Our guide to December 2021 at Disneyland offers a free crowd calendar for picking best days to visit & avoiding the busiest ones during Christmas at Disney California Adventure and Disneyland. Plus, what’s new, ride closures, what you should expect from a winter visit to Southern California, and more. (Updated September 19, 2021.)
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 has improved a bit in recent years, 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–which includes both a foodie event and more entertainment–has 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.
December Weather at Disneyland
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.
December 2021 Disneyland Crowd Calendar
Before consulting this or any December 2021 crowd calendars for Disneyland, it’s worth reading our main 2021-2022 Disneyland Crowd Calendars: Best Times to Visit & When to Avoid. That goes into extensive detail about why Disneyland crowd calendars are currently unreliable, which is why there’s no color-coded calendar or numerical scores for each day of the month.
This is primarily due to two things. The post-reopening roller coaster as Americans bounce back and forth between travel trepidations and pent-up demand. That’s largely driven by health mandates and case numbers in California and beyond. As things improve or worsen, so too does travel volume and, by extension, visitors to Disneyland and DCA. (We hope that it won’t happen again, but California did see a dramatic spike in cases beginning at the start of last year’s holiday season.)
Moreover, Disneyland just launched the Magic Key program, which is its replacement for Annual Passes. Magic Keys already have dramatically changed the crowd dynamic at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure during that time. Thus far, it has made weekends significantly busier, driven largely by pent-up demand among Disneyland diehards who have been waiting for the return of APs. We’ll have a better idea once the “charter member” offer for joining the Magic Key program ends on November 1, 2021.
What happens going forward with Magic Keymaster demand is an unknown. Pent-up demand among locals could fizzle out, but that could be offset by more people purchasing Magic Keys. If you’re planning a last minute visit, consult Disneyland’s Magic Key Access Calendar. This shows blockout dates and reservation availability all in one handy location–both offer insight into crowd forecasting. Similarly, there’s the Disneyland Theme Park Reservation Calendar for single and multiple-day tickets. (Those are unreliable on short notice–dates only fill up a couple weeks in advance, at most.)
With that said, here are the best and worst times to visit Disneyland in December 2021…
We’ll start predictions here with high-level advice and narrow it from there. As a general matter, earlier in December 2021 is better than later in the month, which is probably patently obvious given the school breaks for Christmas and New Year’s the last two weeks. However, we still encounter people who are surprised the holiday season is busy because they expect everyone to be at home with their families.
Second, weekdays are all better than weekends. Saturdays and Sundays will be the two busiest days of the week despite the lower tier Magic Key passholders being blocked out.
In past years, evenings were busier as many local Annual Passholders would visit Disneyland and Disney California Adventure after work to get their Christmas fix, and for the holiday season entertainment. Consequently, even “light” days on the crowd calendar would be much busier at night.
However, it remains to be seen whether that’ll be the case this year, as only the highest tier of Magic Key passes includes free parking. Already, we’ve noticed less of a post-work crowd spike since Magic Keys debuted, but that could change.
Mondays through Thursdays are going to be the best overall days of the week to visit in the first half of December 2021. Tuesdays and Wednesdays will be your absolute best bets, but there’s not a huge difference among Monday through Thursday.
Expect this to hold true December 1-16, 2021. Weekday crowds should be fairly moderate, whereas weekends will be bonkers. Think approximately 4/10 v. 9/10 on a numerical scale as a general rule, with some variance among dates.
One exception to this is on dates when the new Disney Merriest Nites Christmas Party will be held at Disneyland (December 7 & 9, 2021). It’s the first year of this event so crowd dynamics are not totally known,
However, our expectation is that it’ll track with Oogie Boogie Bash and other past Halloween parties. Disneyland will likely be less busy in the morning and DCA will be busier as regular guests avoid Disneyland due to the earlier closing time. Park Hopping is recommended on those dates to take advantage of the lower-crowd mornings.
These 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. Consequently, December 17, 2021 until December 31, 2021 will be the busiest stretch of the entire year at both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. On the plus side, most Magic Key passholders are blocked out starting December 17, 2021–only the highest tier has access December 18-31, 2021.
The major thing that’ll impact attendance is Holiday Time at Disneyland–in particular Disney Merriest Nites, the parade, and nights when the Believe in Holiday Magic nighttime spectacular features fireworks (mostly Friday through Sunday nights, but see the official entertainment schedule to confirm).
Note that overall crowd levels have increased at Disney California Adventure by a slight amount as a result of Avengers Campus, which opened over the summer. This new land is very small, which presents its own unique problems. Consequently, the Marvel land’s new attraction is using a boarding pass system similar to Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. Read our Virtual Queue Guide to WEB Slingers Spider-Man Adventure for tips on how to score a spot on the new ride.
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. 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.
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 in 2021-2022. 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.
Planning a Southern California vacation? For park admission deals, read Tips for Saving Money on Disneyland Tickets. Learn about on-site and off-site hotels in our Anaheim Hotel Reviews & Rankings. For where to eat, check out our Disneyland Restaurant Reviews. For unique ideas of things that’ll improve your trip, check out What to Pack for Disney. For comprehensive advice, consult our Disneyland Vacation Planning Guide. Finally, for guides beyond Disney, check out our Southern California Itineraries for day trips to Los Angeles, Laguna Beach, and tons of other places!
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? Do you agree or disagree with our December 2021 crowd forecast for Disneyland and DCA? 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!