Disneyland Holiday Guide 2019: Plan Ahead

If Disney says it’s Christmas in November, then it’s Christmas in November… They make the rules! Holiday time at Disneyland runs from November 8, 2019 until January 6, 2020 giving you plenty of time to experience all there is to offer this season. I’ve been there to try it all and put together this Disneyland Holiday Guide to save you time planning.

From ride overlays like Haunted Mansion Holiday or Small World Holiday. To special holiday treats, to parades and nighttime spectaculars, there is definitely something for everyone to enjoy. And the best part is that all of this holiday magic is included in your park ticket at Disneyland. Unlike Walt Disney World where you need to buy an extra ticket to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party! 

The holidays at Disney parks are always a very special time of year. The magic of the parks is doubled and there are so many festive things to see and do, it can be hard to do it all! But I am here to help with that with this guide I tested in the parks myself. Keep reading for all of my tips of how to celebrate the holidays at Disneyland this year! 

Holidays in Disneyland
“Disneyland for the Holidays” by Malingering is licensed by CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Holiday Ride Overlays:

A ride overlay refers to adding specially themed decorations, songs, or even smells to rides that are typically not holiday themed. The best examples of this are at Disneyland itself, though there are a couple at Disney’s California Adventure as well. For 2019 there are two holiday ride overlays at Disneyland and two at DCA. 

Haunted Mansion Holiday 

Haunted Mansion Holiday is one of the best overlays in my opinion. The entire ride is taken over by Jack Skellington and transformed in true Nightmare Before Christmas fashion. From the exterior to the interior of the ride, everything is changed. This overlay is the most detailed of them all and is so incredibly cute. Even if you are not a big Nightmare Before Christmas fan like myself. 

Haunted Mansion Holiday is not to be missed and is a ride that the whole family can do together. It is also one of the most popular rides during the holidays. So you need to plan ahead in order to minimize your time in line. The best option is to book a Fastpass as soon as possible when you enter the park. Fastpasses sell out quick for this ride so make this a priority. Otherwise, it is also possible to Rope Drop this ride and ride it first thing in the morning which will typically be a short wait as well. 

“Haunted Mansion Holiday” by HarshLight is licensed by CC BY 2.0

“it’s a small world” Holiday

While Haunted Mansion Holiday bears almost no resemblance to the original ride, “it’s a small world” Holiday is more of a combination of the original ride mixed with holiday cheer. The song that always gets stuck in your head is revitalized with interspersed holiday music and holiday decorations abound.

In addition to the music there are also new scenes added in each room of the ride that feature holiday traditions around the world. And new for 2019 there are even more smells added as well. Like the smell of fresh pine and peppermint in the European section, tropical coconuts in the South Seas section, and cherry blossoms in the Asian section. 

But, the most impressive change is definitely the exterior lighting on the facade as seen in the picture below. The picture however does absolutely no justice to what it looks like in person. 

This ride is also very popular during the holidays. Though in my experience the Fastpasses don’t sell out as fast for this as they do for Haunted Mansion Holiday. And while rope dropping this ride is always an option to avoid crowds, I really recommend trying to get a Fastpass for the evening so you can ride it at night instead (or ride twice!). Maxpass is really useful for securing a nighttime Fastpass for this ride. But even if you have to wait in line, it is not too bad because you get some extra time to admire the lights. There’s just something extra magical about sailing through the lights of the attraction that really gets you in the holiday spirit. 

Small World Holiday Overlay
It’s a Small World Holiday” by Brett Kiger is licensed by CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Cars Land Ride Overlays

The ride overlays at Disneyland itself, I will say, are much more detailed and definitely not to be missed. However, there are also two more overlays in DCA. Specifically in Cars Land at Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree and Luigi’s Rolickin Roadsters. During the holidays they become Mater’s Jingle Jamboree and Luigi’s Joy to the Whirl.

The main difference in these rides during the holidays is the special holiday soundtracks played during the ride rather than their typical songs. There are also some light decorations as well. But nothing to the extent of “it’s a small world” Holiday or Haunted Mansion Holiday. But still, if you are in Cars Land and these rides are on your list or are a short wait, they are definitely worth the time as well (my favorite is Mater’s Jingle Jamboree). 

Disneyland Resort Holiday Shows and Entertainment:

There are quite a few options for holiday entertainment at the entire Disneyland Resort, this year especially. I have broken it down for each park below as well as a section for the hotels and Downtown Disney. Make sure to pick out your favorites and check the entertainment schedule on Disney’s website for exact times on the day of your visit!

Disneyland In Park Holiday Entertainment:

“Believe… in Holiday Magic” Fireworks 

This show, in my opinion, was not the most spectacular fireworks show in Disneyland history. That combined with the frequency of cancellations due to weather makes me suggest that you do not stake out a spot for this show in advance. Rather, just stroll onto Main Street 10-15 minutes before showtime and find a spot in the crowd. Or you can avoid the crowd and still see the same show from in front of Small World. The projections play on the Small World facade and it’s a great fireworks view too.

A Christmas Fantasy Parade 

This parade is very popular and therefore this is something that I would recommend getting a spot early for, especially if you have a larger party. I prefer viewing the second parade (if that’s an option) because you’re out of the sun by that point and the lighting is a fun added element. Also, viewing at night from near Small World means you get to enjoy the beautiful lights more as well (and makes a great photo backdrop).

“A Christmas Fantasy Parade” by Carlos is licensed by CC BY-NC 2.0

It’s a Small World Holiday Lighting 

This is a small show that happens each night when they turn on the lights on the Small World facade. The show is really quite short and is essentially just a countdown. So I’m not sure that I would make hard plans to be there early to see it. If I was in the area though around that time I would make it a point to wait around to see it. It is quite impressive to see the lights all come on at once. 

Wintertime Enchantment at Sleeping Beauty’s Castle 

This is much more of a show than the other lighting ceremonies around the resort. The show starts with a short story and then the lights gradually come on illuminating the castle. As the lights come on they play a sweet Christmas song and it even snows on Main Street. This is a very cute show so I do recommend this lighting ceremony most out of them all. 

“Holiday Time at the Disneyland Resort” VIP Guided Tour

This is a special VIP guided tour put on only during the holidays and features details about holiday history in the parks and more. The walking tour is about two and a half hours long and is lead by a VIP Disneyland tour guide. The ones in plaid! On the tour, typically guests will receive priority boarding for both “it’s a small world” Holiday and Haunted Mansion Holiday. As well as reserved seating for the Christmas Fantasy Parade, a few holiday treats, and a complimentary trading pin. Parts of the tour are changed each year to keep it fresh, as many guests make it a yearly tradition.

Advanced reservations are accepted for this tour and I strongly recommend them as space is very limited. You can make a reservation only by calling 714-781-8687, reservations are not available online. Pricing for the tour is $99.00 per person, but Annual Pass discounts are available.  

Also Worth Checking Out:

Other holiday entertainment to check out include Christmas Dapper Dans, holiday tunes played by the Disneyland Band, or the Dickens Yuletide Band. There is also an unofficial Main Street Tree Lighting that occurs around sunset each night as well. But is not listed on the official schedule. If you’re wanting to see the tree lighting, try to be on Main Street around sunset. However, be warned there’s not really a big show involved with the lighting. Disneyland also typically runs Fantasmic twice a night during the holiday season as well. Though no special holiday touches have been added to the show. 

“Disney Festival of Holidays” by Aaron Hockley is licensed by CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

DCA In Park Holiday Entertainment: 

Festival of the Holidays

This festival is the flagship festival during the holiday season at the Disneyland Resort. The festival’s main draw is the special food booths offering small plates, beverages, desserts, and more – all with a holiday theme or twist. The festival also includes special entertainment offerings like all of the entertainment acts listed further in the article, as well as live music shows from several cultures, such as Mostly Kosher rock band, or the Mariachi Divas, a female mariachi band. There is also a holiday concert each night at sunset along the Paradise Gardens Pier as well. On top of all of that, there are also crafts for kids, special treats and character meet and greets, and more.

World of Color – Season of Light 

This World of Color show hits all of the right notes. The message of the show, inviting peace on earth, is perfect. The show combines all of the right Disney and Pixar movie scenes with holiday music, sure to make you laugh, cry, and smile with Christmas cheer. Make sure to get a Fastpass for this as soon as possible as they will sell out early in the day due to the popularity of the show. If you can’t get a Fastpass, try to catch the second show of the night for better odds at lower crowds. 

Mickey’s Happy Holidays

Mickey’s Happy Holidays is a short parade led by Mickey and Minnie and the gang. They are accompanied by the Holiday Toy Drummers and several Pixar characters as well. I saw them all go by from out front of the Cars Land entrance. But the description of the parade also mentions seeing them in front of Carthay Circle or near Paradise Gardens. 

Viva Navidad Street Party 

The Viva Navidad Street Party was one of my favorite holiday offerings at DCA this season. It is a short show – I believe around 15 minutes, but there is still lots of fun to be had. The Three Caballeros lead by Donald Duck, and his amigos Panchito from Mexico, and Jose from Brazil. They are the main attraction of the street party and have their own float that stops right in front of Paradise Gardens. They are also joined by live dancers in the street and large mojiganga puppets of Santa and Mrs. Claus. The finale also features Mickey and Minnie on interesting bicycle floats. I think that the music and the fun atmosphere, mixed with the character appearances really make this a hit. 

Viva Navidad Street Party as part of Disneyland Holidays
“Viva Navidad Street Party” by skupen is licensed by CC BY-NC 2.0

Buena Vista Street Tree Lighting 

This tree lighting ceremony is actually listed on the entertainment schedule, unlike the lighting for the tree on Main Street at Disneyland. That is because this lighting actually features some of the characters (usually Mickey and/or Minnie) and some of the Citizens of Hollywood who help to light up the tree. While this is also a short show, if I had to pick one tree lighting over another, I would pick this one over the one in Disneyland. 

Holiday Toy Drummers 

You can find the Holiday Toy Drummer in Paradise Gardens Park at several times throughout the day. They are a small drumline band that plays holiday tunes and are adorably dressed as little toy drummers in red and white outfits. You can see them in their own performance or during Mickey’s Happy Holidays as well.

Where To Find Santa at the Disneyland Resort:

During the holidays Santa makes an appearance at both parks, as well as during the parade at Disneyland. He uses his magic powers to hop around the resort so that he can cover two meet and greet locations, and make it to the parade on time! 

I think the best place to meet Santa is at DCA at the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail. The trail is themed for the holidays and has lots of decorations throughout. There are also special experiences you can do before or after meeting Santa here, like the cookie decorating kits sold on the trail.  

The other place to meet Santa is at Critter Country in Disneyland – he meets by Pooh Corner. This location is okay, but it is not themed as well as the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail is. So if you had to choose one or the other, I say choose DCA to meet Santa. 

Mrs. Claus is also usually around the areas where Santa meets. She is typically just roaming around without an official meet n greet location. If you don’t want to actually do the meet n greet with Santa, keep in mind that you can always see him on his float at the end of the Christmas parade at Disneyland as well. 

Gingerbread Mickey Cookie available for Disneyland Holidays

Disneyland Resort Holiday Food:

As with any special holiday or event at Disneyland, you can bet that there will be special themed treats, snacks, and more to try too! That is most definitely the case this year as well. There are far too many special treats available this year for me to name them all. So I will give you the cliff notes version instead. Be sure to grab a holiday food guide map at the front of the park when you enter for the full list. Or check it out online through the following links: Resort Wide Offerings and Festival of the Holidays Offerings.

My recommendations are be sure you try one of the specialty churros found throughout both parks. This year my favorite was the sugar cookie churro from Cozy Cone in Cars Land at DCA. It’s a churro iced with still gooey royal icing and dusted with Christmas sprinkles…mmm! 

Another favorite of mine was the Mickey gingerbread cookie from Jolly Holiday in Disneyland, which was a soft gingerbread cookie with amazing flavor and not too overly sweet. But if you’re interested in this gingerbread cookie make sure to get it early in the day. They were sold out at night when I tried to go back for another.

Don’t Leave Without Trying…

A staple item that you won’t want to leave without trying are the Mickey shaped beignets from Mint Julep Bar. For the holidays you can try the candy cane beignets and a special cranberry mint julep. I love the beignets here and the cranberry mint julep was so refreshing. Definitely give these a try as well – maybe before or after a visit next door to Haunted Mansion Holiday!

Also in the realm of food, make sure to try some of the Festival of the Holidays booths and the offerings there. Each booth has some really good items worth a try. My favorite item from the Festival was hands down the Holiday Stuffing Mac n Cheese from the aptly named Favorite Things booth. I ate it all so quickly and immediately wanted another…so maybe you should order two!

“Grand Californian Christmas” by Brett Kiger is licensed by CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Other Disneyland Resort Holiday Offerings:

The last stop on our holiday tour of the Disneyland resort is the Grand Californian Hotel and Spa, and also Downtown Disney. No trip to Disneyland during the holidays is complete without stopping in the Grand Californian Lobby to see the amazing Christmas tree, the intricate gingerbread display and all of the other decorations. And while you’re there make sure to also stop at the Holiday Cart in the lobby that sells snacks, cookies, and the famous cookie shots! The cookie shots are literally cookies shaped as shot glasses and filled with your choice of milk, or liquor. Such a fun treat!

And finally, a stroll through Downtown Disney should also be on your holiday list. If not only to just admire the decorations or knock out some holiday shopping. Of course all of Downtown Disney is decked out for the holidays and most of the shops are celebrating too. For example, you can find special holiday flavors at the bakeries and ice cream shops like at Sprinkles Cupcakes or Salt and Straw Ice Cream. I personally have my eye on the Spiced Goat Cheese and Pumpkin Pie flavor from Salt and Straw…Mmmm!

What Is Top On Your List?

Let me know down below. With so much to offer for the holidays at the Disneyland Resort, what is at the top of your list of must-dos? For me you can find me snacking my way through the parks, and stopping for some festive rides on the holiday themed attractions – especially Haunted Mansion Holiday!

Allison Strunk

Allison is a Disney travel agent and down right obsessed Disney fan. Allison has been helping clients and strangers on the internet plan amazing Disney vacations for over five years. She has sailed on Disney Cruise Line, is a current Disneyland Annual Passholder, though she still considers Walt Disney World her "home park" and visits there often. Allison loves to talk all things Disney and help others plan trips of their own!

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