Christmas Time At Disneyland & California Adventure

It's been a while since we featured a Disneyland article, but after visiting the park for my birthday, I just knew I had to write an article on their holiday festivities. Aside from their amazing decorations, the Christmas-themed Small World, their holiday parade, a Christmas area in Big Thunder Ranch, holiday fireworks and the Nightmare Before Christmas Haunted Mansion, the park also added a Christmas theme to the Jungle Cruise for the first time ever. Plus, California Adventure has a new Christmas-themed World of Color as well as a Viva Navidad area filled with crafts, picture opportunities and more.

Even Downtown Disney is all decked out for the holidays with their little Christmas town-themed shops.

While it wasn't open yet, they even had an outdoor ice rink with a giant tree in the middle of it. Not bad considering it's not even in the park itself. 

When you enter the park and walk past the train station, the first thing you see is the unbelievably huge Christmas tree. In fact, it's over 60 feet tall and has more than 70,000 lights and 2,000 ornaments!

As you walk down Main Street, you quickly notice that all the buildings are decorated with bows, ornaments and more. Even the interior of the shops and the display windows are spruced up. And, of course, there's tons of Christmas merchandise -even whole shops with nothing but holiday goodies. As you can see in the top image, even Sleeping Beauty's castle is covered in snow, icicle lights and ornaments.

As I mentioned before, the newest addition to Disneyland's Christmas celebration is the Jingle Cruise, the Christmas take on the Jungle Cruise. I was a little bummed that they didn't do anything to the ride itself -they just spruced up the line area, the boats and changed the script. 

Even so, it is a fun change and the Christmas script is pretty silly. I absolutely love their new sign for the attraction too. Still, hopefully they'll decorate the animals and enhance other aspects of the ride next year.

As always, the Haunted Mansion Holiday is simply fantastic and for those who visit regularly it's a blast to notice how things are changed between the two versions.

While the whole park is decked out for the holidays, Big Thunder Ranch is the highlight of the holiday celebration. 

At the Barbecue's stage, musicians play guitar and sang while bringing kids onto the stage to dance and sing with them -giving parents a much needed break during their dining period.

The cabin in the Ranch is adorned with burlap bows, poinsettias, pine cones and more and the inside is loaded with fake, but beautiful sweets and a tree with dozens of presents underneath.

In the Jamboree area behind the restaurant and the petting zoo area, Billie Hill and the Hillbillies perform every hour, singing goofy, countrified versions of classic Christmas songs. The big surprise at the end though is the return of the Country Bears. This was a particularly fitting cameo considering the Country Bears are a favorite of many adults who visited the park as a kid, though they are no longer around (with this rare exception) and Billie Hill and the Hillbillies will be retiring at the start of next year, meaning they too will only be a fine memory of park-goers.

Beside Billie Hill and the Hillbillies, the Jamboree also features all kinds of costumed characters dressed in Christmas gear -Mickey and Minnie in their caroling gear, Pluto in his reindeer costume and Goofy in his Santa costume. There is also a Santa in costme so kids can get their picture taken and tell him what they want for Christmas. Kids can also play games, decorate cookies and color Christmas postcards.

When it comes to decorations you won't see anywhere else, you can't beat Toontown. 

Of all the character houses, Goofy's was one of the best -it features silly touches like bowling pins and empty jars. One particularly delighful aspects was the tiny wreath on the bird house.

One great thing about the Toontown decorations is that each building has decorations appropriate to their theme. Roger Rabbit's Car Toon Spin has decorations only in Roger's outfit colors and he's even in the wreath above. Meanwhile, the fireworks shop has a singed bow, the dog pound has bones in the garland and the dentist has candy in the wreath.

Of course, one of the hightlights of their holiday attractions has always been their Christmas Fantasy Parade. You can see costumed characters, dancers, Santa and more.

When we left to visit Calfornia Adventure, it just started to get dark, which meant all the lights had just started to come on. 

As it turns out, that meant we got there just in time for the tree lighting ceremony, which was led by Goofy, Pluto and a large group of caroling bell ringers.

While the Buena Vista tree isn't quite as big as the Main Street one, you can tell it's still pretty darn impressive.

Unfortunately, that also means we missed the festivities at Viva Navidad, which included a performance by the Three Cabellaros, fun crafts and an opportunity to take a picture with Goofy or other costumed characters.

We did make it in time for the World of Color Winter Dreams. The show is pretty cool to watch, but it focuses a bit too much on Frozen, considering the movie hasn't even come out yet, so people don't even know if they like it. Even so, it was cute and the Toy Story take on The Nutcracker is simply hilarious and adorable.

Like Disneyland, the whole park is decorated and the new Carsland area has some of the coolest decor ever. Everything is car-oriented, like this tree covered in hubcaps and the garland behind it made up of air filters and lights.

I really love this cone tree at the Cozy Cone motel. It's even powered by a giant car battery.

The Bugs Life area doesn't have much decoration, but what it does have is fantastic because it really makes you imagine what Christmas must look like to an insect. Just look at these giant ornaments and lights.

Over at the Hollywood area, the decorations are more classic and it's hard to beat this display showing Santa Claus flying across a painted street.

If you're only visiting California Adventure, you can still see Santa there too, you just have to head to the main shop area in Buena Vista where you can see a classic department store set up that reminds me of It's A Wonderful Life.

Back over at Disneyland, the train station looks fantastic at night.

The decorations on Main Street look simply amazing, especially when you can see the castle in the background. I didn't get any pictures of the fireworks, but just imagine this view with over 80,000 sparkling lights in the sky -it's pretty impressive.

If you make it, don't miss the It's A Small World Holiday, even if the ride usually drives you nuts. It's simply fantastic to see all the characters decked out in holiday gear -and at least you won't have to suffer through the usual Small World theme since they instead play Christmas music.

A few bonus notes:

  • I tested out a few of Buzzfeed's tips and you really can get a map at the Jungle Cruise and taking a picture of Sleeping Beauty's castle is way easier from the right hand side by the lake. 
  • Also, shopping during the hour after the rides close is a great way to wait out the mad rush as people leave all at once.
  • While you're in Downtown Disney, don't miss the WonderGround Gallery, which is filled with all kinds of great art based on Disney characters and attractions.
  • If you want to check out World of Color, don't forget to get a fast pass or else you might not be able to see it.
  • If you have any dietary restrictions, be sure to ask the chef at any restaurant about what they have that you can eat. Disney is super accommodating and they have all kinds of gluten free pastas, rolls, pizza and pastries for those of us who can't eat wheat.

For some fun trivia about their Christmas attractions, don't miss this great article we wrote back in 2010. If you can make it out to the parks, I hope you have fun!

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One thing I don't think was mentioned is that the entire front of It's a Small World is painted with an animated video projection show at night. I don't know how frequently they do it and I wasn't even aware of its existence, but we were luckily walking by when it started and it was awe-inspiring. There's probably video of it on YouTube I'd guess.

Also, side thought: I think the title of this post is supposed to be "Christmas Time at Disneyland & California Adventure" (but I suppose I could be wrong).

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