Disneyland Holiday 2016 Planning Guide

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The holidays don’t officially start until we visit Disneyland when it is all dressed up for the holidays. Special thanks to our friends at Disneyland for hosting our visit.

From the way the castle sparkles, to the special treats that are available just during this special time of year. There is so much to do and see. You can’t possibly leave without feeling the holiday spirit in your heart.  This year we were lucky enough to have our family visit the parks with us too, and we are all so excited to share all about Disneyland and California Adventure in our Disneyland Holiday 2016 Planning Guide below:


We recommend getting to the parks as soon as they open to maximize your time. We always plan the rides we are going to go on ahead of time as we are driving, and then we get our first fast pass right away.  Then we work through the rest of the rides on our list getting a new fast pass as soon as we use the last one. This leaves plenty of time for snacks, meals, and other less busy rides while allowing us to go on all the rides we love.


We try to start our morning in Disneyland and then hop over to California Adventure before ending the day back in Disneyland. Haunted Mansion is Maddie’s favorite this time of year because it becomes Haunted Mansion Holiday, with Jack Skellington and his friends from Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas” causing a collision between Christmas and Halloween. It is not so scary and full of fun for the whole family. The wait for this ride increases during the holidays so enjoying it early in the day is best!



Two other seasonal favorites are:

The Jungle Cruise as it is transformed into Jingle Cruise, where the jungle skippers gather jettisoned holiday gifts and decorations to brighten the rugged landscapes surrounding their riverboats.

Also a family favorite, “it’s a small world” becomes “it’s a small world Holiday” for the 20th time, celebrating children around the world and the distinctive holiday traditions of their nations.


Over in California Adventure, there is a lot to do! I can’t remember this park being this decked out for the holiday celebration as it is this year. It can’t be missed!


The new Festival of Holidays in California Adventure celebrates holiday festivities of diverse cultures with music, dance, and craft-making, plus food at the Festive Foods Marketplace. This reminds me a lot of the events in Epcot at Walt Disney World and I love that they are adding more of that fun over on this coast. We strolled through and saw a lot of great small plates. There is also a daily lineup of entertainment which includes nearly 50 performances of nine unique shows, with special Disney characters, street parties, cavalcades, musical ensembles and dance performances. 

The celebrations includes Diwali, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas/Navidad and Three Kings Day. Guests can look for performances of traditional Indian dance that builds to a Bollywood party, a Klezmer band with a new global sound, the Mariachi Divas and an a cappella vocal group that puts an R&B spin on holiday songs. The streets felt like a party as we walked through and Emmy even stopped to do some crafts. 


Another treat for the little ones is that Princess Elena will make her Disneyland Resort debut as part of the Festival of Holidays. She will perform a song in “Princess Elena’s Musical Grand Arrival,” and she will appear at a character greeting location. 

 The popular Disney ¡Viva Navidad! also returns as part of the fun at Festival of Holidays, with a wonderful finale to celebrate Three Kings Day (Dia de los Reyes). The special festivities for Three Kings Day will run Jan. 5-8, 2017, including music and storytelling in Paradise Garden. Treats for this holiday will include traditional Rosca de Reyes bread.

Cars Land is all sparkling for the holidays too, beginning with a whimsical “snowcar” that greets guests on the road to Radiator Springs. Each address along Route 66–from Flo’s V-8 Café to Luigi’s Casa Della Tires–features holiday décor that reflects the personality of the “Cars” character who lives there. We love Cars Land even more, when it decorated with Christmas decorations!


More can’t be missed festivities are:

“World of Color – Season of Light” brings the warmth and heartfelt spirit of the holidays to this stunning, nighttime water spectacular, with its 1,200 powerful fountains shooting water as high as 200 feet to help tell the story. The show’s musical soundtrack features some well-known musical artists performing popular holiday tunes, including “Let it Snow” by Dean Martin and “Baby, It’s Cold Outside” by Michael Buble and Idina Menzel. 

Jolly old St. Nick arrives at Redwood Creek Challenge Trail for Santa’s Holiday Visit. His joyful elves have transformed the trail into a magical playground of holiday fun and games, including opportunities for guests to join the ranks of Santa’s elves. 

“a bug’s land” transforms for the holidays, too, as Flik and his bug friends deck their land with oversized lights and ornaments. 

A dazzling, 50-foot Christmas tree adorns Carthay Circle, drawing guests into the holiday magic along Buena Vista Street. The tree and surrounding buildings, inspired by Los Angeles as it appeared when Walt Disney arrived in the 1920s, create scenes of another era with vintage-style decor.

Not holiday related exactly, but they now sell this huge loaf of bread. Can you see a favorite character from Cars that it is shaped like? We bought one and shared it!


Back over to Disneyland, my personal favorite, Sleeping Beauty’s Winter Castle brightens the park nightly with magical snowfall moments along Main Street, U.S.A., concluding with “Believe … in Holiday Magic” fireworks and its stirring snowfall finale.

Twinkling lights, festive holiday garland, and nearly 1,800 ornaments decorate the soaring Christmas tree in Town Square, Main Street, U.S.A., an ideal place for guests to begin their holiday traditions. The Christmas tree becomes an enchanting place for guests to take their holiday photos, up close or with all 60 feet of the shimmering tree.



Don’t forget the parade! Disney characters celebrate the season in “A Christmas Fantasy” parade, a daily procession with floats, music, marching “tin soldiers” and holiday cheer. Santa, who makes a jolly appearance in the parade, also will be found welcoming guests at his special location in Critter Country while he visits Disneyland. 


Also be sure to take a family picture with the Christmas tree!


Here is our daily video with more fun!

There is so much to do at Disneyland for the holidays that we couldn’t possibly see and do everything.

Here are some more of my favorite things to do over the holidays at Disneyland!

Grand Gingerbread: At Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, guests will enjoy the return of the popular Grand Gingerbread House. Designed as a replica of the hotel, this homemade gingerbread house weighs more than 500 pounds, is decorated with real frosting and it fills the hotel lobby with the scent of gingerbread. For the bakers in your life, Gingerbread Cookie Mix is a tasty gift, and includes a fun Mickey-shaped gingerbread cookie cutter. It’s available at World of Disney at the Downtown Disney District.

The gift of Disney storytelling: Guests who appreciate Disney storytelling will especially love this gift: the “Holiday Time at the Disneyland Resort” Guided Tour. This special, 2 ½-hour walking tour includes Holiday tales about the resort, reserved viewing for “A Christmas Fantasy Parade,” seasonal treats, a personalized name button and a special collectable pin***. Guests may get details and make reservations by calling (714) 781-TOUR. 

If you are thinking of buying season passes to Disneyland now is the time with this deal. They also make great gifts!

Get 13 months for the price of 12: Beginning Nov. 17, guests who purchase a select 12-month annual passport will enjoy 13 months of unsurpassed passholder magic filled with seasonal events, exciting attractions, stellar entertainment and delicious dining opportunities. New passes must be purchased between Nov. 17, 2016, and Feb.11, 2017*, and pass renewals with this offer are permitted through Nov. 16, 2017**. Prices vary depending on pass type selected, and the offer is valid for Deluxe, Signature, Signature Plus and Premier Annual Passports. This special offer, which includes passholder benefits such as discounts on dining and merchandise, is available online and at Disneyland Resort ticket booths.  

What is your favorite thing to do at Disneyland during the holidays?

Heather Reese
the authorHeather Reese
Heather Delaney Reese is the storyteller and photographer behind the lifestyle and family travel blog, It's a Lovely Life®! For the past decade, she has vacationed over 150 days a year with her family. She is a vegan, and loves being by the water, spending time with her children, husband, 2 Shih Tzus and Cat.


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