If you’re visiting Disneyland or Disney California Adventure for Thanksgiving 2017, you might be wondering where to have dinner, what how crowded it is, or other things to do for the holiday. So, what might you do to celebrate Thanksgiving at Disneyland?
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 (and America, really) forgot. Honestly, it’s little more than a speed bump between the heavily celebrated Halloween and Christmas seasons.
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 this post, we’ll 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. (I blame the plethora of “Disneyland Secrets” posts–most of which are rife with errors–that go viral on Pinterest.)
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 Disneyland post, 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 2017. 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 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.
The only way I’d modify the suggestions in that Christmas Guide are by offering ways to slow down and emphasize 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.
I’d also 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?
There are no less than a couple dozen 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. You can see the full list here.
Beyond the limited special menus throughout Disneyland Resort for Thanksgiving, there are two (what I would call) flagship Thanksgiving Dinner experiences. One is the Fall Harvest Buffet in the Grand Ballroom at the Disneyland Hotel. The other is the Wine Country Feast at Napa Rose in Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel.
Last year, we had just moved to California and been settled all of a few days before, spending our first Thanksgiving away from family, so we decided to treat ourselves to the $100/person Napa Rose Thanksgiving 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 (although I haven’t tried the new Club 33 menu since Andrew Sutton took over).
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, I think French Market, Cafe Orleans, and Pacific Wharf Cafe are among those that look promising. Carthay Circle Restaurant’s menu also looks intriguing, albeit at a higher price point.
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.
If you’re heading to Disneyland for the holidays, we have tons of posts to help you plan, including our Tips for Saving Money on Disneyland Tickets, a look at Disneyland Area Hotel Reviews & Rankings, our Unique Packing List for Disney Trips, an index of our Disneyland Resort Restaurant Reviews, and a number of other things in our comprehensive Disneyland Trip Planning Guide!
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Do you have any Thanksgiving traditions at Disneyland? Any experience in the parks during Thanksgiving week? If you have any questions or other tips about Thanksgiving at Disneyland, please share them in the comments!