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Holidays at Disneyland

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Holidays at Disneyland are a magical thing for all ages. Although I have been to Disneyland a multitude of times, up until last week, I had never experienced the winter holiday season at the parks. I defy Scrooge himself to remain cranky during a trip to Disneyland during this festive season.

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Holidays at Disneyland

My son, Leo, and I standing in front of the huge Christmas tree on Disneyland’s Main Street

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like the Holidays at Disneyland

A trip to Disneyland at Christmastime is worthwhile, even if only to stroll down the quintessentially Christmas-y Main Street. Of course, the decorations don’t end on Main Street. Throughout Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure Park, everything is doused with greenery, ornaments, and twinkling lights. You can’t miss Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, in the center of the park all dolled up with snow, icicles, and lights galore.

Holidays at Disneyland

Sleeping Beauty’s Winter Castle

Haunted Mansion Holiday

It is worth waiting in an enormous line to see the Haunted Mansion Holiday…for older kids and adults. The attraction is a must for the Holidays at Disneyland. It’s transformed with a jack-o-lantern-laden, red and green “Nightmare Before Christmas” theme during the Halloween and Christmas seasons. This ride may be a bit too spooky for youngsters; I’d say hold off on this one until age six or so.

Holidays at Disneyland

“it’s a small world” decked out with holiday lights

“it’s a small world” Holiday Celebration

This ride is an absolute must-see during the Holidays at Disneyland. Yes, the line is long, and you will get the cutesy song stuck in your head. Yes, your children will adore the animatronic dolls representing cultures from around the world dressed up in their holiday finest. The China display features fireworks in red and gold to commemorate Chinese New Year, while Polynesia wishes you a “Mele Kalikimaka” and includes hula dancers jingling in unison with strings of bells draped across their hips. Try to hit “it’s a small world” holiday early in the day before the line gets too long and stimulation-overload sets in.

Holidays at Disneyland

A Christmas Fantasy Parade

A Christmas Fantasy Parade

Usually we skip the parades during our Disney visits. Rather than waiting with two wriggling kids for a viewing spot along the parade route, we use parade time to take advantage of shorter ride lines. On this trip, however, I got a sampling of what I have been missing out on. The Christmas Fantasy Parade for the Holidays at Disneyland features dancers, spinning snowmen, and trumpet-playing toy soldiers, plus floats topped with everyone’s favorite characters. Most impressive was the float on which Mickey and Minnie skated across a real ice rink!

The parade was my four-year-old daughter’s admitted favorite part of our holiday visit. When I asked her why she liked it so much, she looked at me as though I had reindeer antlers growing out of my head and said, “Because it ended with Santa Claus!”

Well, duh, of course!

Holidays at Disneyland

My daugher, Karissa, posing with a festive Pluto and Donald Duck

Holiday-Clad Characters

Be sure to find your favorite characters decked out in their festive sweaters and scarves for the Holidays at Disneyland. You may even get a holiday-card-worthy photo out of it! Kids love to meet their favorite Disney characters. Parents love to snap those adorable photos. My daughter is stubborn about getting her picture taken so I take full advantage of Disney character meetings as the one time she merrily smiles for the camera.

Holidays at Disneyland

My kids munching on Disney’s holiday brownies and cookies

Tasty Treats for the Holidays at Disneyland

Bring a sweet tooth and leave the diet at home for the Holidays at Disneyland. My family and I enjoyed brownies topped with red and green candies as well as snowman-shaped sugar cookies. And, next year, I vow to sample more holiday treats!

I stumbled across Guy’s Disney Holiday on the Food Network just after our visit. I wish I had seen this special featuring Guy Fieri BEFORE we went! Who knew I should have been on the lookout for waffle ice cream cones dipped in chocolate and crushed candy canes? Or Yule logs made of chocolate sponge cake, butter cream, and chocolate ganache?

Santa’s Reindeer Roundup

Apparently there are live reindeer and “western fun” at Santa’s Reindeer Roundup at Big Thunder Ranch. According to the Disneyland website, Santa, Mrs. Claus, and Pluto the rein-dog can be found here in addition to festive face-painting.

I’m sorry to say we missed this attraction while experiencing the Holidays at Disneyland. It’s hard enough to squeeze in everyone’s favorite rides and shows on a regular day, much less when there are special parades and holiday-themed attractions to see! The summer crowds were nothing compared to the crush of people we experienced during our Christmastime visit. My advice? Plan to go for at least two days. One day just wasn’t enough! 

Holidays at Disneylan

a bug’s land” holiday decorations

“a bug’s land” holiday decorations

Magic in “a bug’s land”

Head over to “a bug’s land” at Disney’s California Adventure to pose before giant Christmas ornaments and humongous glowing holiday lights.

My favorite memory of our Disneyland holiday adventure took place over here when I took my ride-phobic 21-month-old son, Leo, on Flik’s Flyers. It’s a circular flying ride, much like Dumbo, but with giant pretend boxes of animal crackers, Chinese take-out, or raisins functioning as the cars instead of elephants.

Leo said, “No, no, no” and clung tightly to me as we boarded the ride. But I sat him on my lap and whispered reassuring words into his ear and he settled down. I could feel his body tense as we slowly took flight, but he didn’t cry. He just leaned his head into my chest hard and stared at the wonder of the world whipping past him.  He’s getting to be a big boy in a world full of so many things to explore and it’s hard to get him to slow down long enough to snuggle up with me too much anymore. As I rubbed my chin across the tufts of his fine baby hair, I wondered how much longer will the world seem completely safe to him, just as long as he is with his mama. It was one of those moments you want to stop and bottle up and keep forever – just the two of us flying through the crisp winter air together. It was the best part of the Holidays at Disneyland for me.

Beyond the decorations, treats and shows – this is what I love about Disneyland – magical moments that I will carry with me forever.

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What is your favorite Disney holiday memory? Do you have any questions about visiting Disneyland during the holidays? Please leave a comment!

A Note from The Travel Mama: My family and I received free one-day Park Hopper passes as part of Disneyland’s Family Media Day. This did not affect the content of this post in any way. I love Disneyland no matter who pays!

About Colleen Lanin

Colleen Lanin is the founder/editor-in-chief of As the author of her book, "The Travel Mamas' Guide," she teaches parents not only how to survive a trip with children, but also how to love exploring the world with their offspring. Her stories have appeared online and in print for such outlets as the "Today" show,, Parenting Magazine, Orlando Sentinel, Chicago Tribune, Expedia, San Diego Family Magazine, and more. Colleen gives tips on television, radio, and as a public speaker. She has a master’s degree in business administration with a background in marketing. She lives in Arizona with her husband and two kids.

  1. It is impossible not to be happy at Disneyland. I can never tell who has more fun… me, my husband, or my 2 year-old son. It’s a Small World during the holidays is a must!

  2. Very moving post. Makes me want to explore our world. How different the world we be if people would travel more and learn to celebrate our differences instead of hiding from them.

  3. Vaughn Stemmer says

    Hey, first I want to tell you that I follow your blog. Great post, I entirely agree with you. Have a great day mate.

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