Disneyland Holiday Survival Guide

The holiday season presents a glorious opportunity to visit the Disneyland Resort. Seasonal decorations, entertainment, limited merchandise and food offerings. Likely you have loved ones in town and some time off work. Why not treat the family to some magic? Just know that everyone from Oceanside to Oxnard has the same idea. And, a major swath of the rest of the world plans Disney vacations around Christmas time.

Between Thanksgiving, essentially, and the second week in January, once locals are back in school and the decorations come down, Disneyland Resort will be a bit..festive. Without the proper awareness and approach, your visit may be far more work than holiday. The following is your key to survival and a most magical, memorable Disney experience:

Steel Yourself

Everything’s crowded. No amount of preparation is going to change that. Go in with anything else in mind, however, and you are going to be unpleasantly surprised and overwhelmed. From parking to photographs to every food, gift, and sundry purchase, you are going to have to contend with thousands of similarly motivated civilians, most of whom got there right before you.

Patience is critical. Patience and perspective. Remember where you are, and how you have chosen to be here on purpose. Yes, a few of us get dragged to Disneyland on Christmas Eve, despite our best efforts to convince an impassioned family that we will get on three times as many attractions if we just wait a couple weeks. But, Aunt Marge has to see the giant tree. Plus, it’s been years since you saw Haunted Mansion Holiday.

An excellent rule of thumb, if you go while the holiday decorations are in place, especially in the weeks surrounding Christmas, expect massive crowds. Expect everything you do to take more time that it should, and likely be a lesson in staving off frustration. Getting up, or down, or even across Main Street, getting on rides, simply getting a churro; the entire world shall be standing between you and proper, expected Disney enjoyment. Know it. Accept it. Celebrate it if you can.


Do you know your way around Disneyland’s FASTPASS system? Without a working knowledge of this essential line-skipping priviledge, your holiday ride experience may not be wonderful. Oh, you can get on some stuff, you’re just going to burn too many of your park hours doing so.

Get FASTPASSES for every E-ticket attraction you think you want to ride that day. Do not even attempt the likes of Space Mountain, Soarin’, Indiana Jones Adventure, or Radiator Springs without one. As for “it’s a small world” Holiday? During regular operation this one rivals Peter Pan for slowest moving queue. At Christmas time the standby line, if you can even get to it through the stroller infestation, moves backwards.

Along with the advice above regarding perspective, know that rides shall come at a premium. This rings of blasphemy, but you may need to forgo some of your favorites. Without passes in hand, you will want to consider everything else you’re likely to sacrifice. Personally, I will skip eating to get on Star Tours and the Matterhorn one more time. Not recommended for those traveling with children.


Speaking of… everything from attractions to water fountains to, and especially, restrooms will be beset by significant lines. This surely goes for every single food outlet. Those used to escaping to oft less-congested confines of a Hungry Bear Restaurant or Paradise Garden Grill may be disappointed. When the resort gets this crowded, there is no such thing as a well-kept secret.

The prepared will gorge themselves before entering the parks, and will bring snacks. Few of us really do that. So that you don’t surrender major blocks of your day to breadlines, pick your mealtimes and venues with extreme prejudice. Bounce between popcorn and churro vendors for most of the day. If you insist upon a full meal (dang it Marge), make a dining reservation.

Take advantage of gift shops and candy stores that sell protein bars, pretzils, and any similarly sustaining snack. Do not underestimate the life-elevating power of a Stout or India Pale Ale. With a parkhopper, or Downtown Disney District side trip, those of a drinking age and penchant will be well on the way to meal-skipping contentment.


Disneyland Resort parking is far from unlimited. During the busiest of times, this being a prime example, the main Mickey and Friends Parking Structure reaches capacity with aggravating regularity. If you’re going to Disneyland at all, you really ought to be really, really early. Failing that, have yourself a backup parking plan. Know/learn where the other lots are. Become aware of Disney’s periodic parking notifications. Few developments short of a thunderstorm will actually ruin a Disney visit. Spending those first couple hours floundering for a parking spot can surely get you off to a condemnable start.

Bottom line, take your time and enjoy yourself on purpose. It’s Disneyland, after all, not the DMV. Embrace the crowd, festivities, and a Santa-hat-laden character or two. Love Disney, celebrate your family and good fortune, and forgive the complete stranger who trampled then spilled frappuccino on your feet. Have yourself a magical holiday; you’ve chosen the best possible place for it.