Guide to Festival of Holidays at Disney California Adventure

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Festival of Holidays is Disney California Adventure’s Christmas-themed Food & Wine Festival, with multi-cultural entertainment. It runs November 10, 2017 until January 7, 2018. This guide has tips for what food to order, good value menu items, and other recommendations Festival of the Holidays.

For starters, some background info. After the smash success of the Disney California Adventure Food & Wine Festival, it’s no surprise that Festival of Holidays actually expands upon that event, with 14 booths for this event that are open daily from 10:30 a.m. until 8 p.m. nightly during the Holiday Time at Disneyland (Resort) season.

Prices range from ~$4.50 for desserts to ~$7-8 for savory foods. (That’s no typo.) There are also a number of wines, craft beers, and seasonal mixed drinks, all of which are sold around the normal price points you’d expect at Disney California Adventure. Despite pricing, Festival of the Holidays is a fun event…

This is in large part due to the Festival of Holidays entertainment. There are 5 stages set up throughout Disney California Adventure for musical acts that are inspired by the diverse holidays Californians celebrate this time of year, including Diwali, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas/Navidad, and Three Kings Day. In this guide, we will cover both the food and the entertainment.

We’ll start with marketplace menus, then reviews of specific things we tried, followed by our overall impressions of the event.

Let’s get started…

Marketplace Booths

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There are 14 marketplaces at Festival of Holidays, up from the 8 booths at the DCA Food & Wine Festival. Here are the menus for each booth:

Abuelita’s Kitchen

  • Chicken Cilantro Tamale with roasted Tomatillo salsa verde
  • Beef and Cheese Tamale with red chili sauce
  • Chorizo Bean Sopes with Cotija cheese and fresh crèma
  • Spiced Peanut Brittle
  • Pomegranate Margarita

Brews & Bites

  • Holiday Cheese Ball with crackers & pretzels
  • Seasonal & Craft Beers and tasting flights

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Fiesta en Familia

  • Green Chile Pozole with Vegetables
  • Red Chile Pozole with Pork
  • Fresh Fish Ceviche with chili-lime tortilla chips
  • Guava Agua Fresca

Good Fortune’s Feast

  • Adobo Pork Bao with shaved red onion and crispy garlic chicharron
  • Smoked Duck & Vegetable Spring Roll with cabbage and sweet plum sauce
  • Chilled Papaya Shrimp Salad with chili-garlic vinaigrette and crispy noodles
  • Winter Mint Milk Tea

Heritage Cottage

  • Braised Beef Short Rib with smashed potatoes and sauerbraten sauce
  • Weisswurst Sausage & Sauerkraut with stone ground mustard and pretzel crumble
  • Vanilla Rice Pudding with apple compote and cinnamon streusel crunch

Making Spirits Bright

  • Wines by the glass and tasting flights
  • Warm Holiday Spiced Wine
  • Sparkling Apple-pomegranate Juice

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Mistletoe Morsels

  • Holiday Swedish Meatballs with creamy gravy and Lingonberry sauce
  • Classic Crab Cake with lemon tartar sauce
  • Shrimp Cocktail Martini with chili sauce and jalapeño olive
  • Holiday Eggnog Cocktail with whipped cream and nutmeg dusting
  • Merry Berry Sherbet Punch

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Mosaic Delights

  • Roasted Lamb with masala spice Basmati rice and poached raisins
  • Mini Falafel donuts with pickled vegetables and Tahini drizzle
  • Baklava with walnuts, pistachios and honey
  • Iced Moroccan Mint Tea

Nosh & Nibbles

  • Brisket Potato Croquette with horseradish crème
  • Sweet Spiced Noodle Kugel
  • Reuben Potato Smash with Russian dressing and Rye toast

Spice Salutations

  • Chicken & Potato Curry with Kefir cream and grilled naan
  • Carrot & Chickpea Fritters with coriander-almond sauce
  • Cardamom & Saffron Sweet Cheese Tart with mulled fruit
  • Mango Lassi

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Southern Home Holidays

  • Grilled Spicy Chicken Sausage with red beans and rice
  • Southern Mac & Cheese with jalapeño cornbread crumble
  • Sweet Potato Pie with candied pecans
  • Cranberry Sweet Tea topped with berry foam

Treats for Santa

  • Mickey Snowman Cookie Decorating Kit
  • Harvest Puff Pastry
  • Assorted Cookies
  • Classic Panettone
  • Candied Chestnut Panettone
  • Peppermint Bark
  • Pumpkin Seed Brittle
  • Walnut Fudge
  • Warm Bourbon Cider
  • White Hot Chocolate with house-made peppermint marshmallows
  • Holiday Fruit Punch

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Winter Sliderland

  • Roasted Turkey Slider with cranberry sauce and gravy
  • Kalua Pork Slider with pineapple jam and cider slaw
  • Praline & Bourbon Whoopie Pie
  • Sparkling Apple-cranberry Juice

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Yuletide Yummies

  • Mini Turkey Pot Pie with cranberry drizzle
  • Pesto Puff Pastry Twist
  • Gingerbread Bundt Cake with orange-vanilla sauce
  • Eggnog Cheesecake with spiced whipped cream
  • Mocha Yule Log with candied chestnuts
  • Raspberry Linzer Tart
  • Sticky Toffee Pudding with Brandied Cream
  • Frozen Chocolate Milk with whipped cream and sprinkles
  • Pumpkin Spice Hot Chocolate with house-made cinnamon marshmallows
  • Inspired wine and beer selections

Christmas Dessert Reviews

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There is no sugar-coating it: the menus for Festival of Holidays at Disney California Adventure gave us sticker shock. Given portion sizes at the earlier DCA Food & Wine Festival, we decided this time around that we were not willing to purchase anything above $6.

Once the reality set in that this meant we wouldn’t be trying anything except desserts, we decided to go all-in on that and just do all of the desserts. We’re pretty satisfied with that decision…

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Let’s get the bad out of the way first. The Eggnog Cheesecake. Back in the day when we were broke college students, we used to buy this really cheap, pre-mixed eggnog with mystery booze in it. I get nauseated just thinking about it now. This cheesecake tasted like that. I wouldn’t be surprised if rubbing alcohol or maybe even anti-freeze were one of its ingredients.

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Next up was the Gingerbread Bundt Cake. This tasted like a cross between gingerbread and Terry’s Chocolate Orange. This might seem like an odd mix, but it really worked. Part of that might be that those chocolate oranges were a staple of my Christmas stockings growing up, but to me this tasted very “Christmas-y.” Highly recommended.

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The Mocha Yule Log is basically a smaller version of the Plaza Inn Yule Log, which everyone knows is a national treasure. The portion here was larger than expected, and as such, this is also highly recommended.

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The Sticky Toffee Pudding was another home run. This was a relatively dense dessert, but still had an “ooey gooey” quality to it that made it a consensus winner. One of the best desserts we tried and, once again, highly recommended.

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Neither Sarah nor Guy liked the Cardamom & Saffron Sweet Cheese Tart, with both calling it bland. I wasn’t quite so hard on it. It definitely wasn’t as decadent as a cheesecake, but the flavors were still sufficiently pronounced, making this a good, lighter option. It doesn’t attain “highly recommended” status, but it was good.

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The Raspberry Linzer Tart was a lot like a cupcake with insufficient filling: dry…until you got to the rich raspberry center. Those few bites were fantastic, making this 70% meh, 30% incredible.

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The Vanilla Rice Pudding completely surprised all of us. No one really wanted this…until we tried it. The flavor was fantastic, and not at all what I expected out of rice pudding. It was more like apple cinnamon streusel with some rice pudding underneath. Highly recommended.

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As far as desserts go, the Pesto Puff Pastry Twist was quite the departure from everything else. Savory rather than sweet, it reminded us a bit of the cheese bread twists over in Fantasy Faire, except of a higher quality (and smaller size). I’d tepidly endorse this, but it’s still near the bottom of the pack of a very solid lineup of desserts.

Props to Disney for having a surplus of actual tables. While I was tempted to revert to my roots and eat the desserts hunched over a trash can a la the Epcot event, I could get used to this new-fangled, fancy-pants ‘table eatin’. 😉

In our view, almost all of these desserts were worth the money relative to other desserts at Disneyland Resort. The quality of ingredients and general flavor of everything really impressed us.

Perhaps you’ll have similar luck with the hot food and more expensive items, but given those prices, that was not a gamble/investment we were willing to take.

Entertainment

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No matter what your thoughts or interest in the marketplace food booths, every Disney California Adventure guest is a winner during Festival of Holidays for one simple reason: live entertainment. Disneyland Resort has added a number of musical acts throughout the park, which provide great supporting acts to fan-favorite, Viva Navidad.

While none of the other acts are as elaborate as Viva Navidad, which is its own little festival with multiple entertainment options and cultural components, the other acts do provide compelling diversions and really enhance the park’s energy. Admittedly, we did not get the full effect of this on the 95-degree day yesterday, but it’s patently obvious that these groups are going to be key to a festive, high energy setting this Christmas in Disney California Adventure. For all of our complaints about the marketplace booths, Disneyland Resort management deserves praise for this ambitious slate of live entertainment.

Let’s take a brief look at each act…

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Blue13 Dance Company – Traditional Indian dances with beautiful choreography, lavish costumes, and entrancing music. The performances build to a Bollywood-style ending, which is fairly high energy.

We both really liked this group. As odd as this may sound, it reminded me a lot of Jungle Book: Alive with Magic, except with all of the awful parts stripped out. Given its location in Paradise Park, I’d be curious to see how the show looks at night with some moody lighting and minor use of some World of Color jets in the background.

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Mostly Kosher – This Klezmer band performed a variety of musical styles, basically coming across as a Top 40 group with strong Jewish influence. Between songs, the lead singer spoke of cultural traditions, which seemed to interrupt the otherwise upbeat nature and pace of the show.

I’m wondering how this will be changed (or, perhaps, dropped) as the entertainment continues to test and adjust. This group performed in the Sonoma Terrace seating area (next to Wine Country Trattoria), which is an out of the way spot. As such, there were fewer guests watching them than any other acts we saw. Despite that, this is one of the more enjoyable places to watch an act. That will be particularly true in the evening hours when the popcorn lights and secluded location provide an intimate setting away from the crowds.

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RAISE – This uplifting a cappella vocal group brings a powerful, harmonious R&B spin to holiday songs and Disney tunes. This group performed on a stage in Pacific Wharf, and had by far the largest group of onlookers. (Although part of that is probably a built-in audience of people eating in the area.)

This group reminds me a bit of ‘Joyful! A Gospel Celebration of the Season’ at Epcot (although I’m not sure that group will appear this season). We both love a cappella music, and there’s something that is just mesmerizing about it. This is doubly true when it’s Christmas and Disney music. This is yet another new act at DCA for the holidays that does not disappoint.

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Holiday Toy Drummers – These Holiday Toy Drummers do “pop up” performances that (for now) are performing by Boudin Bakery (near Cars Land’s entrance). I’m told they used to perform near ‘it’s a small world’, but I’ve never seen them there. This was a mix of comedy and music, as these soldiers presented a fun and funny little show.

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Mariachi Divas – Long favorites with Disneyland fans, the GRAMMY Award-winning Mariachi Divas are sure to put on a great holiday show. (We didn’t see them yesterday, but it’s hard to fathom that they would be anything less than their normal, exceptional quality.)

Note: the locations of these musical acts will rotate among the various stages at Disney California Adventure, so be sure to consult a times guide when you visit.

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Princess Elena’s Musical Grand Arrival – Not having kids, we still don’t really have a clue who Elena of Avalor is…but we met her yesterday. There’s going to be a musical cavalcade for her, but it was not running yet.

Disney ¡Viva Navidad! – By now, regular readers probably know that we really, really love Viva Navidad. We saw it yesterday, and it’s just as good as ever. It’s no surprise that this remains the highlight of Festival of Holidays at Disney California Adventure. It’s one of our sleeper picks for the best overall Christmas entertainment at Disneyland Resort.

Impressions

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If you’re on a tight budget, Festival of Holidays–at least the food component–is not for you. The portions are relatively small, and the prices relatively high. It’s the same idea as any Disney food & wine festival.

If you read our Guide to the DCA Food & Wine Festival, you’ll recall that we really stressed how overpriced many items were. Well, the prices are even higher this time around, mostly on the hot dishes (really, anything that’s not a dessert). These seem to almost all be priced at or above $7 now, with a good number of them being above $8.

In comparing prices with menus from the spring event, I’d say prices have gone up (for comparable food) about $1-2 across the board, and are now in astronomical territory. Many of these options are approaching counter service entree territory, for portions that are a fraction of the size.

While we can justify overpaying for items here and there “for the sake of research” since we can write about this stuff (you might recall we tried literally everything on the menus at the Epcot Food & Wine Festival), even we have our breaking point. The prices for the non-dessert items at Festival of Holidays are utter nonsense, and we just couldn’t justify spending $8 for a slider. A SLIDER. (Unless that slider has gold flakes in it, Goldschläger-style, that is just absurd.)

I think it will be interesting to see how locals and the general public respond to these prices. During our soft opening visit, Cast Members at the booths outnumbered guests by a good 4:1 ratio. Granted, this was a soft opening day so it wasn’t in times guides yet nor was it on the radar of locals, but it was still pretty obvious the booths were open.

While there are a lot of Disneyland die hards who are big spenders, and Southern California certainly has no shortage of people with disposable incomes, I still am left wondering if these price points (for the main dishes) are simply too high. These prices are significantly higher than the Epcot event, and that benefits from tourists with Disney Dining Plan credits to burn.

To end on a positive, save for a single dud, the desserts were exceptional, and the prices on those were not absurd. Anyone knows the spirit of the season is sweets, anyway, so I think most guests can have a great time during Festival of Holidays while ignoring the pricier snacks.

The other plus is that the entertainment is great, and a welcome addition to the Christmas season at Disney California. That entertainment is key here, as it’s included in the price of park admission, and you can ignore the food component completely.

While no new act approaches the quality of Viva Navidad, that’s fine. It’s all in that same spirit, and the other musical acts are great to enjoy while strolling through the park, with or without food & spirits. Those diverse cultural acts are exactly what you’d expect of World Showcase at Epcot, and in that sense, DCA is beating Epcot at its own game. Even as the foodie element (partially) fails to deliver, the entertainment portion delivers in spades. If Disney California Adventure keeps this up, it will solidify itself as the “ambiance park” at Disneyland Resort, and perhaps justify those DCA-only Annual Passes that are now available. I know I plan on spending a good amount of time at DCA this Christmas season!

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If you’re visiting Disneyland during Christmas-time, make sure to read our Ultimate Christmas at Disneyland Guide to get the most out of the special Christmas offerings! If you’re preparing for a Disneyland trip, check out our other planning posts, especially our comprehensive Disneyland Vacation Planning Guide!

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Your Thoughts

Do you agree or disagree with our thoughts on Festival of Holidays at Disney California Adventure? Any additional thoughts on specific samples? What about entertainment? Share any questions, tips, or additional thoughts you have in the comments!


10 Responses to “Guide to Festival of Holidays at Disney California Adventure”
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