Disneyland at Christmas: What to Expect

A Guide to Disneyland at Christmas

Christmas Fantasy Parade at Disneyland
©2012 Betsy Malloy Photography. Used by Permission.

Disneyland takes on a different look during Christmas holidays when seasonal decorations add to its charm. With the kids out of school for their winter break, it's an excellent time of year to consider making a trip.

Before you read on, and to get an idea of what Disneyland looks like during the holiday season, take a photo tour of Disneyland at Christmas

Some people love Disneyland at Christmas, but many others say it's too busy during the holidays. To be more precise, it can be crazy busy. Crowd prediction calendars often say "Forget About It" for most of December.

What's Special at Disneyland at Christmas

Many people would say Disneyland is special any time of the year, but during the holidays, they put on special events and add a holiday theme to some of their attractions. If you go, these are the things you shouldn't miss.

Christmas Decorations: Town Square at the end of Main Street is where you'll find a 60-foot-tall Christmas tree covered with thousands of lights and ornaments. Sleeping Beauty's Castle gets sparkly, sporting snow-topped turrets and more than 80,000 lights. Elsewhere, don't expect to see something hanging from every tree branch and light pole, but all the major walkways are decorated.

Haunted Mansion Holiday: The mansion's Christmas decorations are based on Tim Burton's film "The Nightmare Before Christmas." The theme is implemented everywhere, from the entry lobby to the hitchhiking ghosts at the end — replacements that make this attraction Disneyland's most fun Christmas spot. Ride it twice to take it all in, and stop by again after dark to see the ghostly effect when candles flicker in every window.

it's a small world: This famous ride is exuberantly decorated for Christmas, and there's a Christmas music track. If you love the ride but hate the song, the holidays are the time to go.

More Holiday Themed Fun: The Jungle Cruise sets sail as the "Jingle" Cruise, and even the skipper's jokes are holiday-themed.

Christmas Fantasy Parade: The Disneyland Christmas parade features characters in holiday costume and the band decked out like a box full of tin soldiers. It runs between it's a small world and Town Square, along Main Street. Check the entertainment schedule when you arrive to find the parade times. The most crowded place to watch it is along Main Street, but it's also the most beautiful. You'll also find plenty of places to watch around the small world plaza.

Night Magic: Disneyland is always more magical after dark, but during the Christmas season staying past sunset is a must. Not only can you watch the holiday fireworks, but the castle puts on a periodic holiday light show that's bound to enchant you.

Fireworks: Thanks to their innovative fireworks technology, Disneyland can create a new show for every season and the Christmas holidays are no exception. And even though you're in sunny southern California, snow falls at the end. If you buy some Glow With the Show mouse ears, you can become part of the show, too. To get the best snowfall effect, check the map you get at the entrance to see the locations.

World of Color Season of Light: In Disney California Adventure, the popular World of Color water show takes on a holiday theme.

Santa: Santa and his elves set up shop at Disney California Adventure Park, near Grizzly Peak. They turn the Redwood Creek Challenge into a winter playground with games and outdoor fun for all. Of course, you can take pictures with Santa, and if you make Santa's nice list, he might tell you your secret elf name.

Candy Canes: This may be the biggest fuss over a candy can anywhere, and if you want one, you need to be prepared. The Candy Palace on Main Street, U.S.A. produces hand-made candy canes, starting right after Thanksgiving. They make only a few small batches a day, a few days a week. These confections are so popular that guests are limited to buying just two each, and you'll need to pick up a ticket to do that by going to the shop immediately after the park's opening time.

Candlelight Processional: The Processional is an old-fashioned Christmas pageant, with a celebrity narrator. It's very enjoyable, but a little hard to get good information about. Get the latest information about it on the last page of the Disneyland Christmas slideshow.

Plan Ahead for Disneyland at Christmas

Disneyland gets its biggest winter crowds over Thanksgiving weekend (fourth Thursday of November) and from December 24 through January 1. These tips will help you cope with those crowds and make the most of your visit.

Disneyland was once less crowded from December 1 through Christmas Eve, but that's changing. On a Sunday a week before Christmas, expect it to be as crowded as it is on a mid-August weekend. On a Friday afternoon in early December, it may be full but not packed. To see what the experts think this year's crowds will be like, check the crowd predictor calendar at isitpacked.com.

If you are planning to visit on one of the most crowded days, get there early. The City of Anaheim sets strict limits for how many people can be inside the park and they will stop letting people in when they reach that number. After that, they won't let more visitors in until someone else leaves.

No matter how big the crowds are, they are manageable if you plan ahead. These are some things to do:

  • Learn how to use Ridemax to avoid standing in line. While researching this article, it saved two hours in line, just at Space Mountain and Indiana Jones Adventure.
  • If you want to take the "Holiday Time at Disneyland" tour, reserve a month in advance at 714-781-4400.
  • Make reservations for Disneyland restaurants such as the Blue Bayou or California Adventure's Carthay Circle and Wine Country Trattoria up to a month and at least two weeks in advance by phone at 714-781-3463 or make a reservation online.