The Halloween decorations are about to be packed away and the holiday decor will soon be unveiled at the Happiest Place on Earth. As much as I adore Halloween Time at Disneyland, the Christmas holiday season is perhaps even more magical. My family has been able to make many trips to experience the Disneyland Holidays over the years.
Everything at Disneyland has been quite different since the parks’ reopening, but the 2022 holiday season marks a return to more normal Disneyland operations (granted, of course that it’s a “new normal”). Last year brought back many old favorites, including larger scale offerings like the holiday parade, and this year promises to have even more. Of course, there are always new food offerings, merchandise, and entertainment at Disneyland every holiday season too.
Keep reading to find out what you need to know before you go to Disneyland during the holiday season in November and December 2022 and during the first week of January 2023.
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When Are the Holidays at Disneyland in 2022?
The Disneyland holiday season in 2022 officially runs from November 11, 2022 to January 8, 2023.
The celebration now officially always kicks off in time for the Veterans Day holiday weekend in early November. Never fear if you have an even-earlier November visit either because many of the decorations go up even before the official opening date of the holidays at Disneyland. In fact, the snow on the castle shows up before Halloween!
While many of the offerings in 2022 during the holiday season are familiar favorites from previous years, remember that Disneyland has made a lot of major permanent changes since its reopening last spring, including the introduction of a new cut-the-line program Disney Genie+ (replacing Fastpass and MaxPass) and some new tech like MagicBand+.
See my guide and tips for how to do Disneyland differently in 2022 so you are prepared for the logistics of the parks more generally.
What to Do: Holiday Ride Overlays in Disneyland Park
Disneyland park has two special ride overlays for the holiday season – both of which are very popular and truly immersive experiences. The Disneyland park offerings to know about are:
Haunted Mansion Holiday
Jack Skellington and his Nightmare Before Christmas pals take over the Mansion with their version of Halloween and Christmas mixed together. Haunted Mansion Holiday is a continuation of the overlay already in place from the Halloween season, so it’s already ready to for early November visitors with no interruption between seasons.
Plan ahead to save time in what can otherwise be a very long standby line. Haunted Mansion Holiday is a smart attraction to “rope drop” to skip longer lines later in the day. And now that the new Genie+ service is in place at Disneyland, it can be a smart investment to avoid long lines for this attraction and other popular choices. See my advanced tips for Genie+ at Disneyland to find out just how early in the day you need to select this attraction to get an optimal return time.
“it’s a small world” Holiday
Outside, the facade of this classic Disney ride is decorated with thousands of twinkling lights that are breathtaking at night. Inside, Christmas lights and decorations adorn every room and the children sing Christmas carols in a medley with the traditional “it’s a small world” song. In my opinion, the holiday version is better than the original! Be sure not to miss the projections and musical shows that run about every half hour on the facade at night (check the showtimes guides in the Disneyland app for exact times).
Like Haunted Mansion Holiday, “it’s a small world” Holiday is one of the attractions available with Disney Genie+. This service is an excellent option to cut the line which is very necessary during the middle of the day and on busier park days. Early morning visitors on lower crowd days, however, may be able to get on with minimal waits. But this ride is definitely much more popular during the holidays with the overlay (especially after dark!), so expect crowd patterns to be very different than they are for the standard version of the ride the rest of the year.
What to Do: Holiday Ride Overlays in Cars Land in California Adventure
Over in California Adventure, there are a few more ride overlays as well. In Cars Land, two rides have gotten holiday transformations. Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree is now Mater’s Jingle Jamboree and Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters turns into Luigi’s Joy to the Whirl.
These overlays are nowhere near as extensive as the ones in Disneyland and mostly just feature some decor and holiday music to help set the seasonal mood. But these are especially great attractions for toddlers and preschoolers at Disneyland with often very reasonable lines in the always amazing setting of a decorated Cars Land, so I highly recommend them!
What to Do: Shows, Parades, & Fireworks
Disneyland’s holiday parades and shows include several of the classics that have been going strong at Disneyland for years. Returning is “A Christmas Fantasy” Parade which runs in the daytime in Disneyland park – usually twice daily.
Characters like Goofy, Pluto, Anna & Elsa, Buzz & Woody, and several Disney princesses and princes ride on the holiday themed floats. And it’s all capped off with Santa himself closing the parade. The parade is always popular, so plan to camp out at least a half hour or more for prime seating on its route from it’s a small world to Town Square at the end of Main Street U.S.A. (the reverse route is used for the second showing – ask cast members for details on the route for the showing you plan to see).
After the sun goes down, the Believe… in Holiday Magic fireworks show is another can’t-miss. Projections appear on the castle and Main Street USA. And it all ends with a magical snowfall. Who said there’s no such thing as winter weather to California? The fireworks will only be offered on weekends this 2022 holiday season – a change from last year.
Over in California Adventure is ¡Viva Navidad! – part parade and part street festival. It is part of an expanded celebration that debuted in 2016, Festival of the Holidays, which is also making a return (more on that below). I have now gotten to see ¡Viva Navidad! many times the last few years and it always exceeds my every expectation. The show is led by the Three Caballeros and features Mexican and Brazilian dancers and music. It’s a joyful celebration that had everyone dancing and singing along.
And in 2022 the other nighttime spectacular – World of Color – Season of Light finally makes its triumphant return to California Adventure. This evening show uses water and projections to light up Pixar Pier and features holiday music and favorite Disney animated classics.
Last but not least, California Adventure also hosts “Mickey’s Happy Holidays.” This show is a procession of dancing Disney and Pixar characters marching with the Holiday Toy Drummers. Check the app for showtimes.
Festival of Holidays
The debut of Festival of Holidays in 2016 was a resounding success, resulting in a major expansion the past few years. It’s back in 2022 and just as big as ever over in Disney California Adventure park.
Festival of Holidays celebrates diverse cultures from around the world, with musical performances, crafts, dancing, and FOOD – lots of it. Expect to see nods to Christmas, Diwali, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Three Kings Day. The concert schedule is robust so be sure to check the times guide or the Disneyland app to see when shows will take place. Last year, one of the new character additions to Paradise Gardens was Mirabel from “Encanto.” That movie has now become a major hit so she’ll be back again in 2022.
The other the big draw for this festival is the food. Fans of food festivals like Disneyland’s Food and Wine Festival or the Epcot Flower and Garden Festival will enjoy a holiday spin on that same tradition: the Festival Foods Marketplace.
The marketplace features about a dozen booths with holiday treats and drinks. During the winter months, Disney usually experiments with a lot of comfort foods in addition to treats, making for a lot of good eating! My favorites in previous years were the shrimp and grits, holiday stuffing mac n cheese, turkey slider with cranberry dressing, and hot cocoa macaron.
Disney mixes up the menu a bit every year, check out the 2022 foodie guide to the Festival of Holidays on the Disney Parks Blog for the complete offerings.
While visitors can certainly order the food items a la carte, I am a big fan of the “Sip and Savor” pass. Historically, this offering was only available to Annual Passholders (now known as Magic Keys), but it expanded to all guests a few years ago. The Sip and Savor pass comes with 8 tickets for any of the food, dessert, or non-alcoholic drink options at the Festival Food Marketplaces. It’s a great way to taste a wide variety of foods while saving money. (Pricing for 2022 has not been released yet but in 2021, it was $56 for all guests or $51 for Magic Keyholders.)
Photos with Santa
What holiday outing is complete without a chance to see the big man himself? Santa will be available for photo opps in Redwood Creek Challenge Trail in Disney California Adventure park this year. You can be sure to find Photopass photographers at this location to get everyone in the holiday shot. Exactly how the photos will be arranged is TBD (last year they were distanced), so stay tuned for details.
A huge part of the magic of the holidays at Disneyland is the decor. In Disneyland park, the most unique decor and my personal favorite undoubtedly goes to the Mardi Gras colors and themed Christmas decor in New Orleans Square.
Always a favorite is the giant tree near the park entrance on Main Street, U.S.A. and the hub decorated in poinsettias. Finally, Sleeping Beauty castle decorated with a winter overlay that lights up at night is a spectacle to behold. With the new darker blue colored castle turrets that went up in 2019, the castle has a slightly different snow-covered look!
Over in Disney California Adventure, Buena Vista Street and Carthay Circle get festive. But the crown jewel is in California Adventure in Cars Land. Neon and holiday lights combine for true holiday awe at night. Plus, the tire themed wreaths and decorations add a whimsical flair in keeping with the movie’s endearing sense of humor.
Check out this a deeper dive into the Christmas decorations at Disneyland from This Crazy Adventure Called Life.
Tips & Tricks for the Holidays at Disneyland
If you are planning a visit to Disneyland during the holiday season, here are a few additional tips to make the most of your visit.
1. Prepare for crowds: The Holiday season at Disneyland is always popular, so plan accordingly. If you are expecting to go on a crowded day, read up on my best line Disneyland avoidance tips and on things to do on a crowded Disneyland day. And seriously consider budgeting extra for Disney Genie+ (the successor to Fastpass and Maxpass) which will surely help with lines.
2. Don’t pay full price for your tickets: This tip is true all year round, but who couldn’t particularly use a little extra cash in your pocket around the holidays? The bottom line is that I don’t recommend buying your tickets from Disney. Why? You’ll pay full price! I have a partnership with the largest seller of Disneyland vacations, Get Away Today, where you can buy any multi-day tickets or Disneyland vacation packages at a discount – and usually there are some pretty good discounts around the end of the year, especially on Black Friday. Use promo code TYKES10 for an extra $10 off all package stays of 2 nights or more.
3. Maximize Photopass: There are so many photo opportunities during the holidays. If there is ever a time to spring for Photopass, this is it! (Photopass is included in the $25+ cost of Genie+.) Some of the best spots for photos include: Cars Land sign, in front of Sleeping Beauty Winter Castle, in front of its a small world holiday, by the tree on Main Street USA in Disneyland, and anywhere you see a holiday costumed character!
4. Make time for shopping: The merchandise at Disney is always pretty amazing, but Disney goes all out for holidays and special events. You can always find some special holiday gifts for Disney fans on your list. World of Disney in Downtown Disney is always one of the best places to go to shop. I recommend doing this on your arrival or departure day when you don’t have a park ticket to maximize your time in the parks. And when you are in Disneyland park, be sure to check out the still newish Plaza Point Holiday Shoppe at the end of Main Street USA that features unique holiday gifts year round.
5. Treat yourself: And it goes without saying that you’ll be tempted by at least a few of the holiday treats. The Festival of Holidays Festive Food Marketplaces are teeming with options, but there are more choices all over the parks. The perennial favorite the past few years seem to be flavored seasonal churros so keep an eye for this year’s food innovations.
6. Don’t forget the hotels and Downtown Disney: Last but certainly not least, it’s not only the parks that get a holiday makeover during the holiday season. Downtown Disney has festive decor and the hotels really go all out too. The tree and gingerbread house in the lobby of the Grand Californian are always a sight to behold. The hotel also has a pop up sweet shop with additional holiday goodies. Both the Disneyland Hotel and Disney’s Paradise Pier will have special decor as well. Santa will be back to all three on-property hotels for visits too.
Editor’s Note: Disneyland hosted an after hours event, Disney Merriest Nights, in 2021 for a few select evenings in November and December. Note that this event is not returning in 2022.
Need even more Disneyland Christmas info? Check out these articles for more:
- Best Things to Do and See at Disneyland Holidays
- Top Disneyland Holidays Picks for Families with Young Kids
Headed to Walt Disney World for the holiday season? Check out this guide to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party for all the Florida holiday fun.
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