What Makes Disneyland at Christmas Special?

Miles with McConkey visited Disneyland during the holiday season.  We found the experience to be quite different than going to a theme park in summer.

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Is it worth it?

People often ask is Disneyland different at Christmas. They want to know if a holiday trip is worth it.

Here are our top reasons to go to Disneyland for the holidays.


Extend the holidays

If the holiday season never seems long enough for you, Disneyland has you covered.  Traditionally, Disneyland celebrates Christmas from early November to early January.  There is plenty of time to attend the parks before or after Christmas.  

We went in early January.  I did not expect to feel very festive.  After all, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day were all officially behind us.  

Seeing the holiday decorations and hearing Christmas music in such a magical setting immediately rekindled that festive fire in our hearts.  Like Lloyd Christmas, I didn’t even see it coming. 


This place has character!  Disneyland has more characters than you can count.

Seeing traditional Disney icons such as Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse and Donald Duck donning holiday gear is such a treat.  It sets the mood for the whole scene.

You will find some unexpected characters in their holiday attire as well.  Be sure to keep your eyes open for these encounters.

Lost in the woods

Christmas trees are a symbol of the season.  They instantly flood our minds with warm memories.  Both Disneyland Park and Disneyland California Adventure Park have giant, majestic trees decorated from the ground to the clouds.  They are fabulous!

You can find quite a few smaller Christmas trees throughout the parks as well.  Don’t get lost on your quest to find them all.

Must be Santa

Santa Claus at Disneyland
Santa Claus at Disneyland. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

Perhaps the most obvious reason to visit Disneyland around the holidays is to see the big man himself.  No, not Gaston.  It must be Santa Claus.  

Jolly Saint Nick brings joy to kids and adults alike.  Why not see him at the most magical place on Earth.

Holiday parade

Goofy & Pluto
Goofy & Pluto in the holiday parade. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

At first mention, I was not excited about watching a holiday parade.  I must admit, it felt pretty special.  

Getting the chance to see waddling snowmen, dancing reindeer and Santa in a musical procession along with your favorite Disney characters is actually pretty cool.  

The whole spectacle fills you with Christmas spirit.  Unless you are the Grinch, your heart will swell with happiness.

Holiday merch

You will find holiday themed merchandise in Disneyland stores.  These items feel unique as not everyone has them.  

The holiday items are only available for a limited time.  We all love that feeling of having exclusive items.  Now is your chance.

Some people will even wait in line for hours just to get a holiday popcorn bucket.  I am not one of those people, but someone in my house is.

Holiday food

Disneyland at Christmas - Bao Bun with Seasonal Fruit
Bao Bun with Seasonal Fruit. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

At first mention, you probably think these are merely food items coated with red and green sprinkles or frosted with white snowflakes.  Oh, it is much more than that my friends.  

I must say, the holiday food offerings were outstanding.  We sampled quite a few of them.  OMG!  Nearly all of them delivered.  Here are some of our favorites:

  • Beef pot roast on a potato roll – a savory serving of beef pot roast on a soft bun, topped with a spicy horseradish sauce.  Delicious!
  • Bao bun with seasonal fruit – fruit in a soft bun lightly powdered with sugar and topped with whipped cream. Light and fruity!
  • Cranberry turkey burger – a turkey burger topped with a slightly tangy cranberry barbecue sauce.  The sauce made this sandwich.  Very nice!
  • Chocolate pecan churro – a warm cinnamon churro that is soft on the inside and slightly crunchy on the outside.  Throw on some pecans and drizzle with chocolate and caramel.  Disneyland’s top snack just got even better!

Hopefully all these items will return next year.

Snoap White

Snow is a rare occurrence in most parts of southern California.  Well, you are guaranteed to see it in Disneyland for their holiday celebration.  

During evening festivities, a soapy manmade snow is pumped out above the crowd to bring on holiday cheer.  It is affectionately called “snoap”by Disney fans.  

We, along with everyone else, became giddy with excitement as the “snoap” peacefully floated down upon us.  Kids and adults alike wore wide grins from ear to ear.  Maybe this is the happiest place on Earth… 

Deck the halls

If you have ever visited Disney World during the holidays, then you know that Christmas decorations are isolated to Main Street, U.S.A. in the Magic Kingdom.  All other park sections feel like business as usual.

In Disneyland, holiday decorations are on full display in many areas of both parks.  This is a very nice touch that truly makes the experience worth your time.

I love you Disney World, but please take a cue from your sister park on this one.  Deck all the halls!

It’s a strange world

Disneyland at Christmas - It's a Small World attraction
It’s a Small World at Christmas. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

Imagine if a meteorite from Christmas Town made impact in the “it’s a small world” ride.  The attraction has a combination of the best elements from both worlds.  

A spectacular illumination show occurs on the outside of the attraction.  In the ride itself, the countries and characters are adorned with holiday decorations.  

The ride provides a wonderful music mix by alternating Christmas carol verses within her normal iconic song.  It really gives the experience something extra.  

If you find the traditional ride song annoying as some do, you will like this change.  Dare I say, that you may actually enjoy the music now…

Get your kicks

Route 66 is still alive!  Cars Land is decorated for the holidays.  

Luigi’s stack of tires is transformed into a Christmas tree.  There are Christmas trimmings throughout the area.  Along with the normal neon lights, this section of the park screams with Christmas spirit.

Light up the sky

Who doesn’t like fireworks?  As a kid, I only saw them in the summer.  They were a rare treat for us.  

I realize firework displays are more common today, but these are different. 

Seeing fireworks above the castle dripping with icicles, holiday decorations on Main Street, U.S.A. and snoap falling everywhere is so energizing.  The scene fills you with emotion.  

I want to go back just to get that joyful feeling again.  Although short, this fireworks display is special!


Downtown Disney District at Christmas
Downtown Disney District at Christmas. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

The city sidewalks in Downtown Disney District are figuratively ringing with silver bells and literally lined with decorated trees.  

The scene is perfectly scripted for a holiday movie.  The energy in the stores and restaurants is electric.

What’s this?

Perhaps the sweetest treat is to see the Haunted Mansion taken over by the cast of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas.  

If you are a fan of the movie, this alone will make the trip worthwhile.  

If you are not a fan, I still think you will find the changes to the ride exciting.  We are not talking about a couple cosmetic changes here.  It is immersive.  

Inside and out, the entire attraction has been commandeered by Jack Skellington and crew.  It seems like a completely different ride.  It is so well done, making the experience unique.

Once again, I make an appeal to Disney World.  Please follow the lead of Disneyland on this as well.  This is such a missed opportunity for the Magic Kingdom.


Where to begin

  • Watch our video to see more Disneyland holiday decorations, characters, attractions and food
  • Read our blog post to get the most out of Genie+ and for travel agent recommendations
  • Go to the Disneyland holidays webpage for more information and current updates

Where to stay

Frozen Christmas Tree at hotel near Disneyland at Christmas
Frozen Christmas Tree at Best Western PLUS Anaheim Inn. Photo credit: Miles with McConkey

Disneyland has on property resorts that offer a wonderful experience.

However, you may want to consider an attractive alternative.  There are many “good neighbor” hotels within walking distance.

We stayed at Best Western PLUS Anaheim Inn.  The room was clean.  Staff members were friendly and helpful.  The hotel was festively decorated with Christmas trees in both the main lobby and dining area.

The hotel is conveniently located just outside of Disneyland.  Zootopia’s Flash the sloth reportedly made the walk in under 5 minutes.

We spend most of our time in the parks.  We hardly spend any time in our room.  It is merely a place to sleep.

If this applies to your family situation, you may want to consider a “good neighbor” hotel.  It will save you time and money.

We give two big thumbs up for Best Western PLUS Anaheim Inn based on our experience.

May your holiday season be jolly and magical!

Featured image credit: Miles with McConkey

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About the author

View of Glacier Bay from cruise ship

Scott McConkey is a nationally syndicated travel writer and the founder of Miles with McConkey, where he provides vacationers and travel enthusiasts with trip ideas, travel guides, and inspiration. His travel articles have been seen in The Associated Press wire, ABC, CBS, CW, FOX, NBC, MSN, and many more. He and his wife, Julie, left the corporate world after nearly 30 years for a life of travel and adventure. What started as a gap year has evolved into a second act. She creates visual content while he utilizes the written word. Their goal is to create content inspiring others to travel more and live their best lives now.