I was certainly excited to visit the Disneyland Resort during the Christmas holiday season, but I was also nervous. I’m new to the world of Disney and even longtime park experts sometimes avoid the days leading up to Christmas. I couldn’t resist though, earlier in the year I visited Disneyland for the first time and fell in love. It was a magical experience, one that I desperately wanted to enjoy again. So, when I found myself in Southern California just a few days before Christmas, I planned a fun-filled two days exploring Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. Today I want to share more of what my experience was like (the full review is here) and why Christmas is a time to enjoy being in the parks and why you shouldn’t avoid visiting the Happiest Place on Earth during this most festive time of year.
I was in the Anaheim area in the first place because I was on a cruise that ended in Los Angeles. As such, I really didn’t have any flexibility with timing but, even if I had, I wouldn’t have changed very much. I spent two very full days in the Disneyland Resort the Friday and Saturday before Christmas, which in 2018 fell on a Tuesday. It’s well known that the week between Christmas and New Year is amongst the busiest for the park, but I couldn’t find as much information about the days before the holiday. Friday was perfect, the crowds were extremely light and I was able to ride just about every attraction on my to-do list thanks in part to the very modest crowds and great use of single-rider lines and FASTPASS. Saturday was noticeably busier, peaking in the early afternoon. I was thankful that I had crossed off the most popular rides on Friday, because Saturday saw longer wait times and harder to obtain FASTPASS time slots. I asked a cast member for the reason, and they surmised it was because it was a Saturday. Basic logic, weekends are busier than weekdays. In spite of the larger crowds, they are nothing like the resort sees on Christmas Day or New Year’s Eve, but they did impact how I organized my visit.
Disney takes the holiday season very seriously, and there are any number of special events and themed attractions to celebrate the season. That being said, visiting both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure is basically the same in December as it is in July. The same attractions are open, FASTPASS should be used the same way and it’s of course important to plan certain aspects of your trip well in advance. It’s the holiday specialties that draw most people to the parks though in the weeks before Christmas, and you’ll want to make sure to experience as much as you can. Certain attractions are reimagined for Christmas, turning them into holiday themed rides. In Disneyland the most popular of these festive attractions are the Haunted Mansion and “it’s a small world.” The Haunted Mansion goes through a “Nightmare Before Christmas” makeover, and it’s a lot of fun to experience. “it’s a small world,” sees special regional Christmas decorations and songs and the exterior is specially lit for Christmas. In Disney California Adventure, both Mater’s Jingle Jamboree and Luigi’s Joy to the Whirl are redesigned and are a lot of fun to ride.
Of course, both parks undergo a massive holiday transformation with enormous Christmas trees and decorations in every possible corner of the parks. There’s a lot to see and enjoy, so be sure to add in some time to just admire the impressive décor. Both parks also feature special holiday parades, tree lightings and themed character experiences, all of which should be on your to-do list. In Disneyland there’s an additional event that I loved, the Wintertime Enchantment at Sleeping Beauty’s Winter Castle. The castle is decked out in wreaths, icicles and festive decorations and every night the castle shimmers to life. During this event, music plays over the loudspeakers and “snow” even begins to fall. It’s an extremely well executed effect and I’m so happy I stayed a little later in the day than I had planned to experience it.
This is where things start to get a little confusing just because of the many options available. On any given day, the food options at Disneyland are considerable. Whether it’s in Disneyland itself, Disney California Adventure or Downtown Disney, the many options mean that you’ll never get tired of trying new things. During the holidays though, Disney rolls out even more choices; special holiday offerings showcasing the best of the season. Before I left home, I printed off checklists of the special holiday food items for sale so I could better plan my snacking experience. That being said, I was only able to get through a tiny fraction of the list, there was just too much to eat. From holiday-inspired churros to the incredible Festive Foods Marketplace in Disney California Adventure, the options were a little overwhelming but certainly delicious.
Special Time of Year
I take a festive trip every December and for the last several years it’s been a jaunt to Europe to enjoy the Christmas markets. 2018 was different for me; I took a cruise along the Mexican Riviera before spending two days in Disneyland. I was a little concerned that I wouldn’t get the holiday feeling that I love so much, but I need not have worried. Disney does Christmas extremely well and being in the park just a few days before Christmas dramatically improved my overall holiday experience. Disneyland is a special place, especially for adults. In a world that is increasingly mean and chaotic, it remains a destination seemingly devoid of problems. That’s remarkable and to feel an honest sort of happiness for two days was the ideal way to finish the year. One of the many reasons why I love Disney is for the resort’s ability to transport guests to an easier and simpler time. For a brief few days, everything seems right in the world, and during Christmas this feeling is only enhanced. Everyone seemed happy, the decorations were festive and Christmas carols played in the background. It was a wonderful way to embrace the holiday spirit and I know it won’t be the last time that I experience Disney during the holiday season.