Visiting Disneyland or Disney California Adventure for Thanksgiving 2023? We have last-minute restaurant recommendations, tips & tricks for avoiding holiday crowds, and seasonal attraction picks. Plus, answers to questions, info, and tips for navigating Christmas season.
For starters, you might be wondering what special things Disneyland does to celebrate Thanksgiving. Well…*crickets*…there are a few places that serve special meals. Turkey, stuffing, and that sort of thing. Aside from that, Thanksgiving is sort of the holiday that Disneyland forgot. Honestly, it’s little more than a speed bump between the heavily celebrated Halloween and Christmas seasons.
If you’re among those who proclaim “TURKEY BEFORE TREE” as a matter of principle, we have some bad news. Thanksgiving is Christmas season at Disneyland. Technically, it’s part of the “Holiday Time at Disneyland” season, but that’s basically a two month celebration of the December holiday. See our Ultimate Guide to Christmas 2023 at Disneylandfor more info & recommendations.
While Thanksgiving is an important holiday for Americans and its message of family togetherness is great, it doesn’t exactly lend itself to theme park celebrations. Halloween has haunts, pumpkins, and candy. Christmas has lights, trees, reindeer, Santa Claus, and myriad other awesome things.
Thanksgiving has…pilgrims and turkey. Not exactly exciting. Plus, the message of “family togetherness” doesn’t quite move merchandise as well as “BUY PRESENTS!” 😉
Short of giving the Sailing Ship Columbia a Mayflower overlay or turning the Matterhorn into an upside-down cornucopia, offering Thanksgiving Dinner is about the best the Disneyland can do.
In any case, this post will take a look at the different restaurants around Disneyland Resort that serve special Thanksgiving dinners, along with our own review of the flagship Thanksgiving experience, the Harvest Dinner at Napa Rose, plus what to expect in terms of crowds on Thanksgiving at Disneyland.
For whatever reason, there is a common misperception that Thanksgiving Day at Disneyland is a great day to visit the parks because everyone is at home with their families. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
The entire week of Thanksgiving, the parks are insanely busy, as tourists and locals alike flock to the parks to spend time together in the “Happiest Place on Earth” with their families. We cover this better in our When to Visit Disneylandpost, but suffice to say, the week leading up to Thanksgiving until the Sunday following Thanksgiving is one of the busiest stretches of the entire year. It’s insanely busy.
You can expect this to be more true than ever in 2023. Christmas Season starts prior to Thanksgiving, and with the return of the Believe in Holiday Magic fireworks (and other Christmas entertainment), the entire holiday season should be bonkers this year.
Things to Do
Honestly, the things to do for Thanksgiving list is identical to what’s covered in our aforementioned Ultimate Guide to Christmas at Disneyland. As mentioned above, Thanksgiving is not really much of a holiday at Disneyland. Christmas season starts in mid-November, and is well underway by Thanksgiving.
Here are some additional, specific recommendations that feel in keeping with the spirit of Thanksgiving:
Meet the Country Bears in Grizzly Peak at DCA
Watch the Disneyland Band play holiday medleys on Main Street
Graze from food booths at Festival of the Holidays at DCA
Enjoy Viva Navidad at DCA
Wave hello to Mickey & Friends in their winter wardrobes in Toontown, Main Street or Buena Vista Street
Another thing we’d recommend on Thanksgiving is slowing down and emphasizing your family. Even if you’re visiting on vacation, I think this “slow down” advice proves true. I would highly recommend carving some time out of your day to visit the Grand Californian Hotel lobby.
Take a seat on the couches in the lobby (or head to the upstairs alcoves that offer seating if the lobby is crowded) and enjoy the pianist performing Christmas music, relax by the fireplace, gaze at the Christmas tree, and converse with your loved ones.
Finally, we’d suggest taking in a showing of Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln. I’m not really sure why as the show doesn’t explicitly pertain to Thanksgiving, but it just feels right, and really, is there ever a bad time to hear the wisdom of President Lincoln?
Doing those things will help you avoid some crowds in addition to having a seasonally-appropriate visit to Disneyland on Thanksgiving!
There are several restaurants in Disneyland, Disney California Adventure, and the rest of Disneyland Resort that offer special menus for Thanksgiving Dinner. Most of these are variations of Thanksgiving classics: turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry dressing, etc. The basics, with regional twists depending upon the style of the restaurant.
The locations that will have special menus have not been announced yet for Thanksgiving 2023, but based on last year, our expectation is that at least all of the following table service in-park table service restaurants will serve special entrees:
Carnation Cafe on Main Street
River Belle Terrace in Frontierland
Blue Bayou Restaurant in New Orleans Square
Café Orleans in New Orleans Square
Wine Country Trattoria in Disney California Adventure
Our bet is that another restaurant or two will be added to the list for DCA, along with several more in the resort hotels and Downtown Disney. We’ll keep you posted once Thanksgiving 2023 menus are released by Disney!
Additionally, reservations for table service restaurants are filling up weeks in advance, so if you’re hoping for something same-day, you’re going to need a Thanksgiving miracle.
The vast majority of guests visiting Disneyland on Thanksgiving 2023–or anytime during the Christmas season–are going to get stuck with counter service restaurants.
When it comes to Thanksgiving-inspired (using that term liberally) meals at Disneyland, your best bets are going to be the following:
Plaza Inn on Main Street
Jolly Holiday Bakery & Cafe on Main Street
Royal Street Veranda in New Orleans Square
Harbour Galley in Critter Country
Disney California Adventure
Flo’s V8 Cafe in Cars Land
Smokejumpers Grill in Grizzly Peak
Paradise Garden Grill in Paradise Pier
Festival of the Holidays Food Booths (various locations)
For this Thanksgiving, my favorite food of all is the Holiday Sandwich with roaster turkey, stuffing, gravy, and cranberry sauce on rustic bread served with chips at Jolly Holiday Bakery. This is like Thanksgiving dinner…in a sandwich. It’s filling, delicious, and not too expensive.
Note that on busy days–like Thanksgiving–the mobile order arrival window for counter service restaurants in the Disneyland app will start with “Now.” On busy days, the earliest pick-up time could be 30 minutes in the future or longer. We’ve seen many restaurants with times several hours into the future.
Avoid this by placing your Mobile Orders early in the day while waiting in line for an attraction. You can often modify later to push back your pickup time (sometimes you can also move it forward). Also be mindful that tables can be in short supply during peak dining hours, which is especially relevant if you want one of the limited outdoor tables in the shade.
Additionally, hit the “I’m Here, Prepare My Order” button before actually arriving at the restaurant. The wait between hitting that button and receiving your food will typically be between 10 and 45 minutes, depending upon crowds and staffing. That can eat up a lot of your day if you’re doing two meals and standing outside the restaurant each time you Mobile Order.
Consequently, we’d advise you to hit that button well before you arrive and enjoy atmospheric activities in that same land or general area while waiting for the notification that your order is ready. Do things like character greetings, exploring hidden corners of the land…don’t get into a 90 minute line for Radiator Springs Racers.
Another Thanksgiving recommendation is dining inside the Hotels of Disneyland Resort. Three of our absolute favorite restaurants are located in the hotels. First up, GCH Craftsman Grill, which we rank as the #1 counter service dining option at Disneyland Resort. That distinction was bestowed upon GCH Craftsman Grill pre-closure, but the gap between it and the next-best in park dining option has widened, as GCH Craftsman Grill is serving (almost) its entire normal menu, whereas in-park counter service restaurants are not. Read the above review for recommendations.
We’re also fans of GCH Craftsman Bar, which is essentially a poolside table service version of the same menu. The atmosphere here is a step above the counter service option, and prices are the same. Reservations are also easier to score than in-park restaurants, and there’s often walk-up availability.
Finally, there’s Tangaroa Terrace Tropical Bar & Grill at Disneyland Hotel. While we don’t love this as much as GCH Craftsman Grill (except for breakfast), it’s still superior to 90% of the in-park options right now. Even though you have to leave the parks for both, they’re more relaxed, efficient, and have better menus, making it a good use of your time to dine at either.
In the past, we’ve celebrated Thanksgiving with the Napa Rose Holiday Feast.
This is Chef Andrew Sutton’s 4-course Thanksgiving meal, which I would describe as an inventive take on Thanksgiving Dinner. Because the menu changes each year (so there’s no value in commenting on specific items…), I’m going to review the experience as a whole rather than focus on specific dishes.
I want to preface this by saying that I love Napa Rose. We have eaten here on a number of occasions, from eating a light meal in the lounge to doing the Chef’s Counter, and it remains one of my absolute favorite Disney restaurants.
From a culinary perspective, it’s topped only by Victoria & Albert’s. Now that Chef Sutton is in charge of Club 33, the culinary experience there has likewise improved markedly, with that restaurant also on par with Napa Rose.
With that said, Thanksgiving Dinner was my least favorite Napa Rose experience. This isn’t to say that the food wasn’t good–it was very good. It’s that certain dishes didn’t really wow or feel particularly inventive. There was more than one dish to which we both had an “that’s alright” reaction, which is fairly unprecedented for our meals at Napa Rose.
For specific example, the Roasted “American Heritage” Turkey main course was moist and tasted fine, but I’d say it was less flavorful than well-prepared turkey you’d have at home.
Then there were some items that absolutely wowed. For example, the “Poached New England Lobster Pot” artfully combined Atlantic Lobster, Nueske’s Ham, poached potatoes, and leeks. The flavors here worked exceptionally together, and this was the perfect balance between traditional and inventive.
Most other courses were good to very good, especially for what they were. I know I’ve used the word “inventive” a couple of times there, and to be fair, we understood that this might skew towards “traditional” instead of being “edgy”, and we were actually fairly impressed by how far Chef Sutton pushed the envelope.
It was nice to see many menu items that incorporated different traditional Thanksgiving foods into the dishes, and there were courses where it was difficult to narrow our choices down to 2, since we were eager to try his take on multiple dishes.
The only other real standout was the Grilled American Buffalo Ribeye that I had for my main course, which was perfectly prepared and accompanied by mushrooms, yams, and pecan sage butter.
Neither of the desserts–including the pumpkin praline, and we are suckers for pumpkin–blew us away, either.
Overall, it was a good meal, and a memorable experience for us since it was our first Thanksgiving as Californians, but not something we’d do again. We had heard that this was a difficult reservation to score because some families have made this an annual tradition, and we were hoping to make it our own tradition. In observing other patrons during our seating, it was obvious that it definitely is an annual tradition for a lot of guests, so and I assume these families wouldn’t continue to come back and drop $100 per head, so maybe our expectations were too high.
On the other hand, there is something to be said for getting dressed up, walking into the lobby of the Grand Californian to the stunning tree and beautiful piano music, and having a ~2 hour fine dining meal. Even if the food isn’t a 10/10, for many people that whole experience is worth the money, as it’s a great way to spend Thanksgiving. We would rather spend a little bit more and do the truly exceptional Chef’s Counter, or save a bit and order from the excellent regular menu–but that’s just us.
Instead, next time we do Thanksgiving at Disneyland (which might be this year since we still don’t have family in the area), we will probably go the conservative (and cheaper) route. Of these other restaurants that serve Thanksgiving Dinner at Disneyland, Cafe Orleans looks most promising. Carthay Circle Restaurant’s menu also looks intriguing, albeit at a higher price point. Two more wildcards for Thanksgiving 2023 are Tiana’s Palace and Aunt Cass Cafe, both of which are reimagined restaurants in locations that used to serve special menus–but it remains to be seen what the new venues will do for their first year.
In terms of the most promising two lower-cost restaurants, my top picks for this year are Plaza Inn or Carnation Cafe, both of which serve a basic, classic menu that includes slow-roasted turkey. In the case of the former, that Thanksgiving Dinner can be concluded with the Pumpkin Yule Log, which alone is worth the airfare to Disneyland during the holidays!
If you want to really do Thanksgiving Dinner at Disneyland on the cheap, just stop by a food cart around the park and pick up this little gem. 😉 Regardless of where you choose to dine, there are a lot of seasonal pumpkin desserts and turkey options in abundance.
Do you have any Thanksgiving traditions at Disneyland? Favorite place to eat during the holidays at Disneyland or DCA? Any experience in the parks during Thanksgiving week? Do you agree or disagree with our advice? Any questions? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!