How to see it snow at Disneyland this year during the holiday season
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Christmas at Disneyland is magical when a generous helping of pixie dust makes it “snow” in Southern California. Here’s what to expect during the Christmas season at Disneyland, including when all of the holiday decor, festivities, seasonal dining and entertainment start up at both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure parks.
Festivities begin Nov. 8
The Disneyland resort gets into the holiday spirit from Nov. 8, 2019 through Jan. 6, 2020.
Is there an extra charge during the holidays?
Other than the regular Disneyland park ticket, there is no additional cost to enjoy the seasonal offerings and entertainment. Naturally, dining and tours have additional fees (outlined below). While Disneyland vacations aren’t cheap, you can use points to buy Disney park tickets and save some cash. You can even cash in points with most of the major hotel loyalty programs and still stay within walking distance to the parks. (Here’s what a Disneyland vacation costs on three different budgets.)
Decked out for the holidays
Starting with the towering Christmas tree on Main Street U.S.A, most of Disneyland will be covered in fantastic holiday decor, with New Orleans Square, Frontierland, Mickey’s Toontown, Critter Country and Fantasy Faire each offering their own unique spin on the season.
The gorgeous Sleeping Beauty’s Winter Castle is the holiday centerpiece of Disneyland. Take photos in front of the castle when it’s decked out with icicles, snow-capped turrets and wreaths. Then return in the evening when the castle is taken over with “Wintertime Enchantment.”
During the “Wintertime Enchantment” event, rousing music plays over the loudspeakers, there’s snow fall and twinkling lights bring Sleeping Beauty’s Winter Castle to life. This SoCal “snow” is the magical type that dissolves on contact, so it won’t make you cold or messy (but it may taste a bit soapy if you try to catch it on your tongue!). This brief event lasts under 5 minutes and happens several times nightly (check the Disneyland app on the night of your visit for exact times). Arrive about 10 minutes early for a spot close to the castle.
Over at Disney California Adventure, my favorite holiday transformation takes place in Radiator Springs, where the residents of Cars Land get in the spirit with transportation-themed decorations. The decor is all automotive inspired, and over-the-top creative, including tire wreaths and filter garlands.
As night falls, return to Buena Vista Street to witness the holiday tree lighting. This 50-foot tree is decorated with retro-inspired ornaments and twinkling garlands. Stand on the plaza outside Elias & Co to hear carolers sing and watch as the colored lights blink on. This happens once a day, around 5 p.m. but check the Disneyland app to verify the time on the date of your visit.
Special ride overlays for the season
Inside the Disneyland Park, two ride overlays are seasonal favorites: It’s A Small World is transformed inside and out with colorful lights, holiday songs and decor. Each night around dusk (check the Disneyland app on the day of your visit for the exact time), the lights on It’s A Small World Holiday are lit.
When the 50,000 bulbs light on the facade, it’s truly spectacular, with holiday music on the loudspeakers and charming light projections. This short show is repeated every 30 minutes throughout the night and can be viewed while in line for the ride.
The Haunted Mansion Holiday overlay is active from fall through the holiday season, when it’s taken over by “Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas” character Jack Skellington. Grab a FastPass early in the morning for each of these attractions to ensure you ride with minimal wait times. (Here’s how to minimize your wait times while at Disneyland.)
Over at Disney California Adventure, two Cars Land rides have seasonal overlays: Mater’s Jingle Jamboree and Luigi’s Joy to the Whirl, which are perfect for those preschool-aged and up. Kids must be at least 32 inches tall to ride both attractions.
Christmas Fantasy Parade
A Disneyland tradition, the Christmas Fantasy Parade features favorite Disney characters as well as marching toy soldiers, twirling gingerbread men and a grand finale with the arrival of Santa. There are two parade viewings, one in the afternoon and another at dusk. The evening show is often more crowded, but usually more enjoyable once the sun has set. Aim to get a viewing spot along the parade route at least 30 minutes in advance of the show. You’ll want to get a spot even earlier on weekends and during the actual holiday weeks.
Consider an Advance Dining Reservation for the Plaza Inn Dining Package that includes lunch and a viewing voucher to watch the show from a reserved area. The meal includes turkey breast, garlic mac and cheese, stuffing and veggies, with praline pecan-butter bundt cake for dessert (adult price is $40 each, plus tax). Kid’s meals for those ages 3-9 years are $25 each and include fried chicken tenders with macaroni and cheese, vegetables, a choice of applesauce or carrots and a themed dessert. Reservations can be made up to 60 days before your trip. Call (714) 781-3463 or make reservations on the Disneyland website.
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Believe … In Holiday Magic
Christmas at Disneyland abounds with fantastic seasonal entertainment and the fireworks spectacular is another can’t-miss. The “Believe … In Holiday Magic” fireworks is a brilliant combination of pyrotechnics, projections and falling “snow” that takes place in various areas around the park each night. While many will gather in front of Sleeping Beauty’s Winter Castle (this is the classic view, as mentioned previously), there are other locations to watch the show.
I’ve watched this fireworks show near It’s a Small World Holiday, which offers a great view both of the fireworks and projections on the attraction’s facade. Or consider standing along the Rivers of America where the “Fanstamic!” show takes place. In each location there will be snowfall and accompanying music. Those wanting to watch the show from Main Street U.S.A (with a castle view) will want to arrive at least an hour ahead of time (and maybe earlier on busy days) to stake out a viewing location. At other locations, arriving 30 to 45 minutes ahead should work.
World of Color – Season of Light
At Disney California Adventure Park, “World of Color – Season of Light” returns to brighten the night sky with its colorful water show. Water jets create mist screens and 200-foot-tall shooting fountains, combined with lights and lasers. Holiday images from favorite Disney movies and of popular characters are projected onto the water screens for a unique and inspiring show that’s appropriate for all ages.
You’ll want to grab a FastPass to ensure a standing-room-only spot for this popular after-dark show (especially since it was on hiatus in 2018). You can collect this first thing in the morning at a distribution kiosk next to “The Little Mermaid” – Ariel’s Undersea Adventure ride.
In general, guests are only able to hold one FastPass at a time. However the FastPass for World of Color show is not connected to other attractions that use the FastPass system, so it won’t prevent you from using other FastPasses for rides during the day.
Attend the Disney Festival of Holidays
Meant to embrace how cultures celebrate holidays around the globe, the Disney Festival of Holidays takes place in the Paradise Gardens Park section of Disney California Adventure and includes live entertainment, a street party, free kids’ crafts and global dining options. This celebration is held throughout the entire holiday season and is included in park admission.
For dining, the Festive Foods Marketplace kiosks offer an appetizing mix of traditional and worldly dishes. These kiosks are set up along the pathways in the Paradise Gardens Park area. These dishes are similar to what’s found during the Disney California Adventure Food and Wine Festival: Expect gourmet-style appetizers, desserts and beverages, all inspired by the holidays of Christmas/Navidad, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa and Diwali.
Favorites from years past include a milk chocolate candy cane pot de creme and a turkey and stuffing tamale with cranberry relish. Prices are often in line with quick-service entrees, despite the smaller portion sizes. A Sip and Savor card can be purchased in the park, which offers guests their choice of eight entrees or nonalcoholic beverages from any of the Festival of Holidays dining kiosks. This can be a cost savings if you use it for the most expensive items. Annual Passholders receive a discount off the price.
Entertainment during Disney Festival of Holidays includes the can’t-miss “Disney ¡Viva Navidad! Street Party.” Held several times daily throughout the entire holiday season, this vibrant show features the Three Cabelleros, Mickey and Minnie, as well as live music and high-energy dancing. This show is not a parade, but it does cover the entire area in front of the Paradise Garden Grill. The ideal location to watch from is in front of Bayside Brews, which is where the main float stops during the show.
Other entertainment includes musicians and dancers performing at various locations in the Festival of Holidays area. See the Disneyland app during for your visit for exact areas and times.
Don’t miss all the holiday-inspired culinary treats
In addition to the holiday flavors from around the world offered at the Disney Festival of Holidays kiosks, there are some yummy seasonal delights to be found all over the parks, from savory dishes to treats big enough to share.
If Christmas at Disneyland follows suit with previous holidays and special events, expect to find a printed Foodie Guide outlining the locations and descriptions of all the seasonal eats. Get one at either Disneyland’s City Hall or California Adventure’s Chamber of Commerce.
Meet the characters dressed for the holidays
If you’re looking for characters decked out in their holiday best, you’ll find them in many locations. Be sure to have the Disneyland app installed on your smartphone, which will allow you to track down character greeting locations and times.
You might also wonder: Can your kids meet Santa Claus at Disneyland? Yes! Santa Claus will once again be available for photos and meet-and-greets in several locations from Nov. 8–Dec. 24, 2019.
Santa can be spotted in the three on-site hotels at the Disneyland Resort:
- Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel – in the Crystal Cove Foyer
- Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa – in the Great Hall
- Disneyland Hotel – in the main lobby.
You’ll also find him at Santa’s Holiday Visit at the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail in Disney California Adventure. This is the spot for a Santa meet-and-greet, as this entire area has been made over in a holiday theme. There are fun holiday-themed physical activities for kids (like walking across the “Jingle Bridge,” and kids can even sign in on Santa’s “Nice List” registry book.
In years past, Santa could also be found at Disneyland in a more intimate and tucked-away spot in Critter Country. If meeting Santa and getting a photo is the goal, try this simple location that will guarantee a shorter wait time. If you want the full Santa experience (and don’t mind a possible 60-minute wait), visit the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail location.
Holiday Time at the Disneyland Resort Tour
If you’re looking for bonus seasonal inspiration, consider booking the Holiday Time at the Disneyland Resort Tour. Guests on the 2.5-hour walking tour will visit both parks to view their seasonal offerings. In addition, there are special holiday treats, a collectible souvenir pin and reserved viewing for A Christmas Fantasy Parade.
At a cost of $99 per person (ages 3+ plus tax, on top of regular park admission), this is truly a tour for Disney fans looking to enhance their visit. Annual pass holders do receive a 15% discount on guided tours. Call 1-(714) 781-8687 to make reservations.
Are there any free events at the hotels?
No park ticket that day? There’s still some magic to be had. Disneyland’s three on-site hotels all do a great job of getting into the holiday spirit. In particular, Disney’s Grand Californian Resort & Spa has amazing holiday decor in the lobby, with an enormous Christmas tree and an oversized gingerbread house. The Disneyland Hotel and Paradise Pier each also have uniquely decorated trees in their lobbies.
The season is even brighter at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa with a Christmas Tree in the lobby! See how the Cast create magic overnight for the holidays. #HolidaysBeginHere pic.twitter.com/Hlkw6JwtF1
— Disneyland Resort (@Disneyland) November 25, 2018
There is more free fun to be had beyond the resorts. Those who visit the Downtown Disney District (no ticket required) will find seasonal events including decorated holiday trees and displays and entertainment. There’s no cost for window shopping or to enjoy live music at various locations in this outdoor shopping center. You’ll find a cappella carolers, instrumental holiday music and bands playing on the venue’s stage.
Guests shopping for gifts or souvenirs will find plenty of holiday-themed merchandise. Downtown Disney District restaurants offer seasonal eats, including many small snacks or light bites with holiday flair, such as cranberry or peppermint accents. For a more elaborate holiday meal, Catal offers an upscale Breakfast with Santa (available on several December dates; call the restaurant for reservations).
All of these fantastic seasonal offerings are just a hint of what Christmas at Disneyland includes. If you do plan to take on Disneyland during the holiday season, expect heavier than usual crowds and long wait times. I recommend a three- to five-day park ticket to more fully experience the holidays at Disneyland. Consider avoiding the week of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s, which will have the heaviest crowds. Midweek visits are best, when you and your family can still enjoy all the seasonal events with less holiday hustle and bustle!
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Featured image courtesy of Disneyland.
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