Disneyland is known as the happiest place in the world, and rightly so because our family had the happiest time when we went there before Christmas.
When you clash the happiest place on earth with the happiest time on earth, you’re sure to experience an amazing Christmas.
Timing – Visiting Disneyland in December
We timed our Christmas visit right before the American schools finished their school term. While we weren’t in Disneyland for Christmas (we left 22nd December), the week leading up to the last weekend before Christmas was ideal and while it was busy, there was still room to move.
The park was open later at night (till midnight or 1am most nights) so you could definitely do a huge day and night at Disneyland to get in as much of the park as possible.
For families with younger children, the larger days can allow for a break in between. A morning session followed by a nap back at the hotel, and an afternoon/ night session.
For our kids, they didn’t want to nap so we went hard all day and retreated to our hotel at 10pm at night. This helped with our jetlag too.
The park turned super busy on the Saturday before Christmas. It took 20 mins to get through security and around an hour to get in through the first gate. If you want to get through security quickly, don’t take a backpack or only allow the adults to carry a backpack. It can save time for the security guard looking through everyone’s back pack.
Popular rides had an hour and half wait time. We waited 80 mins to get on the Finding Nemo ride, which we were keen to experience as it was a ride none of us had been on. As it was our last half day in the park, we didn’t mind the wait.
There were also things we didn’t get to experience and despite having a 5 day hopper pass (this allowed us to go into California Adventure Park and Disneyland over the different days). We broke our visit with a day trip to LEGOLAND.
We didn’t feel like we missed out. You have to make peace that you may not see everything when you visit Disneyland with kids.
Enjoy the atmosphere and do the park at your own pace. You don’t have to do all the shows and all the parades, nor do you have to line up to go on every ride. Some rides you may want to ride twice because they’re so much fun – like It’s a Small World or Soaring.
I have been to all the Disneyland’s in the world, and my favourite is the one at Anaheim. This last trip was my first time at California Adventure Park. When I was 13, that park didn’t exist – it was a carpark for Disneyland. There was also no Downtown Disney.
Having experienced all the Disneyland parks, I had a good idea of what rides to skip. (No Guardians of the Galaxy for us). My parents also knew which rides we’d love, having visited multiple times before. So this experience can also help in discerning which rides to line up for.
Disneyland is the theme park to go to if you have tweens and teens. I wouldn’t visit LEGOLAND with this age group. I’d definitely visit Universal Studios instead (you can read my family tips when visiting Universal Studios here). If I had the choice between which parks are best, Disneyland would win hands down. Disneyland was cleaner, more vibrant and the atmosphere is one I’ve yet to experience in another theme park.
If you are planning a family trip to Disneyland Anaheim during Christmas, here are some tips and must dos.
1. You don’t have to book into the Disneyland Hotels to have the ultimate Disneyland experience. They are expensive. While they may give you earlier access to the park, you can also get this with your chosen hotel in the surrounding area.
Harbor Boulevard has a number of different options for accommodation and the shuttles do round trips every 20mins to half an hour. There are a number of different hotel and apartment options to suit all family sizes and budgets. We stayed at the Hilton Homewood Suites in a family suite, which had a double bed, and a bunk bed and trundle, so our three kids could sleep in the same room with us. The shuttle stop was a few meters up the street. It would take 5 mins to drive to Disneyland or around 15-20 mins to walk to the front gate.
2. Get shuttle passes as walking to the park and hotel was a welcome relief for our legs and feet. We also used this shuttle network to visit the Orange County Outlets for some shopping.
3. Get a FastPass to use on popular rides. There can still be a wait time with this pass, but it’s much quicker than if you didn’t have one. You can also get a digital photo pass, so all photos you get on the rides or from the professional photographers in the park, can be downloaded straight to your phone.
4. Do book a breakfast with the characters. Pre-book these as they can get fully booked. We had two different breakfasts. One with Minnie Mouse at Plaza Inn (this is in the Disneyland Park) and at Goofy’s Kitchen (in the foyer of one of the Disney Hotels). This is the ideal way to get the kids to meet the characters. Make sure you remember to bring your kids signature books (I forgot them for our first breakfast!)
5. Do stay for the fireworks. Get your place at least an hour before the fireworks start –for standing room only. Use that time for one parent to get snacks like cotton candy or popcorn to make the time go faster. The fireworks at Christmas time are MAGICAL. Despite the crowds and long wait in one spot, it was worth it. I have embedded in my memore the beautiful atmosphere after the conclusion of the fireworks, where man-made snow filtered down the main street of Disneyland. It’s my favourite memory from our trip.
6. If your kids fall in love with a toy, t-shirt or something in one of the shops, remember the shop or buy it there and then. There is a shopping service available, but we didn’t use it. Kids like to have their things with them when they buy them. There was so much Christmas themed Disney paraphernalia. Each land has their own souvenirs to buy. We had to go back to one particular store to get matching t-shirts that weren’t available in the clothes store on the main street.
7. Do try the churros (Spanish long donut dessert). We tried all types of flavours from gingerbread, sugar plum and plain cinnamon. Delicious! Three of these were enough to snack on for our family of 5 as they are very long.
8. Buy ponchos if you go on Splash Mountain. The kid to adult ratio on our ride meant our whole family got drenched to our undies. $150US later, all three of my girls were kitted in new Minnie Mouse Undies and clothes to walk around in. Mum and dad had to drip dry. Pack spare clothes if you intend to go on this ride or just pack a poncho.
9. Do line up for the parades. The parades have a Christmas theme in both parks. In California Adventureland, the Viva Navidad parade was fabulous. My girls got to dance with the dancers at the end.
10. Visit the parks with grandparents or other families and friends. This can prove helpful if children are too short for a particular ride the whole family wants to go on. Or if they chicken out at the last minute. My parents took the girls on the Radiator Springs ride, while my husband and I experienced the IncrediCoaster.
Here are some more photos from our trip from within Disneyland and California Adventure Park.
Christmas is a beautiful time of year to experience Disneyland. The lights are spectacular, and rides are themed around the holiday season. But do expect it to be busy with other visitors wanting to experience the same magic. The week before Christmas is less crowded than the week during Christmas so plan your trip with that in mind if you want to experience Disneyland at Christmas.