It’s the most wonderful time of the year (at least according to that ubiquitous song) and there’s no holiday season quite like a Disneyland holiday. In the past, I’ve experienced Disneyland it all its seasonal splendor during Halloween, Valentine’s Day, Easter, and Fourth of July. But until last week, I’d never visited the Happiest Place On Earth during Christmas time, and as an Orlando resident I was blown away by the quantity and quality of seasonal celebrations. As we enter the final weeks of the peak holiday season, here’s my personal top five favorite aspects of Disneyland’s 2013 special offerings to distract you from the epic E-ticket queues.
Seasonal Sweets and Treats
Christmas is no time to go to Disneyland on a diet, as I discovered an insatiable need to sample the limited-time seasonal snacks offered and nearly every quick-service counter.
At the Market House, I started my holiday noshing with a Gingerbread latte (the exact same one you can get at your local Starbucks) and a shortbread cookie with white frosting and Christmas-colored sprinkles (tasty but a bit pricey for the size at $3.59).
The holy grail of Disneyland holiday sweets is the giant handmade candy cane, which is produced on select days in strictly limited quantities.
These were featured on an episode of Guy Fieri’s Food Network show and are insanely popular, so I lined up early on an early-entry day and got a wristband for the first batch of the day. (If you are not eligible for Magic Morning or Extra Magic Hours, try not to attempt this on an early entry day.)
To be perfectly honest, unless you eat it within seconds of it coming out of the kitchen, there isn’t a big difference from any other candy cane, aside from the ginormous size. But it will make a lovely memento in my living room…at least until it attracts ants.
My favorite festive find was the pumpkin fritters served by the Royal Street Veranda, improving on their already amazing fried dough balls with a savory gourd-flavored filling, which perfectly balances the sweet fruit dipping sauce. At $3.69 for a bag, they made the perfect accompanyment for a performance of Fantasmic!
Castle Lighting Ceremony
I have be a Grinch for a moment and admit I didn’t go crazy over two of Disneyland’s legendary holiday spectaculars. Believe…in Holiday Magic is a solid fireworks show, but I prefer Holiday Wishes. I missed the flying Tinkerbell and Dumbo from the regular Believe show, and felt the holiday show could a longer running time and more Disney flavor.
Likewise, I enjoyed the Christmas Fantasy Parade, but was overwhelmed by the crowds and unable to get close to the performers, and felt the pacing of the parade felt a little slow.
I did appreciate the “skiers” on rollerblades, and the vintage style snowmen characters, but since I didn’t grow watching this parade I didn’t feel any real emotional connection.
The Wintertime Enchantment Holiday Lighting ceremony, on the other hand, was a delightful surprise. Sleeping Beauty Castle isn’t a spectacular as Cinderella’s in Orlando, but I prefered Anaheim’s more intimate and less sacherine lighting ceremony.
It’s a short but sweet moment (performed twice nightly after dusk) that was a perfect topper to the Christmas decor.
Billy Hill and the Holiday Hillbillies
Count me among the Billy Hill and the Hillbillies fans who will be heartbroken when the best live show in Disneyland is prematurely “retired” on January 6th. (Hold out hope; the Billys are playing New Years Eve at Knott’s Berry Farm, which will pick up their contract permanently if they’re smart.)
In the meantime, I made catching my last-ever Billy Hill at Big Thunder Ranch a priority. The venue wasn’t nearly as intimate as the Golden Horseshoe, and the holiday-themed material wasn’t quite as strong as their standard routine.
But all was forgiven when the Country Bears (exiled from their Disneyland home by the Winnie the Pooh ride) made a cameo appearance in the grand finale.
it’s a small world Holiday
The famously repetitive Sherman Brothers song is supplemented by classic carols, which helps the looping songs to not wear out their welcome as quickly. And the additional illuminated decor, both inside and outside the attraction, look just as attractive as the Osborne Family Spectacle at Hollywood Studios, without violating Mary Blair’s distinctive aesthetic.
As an added bonus, a video projection show on the small world facade (similar to the extinct The Memories, the Magic, and You show) is performed regularly after nightfall.
Even the chiming clock gets in on the act, as you can see in this video.
Haunted Mansion Holiday
Ok, not every seasonal attraction overlay is a home run, as the online grumbling over the Jingle Cruise proves. Personally, preferred the Disneyland version of the Jungle Cruise modification to the underwhelming Orlando version:
I appreciated that the queue decor in Anaheim was apparently done with a little more care…
…and liked the few touches of decor added to the ride itself…
….especially Anaheim’s gorilla gift wrapping station.
On the other end of the spectrum sits Haunted Mansion Holiday, celebrating 13 seasons as the gold-standard in seasonal additions.
Orlando’s Haunted Mansion is superior to Anaheim’s original in its standard incarnation, but Disneyland’s Nightmare Before Christmas inspired treatment trumps them both.
Each year the overlay is plussed, and 2013 is no exception. There are hidden 13′s to look for…
…an elaborate new gingerbread house in the ballroom…
…and (best of all) starling new projection effects in the stretching rooms.
I rode three times in my visit, and it still wasn’t enough; consider it not to be missed each October through January. There is no FastPass available again this year, so hopping in standby early, late, or during Fantasmic! is your best option. The queue may look long but the Doombuggies can transport well over 2000 guests per hour, so the line should keep moving.