As soon as I mentioned that the Disney Parks team had offered to host our family for a few days to enjoy the festive Disney Holidays experience in person, the Facebook messages and texts started rolling in. A number of you already have trips planned over the next few weeks and wanted me to post about our experience and share our tips ASAP. As for those of you who are still considering it—or are looking for a really wonderful experiential gift idea for your kids—the good news is the extra dose of wonder lasts through January 6, 2015.
#DisneyHolidays at Disneyland Park
When you enter the park, there’s no missing the awesome 60-foot-tall Christmas tree in Town Square. This beauty sets the tone and is a wonderful place for a family photo. (That is if you’re willing to pose with lots and lots (did I mention lots?) of people.
TIP: The Christmas tree in California Adventure Park is also lovely and wasn’t surrounded by the same crowds.
Next up, you’ll see Sleeping Beauty’s Winter Castle is also adorned in holiday decorations, making it even more beautiful than usual—both day and night.
Don’t miss riding it’s a small world holiday—it feels like an entirely different ride, from the music to the holiday scenery (pictured in header). And at night? Well, there are simply no words for how amazing the 300,000+ lights on the façade are.
TIP: Since there’s no FASTPASS, this is a good ride to do right when you enter the park. There was just a 10-minute wait when we got there about 30 minutes after the park opened. (And Lenny stopped by Autopia on the way there to grab a FASTPASS.)
TIP: Even if you ride early, walk by later to enjoy the evening lights. You can catch the Disney Railroad right there at Mickey’s Toontown station and the train goes right through—yes, through—the it’s a small world façade. But be warned, if your kids are scared by dinosaur models—with roaring audio—you might want to skip this or do something to distract your child as you ride through the dinosaur display.
Nobody gets a giggle out of the Jungle Cruise like this word-play lover, and the Jingle Cruise didn’t disappoint. The new festive humor from the skippers—and the Santa sighting—”sleighed” our whole family.
TIP: Again, there’s no FASTPASS for Jingle Cruise, so ride early.
While you’re in the area, be sure to enjoy the Jack Skellington twist to the Haunted Mansion Holiday. While I had to wait outside with Pink, Lenny thought it was even better than the original ride, and the boys loved it as first timers. (“It wasn’t even that scary…just cool!” – Little, two days before turning 6)
TIP: There’s no FASTPASS for this one, but the line moves very quickly.
There are all kinds of ways to get in the holiday spirit at the Jingle Jangle Jamboree. Stop in to visit with Santa and Mrs. Claus, play fun games, join in the sing-a-longs, and/or enjoy some crafts.
TIP: With the purchase of a kit, your little ones can take a load off and have fun decorating a cookie. While we were there, there was no line and it was a great post-lunch treat—especially since that’s when the park tends to be most crowded. Bonus: Our kids and their friends got a picture with a holiday-adorned Mickey.
With Anna, Elsa, and Olaf joining A Christmas Fantasy Parade—along with lots of other festive characters—it’s well worth the time. (I’ll be honest, I’ve never understood why so many people flock to watch park parades. They seem like a rather passive thing to do at such an active place. But now? Well, now I realize that rather than a flaw, that’s their beauty.)
TIP: If your kids are excited about seeing characters, but not posing with them, the parade is the perfect way to wave and engage from a safe distance. The parade characters do a great job of interacting with the audience.
It may have been 80 degrees during the day, but at night, it snowed. Yes, the Believe…in Holiday Magic fireworks show brings snow to Disneyland. While we didn’t get the chance to experience it from inside Disneyland, our friends did and said the snow made the nighttime experience even more inspired than usual.
TIP: If you only have one late night, you can catch some of the fireworks from Condor Flats in California Adventure Park (near the airplane/under the Monorail) after World of Color.
TIP: If your child is noise sensitive, plan accordingly and bring earplugs. In our case, the loud bangs were unappealing to our sensitive, exhausted kids (even from the next park over) and they asked to go to bed rather than watch the show.
TIP: If you’re staying at a Disneyland Resort Hotel, ask when you check in if there are views of the fireworks from your room. If so, turn to the Disneyland Fireworks Music Channel and enjoy the view from the comfort of your cozy room.
#DisneyHolidays at California Adventure
The 50-foot tree near Carthay Circle is decorated with vintage-style ornaments and is a great backdrop for family photos.
TIP: First thing in the morning, there was no waiting to take a stranger-free photo.
Stop by to see Santa at Elias & Co. on Buena Vista Street—named for the real-life Burbank thoroughfare where the Walt Disney Studios reside. (This was the one experience we didn’t partake in, so I’m afraid I don’t have any great insights.)
The Disney ¡Viva Navidad! Street Party is filled with festive music, dancing, and the Three Caballeros. You can also enjoy tasty foods and immerse yourself in the Latino culture.
TIP: Eat lunch at the tables near Goofy Sky School so your kids have a great view of their favorite Disney characters taking photos with kids, and see the ¡Viva Navidad! Street Party from a bit of a distance to avoid over-stimulation in tired, sensitive kids.
Cars Land is always impressive, but it’s extra fun with the holiday décor. Be sure to snap a photo in front of the holiday-inspired billboard and snowcar, and take a walk through Cars Land when it’s lit up at night.
TIP: Make Radiator Springs Racers your first ride of the day, or be sure its FASTPASS machine is your first stop—the line gets long…fast. Don’t miss the short line for Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree—Pink’s absolute favorite—on your way to Toy Story Midway Mania—Pink’s new second favorite (which doesn’t have FASTPASS, but is not to be missed either).
As you’re meandering, stop by a bug’s land to enjoy the over-sized ornaments and take advantage of another fun photo op.
If you can manage to keep your kids up late (or cozy and asleep in a stroller), you won’t want to miss singing along to some of your favorite Frozen songs in World of Color — Winter Dreams. We only had one night to stay out late and, since our event had special seating this was the obvious choice (over the fireworks). This uniquely Disney experience—made up of beautiful light shows and animated scenes projected on water—is truly magnificent.
TIP: Be sure to take advantage of the FASTPASS seating. Since the World of Color FASTPASS machines (located near Grizzly Peak) aren’t networked with the ride FASTPASS machines, it won’t stop you from getting the others you want.
TIP: Take note of the use of the ride facades behind the waterfront. I found the extra touches particularly wonderful in this holiday-inspired version of the show.
#DisneyHolidays at Downtown Disney
Hit Olaf’s Frozen Ice Rink, enjoy carolers, feast on the special restaurant menus, and check off some of your shopping list while you cruise Downtown Disney. We were too park happy to experience this fun, but the best part is, you can make this a day-trip without paying the park’s entry fees.
Between the upbeat holiday music being pumped through the parks and Downtown Disney, and all these imaginative touches throughout the parks, the Disney team has made the holidays even more unforgettable than I had imagined. And my family definitely agrees. (Especially Pink who—as I was driving her to school this morning—asked if we can go back to Disneyland tomorrow. Only in our dreams…)