Christmas time at Disneyland is the MOST magical time of the year. And finally we get to see a parade, “A Christmas Fantasy” Parade returns. This year the holiday season begins November 12, 2021 and lasts through January 9, 2022. Disneyland and Disney California Adventure both have so much to offer from decor, entertainment, treats, meet Santa, holiday lights, snow on Main Street, fireworks and so much more. I’m going to break it all down and share with you everything that’s included in your park day ticket. I’ll include a FREE holiday guide checklist to print, my TOP 10 quick reference guide and how to fit it all in guide. Last but not least if you are planning a trip and need tickets and/or hotel deals I’ve got you covered.
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Planning a trip to Disneyland during the holidays is magical and I’m here to inform you about what’s available, where to see it and how to squeeze it all in. Each park has so much to offer so I will break it down by park. Keep in mind that show times change as we approach Christmas so make sure you check this post for updates before your trip and use the Disneyland app when you’re there. Also if you haven’t been to Disneyland since the parks reopened I recommend reading more here on some changes you need to know, especially about making a reservation to get inside the parks.
I always want to help you save money on your vacations too. For discounted hotel rates and discounted park tickets my travel partner Get Away Today can help you like they have helped me personally book vacations for years. Check rates and save money.
Disneyland Holiday Guide
Holiday Tree Lighting
The iconic Christmas tree that greets you in Town Square when you enter Disneyland is ginormous. You’ll want to snap a photo in front of the tree during the day and at night when it’s all lit up. Be sure to come back to Town Square and watch the Holiday Tree Lighting at 5:00 pm every day.
“A Christmas Fantasy” Parade
The much anticipated return of “A Christmas Fantasy” Parade at Disneyland this year is all the buzz. Don’t miss one of the best holiday celebrations, with prancing reindeer, marching toy soldiers, dancing gingerbread cookies, your favorite characters and of course Santa!
The parade is 40 minutes long. It’s shown twice a day 3:00 pm and 5:30 pm. The first parade will be during daylight and the second parade showing will be night time. Keep that in mind if you have a preference. We love to watch it near It’s a Small World and sit on the west side so the sun is not in your eyes for the earlier parade time! And for the second parade time we like the Small World location as well.
Find this spot in the photo above and more parade tips, like the exact route here. Ask a cast member to be sure where the parade route will start. It normally starts at Small World and heads down towards Main Street and finishes up at Town Square for the first parade. Then the second parade does the opposite and starts at Town Square and heads towards Small World. Also check the entertainment schedule to confirm the time cause they are subject to change.
Parade Dining Package option
Looking for prime viewing of “A Christmas Fantasy” Parade you might consider the dining package option offered at the Plaza Inn. Enjoy New York strip loin and house-made mac and cheese with autumn vegetables and chocolate bread pudding then watch the parade in an exclusive viewing location. Lunch reservations for this package are available between 1:00 PM and 3:30 PM. You will receive a voucher for the day’s second parade performance.
Each package includes:
- One lunch entrée, dessert and one drink
- One voucher that provides access to the Reserved Parade Viewing area
- One Plaza Inn credential
- $45 per adult
- $25 per child (ages 3 to 9)
- Magic Key Holder and Cast Member discounts apply
To book dining reservations go to the Disneyland website.
It’s a Small World shows
Every night there are two separate shows to watch. The first one, It’s a Small World Holiday Lighting show is the magical moment when the whimsical facade lights up in a dazzling display with thousands of festive twinkling lights. This show takes place every night only ONCE at 5:15 pm. You don’t want to miss the amazing views when they turn the lights ON!! No need to arrive early just show up to see the magic!
Also be sure to watch the cutest projection show Tick-Tock Tidings on the exterior of It’s a Small World throughout the night. There are several opportunities to see this fun 2 minute holiday show! This show is projections on the facade dancing to music. It happens nightly every 30 minutes. Most nights it starts at 5:30 pm, but skips 6:00 pm because the parade is going on, then resumes at 6:30, 7:00, 7:30, 8:00, 8:30, 9:00, 10:00, 10:30, 11:00, 11:30 pm depending on how late the park is open.
The Wintertime Enchantment at Sleeping Beauty’s Winter Castle
Watch more than 126,000 twinkling LED lights illuminate Sleeping Beauty’s Winter Castle every night. There’s a magical lighting show twice a night plus it SNOWS at Disneyland! Don’t miss the chance to snap a photo like this one below! Watch the spectacular castle lighting each night at 7:30 pm and 8:15 pm. The Wintertime Enchantment at Sleeping Beauty’s Winter Castle is sure to bring a smile and maybe even a tear to your eye! The short show includes music, lighting and SNOW at the end. It’s just so magical! No need to line up early for this show. Just come and enjoy the beautiful music and dazzling light show! The times do change as the season goes on. Be sure to check the app for the exact times the day of your visit. Watch in front of the castle or back on Main Street.
Believe in Holiday Magic Fireworks
This show is so magical with fireworks, an electrifying musical score and the most magical ending with snowfall! The show starts at 9:00 pm every night and lasts for 15 min. Double check in the Disneyland app under entertainment for the show time on the night you’re there! Suggested viewing locations for the fireworks and snowfall are at the castle, on Main Street or near It’s a Small World. Don’t miss this spectacular way to end your holiday Disney day! I have a full blog post written about fireworks including viewing tips, exit strategies and more over here.
Snow at Disneyland
Yes it’s true it snows at Disneyland. There’s nothing more magical and you MUST see this happen. When and where can you see magical snowfall in Disneyland? There are a few times during the night you can catch this phenomenon.
- At the castle lighting show each night at 7:30 pm and 8:15 pm. Snowfall in the hub, on Main Street and over by It’s a Small World.
- After the fireworks show at 9:15 pm at any of these locations … in front of the castle, all along Main Street or near Small World.
- Also as I was leaving one night it just snowed for a minute on Main Street at 10:30 p.m.
There are several opportunities to see it snow, make sure you see this extra added magic only found during the holidays! Check with a cast member cause these times are subject to change.
How to fit it all in
Here’s a possible plan to see several holiday shows in one night. Watch the tree lighting in Town Square at 5:00 pm then quickly head to It’s a Small World to see the holiday lighting at 5:15 pm. Then wait in the same area to see Tick-Tock Tidings on the exterior of It’s a Small World, the projection show at 5:30 pm, if the 5:30 show doesn’t happen just stick around after the parade and see it on the next half hour mark. Now stay right there and watch the “A Christmas Fantasy” parade. It starts in Town Square at 5:30 pm and marches back to where you’re at so don’t move. And voila you just saw 3 of my favorite Christmas traditions all from the same place back to back to back. As soon as the parade is over head to the front of the castle for another lighting show with snow at 7:30 pm. Find a spot, mobile order some food and send someone to get it while you wait for the show. That’s a total of 5 amazing shows you can see from about 5 pm -7:30 pm all in a row!!!! And you could top off the night with fireworks at 9 pm in the same location or head to Main Street for a different view. Make sure to print the Holiday checklist Guide at the end of this post.
Famous Disneyland Candy Canes
If you plan to try and get your hands on one of the coveted hand pulled candy canes made fresh at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure I’ve got all the tips! Read my blog post about how, what days and where to score one of these hard to get treats!
Holiday attraction overlays
There are two attractions that are all decked out for Christmas in Disneyland. The Haunted Mansion Holiday is a combination of two holidays colliding. Halloween meets Christmas with Jack Skellington and his friends from Halloweentown. This popular attraction gets quite the line, so hit this ride in the morning. And enjoy a special lighting ceremony in the evening. Details found here.
The other attraction overlay is over at It’s a Small World Holiday. The attraction gets a holiday makeover. Disney added a new level of magic 2 years ago with the addition of smells pumped into the rooms throughout the ride it’s fantastic. Pay attention as you go through the ride for smells in this order … pine tree, candy cane, cherry blossom, cinnamon and coconut. This attraction is very popular among fans as well. Add this to your ride list earlier in the day to avoid long lines. Or hop in line just after you finish watching the parade for a shorter line.
There are several characters out this holiday season dressed in their Christmas best! You can find Mickey, Minnie, Pluto, Chip, Dale and Goofy on Main Street in Town Square after you enter the parks. Appearance times vary. I love to get to the parks early and get photos with them first thing! Plus over in ToonTown you can see Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Goofy and Pluto dressed in different Christmas outfits! And only during Christmas time, during the character breakfast at The Plaza Inn can you get this photo with Minnie. For more details read here.Plus Santa Claus makes a guest appearance over by the exit of Splash Mountain. More about him below.
Visit Santa Claus
If visiting Santa is on your list there are 5 locations to meet/visit Santa! Ho Ho Ho. You can see him in each park, Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. Plus he’s available in each of the Disney hotels (3). There are PhotoPass photographers to take your photo for you as well.
My favorite location to meet Santa is over in Disney California Adventure at Santa’s Holiday Visit. This location is in the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail near the Grizzly River Run ride. This year Santa arrives on November 12th and will be visiting through December 24th from 9:00 a.m to 6:45 p.m. After he heads back to the North Pole, Santa Goofy is around until after the New Year. There are several reasons I love this location with many activities available including…
- Sign Santa’s NICE list
- Meet the BIG GUY Santa himself
- Join the elves in fun games.
- Fly with the reindeer on the zip line.
- Play on the JINGLE bridge
- I’ve seen Chip and Dale make appearances here too!
- Check out all the cute decor it’s the perfect ambiance to meet Santa!
- Plus this is a great place to rest your feet while the kids run around and play!
- And for a fee you can decorate a cookie for Santa.
You can also visit Santa in Critter Country at Pooh’s thotful spot daily inside Disneyland. He’s over by the exit of Splash Mountain. He takes breaks during the day. I will update when he arrives from the North Pole and starts greeting guests.
All of the holiday food options and recommendations need their own post. I’m going to leave this photo of my all time favorite beignet flavor – candy cane right here!!!!And for all the food details this holiday season in both parks let’s discuss that topic further over here! I created a holiday food checklist you can print for your trip go check it out!
Disney Merriest Nites
For the first time ever Disneyland is hosting a holiday after hours event, Merriest Nites. Read everything you need to know about going to the party including what to expect, exclusive food and a printable checklist. Dates for the party are November 11, 16 and 30, December 7 and 9. At this time tickets are sold out for the event. If you plan to be in the parks on these dates but don’t have a party ticket the park closes for you at 7 p.m.
Disney California Adventure Holiday Guide
Season’s Speedings from Cars Land! This land is all decked out for the holidays. There are two holiday ride overlays, Luigi’s Joy to the World and Mater’s Jingle Jamboree. Both rides feature holiday tunes for the season. You can also find Santa Mater just outside the Cozy Cone Motel. He makes appearances all day long. Just ask a cast member cause the times don’t appear in the app. At sunset they turn on all the lights in Carsland just like in the movie. The holiday song you’re listening for is “Walkin’ in a Winter Wonderland.” Just google sunset in Anaheim for the exact time it will happen daily.
Look around at all the clever CAR Christmas decor including gas cans, hub caps, tires, air filters, wrenches and more on Route 66. And be sure to take a peak inside the Cozy Cone motel lobby at the gingerbread house.
Holiday Tree Lighting
Watch the Holiday Tree Lighting on Buena Vista in Disney’s California Adventure daily at 4:55 p.m.! There is no announcement or anything they just turn on at exactly 4:55 p.m. so be ready if you want to film it.
Holiday Toy Drummers
One of the most entertaining holiday shows, The Holiday Toy Drummers! These drummers are fun to watch plus very talented! I could watch their show over and over. They perform daily in Disney California Adventure park in front of The Little Mermaid ride on the stage. Make sure you see them! Check the app for sure on the day you go! They perform several times usually 10:30, 11:30 AM, 2:30, 3:30 PM
¡Viva Navidad! Street party
Feliz Navidad the celebrations throughout DCA include the ¡Viva Navidad! Street party, a bright, fun, festive celebration with The Three Caballeros, Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Jose Carioca, giant mojiganga puppets, musicians and more. Find this show in Disney California Adventure Park near Goofy’s Sky School in Paradise Gardens Park daily! Showtimes are normally 1:45, 2:45, 3:45, 5:15, 6:15 and 7:15 p.m. The best seat is in front of Bayside Brews just to the right.
Grab some delicious Mexican food in Paradise Gardens including holiday food and drinks. There are arts and crafts further down towards the Little Mermaid ride including cards, ornaments, make a dreidel, make a lantern, decorative mat, papel picado lantern and a royal tiara!
Mickey’s Happy Holidays show
One of the newer shows, “Mickey’s Happy Holidays” is a cheerful celebration featuring favorite Disney and Pixar characters with music that makes you want to dance along. Mickey Mouse and pals along with the Holiday Toy Drummers entertain us. They dance along the parade route from Paradise Gardens Park down to Carthay Circle and around to Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s a cute short parade that happens twice a day at 12:30 and 4:15 pm.
Letter to Santa
Here’s a fun tip for your kids! Find Molly (one of the Citizens of Buena Vista Street) in Disney California Adventure near the central plaza area on her bike as shown below. She has a postcard and your kids can write a letter to Santa! Then she will deliver it!
There are several characters out this holiday season dressed in their Christmas best on Buena Vista Street near Carthay Circle. You will find Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Donald and Daisy dressed for the holidays! And don’t forget above where I mentioned my favorite spot to meet Santa over in the Redwood Creek Challenge area.
Disney Festival of Holidays
Disney has announced the return of the Disney Festival of Holidays. Celebrate holiday traditions from around the world with cuisine from 8 different Festival Foods Marketplaces set up around Disney California Adventure starting November 12th through January 9, 2022. All the details about this food festival can be found on the holiday food post. Plus I created a Festival of Holidays food checklist to print ahead of time and plan what food you want to try!
Top 10 list
Here’s my TOP 10 quick reference guide if you’re headed to the parks during the holidays. Screenshot these things you must do!
- “A Christmas Fantasy” parade
- Holiday tree lighting in Town Square
- It’s a Small World holiday lighting
- Tick Tock Tidings projections on It’s a Small World
- Wintertime Enchantment Castle lighting with snow
- Believe in Holiday Magic fireworks with snow
- Meet Santa at Redwood Creek Challenge
- Holiday Toy Drummers
- ¡Viva Navidad! Street party
- Mickey’s Happy Holidays dance party
Better yet here’s a FREE Holiday checklist of everything in both parks that you can print for your visit. Use it to plan your days! Click here to print.
Visit Santa at the hotels
If you want to visit Santa and don’t have a park ticket no problem. Anyone can visit Santa in the lobby of the 3 different Disneyland resort hotels. He meets at different times in each hotel so I’ve included the number to call and check times. There’s no official word out yet on when he’s arriving so call ahead to see for sure this year.
- Grand Californian call 714-635-2300 then press 5
- Disneyland hotel call 714-778-6600 then press 3
- Paradise Pier 714-999-0990 then press 3
Santa makes appearances throughout the day. And carolers perform in some of the lobbies as well.
Grand Californian hotel at Christmas time
I love to check out Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel lobby on my visits to the parks. It’s a great place to take a break and there are many things to see and do. Remember the lobby is for everyone not just hotel guests.
- See the beautiful Christmas tree.
- Look at the giant gingerbread house replica of the hotel itself.
- Enjoy gingerbread cookies, sugar cookies, other treats and hot chocolate from the lobby’s holiday cart.
- Grab a seat by the fire, take a load off and enjoy the view!
- Meet Santa in the hotel lobby
- Listen to the Hand Bells – carolers perform daily.
- Sit in the comfy lobby chairs and listen to the talented piano player.
The Grand hotel is very close to both parks. There is an entrance to the hotel in Disney’s California Adventure near the Grizzly River Run ride. Or if you exit Disneyland head west to Downtown Disney and it’s just beyond the World of Disney store by The Dress Shop.
If you made it through all of that information you deserve and medal. I wanted to be very thorough and cover everything available during the holidays. If you have any questions or comments leave them below. I hope you have a joyous time when you visit. And refer back to this post often as I will update throughout the season as things change. Happy Holidays!
First time visiting Avengers Campus read here.
Tips for getting a boarding group, required to ride Rise of the Resistance.
Be sure to pin this to your Disneyland board!