Why Holidays in the California Theme Parks?
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Disney is well known for its spectacular Holiday additions, from the themed parties in the Parks, to the decadently decorated Resorts, to the celebratory cruises on Disney Cruise Line; if there’s one thing that’s for sure, it’s that Disney knows how to celebrate in epic, Magical fashion!
And while Walt Disney World in Orlando gets a lot of attention for its Holiday celebrations (and deservedly so, because they are amazing), Disneyland in California has an incredible amount of festivities and cheerful additions that absolutely shouldn’t be missed, either!
Disney is so into celebrating Christmas that they extend the festivities from early November to early January, and not only that, but Disney also takes every other opportunity throughout the year to bring back some Christmas fun, too! In June, Disney celebrated Halfway to Christmas with special Holiday treats throughout the Parks, and also released some details about what this year’s Holiday Season has in store for visitors.
June’s Holiday Season announcements are just teasers for what is traditionally released this month, for Christmas in July, of course! July is typically the month when specifics about dates, Holiday Parties and all Holiday events are released, so there’s no better time to plan your 2023 Holiday Vacation than during the Christmas in July excitement!
Since this Inspiring Itinerary will feature California’s Theme Parks, we’ll be focusing on Disneyland and California Adventure, and Universal Studios Hollywood. One of the great things about choosing to visit the California Theme Parks is that there is less ground to cover than the Florida Parks, and while you can absolutely take a full week or more to fully enjoy everything, it’s also possible to get to everything in under a week.
Many of us are super busy in December, between Holiday school concerts, wrapping, last minute shopping (though this can easily be accomplished in Downtown Disney), and all the behind the scenes “Magic” that goes into the Holidays, so a long weekend trip might be the perfect amount of time to escape the chaos, without losing too much precious preparation time.
So, are you ready to celebrate Christmas in July with an Inspiring Itinerary for the 2023 Holiday Season?
Whether you’re flying into LAX, or driving in from somewhere nearby, you won’t be able to contain your excitement as you pull into your Disney Resort “Home” for your Holiday escape! Once you’re all checked in, and you’ve settled into your room and refreshed yourself a bit, it’s time to really get into the Yuletide spirit! Whatever your arrival time, all the traveling will probably have you ready for a bite to eat or at least a snack, so start by heading into Downtown Disney to try some of the special Holiday Treats! Many restaurants and bakeries in Downtown Disney feature seasonal menu additions, from drinks to apps to desserts, so peruse some options and decide what you’re in the mood for!
After that, take some time to stroll around enjoying the festive decorations before heading back to your resort, the Grand Californian. The lobby, even without Christmas decorations, is a Magical place to spend some time, but with Holiday decor, it’s definitely a spot that can’t be missed! And, since we are in full Holiday mode, we’ll be trying to visit Santa on more than one occasion (especially since even Santa needs a break sometimes, so the more opportunities we plan in, the better the chances are that we’ll see him at least once, if not multiple times). Santa is usually in the Grand Californian Lobby from late afternoon until mid-evening, so try to stop by before or after dinner tonight!
Time to get your Merry on at Disneyland! Start your day with one of the best character breakfasts with Minnie and friends at The Plaza Inn, where characters usually don their Holiday best for the season. This is a great opportunity to meet and take pictures with lots of characters, so you can focus on other Holiday events throughout the Park for the rest of the day.
After breakfast, you’ll spend the morning hopping on all your favorite rides, and of course, making sure to ride the attractions that feature Holiday make-overs! The rides that become Christmas themed are “it’s a small world” Holiday, and Haunted Mansion Holiday, featuring Jack Skellington and friends bringing the Christmas spirit into a traditionally spooky space!
Once you’ve made it to all the attractions you want to prioritize, there are a few cannot-miss Holiday events throughout the afternoon and evening that you should definitely schedule the rest of your day around. First, the Christmas Fantasy Parade at 3:30pm. This is agreed by most to be the very best part of the festivities, so be sure to grab a spot in Town Square a little early for the best view. Once the parade is over, you can stay for the Flag Retreat Ceremony at 4:30pm, which is always a very moving part of the day, or if that’s not your thing, you can pop into some of the shops along Main Street U.S.A. while waiting for the Christmas Tree Lighting in Town Square at 5pm.
As soon as that’s over, don’t stick around; instead, high-tail it to “it’s a small world” Holiday for the exterior lighting, which is absolutely a sight to behold. Afterwards, you should break for dinner before the lighting of Sleeping Beauty Castle at 7:30pm or 8:30pm, including snow (!!!), and then the fireworks show, “Believe…in Holiday Magic,” at 9pm, also with snow! By this time, you’ll likely be ready to head back to your resort and get a good night’s rest to be ready for more Holiday Cheer tomorrow!
Today, the Yuletide celebrations will continue at California Adventure Park! Just like Disneyland, California Adventure features a huge tree, and decorative additions throughout the Park. And also like Disneyland, you’ll want to be sure to get on your favorite attractions in the earlier part of the day, before the afternoon and evening festivities begin.
Even without Holiday decorations, Cars Land is one of the most impressive areas throughout all of Disney (and by “all of Disney” I mean Disneyland AND Disney World), so all of the seasonal additions in Cars Land really take it to a whole new level that absolutely must be seen! Plan to spend a decent amount of time in Cars Land to really take in all the details.
California Adventure also offers a fantastic Santa experience at the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail. The area is somewhat transformed into a North Pole-type atmosphere with Elf Games, a Nice List, and of course, the main man himself, Santa, along with other characters who pop in for visits. Santa is around from mid-morning until evening (with some breaks, of course), so definitely work this into your day today!
Another event not to miss at California Adventure is the Viva Navidad Street Party, which happens multiple times from noon through early evening, and takes place in the Paradise Gardens area, which is also decorated for the holidays. This festive street party features Donald Duck and friends playing host to authentic dancers, mariachis and drummers, with huge Santa and Mrs. Claus puppets and even an appearance by Minnie and Mickey, too!
The highlight event at California Adventure is Mickey’s Happy Holidays show, which starts at 3:45pm in Carthay Circle. With Toy Drummers leading the way, this live entertainment show makes its way around the park, and is a super fun and festive addition for the season, so be sure to catch it! Afterwards, head to the Christmas Tree Lighting at the end of Buena Vista Street, which happens at 5pm. Then, enjoy some tastes, treats, and entertainment at the Festival of Holidays for the evening, which can be your dinner appetizers, or dinner itself, depending on your preferred dining style!
Time to switch it up today with a visit to Universal Studios Hollywood! Since you’ll be venturing outside of the Disney Parks and Resorts today, you’ll want to book early transportation to make the most of your day at Universal. In addition, part of your experience today will be a VIP Tour, so making the most of your time will be a theme of the day! Your VIP Tour will get you the World Famous Studio Tour, an Unlimited Express Pass to skip the line on all participating rides, a gourmet meal in the VIP Dining Room, plus so many more perks, as well.
Of course, because you’re visiting to experience the Holiday season, you’ll want to leave time for Grinchmas, which takes place in Universal Plaza, and where you can meet the Grinch and join in the Dr. Suess-inspired celebrations. And you’ll especially want to visit the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Fans of these famous books and movies will find visiting at Christmastime to be extra special. The always-snow-covered rooftops of Hogsmeade create the perfect Yuletide atmosphere, with added touches of decorations throughout the village and adorning Hogwarts Castle, too. You can even catch Holiday performances by the Frog Choir as you explore all that Harry Potter World has to offer.
After your festive and thrill-filled day, you can enjoy dinner at one of the many restaurants on City Walk before heading back to your resort!
Today will start with one more character breakfast, right in your resort, The Grand Californian, at Napa Rose. Here you’ll experience a full-on Princes Breakfast Adventure, complete with Royal activities, picture perfect poses, and even a keepsake to take home (these reservations are tough to get, so be sure to ask your favorite Love of the Magic Vacations Travel Advisor for the best strategy to score a spot)! After breakfast, the rest of the day will be spent in the Parks and in Downtown Disney, making sure you get to any attractions you may have missed on your first days in the Parks, and getting any last minute Holiday shopping done!
Maybe you loved the Christmas Fantasy Parade in Disneyland so much that you want to plan your day around that, or maybe you want to ride “it’s a small world” Holiday again (and again), or maybe you want to spend some more time in Cars Land just taking in all the cheerful details, or maybe you want to treat yourself to as many seasonal delicacies as possible throughout the Parks and Downtown Disney! Whatever it is that will wrap up your Holiday getaway in the most festive and joyful way possible, that’s what you should be doing today!
Candy Cane Side Note: if you want to try for one of the famous Disneyland Candy Canes, first check the dates to see which day during your visit (if any) coincides with Candy Cane making, then adjust your days accordingly, since you’ll basically have to plan your whole day around getting one. For the full rundown on the best strategy to get a Candy Cane, and what makes them so special, check out Disneyland Daily Casey’s post about Candy Canes here.
While leaving a vacation is always hardest part, at least by taking a vacation during the Holiday season means you have lots more Magic to look forward to with your own traditions at home (though if your trip is during Christmas break, and you’re getting back after New Year’s, all I can say is: start thinking about your next vacation on the way home, because the only thing that will help with the double-whammy of the post-vacation AND post-holiday blues is a countdown to your next trip…or better yet, have your next trip already lined up for mid-January…a Virgin Voyages Cruise, like Jamie, maybe? Don’t worry, your LOTMV Travel Advisor can take care of all the details for you!). Six days is definitely stretching a long weekend, so if you need to leave on the evening of Day 5, that works with this Itinerary also, since we know time is precious in December!
Ready to Plan?
If you are ready to plan The Perfect Holiday Vacation to the California Theme Parks, contact your Love of the Magic Travel Agent today, or email hello@LOTMV.com. And of course, whether you want to spend Holidays in California or Florida, or even if you want your Holiday Vacation to be somewhere totally different, your LOTMV Travel Advisor will work with you to create the unique experience you’re looking for.
Looking for more of our Inspiring Itinerary series?
You can find links to all of 2022’s Inspiring Itineraries in this Blog: A Year of Inspired Travel: 2022’s Inspiring Itineraries, Month by Month.
Just like last year, a new Inspiring Itinerary will come out each month!
So far, we have:
And don’t forget to check out our Friday Blog Series: Jamie’s Destination “Do”s and “Don’t”s, where our favorite Travel Planning Aficionado shares her wealth of knowledge and experiences about traveling the world! You can find links to all of Jamie’s 2022 Travel Tips at this Blog: Jamie’s 2022 Destination “Do”s and “Don’t”s: A Recap.
Ready to plan The Perfect Holiday Vacation to the California Theme Parks? Contact your Love of the Magic Vacations Travel Advisor today or email hello@LOTMV.com