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Complete Guide to Holidays at Disneyland 2019

The Halloween decorations have been 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 quite a few trips to experience the Disneyland Holidays over the years.

Disneyland Holidays Castle and Walt

Not much major has changed in 2019, but there are always new food offerings, merchandise, and entertainment at Disneyland every year. Plus there is one major returning favorite this year that was on hiatus in 2018! Keep reading to find out what you need to know before you go to Disneyland during the holiday season in November and December 2019 and during the first week of January 2020.

The ultimate guide to Disneyland Holidays. Tips and tricks for managing the Christmas crowds, the best holiday food, and how to save money at Festival of Holidays. Plus, parades, fireworks, Cars Land decor, and Santa meet-and-greets. #DisneylandHolidays #DWKHolidays #Disneylandwithkids #HolidaysBeginHere #Disneyland #Christmas #wintertravel

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When Are the Holidays at Disneyland?

The Disneyland holiday season in 2019 officially runs from November 8, 2019 to January 6, 2020. 

This is the fourth year in a row that the celebration kicked off in time for the Veterans Day holiday weekend in early November. (If you are reading this guide in subsequent years and trying to plan your vacation, it’s likely now safe to say that this earlier Veterans Day weekend start date is here to stay!) And 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.

What to Do: Holiday Ride Overlays in Disneyland Park

Disneyland park has had three special ride overlays for the holiday season in previous years. Sadly, one of these favorites, the Jingle Cruise, was retired in 2017. I must admit that I will miss the corny fruitcake cokes.

But never fear – the other two ride overlays (which admittedly are more popular) have made a return this year. And a few more were added in Disney California Adventure Park a few years ago and will be back again (see more on that below). The Disneyland park offerings to know about include:

Haunted Mansion Holiday

Disneyland vs. Disney World Haunted Mansion

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. Haunted Mansion Holiday offers Fastpass, so plan accordingly to save time in what can otherwise be a very long standby line. Disneyland MaxPass may well be a smart investment if you want to avoid the long trek through a busy New Orleans Square to the Fastpass distribution kiosks.

“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 for exact times).

Small World Holiday at Disneyland

Like Haunted Mansion Holiday, it’s a small world Holiday offers Fastpass/Maxpass which is very necessary during the middle of the day and on busier park days. Early morning and late night visitors on reasonable 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, so expect crowd patterns and Fastpass availability to be very different!

What to Do: Holiday Ride Overlays in Cars Land in California Adventure

Disneyland Holidays - Maters Jingle Jamboree

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 turned 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 so I highly recommend them!

What to Do: Shows and Parades

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.

Disneyland Holidays - Christmas Fantasy Parade Santa

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?

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 finally got to see ¡Viva Navidad! for the first time last holiday season and must admit it exceeded 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.

Disneyland Holidays - Viva Navidad

Are you a fan of the World of Color nighttime shows in Disney California Adventure? You are in luck! While World of Color was closed during the 2018 holiday season, the popular show “World of Color – Season of Light” is back in 2019! The show features holiday music with Disney film classics all set on a backdrop of spraying water and dazzling light projections.

Holidays at Disneyland - World of Color Season of Light

Photo credit: Joshua Sudock/Disneyland Resort

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 and just as big as ever for its fourth year now in Disney California Adventure. 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, Navidad, Diwali, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa. The concert schedule is robust so be sure to check the times guide or the Disneyland app to see when shows will take place.

Holidays at Disneyland - Festival of the Holidays

Photo credit: Scott Brinegar/Disneyland Resort

The other the big draw for this festival is the food. Fans of food festivals like Disneyland’s Food and Wine Festival or Epcot Epcot Flower and Garden Festival will enjoy a holiday spin on that same tradition: the Festive Foods Marketplace. The marketplace features a dozen booths with holiday treats and drinks, including many specialities new for this year. I tried 9 different items during my two day visit last holiday season and was wowed by pretty much every one. My favorites included the shrimp and grits (of course – I’m Southern!), holiday stuffing mac n cheese, turkey slider with cranberry dressing, and hot cocoa macaron. Disney mixes up the menu a bit every year, so check out the newly-released 2019 foodie guide to the Festival of Holidays for the complete offerings.

Disneyland Holidays - California Adventure Festival of Holidays Foods

Disneyland Holidays - California Adventure Festival of Holidays Food Marketplaces

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, but it’s available to all guests now. The Sip and Savor pass comes with 8 tickets for any of the food, dessert, or non-alcoholic drink options at the Festive Food Marketplaces. It’s a great way to taste a wide variety of foods while saving money. It’s $56 for all guests or $51 for Annual Passholders (that’s $2 more than in 2018, for anyone keeping count of price increases!).

Disneyland Holidays - Festival of Holidays Sip and Savor Pass

I was also pleasantly surprised by the short waits for food – even at peak lunchtime hours. Disneyland’s Food & Wine Festival had substantially longer lines. Perhaps because there is so much else going on all over the parks for the holidays, it spreads the crowds more evenly. Whatever the reason for the short lines – go now before this festival is “discovered!”

Photos with Santa

Disneyland Holidays - Santa Meet and Greet

What holiday outing is complete without a chance to see the big man himself? You can sit on Santa’s knee in both parks this year, so he’s always available even if you don’t have park hopper tickets. In 2019, head to Critter Country in Disneyland park for a photo opp.

Disneyland Holidays - Santa at Redwood Creek

In Disney California Adventure, he’s over at Redwood Creek Challenge Trail where you can also decorate cookies and sip hot drinks. You can almost always find Photopass photographers at each location to get everyone in the holiday shot.

Holiday Decorations

A huge part of the magic of the holidays at Disneyland is the decor. In Disneyland, the most unique decor undoubtedly goes to the Mardi Gras colors and themed Christmas decor in New Orleans Square.

Disneyland Holidays - New Orleans Square

Always a favorite is the giant tree near the park entrance on Main Street, U.S.A., which was a new tree in 2018. 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 earlier this year, the castle has a slightly different snow-covered look in 2019!

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 humor.

Holidays at Disneyland - Cars Land at Night

Photo Credit: Paul Hiffmeyer/Disneyland Resort

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

Disneyland Holidays - Sleeping Beauty Winter Castle

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. More than any other time of year, the MaxPass system (which allows guests to book Fastpasses on their smartphone without running from ride to ride) is well worth it to avoid being held up in park choke points.

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 the discounts for the end of the year are some of the best ever. Use promo code TYKES10 for an extra $10 off all package stays of 2 nights or more.

Get Away Today Disneyland Discount Vacation Packages

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! (Remember you can purchase just one Maxpass for $15 for the day and access/share Photopass for your entire group.) 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. Watch out for all things Frozen: With Frozen 2 debuting on November 22, 2019, expect Anna, Elsa, Olaf and the crew to be front and center in 2019. If your kiddos just can’t let it go (sorry, I had to…), here are the places you can see all things Frozen:

  • Frozen – Live at the Hyperion show (DCA)
  • Anna, Elsa, & Olaf appearing in a Christmas Fantasy Parade (Disneyland)
  • Meet Anna & Elsa in Animation Academy (DCA)
  • As part of World of Color – Season of Light

5. 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 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!

Disneyland Holidays - Christmas Merchandise

Disneyland Holidays - Merchandise - Holiday Train

6. Treat yourself: And it goes without saying that you’ll be tempted by at least a few of the holiday treats. Outside of the Festival of Holidays Festive Food Marketplaces, churros definitely continue to be the food star of the season in 2019. Check out Disneyland’s complete 2019 holiday foodie guide for what this year has in store!

Disneyland Holidays - Peppermint Churro

Disneyland Holidays - Treats

7. 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. I stayed in Disney’s Grand Californian last year, and the tree and gingerbread house in the lobby are 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 also traditionally makes an appearance in the hotels later in the season, so watch for news of that.

Disneyland Holidays - Grand Californian Tree

Need even more Disneyland Christmas info? Check out these articles for more:

Want to celebrate the holidays in Florida instead? Luxe Recess has the scoop on Christmas at Walt Disney World and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.

Planning a Disneyland visit during the holidays? Tips and tricks for attractions like Haunted Mansion Holiday, Festival of Holidays, and Christmas holiday parades and fireworks. Plus the best seasonal food and decor, Santa and character meet and greets, and all the other festive things to do with and without kids at the Happiest Place on Earth in winter. #DisneylandHolidays #DWKHolidays #Disneylandwithkids #HolidaysBeginHere #Disneyland #Christmas #wintertravel

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