The Christmas season at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure started November 10, 2016, and if you read our Festival of Holidays post, you already know that we were there for soft opening and the first day of the Christmas season. We’ve now seen all of the new entertainment, and thought we’d drop in for some thoughts and photos.
Holiday Time at Disneyland runs until January 8, 2017, and we’ve already spent a couple of days in the parks to check everything out. Christmas is our favorite time of the year at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, and this year that’s particularly true. Now that the Diamond Celebration is over, Disneyland can devote its full attention to celebrating the holidays, and they most definitely have upped the ante for 2016.
Before we get too deep into things here, we just want to note that this post will primarily focus on our impressions of this Christmas season. If you want info and tips for all things Holiday Time in excruciating detail, make sure to read our Ultimate Guide to Christmas at Disneyland. That post is a regularly-updated crash course in planning a Christmas visit, whereas this is more anecdotes and observations.
While it’s still early, we are once again predicting in our updated When to Visit Disneyland post that this the holiday season will be bonkers. Ostensibly, there’s no reason for that: the Diamond Celebration is over, the entire Rivers of America (including Fantasmic) remains down for refurbishment, and there’s nothing new in terms of Star Wars stuff to draw in guests.
However, as the Halloween season proved, “bonkers” is the new normal for Disneyland. The parks–Disneyland especially–built up a lot of goodwill during the 60th Anniversary, and they are no doubt still riding that wave. Fortunately, in an effort to presumably better balance out crowds between the parks, Disney California Adventure has received an impressive slate of new offerings for Christmas 2016.
To avoid these crowds, at least to some degree, visit on weekdays if you can, and try to go as early in the day as possible. Avoid nights, weekends, and holiday breaks. Basically, you want to avoid any days when school is not in session for Southern Californians. Around 6 million people live within a manageable “after work” drive from Disneyland, and you want to avoid them.
In terms of what’s new at Disneyland this year, it’s mostly new with an asterisk. The ‘Believe…in Holiday Magic’ fireworks are back, as are the full assortment of Christmas decorations that were impacted last year by the Diamond Celebration.
This includes Sleeping Beauty’s Winter Castle (Disneyland’s version of the Dream Lights), which once again is covered in icicle lights.
One thing I didn’t catch is whether the three ‘act’ Winter Castle lighting takes place again. I don’t remember if this show was done even in the year before the Diamond Celebration. Hopefully it has returned, because it was a cute little show.
Earlier in the day, you can see A Christmas Fantasy Parade, which is the daytime parade this time of year at Disneyland. I’m not a fan of daytime Christmas parades, and this is no exception.
First of all, it’s sunny and hot during the middle of the day, and waiting and watching this is uncomfortable. On top of that, A Christmas Fantasy is interminably long, with 2-3 more floats than it needs.
Beyond that, running it during the day means no lights on the Christmas trees or snow falling on Main Street. This parade used to run from time to time at night, and that was such a better experience.
It’s equipped with lighting, so I find it sort of puzzling that they wouldn’t run it at night–or at least dusk–now that Paint the Night is not running most nights.
Haunted Mansion Holiday has a couple of new additions. I know it’s been open for a couple of months now, but I still don’t want to spoil it.
If you want to see what’s new, I’ve updated our Haunted Mansion Holiday Photos & Videopost. If you haven’t already been on Haunted Mansion Holiday this year–but are planning on it–you probably don’t want to read that.
It’s hard to believe it, but 2016 is the 20th anniversary of ‘it’s a small world’ holiday. We noticed three references to the anniversary scattered throughout the attraction (did anyone else spot others that we missed?), which made for fun easter eggs to spot.
I still remember seeing this overlay for the first time, and being blown away by just how significant of a change from the normal version it was/is. We both became immediate fans of ‘it’s a small world’ holiday.
Year round, it’s one of the attractions we do most, in large part because it’s relaxing and the wait is short, but during the Christmas season, we actually look forward to doing it’s a small world.
Everything about this overlay is exceptional: costumes, props, smells, lights, and even the soundtrack remix. We’ve said it before, but we actually prefer the ‘Happy Holidays’ overlay to the normal version of ‘it’s a small world.’
(With that said, we acknowledge and respect the cultural significance and artistry of ‘it’s a small world.’ We realize the Christmas overlay is not as historically significant, artistically groundbreaking, iconic or original as the classic version.)
Now several years old, Jingle Cruise seems more or less unchanged from last year. There might be a different prop here or there, and of course the script is embellished depending upon the skipper you get. My take is that this attraction is still a mixed bag and (by far) the weakest of the Christmas overlays, but it has improved since its debut.
My biggest complaint is the whole premise that shipment of decorations was lost, which somehow makes it okay to have a bunch of junk strewn all over show scenes. It just looks trashy, and no amount of “story” can explain that away. It’s almost as if the show writers for the attraction saw Dino-Rama at Animal Kingdom and said, “how can we emulate the wonderful thematic success of this…but for Christmas?”
Those few scenes aside, Jingle Cruise works. It has the same cheesy script and kitsch level that fans love about the original Jungle Cruise, but with a seasonal twist. Some of the jokes land, some don’t…just like the original Jungle Cruise. It is corny and self aware…just like the original Jungle Cruise. To be frank, even my comment above about it being a mixed bag could be applied to the original Jungle Cruise.
The original attraction just gets a pass on its hit or miss nature because it’s a classic, but really, I don’t see that much of a difference between the two versions. If ever a cheesy or on the nose seasonal overlay were to work or be appropriate, it’s with Jungle Cruise.
Food-wise, it’s the second consecutive year with a fairly lackluster Christmas food menu at Disneyland. We tried the Cookies and Cream Mousse Coffin Cake (above) and Pineapple Upside-down Funnel Cake (below), both of which we really liked.
None of the other new items stood out, and we wanted to save room for all the new food at Disney California Adventure. Most of the options are returning, anyway, and you can read about them in our Guide to Christmas Food at Disneyland post.
How many Plaza Inn Yule Logs would a human need to eat in order to hibernate for the entire winter? (Asking for a friend.) I’ve had zero Yule Logs thus far this Christmas season, bringing great shame upon my household. In my defense…I have no defense. I neglected the storied Yule Log in favor of the Festival of Holidays offerings at DCA.
On Page 2, we’ll cover our thoughts on this Christmas at Disney California Adventure. We are already loving DCA this Christmas season!