Disney ¡Viva Navidad! is a celebration of Latino holiday cultural traditions in Disneyland Resort’s Disney California Adventure during the Christmas season, this year from November 9, 2018 to January 8, 2019. In this post, we’ll offer our review of Viva Navidad (spoiler: it’s awesome) and tips & info for enjoying the celebration…to the extent that tips are actually necessary. It’s a pretty straightforward and easy-to-experience event.
Viva Navidad is a really high energy celebration with a wide array of appeal for just about anyone, taking place in the Paradise Garden corner of the park (it’s near beloved Disney institution Corn Dog Castle for those unfamiliar with DCA). Since debuting a few years ago, Viva Navidad has returned annually, and is our pick for the ‘sleeper hit’ of Christmas-time entertainment at Disneyland Resort.
The Disney ¡Viva Navidad! Street Party is the main draw of ¡Viva Navidad!, and it’s like a party that rolled straight out of circa-1982 EPCOT Center. With its marrying of authentic culture with Disney fun, it has shades of vintage EPCOT Center, and reminds me how well that park used to integrate entertainment, education, and culture.
Basically, it is a high-energy street party led by the Three Caballeros: Donald Duck and his amigos Panchito from Mexico and Jose from Brazil.
They appear on its sole float that rolls into place in front of the center entrance to Paradise Garden.
Joining these characters are authentic mariachi and samba musicians, folklorico dancers, 12-foot-tall mojiganga puppets of Santa and Mrs. Claus, plus Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse on bikes.
I’d hazard a guess that there are around 30-40 live performers in the street party all in beautiful costumes, which is pretty astounding. The dances and music that they perform are excellent and captivating, and they are really the heart of the party in terms of giving it cultural significance and authenticity.
The Disney characters help to strike a good balance for the show (and are the hook to draw the interest of kids), and using the Three Caballeros plus Mickey and Minnie in traditional Latino outfits was a solid choice for this, as it doesn’t make the characters seem out of place in a celebration that is otherwise focused on culture.
I think sometimes Disney can put characters where they don’t belong to prop up an otherwise unpopular (but not necessarily bad) experience, but in this case I feel that the characters add to the experience, or at least don’t detract from it, without overpowering it.
They are actually a lot of fun and well-made, even if it is a bit odd to see a Santa puppet zooming around a theme park. I guess it’s just as strange to meet a human-sized mouse, among other things, so in the world of theme park entertainment, this supposed oddness is hardly notable.
There’s really a lot going on with all of that, but to crank the energy up to 11, they have these bikes and puppets moving around at warp speed in the party area (I’m a bit surprised a kid hasn’t wandered into the party area and been decked by Santa Claus yet).
The rest of the party is centered around the Three Caballeros float, and everything besides this float moves around, so the best spot for viewing the party is directly in front of Bayside Brews, facing the entrance to Paradise Garden.
There are multiple shows per day with the last one occurring after dark and illuminated by spotlights. This arguably adds to the festive ambiance, but it makes for difficult photography, as the spotlights are strong and harsh (and since many of the performers move very quickly). Go to an earlier show if photos matter to you.
The Disney ¡Viva Navidad! Street Party is the highlight, but there are plenty of other activities that are ongoing throughout the day in Paradise Garden.
For families, the big thing is a meet & greet that alternates between Mickey & Minnie and Goofy, all in special costumes for the event.
Since Paradise Garden is in a low-traffic corner of Disney California Adventure and this meet & greet is secluded off to the side, I’ve noticed that this can be one of the easiest ways (shortest waits) to meet these characters at Disneyland Resort, and you get to do it with them in special costumes.
About the only time the line spikes is right after a Street Party ends, and around meal-time. Go mid-afternoon and you’ll likely have a very short wait (all bets are off Christmas and New Year’s weeks).
I highly recommend eating at one of the Paradise Garden restaurants during¡Viva Navidad! Both Paradise Garden Grill and Boardwalk Pizza & Pasta have menu items for ¡Viva Navidad!, but in the case of the former, it’s the entire menu and virtually every choice is excellent.
Here are a few of the items…
Before our first visit to¡Viva Navidad!, Guy Selga highly recommended the Torta al Pastor sandwich, so I ordered it. It was excellent, with a great flavor thanks to the pork, avocado, and textured bread. I’d definitely recommend it.
Sarah likes the Street Style Tacos. These were also pretty good, but not too substantial given the price.
Here’s the Sopes de Barbacoa that Guy had. These consist of the sopes with barbacoa and chorizo beans, cabbage, cotija cheese and crema served with achiote rice, plus tortilla chips and salsa.
Here’s the Buñuelos with Cajeta. These are two golden-fried flour tortillas dusted with cinnamon sugar and served with a side of Cajeta.
Maybe these are an acquired taste, but these are the only thing on the menu that I don’t recommend. They were extremely hard and lacking in taste. Imagine a rock-hard churro and you have the general idea. The only minor saving grace was the dipping sauce, but that was way too sweet.
The only downside is that the value is a little low on just about every menu item as compared to the Disneyland Resort norm, but I’d still say it’s worth it.
Having an authentic meal and sitting in the garden while the live band performs really helps to complete the experience, and makes you feel like you’ve taken something satisfying away from the theme park experience–something more than the exhilaration of riding Incredicoaster 3 times in a row.
I suppose you could always grab a corn dog from Corn Dog Castle and walk back to enjoy the band in the Paradise Garden, but that’s not quite the same.
Rounding out the offerings at ¡Viva Navidad! are dance lessons, crafts, face-painting, and other minor activities throughout the day. These are fun little diversions, or things one parent can do with the kids while the other picks up food at one of the Paradise Garden restaurants.
I haven’t participated in any of this myself, but the dance lessons looked especially fun, with the leader entertaining both the dancers and those (like me) in the seating area who weren’t brave enough to go up to the stage. Paradise Garden in Disney California Adventure Park also has some nice decorations for ¡Viva Navidad!, with traditional papel picado flags and colorful piñatas.
Overally, I really can’t speak highly enough of ¡Viva Navidad! It’s incredibly well-done with high quality entertainment and a real sense of “edutainment” to the whole thing. For those who might think “edutainment” is a code word for “boring”, it’s not.
Here, entertainment has a careful balance that should make it appeal to everyone, with a strong energy in the cultural components and characters infused to cater to kids. The biggest plus is that even if absolutely none of this sounds appealing to you, given its location in a quiet corner of Disney California Adventure, there are seldom crowds, so giving this a try is a very low-risk proposition.
It’s not like you have to camp out for a spot or invest 90 minutes waiting in line for the payoff. Just show up, see what there is to see, and move on if it isn’t for you. I can’t imagine anyone disliking ¡Viva Navidad!, but then again, some people like Innoventions at Disneyland and dislike Country Bear Jamboree, so what do I know about other people’s tastes…
If you haven’t been, does ¡Viva Navidad! look like a classic “edutainment” experience, or something dull that you’d skip? If you have been, what do you think of ¡Viva Navidad!? Any tips to add? Hearing from you is half the fun, so if you have additional thoughts or questions, please share them in the comments!