Nearly every day, my boy still brings up Disneyland. If it’s not about Disneyland, it’s about Disneyworld, which he has never yet visited.
And in my eyes, that means our Disneyland over Christmas trip was a massive success! Funny how all you think about is how tired you are when there, but once home looking at your pictures, you wish the place was your back yard.
Now, I’m no Disney expert by a long shot. But I am a blogger, and love to share pictures and ramble, so this post is power backed with both pictures and our best shared tips.
This is a LONG post… but hopefully if you’ve never been to Disney before or not in many years, this will help!
Here we go…
Click pics to enlarge and view in a slideshow
How to Survive Disneyland during Christmas
Worst time of year? Yes and no…
Yes. We were crazy enough to venture to Disneyland at the busiest time of year. In a nutshell, my son couldn’t miss school, so it was what it was.
BUT!! We made out like bandits doing things certain ways. So if this is the only time you can go, I may suggest to consider it, because there are actually some perks going at this time of year.
Everything was open
EVERYTHING was open. No closures whatsoever. So if you wanted it, you could have it. As long as you paid the lineup price. 🙂
YES!!! They did this. California Adventure closed at 11pm, and Disneyland at midnight when it’s normally 8pm. This made a MASSIVE difference. The secret though?
Go AFTER the parades and fireworks
By about 10pm, Adventure was down to a crawl. This was prime time to run up to nearly any ride with no lineups. You could basically walk on, end the ride and walk right back on again. We got more rides in during the late night hours than the entire day combined. Good thing we’re natural night owls. 🙂
We stayed in Adventure until 11. Then we RACED over to Disneyland and did the same thing. Darted for the rides we missed previously. If you wanted to go on a ride on the other side of the park, jumping on the train was the best bet.
Stay on the outskirts during fireworks time
Oh my gosh. One night we were booked in the Blue Bayou for dinner. But we got lost in the shuffle of people. We somehow ended up by the castle (oops), and got caught in this gridlock of bodies. No one was moving. No one. It was scary. But our mistake was walking in a central area near fireworks time. Just don’t.
There’s plenty of sneaky ways to get through the park if you hug the corners. Do that.
Restrooms need maps!
Carry a map at all times. We didn’t. You have no idea how many wild goose chases we went on trying to find restrooms with vague directions given. If you see one, just use it, even if you don’t need it! 🙂
But DO carry a map to avoid this issue. We learned the hard way.
Take advantage of Magic Mornings
For those in the know, you know about Magic Mornings. The park opens up 1 hour early (in this case, that was 7am). This is good! But not as good as you may think.
The early opening was only good on the Disneyland side but only in certain sections. We didn’t know that.
So that’s where everyone sprinted. Therefore the lines at 7:05 were 45 minutes long in seconds. Um… whatever. 🙂 Peter Pan was always the longest wait. Now or never though, right?
But it still helped, because if you were right where the ropes broke open at 8, you made out like a bandit on anything you desired. Over and over again.
This is the best time to get Fast Passes for the most popular rides, but you’ll be tempted to jump on rides with no lineups instead.
I say get a fast pass, then run back to your no lineup ride. But only if you aren’t too tired. The walks are LOOOONNNNNGGGGG.
Fast passes are like reservation tickets. Only certain attractions have them. You go to the ride, ask where the fast pass booth is (because they aren’t always in the same location), then the machine spits out a ticket with your assigned time.
You can only hold one fast pass in your name at a time until it expires, unless it’s x amount of hours later.
ie: if it’s 9am and you get a fast pass that says 10pm, (it happens!) you can still get another fast pass right away, because of the length of time in between.
How to play the fast pass system
We were too tired to play the system to the hilt, but if you can do it, good on ya!
In the early AM, get fast pass #1.
Then go on a ride with no lineups.
When fast pass #1 is due, don’t use it yet. Wait 1 minute after due time, then go get fast pass #2.
Then go back to fast pass #2 ride.
TIP: Adventureland and Disneyland are regarded as separate entities, so you can hold fast passes in each park for the same times.
But good luck with that… it’s VERY tiring running back and forth. You’d see lots of ‘runners’ getting fast passes in bulk. That’s the wise way if you go with a group.
Take afternoons off… go back to the hotel
One of our most favorite days was heading into the park very early, heading back to the hotel at noon, then returning to the park after fireworks time.
While everyone was standing in line getting nowhere fast, we were in the pool, hot tub, watching a Harry Potter marathon, and ordering in room service. And we got in the most rides that day.
Take DAYS off
When I booked our vacation, it was for 8 days with a 5 day Disney pass. On purpose.
I counted on going into Disney every other day, with days off in between. And am I ever glad we did that.
Our feet were so sore the first day we couldn’t move day 2. The hot tub totally saved and revived us!
We didn’t even leave the room one day. We ordered food in, and watched that continuing Harry Potter marathon. We didn’t even make it out to the pool. And it was WONDERFUL.
Be kind to yourself. This vacation isn’t restful. So plan for days like this.
Splash Mountain, Disneyland California
Choose one morning to take pictures only
One morning my son was too tired to get up. I took that opportunity to get out there first thing with my camera.
You can’t take decent pictures with MOBS of people everywhere. But you can if you do it in the AM. I actually ran through a few rides and took pics while in lineups, like the Haunted Mansion below.
You’ll also gain an entirely different appreciation for the beauty of the theming. When you run ride to ride, you miss SO MUCH.
The day I took this Cars land tour, was my morning ride free. Aren’t the photos amazing?
Slow down. At least one morning, take it slow and enjoy.
Book dinner at the Blue Bayou before you get to Disney
I’m going to be perfectly honest here and confess the food at Disney isn’t really very good.
There are some reasonable things, like the corn dogs, pretzels, dole whips, and churros, but the junk food gets old fast.
BUT…. the Blue Bayou is a NOT TO MISS meal. I think the plates were around $50 each, but you’re talking melt in your mouth amazingness. And the ambiance is hard to beat, inside the Pirates of the Caribbean setting.
You sit on what appears to be an outdoor patio in the deep south. Massive trees reach over your tables, illuminated with wired lights. You hear crickets, cicadas, and see fireflies dart here and there. It’s magical!
But do book at least 2 weeks ahead of time from home during Christmas, or you’ll have to give it a miss. And you don’t want to do that. Go! You’ll understand why.
Do a Dole Whip / Tiki Room combo!
I read somewhere that the only way to see the Enchanted Tiki Room was to get a Dole Whip first, so you can enjoy both at the same time.
Best advice EVER! They are side by side so it was easily done. Just prepare to wait in line for one… of course! 🙂
The apps aren’t all that accurate
Thinking we were super smart, I preloaded an app that told us how long the lineups were to each ride.
They only work if people chime in their actual times. Which they’re too busy standing in lineups to do.
Use them as a guide, but they weren’t very accurate at all.
No wifi in the park
This is true. You’re on your own.
Minimal iPhone charging stations
Disney is geared to charge your stuff while it sits in lockers. There is no official place to plug in your gear anywhere else.
In today’s world, I think they should rethink this.
Goes without saying, Disney lights up like Vegas at night. But add in Christmas, and it’s spectacular!
Certain rides suddenly transform into something beyond your wildest dreams.
Mad Hatter Teacup Ride
It’s a Small World
Go to It’s a Small World… at NIGHT
It’s a Small World is one of the most difficult, but worthwhile rides to get on. With no fast pass options, you’re at the mercy of a lineup.
BUT… it’s one of the most enjoyable lineups you’ll ever stand in during Christmas.
The entire world is lit up, but does much more. There are movies, it turns into a gingerbread house, and more. It’s the most gorgeous hour you’ll ever endure. So, you gotta do this one during Christmas AT NIGHT.
One night after the fireworks, we were ‘stuck’ in this zone, when it started to snow from the lamp posts.
Music. Snow fall. Tears. Everyone quiet. Pure Magic.
Not to mention, every corner will take your breath away. There are additional rooms done with just Christmas. I can’t imagine seeing it any other time of year.
The castle by day is spectacular. But once it’s fully lit up at night, you won’t believe your eyes. It’s very hard to take in during the lighting of the castle during fireworks time. Do that anyway at least once!
But our best castle photo opportunity was around midnight once most have exited the park. One evening, we just parked on a bench, and people watched, illuminated by the glow of the castle.
Take a peek at what the castle looks like during the day HERE… it’s gorgeous!
Someone had suggested we pack an extra set of shoes. GREAT advice! Throw the extra ones in your backpack and change back and forth. For sure.
Pack a point and shoot camera
What do you think of the pictures in this post? They were done on a little itty bitty point and shoot!
I confess, I’m a DSLR girl. I love my good camera and its fancy lenses. But carting around a full frame heavyweight wouldn’t cut it for me.
So I picked up a quality point and shoot. Best thing I ever did. A little Canon G7X came along and did a great job!
It wasn’t a cheap camera, but I let the camera salesman know quality was my thing. This was one of the best of his recommendations. And it didn’t disappoint. I took the pictures in aperture mode.
Too funny… I finally have the opportunity to cheat with a automatic, and didn’t use auto even once. 🙂
Backpacks can be handy if you don’t wish to carry your water in your hand or wear your rain poncho all day. But it’s also more weight to cart around. Some days we took them, but other days we didn’t. You’ll learn pretty quick what’s worth the weight. 🙂
We did. We got saturated on Splash Mountain right down to our shoes. But… we also got wet with the ponchos on too… just not as bad. 🙂 But at night? Oh yes. Do the ponchos at night. It’s cold, and you will freeze!
Was it REALLY cold?!
Yes. It was. I was missing my winter coat. We heard it was unseasonably cold though this Christmas, so there’s that. Layers are your best friend.
Where to stay
The million dollar question. If you can afford it, The Grand Californian Hotel would be my first pick. It backs right against Disneyland so there’s no walking involved. In fact, our entry was through the hotel. It’s amazing.
But we picked a smaller hotel within a 15 minute walk, called the Annabella hotel. It had a spanish flavour which I loved! I’d stay there again! My only complaint is they had no microwave for guests to use. And the walk for food to the 7 Eleven was a LONG way. Especially after a full day at the park.
We honestly kinda struggled having no vehicle nor cooking facilities. The restaurants weren’t the best quality near our hotel. Let’s just say that left a great reason to want to come home again. 🙂
I might suggest to stay near the main front entrance. I remember many more restaurants and stores closer to your hotel.
I won’t lie. It was mayhem people wise at Disneyland during Christmas. But we ended up having the time of our lives, getting more rides in than we could handle. So if it’s truly the only time you can go…
You should go! 🙂
Don’t miss out THIS POST on Carsland at Christmas… that place is outstanding!
Do you have any other tips? Feel free to share them in comments below! I’m sure I’ve missed thousands. 🙂
Visit all Disney instalments HERE.
19 thoughts on “How to survive Disneyland during Christmas with park pictures galore”
Gosh, it’s been an age since we went to Disneyland. I remember one trip, Chloe was a baby, Jon and Kerstie were about 7 and 8, and we had to stand in line (with baby C) for a ride where baby was too little to go, but then as soon as one parent went with the older children and got back, we would switch it up and the second parent went with the children straight away without waiting thru the line a second time. I remember J and K were thrilled to bits to get two rides on each. So my big tip is take a baby…lol. 😀 Oh, I also remember dropping my Canon lens cap somewhere in Futureland, and the lost and found department on Main st USA simply pulled out a box full of lens caps and said, “help yourself.”. There were tons of lens caps! I found the exact replica for the one I lost.
Next time I will make quick friends with a ‘family’… haha so funny!
And hilarious on the lost and found quote… I’m sure it’s big enough to be a store on its own! Wouldn’t you love to browse it all to see what people leave behind or drop inside rides? I lost my park tickets in rides TWICE! So easily done.
Outstanding photos! Sounds like you had a fabulous time and that makes my heart smile! ox
Wow what a wonderful happy exp both you & your son had! no wonder you were asking about comfy shoes! since i have not been back to Disneyland in years, had forgotten the long lines etc. worth it? yes but long! you were less than 20 min from me i missed the opportuity to meet my “hero” in person! now that was a huge disappointment but with knee surgery,& being barely recovered, a dark, lightly rainy night (wet streets (was too risky for me) but am so sorry i missed having coffee with you but so happy you & your son had fun! someday there will be an opportunity to meet in person, chat about blogging, your beautiful cats and all the wonderful fun and yes funky junk you turn into treasures! happy days Donna!
Audrey in Sunset Beach California
Aww Audrey, that would have been so nice to meet up, but completely understand! I hope you’re well on the mend!
From someone who has made numerous trips to Disney, I would agree with your post on most every single tip! So glad you loved your Dole Whip! Our last several Disney trips have been to Disney World vs. Disneyland and I will say the food we have eaten at Disney World has been amazing! I love your visiting at Christmas perspective and will keep in mind, we plan to visit next year over Christmas ourselves.
That dole whip still lives in my DREAMS. 🙂 I hear they serve them in Hawaii too, so that’s good to know!
I’m so glad you had a better food experience. I think it was just the places we chose to frequent.
We go every year for a week at Christmas. We do stay at the Grand Californian but for shorter trips we stay at The Candy Cane Inn which backs up to Cars Land. They have their own shuttle service and they are very punctual, but if you are walking it is just at the edge of the Disney property. Try them out next time. Also, if you can take some of the tours that Disney and California Adventure offers, they give you a great behind the scenes look at Disney.
I will look into The Candy Cane Inn for sure next round! Loved where we stayed, but the walk and no great food around was killer… 🙂
We went to Disney World this Christmas and these tips can definitely be applied there as well! So much fun, so much crowds and I would do it all over again in a heartbeat! Looks like ya’ll had a great time.
As a native southern CA girl who lives close to Disneyland, I think your photos are outstanding. I am a terrible photographer, but seeing your photos of a place I’ve been to numerous times makes me want to try harder to take better pics. So glad you had a good time on your vacation!
It’s just breathtaking…I wish I could hop a plane and go now! Your photos are gorgeous! I’m in need of a decent camera, so I’m definitely taking a cue from you and going with the Canon G7X. I’m so glad to know that you and your son finally got this grand opportunity and you made the most of it, too! The tips will definitely come in handy should I ever find myself at Disney…if I ever do get the chance, I’ll be revisiting this post for advice. Thank you!
Susan, you will love the output of this camera! I find it a little small in my hands though…as in, it’s hard to hold. Just wear that camera strap around your wrist! haha
Thanks for the picture kudos!
I have very small hands (I always say I have the hands of a little boy…lol), so this Canon is sounding evermore perfect for me! Once I have the camera, all I will need is to be able to shoot pix like a pro like you! I hope to get there one day…I will definitely be taking any tips from your blog that I can! Thank you, Donna!
I can’t stress enough how strongly I urge people to stay within Disney. No parking lines or parking fees to pay; very easy to go without a vehicle! Not sure about the meal plans as they weren’t available when we went but well worth investigating and probably a good idea. Also perks for guests staying on site (fastpass, etc.) I would rather stay in an basic Disney hotel than a better one outside any day.
I’d definitely consider it next round Jordi. It’s just that the time of year we went was SOOOO expensive. New years day in a ‘cheap hotel’ was $500 alone! We left before that date. 🙂
WOW; $500.00 is jaw dropping! I remember buying a travel guide on Disney and spending hours planning our daily itinerary which proved to be extremely beneficial since you want to make the most of every joyous second. Love Disney!
Gorgeous pictures, Donna!! This totally makes we want to go at Christmas! And great tips for going in the winter!