children, holiday foods at Paradise Garden Grill and BoardWalk Pizza & Pasta (and nearby carts), the “Disney ¡Viva Navidad! Street Party” and, meet & greets with Disney characters in special costumes. Three Kings Day celebrations will be the “grand finale” of Viva Navidad, occurring in early January. The street party alone promises “Three Caballeros on a festive holiday float, Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse transported on colorfully decorated street tricycles, flag-bearers carrying papel picado banners, Mexican folklorico dancers, samba dancers and drummers, plus giant “Mojiganga” puppets, including Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus.”
I attended Opa! A Celebration of Greece, which was held for a weekend this summer at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, and I was blown away with how much effort was put into that weekend event. It was incredibly fun and promised to be just the start of Disneyland Resort’s ‘small world’ celebrations. We got a chance to see Viva Navidad in December 2013, and it takes this to the next level, far surpassing Opa in every way. Since this is tucked into the quiet Paradise Garden corner of Disney California Adventure, it’s going to be overlooked by a lot of guests, and this is unfortunate. This is the sleeper hit of Christmas at Disneyland Resort, and is something every guest should see. Find time to fit it into your schedule, because it’s full of fun cultural offerings. For those Walt Disney World fans out there, it’s the kind of thing you’d expect EPCOT Center (the old Epcot) to deliver. Plan to spend a few hours in Viva Navidad…you won’t be sorry!
Disney California Adventure also has Phineas and Ferb Dance Party Holiday Edition and Mad T Party Holiday Celebration, which are basically just dressed up versions of their normal shows, with some holiday music. Neither are nothing around which we’d recommend planning a visit. If you like the regular versions of these, you’ll like their holiday versions. If you don’t like their regular versions, you won’t like their holiday versions. Neither are significantly changed.
Let’s head to the Disneyland Resort hotels and Downtown Disney to see what they offer for the holidays…
Each of the Disneyland Resort hotels (Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel, Disneyland Hotel, and Paradise Pier Hotel), get in the Christmas spirit with decorations and entertainment. The Grand Californian typically receives the most decor, with a giant Christmas tree in its lobby many ‘woodsy’ decorations. Not to be missed is the A Capella Dickens Christmas carolers, who roam the resorts (check with the hotel concierge for performance times).
Returning to Downtown Disney for Christmas 2014 is the Disney Winter Village, which is a mix of decorations, live entertainment, dance parties, and ice skating. The skating occurs on “Olaf’s Frozen Ice Rink,” and has an added cost (plus skate rental, etc.). Aside from this, Downtown Disney will have its own holiday decorations and many restaurants will have their own holiday treats.
If you’re visiting Disneyland Resort during the Christmas season and like holiday treats, expect to gain no less than 7.9 pounds for each day of your trip. Seriously. (Okay, maybe not…unless you’re like us!) From the Holiday Demitasse Dessert to the Peppermint Stick Ice Cream with Crushed Candy Cane Waffle Cone to the ridiculously awesome Plaza Inn Yule Log, Disneyland Resort has amazing Christmas snacks and desserts. As was the case with Halloween foods at Disneyland, you should also expect special seasonal menus consisting of new entrees offered for a limited time. (If it’s anything like Christmas, these new entrees won’t necessarily be tied to Christmas, they’ll just only be offered during the Christmas season.)
We’ve never tried them, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Disneyland handmade candy canes that are made on various days throughout the holiday season. I’m not a huge candy cane fan, so I have no desire to wait in a long line 45 minutes before the park opened to get a ticket for a candy cane that cost $13+, but your mileage may vary. Our take is that these candy canes are probably more about hype and tradition than they are about taste. We don’t doubt that they’re good, but is any candy cane really that good?
That’s it for our highlights of Disneyland Resort during the holidays. As Disney says, the Happiest Place on Earth, “Just Got Merrier” for the holiday season, and we totally agree. Christmas is the best time to visit Disneyland. If you’re taking your first Christmas visit to Disneyland, we hope you agree!
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!
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Do you enjoy Christmas Time at Disneyland? What do you like most about it? Hearing from you is half the fun, so if you have additional Christmas tips for Disneyland or any questions, please share them in the comments!