If you are visiting Disneyland in spring or summer 2018, get ready for all things Pixar to take over the parks. Pixar Fest officially started on April 13, 2018 in both Disneyland park and Disney California Adventure. Pixar Fest celebrates favorite Pixar characters with a brand new fireworks show, two returning but updated parades, lots of character meet-and-greets, special food and merchandise, and a ton of extra surprises.
I just attended the press preview day and grand opening day of Pixar Fest to bring you the very first look at what you can expect! Here’s your total guide to the event, chock full of tips and with videos throughout. Learn what you can’t miss as well as what you can skip if you have limited time. Plus, a sneak peek at what’s coming at Pixar Pier later this summer as Pixar Fest continues with a new phase of highly anticipated Pixar openings.
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Pixar Fest Basics
When: April 13-September 3, 2018.
Where: Pixar Fest is happening in both Disneyland parks in Anaheim, California: Disneyland and Disney California Adventure as well as in Downtown Disney.
What: Pixar Fest is a celebration of Pixar characters and movies all over the Disneyland Resort, focused on friendship which is a central theme in many Pixar classics. The core pieces of the celebration are two parades and a new fireworks show, but there are a lot of Pixar extras popping up all over both parks as well.
One important note: just don’t confuse Pixar Fest with Pixar Pier. Pixar Pier is the name of the soon-to-be transformed area of Disney California Adventure (that used to be Paradise Pier – yes, the number of P’s is overwhelming). Pixar Pier opens on June 23, 2018 and its new additions will join the Pixar Fest celebration, but the two aren’t exactly one and the same. Pixar Pier will include the Incredicoaster (formerly California Screamin’), an updated Mickey’s Fun Wheel, the already-existing Toy Story Mania, and several new themed Pixar neighborhoods along the pier area in Disney California Adventure.
“Together Forever – A Pixar Nighttime Spectacular” Fireworks
The highlight and can’t miss attraction of Pixar Fest is undoubtedly the new fireworks show, Together Forever – A Pixar Nighttime Spectacular.
In addition to the fireworks, the show incorporates projection technology that can be seen from four major areas in the park: Sleeping Beauty Castle, the Rivers of America, “it’s a small world” and Main Street, U.S.A.
Expect to see major appearances by characters from the following Pixar movies: Coco, Toy Story, Up, Inside Out, Monsters, Inc., Cars, and the Incredibles. Brief flashes every other Pixar Movie from the Good Dinosaur to A Bug’s Life to Brave can be spotted if you look closely.
The show has two special flyovers that really stand out: Buzz Lightyear taking flight to open the show and the house and balloons from Up near the closing. And a special effect from Coco kind of steals the show too.
There are no Fastpasses or dining packages to secure reserved viewing areas for Together Forever. If you absolutely must get a prime “seat” for this event, that means a little pre-planning and strategizing is required! Because of the projections being in so many places, there are lots of good vantage points so I wouldn’t stress too much about finding the perfect spot. In fact, each of the locations have unique effects so you can really see the show multiple times and have a different experience in each one.
Trips With Tykes Tip: The Sleeping Beauty Castle area viewing area is certainly the most-sought after, but probably not worth the crowds and long waits if you have young children when there are so many other great places to watch it.
I watched from about two thirds of the way down Main Street USA (closer to the castle). I loved being able to see both the castle as well as the projections on the facades of the buildings of Main Street. Highly recommended!
Paint the Night Parade
Paint the Night was launched at Disneyland in May 2015 for Disneyland’s 60th anniversary. It has been on hiatus since the 2016 holiday season but is back for Pixar Fest. It has a new home in Disney California Adventure.
While the parade has a number of non-Pixar characters in it, Pixar plays a major role. Original floats and characters that have returned include ones from Cars, Monster’s Inc., Finding Nemo, and Toy Story. Look for a brand new float featuring the Incredibles in June, timed to coincide around or near the release of Incredibles 2 and Pixar Pier’s opening.
Having now seen Paint the Night in its original run and now as part of Pixar Fest, I can honestly say it is one of Disney’s best. I’m not much of a parade and show person (I like the rides), but even I would say it’s worth seeing. Probably even more than once. So that’s saying something!
For the best views for this nighttime show, Disneyland offers dining packages that include vouchers for reserve viewing areas. These meals are pricey and require pre-booking well in advance due to demand. But that might beat camping out for a parade for hours if your family considers this a must-see. Dining packages include:
- Carthay Circle: 4 course prix fix dinner (starting at $99 for adults; $45 for children ages 3-9)
- Wine Country Trattoria: 3 course prix fixe lunch or dinner (lunch starting at $38 for adults; $21 for children ages 3 to 9; dinner starting at $49 for adults; $25 for children ages 3 to 9)
- Sonoma Terrace: Reception with charcuterie tray + boxed truffles served with wine, beer, and non-alcoholic beverages ($79 per person)
If a dining package isn’t in your budget, your best bet for getting a good view is good old fashioned camping out. The good news is that the DCA parade route is long, stretching from Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT!, through Hollywood Land, past Carthay Circle, then turning right at Ariel’s Undersea Adventure, and ending past Paradise Gardens near the Silly Symphony Swings.
Pixar Play Parade
The Pixar Play Parade is the second of the two parades making a return as part of Pixar Fest. The Pixar Play Parade has run on and off in Disney California Adventure for many years, but now is in Disneyland Park. The Pixar Play Parade is a colorful daytime procession that I’ve always found perfect for toddlers, preschoolers, and younger kids at Disneyland who maybe can’t stay up for an evening show.
RELATED: 20 Tips for Disneyland with Toddlers
And it’s even better for 2018! Brand new for Pixar Fest is the famed Pixar lamp and yellow ball leading the parade’s opening, along with Russell, Dug, Kevin, and Carl Fredricksen from Up. Joy, Sadness, & Bing Bong from Inside Out have joined the parade too on a colorful float all their own.
Trips With Tykes Tip: Check Disneyland’s schedule for show times, but the parade should be running in the late afternoon, sometimes twice a day and not always in the same direction!
If you want prime seating for the Pixar Play Parade, Disneyland is offering a dining package from Plaza Inn that guarantees a reserved viewing area – right in front of Plaza Inn near the hub. Since I’m usually not a huge parade watcher personally, I always question whether these packages are really “worth it.” This dining package is definitely one of the more reasonably-priced ones though, at $39.99+tax for adults and $24.99+tax for children ages 3-9. That said, if you only have a single dining package in your budget, I’d probably recommend splurging on one of the Paint the Night packages over the one for Pixar Play Parade, especially with older kids.
Pixar Fest Food
Disneyland never misses a chance to unveil new food offerings at all their special events. Pixar Fest is certainly no exception! There are tons of new menu items all over both parks. And because they are all inspired by or shaped like Pixar character favorites, they are almost too cute to eat. Almost. (I ate a lot of them!)
The complete menu continues to evolve. Check out this foodie guide from the Disney Parks Blog for a sampling of many of the options. And be sure to watch this video to get a quick and easy overview of even more items straight from some Disney chefs!
Here are some of my personal favorites to save your cash and your calories for:
Alien Macarons (Alien Pizza Planet): Big enough to share with a purple filling and a slightly tart lemonish filling deeper inside. Cutest choice on the Pixar Fest menu!
Pixar Lemon-Raspberry Cake (Plaza Inn, Pacific Wharf Café and Paradise Garden Grill): Definitely for anyone with a sweet tooth (guilty) and just so colorful you can’t resist.
Tortitas de Papa con Queso (Paradise Garden Grill): Coco-inspired crispy potato cakes with Oaxaca Cheese, ranchero salsa, golden rice, and pickled onion salad. A surprise hit for sure!
Pesto Pasta (Alien Pizza Planet): Gemelli pasta tossed in a spinach and miso pesto with smoky bacon, sweet peas, and Parmesan. I’m not normally a pesto fan, but this was surprisingly delicious and not overpowering.
Churros (Multiple locations): There are many new churros to celebrate Pixar Fest right now. I tried THREE of them in a single day just to be able to report to my churro-loving readers what is worth the money. The surprise hit? The Carrot Cake Churro rolled in cinnamon sugar with raisin-carrot cream cheese frosting. Find it at the New Orleans Square Churro cart next to Haunted Mansion for $5.75.
I also tried the Cocoa “Coco” Churro with rich chocolate powder, vanilla bean and salted cinnamon sugar served with a spiced, Mexican chocolate dipping sauce ($5.75, Frontierland Churro Cart) as well as the Up-inspired Lemon Churro with lemon sugar and multi-colored fruity cereal ($5.25, Town Square Churro Cart on Main Street USA). Both interesting, but I found both too sweet. Let me know what you think if you’ve sampled them!
Pixar Fest Merchandise
Disney always unveils new merchandise for each special event too. Just like the food, the merch is CUTE!
The hottest item so far is the Sully premiere souvenir popcorn bucket ($20) that clips into a matching Mike Wazowksi sipper cup. Also flying of the shelves is the Alien Light Up Sipper complete with a claw ($14.99), which is similar to the Beauty and the Beast Rose Light Up sipper that was such a hit a little over a year ago.
Mickey ears, with two Pixar character pals on each of the ears, are a fun twist on a classic. So are mis-matched socks. Look for Pixar pal pairings like Mike & Sully, Russell & Dug, and more.
I also fell for the Pixar charm bracelets. They are sold as a set of two and the charms are then sold in pairs featuring Pixar friends like Sully and Boo from Monsters, Inc. and Lightning McQueen and Mater from Cars.
Trips With Tykes Tip: Some of the Pixar merchandise can be found in the larger stores like the Emporium on Main Street USA in Disneyland, Five and Dime on Buena Vista Street, and World of Disney in Downtown Disney. But if you really want to get the obscure Pixar stuff, head to Knick Knacks, the store located across from Cove Bar leading into what will eventually be Pixar Pier.
Here are a few more photos of the merchandise offerings so you can plan your souvenir purchases.
Many Other Special Touches to Look for During Pixar Fest
When I first heard about Pixar Fest, I thought it was really just going to be all about the two parades and the new fireworks show, at least until Pixar Pier opens in June. Certainly those three are plenty for many guests. Since I rarely go out of my way to see parades or evening shows, I must admit I was a bit skeptical.
I honestly did not expect the huge variety of offerings Disney and Pixar put together for the event. I was blown away by all the extras. And maybe even a little exhausted trying to cover them all! Nearly every nook any cranny of both parks have been touched in some way by Pixar magic. Here are quite a few – but not all – of these extras to look out for as you plan your Disneyland vacation time:
Pixar Character Meet & Greets: A rotating cast of Pixar characters (Mr. & Mrs. Incredible, Russell and Dug from Up, Flik & Atta from Bug’s Life, and Woody & Buzz from Toy Story) meet and greet guests at Paradise Gardens at the back of DCA. This is definitely a good reason to get Disneyland’s Maxpass so you can get the amazing Photopass shots with the colorful background from this location. Look for roaming characters as well – I spotted both Sully from Monsters Inc. and Jessie from Toy Story.
New Pixar Photo Opps: There are a number of other Pixar-themed photo opportunities with all the new decor. Look for the Buzz and Woody themed cars at the entrance of Cars Land by the sign (Photopass photographers are here regularly). I also loved the similarly themed wall in Cars Land and a new animation wall insides Knick Knacks.
Pixar -Themed Monorails: Two of Disneyland’s monorails now have Pixar themed overlays – one for the Incredibles and one for Finding Nemo.
Alien Pizza Planet: Pixar has taken over Redd Rockett’s Pizza Port in Disneyland’s Tomorrowland. The adorable little green aliens from Toy Story are officially in control. The overlay and menu changes are more extensive than I anticipated, making it a definite improvement of a restaurant that has been ailing a bit in recent years.
Pixar Shorts film festival: Pixar has made dozens of amazing short films over the years. You can catch up on favorites like Lava and For the Birds in a rotating show at Sunset Showcase Theater in Hollywood Land in Disney California Adventure.
The Pixarmonic Orchestra: This performing group was my absolute favorite and surely the surprise hit of them all. This band uses weird and wacky instruments to perform really entertaining but highly skilled takes on Pixar music. I saw the premiere performance and the crowd loved it so much they gave them a standing ovation! Time lunch or snack break at Paradise Gardens in DCA so you can sit down and take in the full show.
Pixar Music Everywhere: Not to be left out, a lot of other regular Disneyland performing groups have added “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” from Toy Story to their regular set lists. I saw the Dappers Dans on Main Street USA open with this number and it was a crowd favorite.
AP Perks: Disney also has a special corner for Annual Passholders with a unique photo backdrop at the back end of Paradise Gardens in DCA. Expect a new AP popcorn bucket coming soon, and there’s plenty of exclusive AP merchandise (but it sold out fast when I was there!).
Looking Ahead to Pixar Pier
If you have a visit to Disneyland planned for June 23, 2018 or after, you’ll be able to see Phase 2 of Pixar Fest when Pixar Pier opens in Disney California Adventure.
Pixar Pier will include:
- the Incredicoaster (formerly California Screamin’)
- Mickey’s Fun Wheel updated with each carriage featuring a different Pixar character
- Lamplight Lounge (formerly Cove Bar and Ariel’s Grotto)
- Several new themed Pixar neighborhoods along the pier area in DCA
For now, you can get a sneak peek at all that is coming to Pixar Pier in the Blue Sky Lounge in DCA. Taking that tour has gotten me excited and looking for an excuse to go back later this summer.
(Update July 5, 2018: Pixar Pier is now open! Check out the complete guide to Pixar Pier from my friend Becca at This Crazy Adventure Called Life who visited in the opening days.)
Pixar Fest Tips
A few parting tips if you want to make the most of your time at Pixar Fest.
- Consider a Park Hopper: Because the event is happening in both parks, a park hopper ticket is really necessary if you want to see and do it all, especially in one day.
- Budget for Maxpass: Pixar Fest is going to be incredibly popular, especially when the summer crowds start and Pixar Pier opens. The crowds often start even earlier in May, especially on “Grad Nights.” If you want to dodge the long lines, Maxpass will be very helpful. I find it is totally worth it for almost everyone. Check out my 21 Tips for Disneyland Maxpass for a primer in how to maximize it.
Are you planning a visit to Pixar Fest? Leave your comments, questions, and personal tips in the comments section.
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Disclosure: Disneyland hosted me at the Pixar Fest media preview event, providing tickets, accommodations, and transportation. My family regularly visits Disneyland other times at our own expense. All opinions are my own.