Family Travel: Holidays are Magic at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, Photo Courtesy of Disney

Santa Mater!


I don’t know how Disney does it.  Without fail, no matter what mood I am in when heading to the park, no matter how many times the kids have to step out of line to head to the restroom, no matter the late afternoon crankiness and hungry tummy grumbling, Disneyland is pure magic.  I get warm fuzzies just thinking about Disneyland; my most recent holiday trip to both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure is no exception.  The holidays are the perfect time for your first or your 100th visit –in spite of the often busy crowds; the park is overflowing with holiday cheer and magical experiences.

Disney California Adventure

Although I’ve been to Disneyland numerous times around the holiday season, 2012 was my first visit to Disney California Adventure for Christmas.  With the park’s opening of Cars Land and Buena Vista Street this June and the completion of a massive mega-million dollar renovation, I am pleased to say that Disney California Adventure now possesses that Disney “je ne sais quoi” that leaves you feeling happy, delighted, and warmly close to your loved ones.

Buena Vista Street, which welcomes guests into the park, is beautifully adorned with vintage 1920’s holiday decorations reminiscent of the time when Walt Disney arrived to Hollywood.  A beautiful 50-foot Christmas tree stands at the end of the street at Carthay Circle. Your little ones can share their wish list and snag a picture with Santa at Elias & Co., the main store along Buena Vista Street.  Live Christmas music echoes through the streets as performers sing your favorite Christmas carols, even inspiring unplanned and unrehearsed families sing-alongs!

Holiday Cars Land is incredible.  Kids and their parents alike will fall in love with the whimsical car-themed decorations from air filter garland, tire wreaths, and quite a few interesting Christmas “trees” made from tires, cones, radiators, and more.  I know pretty much nothing about actual cars but found the décor to be perfectly fitting and totally fun.  Cars Land, of course, features three brand-new rides, numerous shops and eateries, and the chance to meet & greet with Lightning McQueen and other local Radiator Springs celebrities.

The entire park is in the holiday spirit.  Additional holiday offerings inside Disney California Adventure include the holiday-themed “Mad T Party” and “World of Color” water and effects show.


Holiday festivities exude from almost every nook and cranny of the original Disney Park.  Disney’s beloved “A Christmas Fantasy” parade is back, and while I typically hate parades, I will stop everything I am doing to watch a Disney parade.  I love getting a glimpse at my children’s faces as the next float rounds the bend.  There is a sweet innocence in watching a parade, and the Christmas version of Disney’s spectacular showmanship will have you believing in Santa & his elves once again.

I first rode “it’s a small world” Holiday upon its original opening in the late 1990s.  I was only a teenager and was grumbling about the line and how lame of a ride this was going to be.  Flash forward to 2012 and my eight-going-on-eighteen year-old daughter was following in my footsteps.  She begrudgingly waited in line for the “baby” ride as a requisite duty for having a little sister to entertain.  Once on board, the scowl dropped and kept dropping as she discovered what I did many years ago – don’t assume you are too old for anything Disney.  “It’s a small world” Holiday is cheerful, delightfully entertaining, and mesmerizing.  She loved it.  I loved it.  We all left the ride with the hugest smiles imaginable.  Everyone does.

At Haunted Mansion Holiday, Jack Skellington, from Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” has taken over the house and has filled it with his eccentric Halloween/Christmas mash up.  Fans of the movie will love it.  My kids weren’t familiar with the film but did find the bright lights and bold paint to be a bit of a relief from the typically darker Haunted Mansion.

I recommend visiting the Jingle Jangle Jamboree in Big Thunder Ranch.  Disney characters roamed the area interacting with kids: my girls got to sit down and color a few crafts with Pluto and snap some pictures with Mickey Mouse and even Santa.  Live seasonal music fills the open air, and numerous games, crafts, and activities are available including a few petting zoo areas.

The crown jewel of the Holidays at Disneyland Park takes place nightly in front of Sleeping Beauty’s Winter Castle.  Not only does the view down Main Street look sublime, the castle itself lights up in a majestic show of lights and sparkles three times a night.  Be sure to check out the last show, just before “Believe…in Holiday Magic,” the fireworks extravaganza.  I have shed more tears during Disney’s carefully orchestrated and wonderfully thought out pyrotechnic shows than I care to admit.  Topping off this nightly show is a SoCal rarity- snow!  The nightly snowfall takes place over Main Street, near “it’s a small world,” and in New Orleans Square.  Don’t miss it!

The Holidays at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure run now through January 6, 2013.
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photo: Courtesy of Disney

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