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 Christmas 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 2019 will most likely run from about the second or third weekend in November through the first Sunday in January, with a few of the festivities at Disney California Adventure extending a few more days (based on 2018 start and end dates — be sure to hop back for more details once they announce the 2019 dates)!
Crowds During Disneyland Christmas 2019
Most of November and the beginning of December are incredibly quiet in the parks. However, higher crowds are expected during Thanksgiving week and on Veterans Day. Don your holiday spirit early with visits before Thanksgiving week or during 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 on a weekend in early December. This can put parades and other events on a special schedule, so plan accordingly!
The weeks of Thanksgiving, Christmas and the New Year 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 the holidays at Disneyland. 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.
When Does Disneyland Decorate for Christmas?
The holiday decorations start going up in October, even before Halloween. The snow on Sleeping Beauty Castle is the first thing to arrive in late October. As soon as Halloween ends, the Halloween decorations begin to come down, and a flurry of Christmas decorations begin to appear, day by day. I'll let you in on a Frog Family secret: The period between Halloween time and Disneyland Christmas is one of the best times to visit the Disneyland Resort. The crowds are low, and the weather is usually mild. It's exciting to to see the transition between Halloween time and Disneyland Christmas time!
The start of Disneyland Christmas is usually about the second or third weekend in November, but it can vary slightly. If the first day of Disneyland Christmas begins on a Friday, the decorations are mostly complete for that Wednesday and Thursday leading up to it, with Christmas carols being played throughout Main Street U.S.A. and few trimmings being touched up before the official first day arrives. The festive foods and ride overlays will not be available until the official first day of the season, though, except for Haunted Mansion Holiday, which runs through both Halloween time and the Christmas season. So how and when does Disneyland decorate for Christmas with park guests about? Much of the decorating appears overnight when the park is closed. Each morning leading up to to holiday time is like Santa has magically visited overnight to leave new decorations while taking away bits of Halloween.
Disneyland has been decorating for Christmas since the very first Christmas the park was open in 1955. The parks have sure come a long way since the first few wreaths were hung and the sparse stands of garland dressed the castle! The first Christmas tree was placed in the Hub (instead of Town Square). Today, the Christmas season is breathtakingly beautiful at Disneyland with the twinkling lights, snowfall, a sprinkling of magic and décor that all guests can enjoy.
Disney California Adventure opens up the holiday celebrations with a cultural nod to various ways to celebrate Christmas, as well as many other winter holidays beyond Christmas. More holidays to share and new foods to try — hooray! The wintry celebrations are more seasonal than religious, although the Candlelight Processional in Disneyland is the exception to that. The Disneyland Christmas decorations bring festive fun and excitement into a time of year when the days are shorter and colder. All of the lights warm and brighten the otherwise dark evening hours and spread holiday cheer. Plus, we think it’s a great excuse to try all the festive foods!
What Can You Expect During the Disneyland Christmas Festivities?
You’ll find holiday decorations all around the Disneyland Resort. 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! Foodie froggies 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 usually available late October), making shopping merrier. Perhaps ‘tis the season to get some holiday shopping done!
Special Ride Overlays During Holidays at Disneyland 2019
Some of our favorite parts of Disneyland at Christmas time are 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 and catch one of the 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 thirty minutes throughout the evening after the 6:00 p.m. showing. “it’s a small world” has snowfall whenever the castle does, plus an extra flurry here and there, 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 2019 ends to remove the overlay. Haunted Mansion Holiday attracts much scarier wait times than the classic Haunted Mansion, so we recommend that you visit this ride in the first hour of opening or use FASTPASS to reduce the wait. Another fun tip: Jack and Sally greet 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 the Disneyland Christmas Celebration
You can find the big man himself at two locations. Santa Claus typically 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 at Disney California Adventure for the rest of the season. Santa also greets guests at Disneyland Resort hotels closer to Christmas.
Expected Entertainment During Disneyland Christmas
Holidays at Disneyland Park
A Christmas Fantasy Parade makes its return during Disneyland Christmas 2019, with Mickey, Minnie and a variety of Disney characters to celebrate the holidays alongside Santa Claus. Show times 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 will be back, and is the perfect backdrop for your annual holiday card — be sure to ask a PhotoPass photographer to add a little magic to some of your photos. In 2018, they put us in a snow globe! 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 during snowfall and the fireworks, 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 (snowfall is a bit farther back), 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 in years past this has happened around 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 some snowflakes! Snow also falls after fireworks. We recommend the Main Street U.S.A. (for extra projection) 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 cancelled 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 in their barbershop quartet selections. Goofy and his pals had a holiday dance party at Tomorrowland Terrace on select nights from 7:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m in 2018, and we are hopful they’ll return to rock around the Christmas tree again come Disneyland Christmas 2019!
Holidays at Disney California Adventure Park
Disney California Adventure is the place to be during the 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 and 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 frogtastic food offerings at the Festival of the Holidays, with several festival marketplaces offering delish dishes and delectable desserts from around the world. The Paradise Garden Grill gets a whole new menu, as well, during the Festival of Holidays, and restaurants throughout the parks sell special holiday treats.
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 in January 2020.
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 'n' 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 2019. 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 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.
Back in 2018, snow began to fall 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 loved the new addition of snowfall along the peaceful walkways.
We are thrilled that World of Color has finally arisen from the deep waters of refurbishment, so we expect the holiday version, World of Color — Season of Light, to return for Disneyland Christmas and the Festival of Holidays 2019. The holiday show is electrifyingly magical. There is usually a special World of Color New Year’s Eve countdown with fireworks on Dec. 31.
Dining During the Holidays at Disneyland 2019
If you are planning to visit Disneyland in 2019, 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! and World of Color.
Reservations open 60 days before Thanksgiving Day and fill up quickly. Practically every restaurant is offering a special seasonal dish, and some present a full spread. The Disneyland Hotel may offer its fall harvest buffet in the ballroom from noon to 6 p.m. again in 2019. This included carved roasted turkey breast, prime rib, homemade stuffing, sweet potato soufflé and so much more in years past. Yum!
There are Christmas dinners at the hotels and special New Years Eve celebrations that also fill up quickly throughout the Disneyland Resort, so set your calendar to make reservations 60 days in advance.
Fun Facts about the Holidays at Disneyland
- 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? We also spotted a menorah across from the stroller parking near The Little Mermaid ride.
- 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 were 3,500 colored lights, 1,500 Victorian-inspired ornaments and 100 faux candles on the 60-foot tall 2018 Disneyland Christmas tree! What will 2019 bring?
- 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 Christmas-y 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 also pumps holiday scents into Main Street during the holidays. We kept getting whiffs of pumpkin spice or perhaps gingerbread last 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 Disneyland Christmas 2019, 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. Hop in to enjoy it and bask in the glow of the beautiful Christmas tree, along with some of the delicious cookies, treats and beverages near the crackling fire. Perhaps you’ll even get a chance to tell Santa what you’d like for Christmas!
No matter how you choose to celebrate the holidays at Disneyland, expect to make magical holiday memories. What questions do you have for us about this year's event?
Related: Favorite Disneyland Holiday Treats