Winter at Disneyland isn't just a single season like it is elsewhere—from the time December hits until temperatures thaw out in the early spring, winter in the theme park is more like three mini seasons with the changing decorations and atmosphere.
One main perk of visiting this time of year is the lights after dark. Disneyland and California Adventure are their most magical after dark, but when days are longer in the summer, many visitors get worn out and leave before the sun sets. However, earlier darkness in the winter means you have a better chance of witnessing the nighttime lights.
Early Winter at Disneyland
December starts with a quiet few days, just after the Thanksgiving week rush. It's almost like the park stops to take a deep breath, but that lasts less than a week.
Around the end of the first week of December, Christmas holidays bring out the most elaborate decorations of the year.
Haunted Mansion Holiday continues with the theme of "Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas." At the "It's a Small World" ride the singing dolls put on traditional costumes, and the music changes to holiday songs.
Winter Holidays at Disneyland
If you're planning to go to Disneyland for the Christmas festivities, take time to find out what to expect from Disneyland at Christmas. Christmas week through New Year's weekend is the busiest of the entire year—in fact, that time of year is one of the worst times to go to Disneyland (along with summer and spring break) because of long lines and jostling crowds that can suck the magic right out of your visit.
On Christmas and New Year's Day, the parks usually reach full capacity. When that happens, local fire codes prohibit letting any more guests in, no matter where you are staying, what dinner reservations you have, or anything else. To avoid getting stuck outside, pick one park, get there when it opens, and stay inside until you're done for the day.
Late Winter at Disneyland
After New Year's and the first week of January, you might think Disneyland has turned into a ghost town—the crowds vanish. If you go then, you might not get to see all those festive decorations, but you can get a chance to meet Donald Duck — or your favorite character — without standing in line for hours first.
On the downside, you'll find more rides and attractions closed for repairs in January and February than at other times of the year. Haunted Mansion and the "It's a Small World" ride both close in early January to take down the holiday decorations.
It can get crowded again over the week that includes President's Day (the third Monday of February).
Disneyland Weather in Winter
California never gets too cold, no matter what the season. To get an idea of what it's like in winter and all year long, check the average Disneyland weather month by month.
Winter is California's rainy season. Disneyland doesn't close when it rains, and they don't give out passes for later just because it's a wet day. On the plus side, many of the rides are indoors, and you'll find even fewer people in line than usual.
What to Pack
Plan your outfit according to the short-range forecast, but bring a rain jacket, quick-drying clothing, and a change of socks, which are all good if it ends up being rainy but also if you plan to go on water rides like Splash Mountain and Grizzly River Run.
You'll walk many miles during your Disneyland day, so it's best to pack comfortable shoes that you have worn before and avoid dangling jewelry that can get caught in things and get lost. Try to keep your day bag as light as possible to help you keep from getting worn out from lugging it around.
Winter Travel Tips
- In spite of the crowds and high prices, some people like to visit Disneyland during its busiest time of year. If you're among them, you'll need to use every one of these tested and proven tips for spending less time in line.
- Prices are also high everywhere around Disneyland during the busy holiday time, but after the holidays, discounts are abundant, and Disneyland often offers special deals for Southern California residents or ticket specials for everyone.