Disneyland at Christmas: What to Expect

A Guide to Disneyland at Christmas

Christmas Fantasy Parade at Disneyland
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.

More than 3,600 TripSavvy readers participated in a poll asking what they think of Disneyland at Christmas, with 31% saying they love it and 11% saying the decorations are great. Before you read on, take a photo tour of Disneyland at Christmas to get an idea of what Disneyland looks like during the holiday season.

However, 56% of people who took the poll said it's too busy during the holidays. To be more precise, it can be crazy busy, and crowd prediction calendars often say "Forget About It" for most of December. It can get so packed that Disneyland reaches maximum legal capacity and stops letting more visitors in until someone else leaves.

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. 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 sports snow-topped turrets and more than 80,000 lights. Elsewhere, don't expect something hanging from every tree branch and light pole, but all the major walkways are decorated.

Haunted Mansion: The mansion's Christmas decorations are based on Tim Burton's film "The Nightmare Before Christmas." They include changes 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 popular 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 sails as the "Jingle" Cruise and even the skipper's jokes are holiday-themed. Downtown Disney boasts a winter village with an ice skating rink.

Disney ¡Viva Navidad! With authentic Latino musicians, dancers, storytellers—and food—this holiday fiesta takes place on the streets of Disney California Adventure.

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 entrance you.

Fireworks: Disney creates a fireworks show, just for the season — and even though you're in sunny southern California, snow falls at the end. If you buy a pair of 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. Take pictures with Santa, and if you make Santa's nice list, you can discover your secret elf name.

Candy Canes: 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 only two each, and you'll need to pick up a ticket to do that by going to the shop right 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 Thanksgiving1 weekend and from Christmas Eve through New Year's Day. These tips will help you cope with those crowds and make the most of your visit.

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

No matter how big they are, the crowds 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 special "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.

    More Disneyland Magic

    When you go to Disneyland at Christmas, and you can start ticking off the items on this list of 8 things that must be on every Disneyland fan's bucket list. And if you're going to be in the area during the holidays, find out how they celebrate Christmas in Orange County.

    1 Thanksgiving is celebrated on the fourth Thursday of November.

    As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary admission for the purpose of researching this story. While it has not influenced this article, TripSavvy believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.