Our tadpoles' wish lists for Santa always start with "VACATION TO DISNEYLAND!" We can't blame them, and we certainly won't complain. Falling right on the heels of Halloween Time, Disneyland Resort transforms from a fall festival to a winter wonderland for the holiday festivities. After reading this Guide to the Hoppiest Holidays at Disneyland, you'll want to add Disneyland tickets on your holiday wish list too!
The Frog Family loves hoppin’ around the many Christmas trees at the Merriest Place on Earth. We know the best times to visit Disneyland and beat the crowds without missing any of the fun. Holidays at Disneyland 2018 runs Nov. 9, 2018 through Jan. 6, 2019, with the festivities at Disney California Adventure extending through Jan. 8, 2019.
Crowds During Holidays at Disneyland 2018
Most of November and the beginning of December are incredibly quiet in the parks. However, higher crowds are expected during Thanksgiving week. Don your holiday spirit early with visits before Thanksgiving week or during the last days of November through the first two weeks of December for lowest anticipated crowds. Expect Fridays and weekends to be busier than Monday through Thursday. The Candlelight Ceremony and Processional, a musical retelling of the story of Christmas, is likely to be held twice nightly Dec. 1 and 2. This can put parades and other events on a special schedule, so plan accordingly!
The weeks of Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year holidays are very busy. New Year's Eve is one of the busiest days of the entire year! Still, that doesn't mean you shouldn't experience Holidays at Disneyland 2018. Just make sure to adjust expectations for your time in the parks and expect longer delays in parking, security and lines. Even if you need to visit during more crowded weeks, you are in for a merry good time. The great news is that during busy times, the parks are open for longer hours and offer more entertainment. You can see Disneyland park hours and show times on our crowd calendar.
What Can You Expect During Holidays at Disneyland 2018?
You’ll find holiday decorations all around the Disneyland Resort. They start going up around Nov. 1 (some decorations like snow on Sleeping Beauty’s Castle go up about a week before Halloween!) and are in place around Nov. 8-9. It’s common to hear Christmas carols playing on Main Street several days before the official start of the season! The characters are all dressed up in their holiday attire for special seasonal photo opportunities. Holiday music will entertain you, and certain attractions will be especially festive or even covered in snow! Foodies love that special holiday treats are available during the holidays — we certainly can’t resist! Holiday time also brings seasonally-themed items into the stores (merchandise is available late October), making shopping merrier. Perhaps ‘tis the season to get some holiday shopping done!
Holidays at Disneyland 2018 Rides
Some of our favorite parts of the Holidays at Disneyland is the special holiday attraction experiences. Certain rides receive a festive makeover to really get your frog family into the spirit of the season.
Be sure to take a trip on "it’s a small world" Holiday. The seasonal overlay of this Disneyland classic features special decorations and music to get everyone in the spirit. The dolls add “Jingle Bells” and “Deck the Halls” to their traditional song list. You'll definitely want to take time to bask in the glow of the festively lit exterior at night.
Hop tip for Holidays at Disneyland 2018: "it's a small world" offers FASTPASS distribution during the holidays this year. We highly recommend taking advantage, as lines are significantly longer than the rest of the year. FASTPASS Distribution is located near Matterhorn Bobsleds. The line does shrink a little during the Christmas Fantasy Parade.
You'll definitely want to take time to bask in the glow of the festively lit exterior at night and catch one of the lighting and projection shows. Be in front of "it's a small world" for the awe-inspiring nightly lighting of the exterior lights with a projection show and music — check the entertainment calendar or ask a cast member for the time, but expect the first one at about 5:15 p.m. (but sometimes at 5:00 p.m.) and then every half hour on the hour and half hour throughout the night. “it’s a small world” has snowfall whenever the castle does, plus maybe an extra snowfall, so be sure to ask a cast member for snowfall times so you do not miss it! While viewing the magical exterior requires special timing, you can ride anytime — don’t worry, the inside is the same, day or night.
Jack Skellington and his crew take over the Haunted Mansion throughout the holiday season. The Nightmare Before Christmas Haunted Mansion Holiday overlay takes about two and half weeks to deck the spooky halls of the Haunted Mansion. The good news is that it is in place for Halloween Time and brimming with scary Tim Burton-esque Christmas spirit. Be sure to check out the gingerbread house featured in the ride; it’s different each year! Haunted Mansion will close for another few weeks after Holidays at Disneyland 2018 end to remove the overlay. Haunted Mansion Holiday attracts much scarier wait times than the classic Haunted Mansion, so we recommend you visit this ride in the first hour of opening or use FASTPASS to reduce the wait. Another fun tip: Jack and Sally are greeting guests in New Orleans Square all through the holiday season. It’s a joy meeting these unique characters! Jack is delightfully “horrible.”
Meeting Santa During Holidays at Disneyland 2018
You can find the big man himself at two locations. Santa Claus greets guests at Critter Country in Disneyland Park and at the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail area, along with his mischievous elves, at Disney California Adventure. After Christmas Eve, Santa must hop on his sleigh, so Santa Goofy takes over for at Disney California Adventure for the rest of the season. Santa also greets guests at Disneyland Resort hotels closer to Christmas.
Holidays at Disneyland 2018 Entertainment
Holidays at Disneyland Park
A Christmas Fantasy Parade makes its return during Holidays at Disneyland 2018, with Mickey, Minnie and a variety of Disney characters to celebrate the holidays alongside Santa Claus. Showtimes are typically 3:30 p.m. and 6 p.m. but can vary the week of Christmas, so be sure to the check the entertainment guide. Sleeping Beauty’s Winter Castle is back and the perfect backdrop for your annual holiday card. Catch snowfall during the Wintertime Enchantment at Sleeping Beauty’s Winter Castle at 7:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. each day and immediately following the "Believe … in Holiday Magic" fireworks show. Pro tip: Snow does not fall right in front of the castle. We recommend hanging back near the Jolly Holiday Bakery and Plaza Inn or in the middle of main Street U.S.A., which offers projection on the buildings as well as a view of the castle. Pick a spot with a nice castle view. You can view the fireworks and enjoy the snowfall that follows at four locations: the castle, Main Street U.S.A., “it’s a small world,” and Rivers of America. If you need help finding the correct viewing area, just follow the snowflakes on the park map.
You can encounter Snowfall along Rivers of America closer to New Orleans Square in the evenings. Times may vary, but may be 5:50, 6:50 and 7:50 p.m. on nights without Fantasmic! The Jambalaya Jazz play from a raft on Rivers of America, and when they get to White Christmas, be ready for snowfall! Snow also falls after fireworks. We recommend the Main Street U.S.A. or hub location to view the dramatic castle lighting as well as the snowfall. There are multiple snowfalls near “it’s a small world” at the same time as castle snowfall and after fireworks. If fireworks get canceled due to wind or weather, the snow falls in place of the fireworks show.
You can expect other musical entertainment around Disneyland. The Dickens Yuletide Band performs throughout the day along Main Street U.S.A. The Dapper Dans are likely to include holiday songs to their barbershop quartet selections. Goofy and his pals have a holiday dance party at Tomorrowland Terrace select nights from 7:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.
Holidays at Disney California Adventure Park
Disney California Adventure is the place to be this holiday season. There are decorations throughout the park, including Buena Vista Street and Cars Land. Every address along Route 66, including Flo's V8 Cafe, Fillmore's Taste-In, Cozy Cone Motel, Luigi's Casa della Tires, gets a holiday makeover. Two Cars Land rides get seasonal overlays — Luigi’s Joy to the Whirl and Mater’s Jingle Jamboree! There are also fantastic food offerings at the Festival of the Holidays.
This can't-miss celebration will delight you with diverse cultural celebrations, including the popular ¡Viva Navidad! Holiday street fiesta and Princess Elena’s Musical Grand Arrival. Enjoy lively Mexican music, face painting, storytelling, crafts, festive foods, photo ops with favorite characters and tasty Mexican specialties. Three Kings Day, a traditional festival celebrated in Mexico, Central and South America, will run Jan. 3 to 9 in early 2019.
Our holiday tip for this park is to know where to stand to watch the ¡Viva Navidad! dancers along with the Three Caballeros, Mickey and Minnie. For a front row, straight-on view of the float, you'll want to stand near the Paradise Gardens area, halfway between the Jumping Jellyfish ride and the Silly Symphony swings on the water side of the street (across from the middle entrance to Paradise Gardens). Consult the Entertainment Guide for show times and get in place about 15 minutes early. There is a better spot to be front and center for Elena’s Musical Grand Arrival. Get in place with your back to the Jumpin’ Jellyfish ride, across from the entrance to the Viva Navidad main entrance to Paradise Gardens (across from Goofy’s Sky School). Elena’s float stops right there and you can see her and the dancers perfectly. Look for a taped line on the ground and stand just behind that.
During the Festival of Holidays you can typically decorate cookies at Treats for Santa (for a fee) or do free crafts related to many holidays including Hanukkah, Christmas, Diwali, Kwanzaa and Navidad. Your little princesses can also design a tiara from Elena of Avalor. There are some interesting meet-and-greets to find throughout the parks as well. Chip and Dale are in Redwood Creek awaiting acorn gifts. In the Paradise Gardens festival, you can meet Goofy, Mickey, Minnie and the Three Caballeros. Elena also greets her guests in that area.
You can count on the residents of Radiator Springs to be decorating again for Holidays at Disneyland 2018. Be sure to experience the ride layovers—Mater’s Jingle Jamboree and Luigi’s Joy to the Whirl. At dusk, check out the Cars Land lighting. There is a nightly Christmas tree lighting on Buena Vista Street. Even the Red Car Trolley News Boys have donned Santa Hats and have gotten into the holiday spirit.
Along the Festival corridor and near the entrance to Paradise Pier, keep a lookout for the highly entertaining toy drummers. Their show is short, sweet and definitely worth catching. There are stages with live entertainment from such acts as Mostly Kosher, Blue13 Dance Company, The Sound, Mariachi Divas and Phat Cat Swinger.
You may notice that there is no World of Color on the holiday entertainment schedule yet. World of Color is undergoing a refurbishment and is expected to return some time winter 2018-2019. But we do have exciting news you can’t yet find on any Disneyland site, app or entertainment guide! New this year, snow falls in Disney California Adventure every 20 to 30 minutes after dark near the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail. The area is decorated for the holidays and we love the new addition of snowfall.
Dining During Holidays at Disneyland 2018
If you are planning to visit Holidays at Disneyland 2018, especially around Thanksgiving or the school winter break, expect heavier crowds. If you plan to eat at any table service restaurants in the parks, Downtown Disney or the Disneyland Resort hotels, we recommend making reservations up to 60 days in advance through the Disney Dining Reservations System. There are dining plans that offer preferred viewing for Fantasmic!
Reservations open 60 days before Thanksgiving Day. Practically every restaurant is offering a special seasonal dish and some presenting a full spread. The Disneyland Hotel offers its fall harvest buffet in the ballroom from noon to 6 p.m. There will be carved roasted turkey breast, prime rib, homemade stuffing, sweet potato soufflé and so much more. Yum!
Fun Facts about the Holidays at Disneyland 2018
- You can typically find the Menorah and Hanukkah decorations in the window of Julius Katz & Sons on Buena Vista Street in California Adventure. There is usually a menorah in a second-story window on Main Street USA. Can you find it?
- Enjoy Hanukkah music throughout the Festival of Holidays as well as Mater’s take on the dreidel song (“Oh, tractor, tractor, tractor, I love to watch ‘em spin; and when they get all tired, they stop and then I win”).
- There are 3,500 color lights, 1,500 Victorian-inspired ornaments, and 100 faux candles on the 60-feet-tall Disneyland Christmas tree!
- The Carthay Circle Christmas tree in Disney California Adventure is nearly 50 feet tall! It's decorated with vintage-style ornaments.
- Each park has a tree lighting at 4:55 p.m.
- Disneyland pumps Christmasy smells into a treat section of “it’s a small world” during the holidays and a gingerbread aroma into Haunted Mansion Holiday. Note yummy smells that accompany snowfall as well.
- “it’s a small world” Holiday glows with over 50,000 lights and video projections.
- Disney ¡Viva Navidad! at California Adventure is an authentic Latino street fiesta, featuring musicians, dancers and storytellers.
- Disneyland pumps Christmas peppermint scents into Main Street during the holidays. We keep getting whiffs of pumpkin spice this year!
- Historically, 1.4 miles of ribbon have gone into making bows in the parks each year!
- During seasons of Christmas past, more than 79,000 ornaments have been used to decorate Main Street! Perhaps this year there will be even more?
- If you are staying at one of the resort hotels during Holidays at Disneyland 2018, you can plan ahead for the personalized holiday in-room celebrations and decorations to make your trip extra special.
- Disney's Grand Californian Hotel lobby hosts a giant gingerbread replica of the hotel created with over 500 pounds of gingerbread, and 60 gallons of frosting and icing.
No matter how you choose to celebrate the Holidays at Disneyland 2018, it promises to make magical holiday memories. What questions do you have for us about this year's event?
Related: Favorite Disneyland Holiday Treats