Disney theme parks represent the pinnacle of a certain type of family travel; that which is more child-centered than most, with whimsy, magic and princess sightings. Sure, you won’t exactly expose your kids to a cultural experience during a family vacation at Disneyland, but many, many people prefer the absolute treat that is a Disney family vacation. And there is no better time to experience the magic of Disneyland than during the winter holiday season. Christmas vacation at Disneyland — everything about it is Disney done perfectly.
From the moment you and your children step onto the Disneyland property, you’re transported to an idealized version of Christmastime. That is to say, the high-tech gadgets and devices that simplify our lives and are markers of our modern times are cast aside, with Currier & Ives Christmas decor that recall simpler times prevailing. Wreaths adorn most lampposts, Main Street is festooned with old-fashioned garlands, ribbons and bows, giant Christmas trees are found on both the Disneyland and California Adventure theme parks, there are actual reindeer moseying about in a fencing-in area of Big Thunder Ranch, and, of course, central casting does its best to find a perfect Santa Claus, his lap ready for children and photo opportunities.
The two best Disney theme park rides for appreciating Christmas at Disneyland are, hands down, the Haunted Mansion and It’s a Small World. Sure, you might think that the Haunted Mansion is more appropriate for Halloween in the Los Angeles area (and it indeed is a great Halloween stop), but Jack Skelington from Nightmare Before Christmas basically owns the Haunted Mansion, and this long-limbed character does his best to give his guests a Christmastime they deserve, with the gothic twist true to his personality.
It’s a Small World is transformed for Disneyland at Christmas with all the little spinning people singing a few Christmas songs along with their eponymous song — you know, the one that you can’t get out of your head for hours after you leave Disneyland? Leave your cynicism at the door: the completely unironic, innocent ride celebrates Christmas around the world, and it’s impossible not to get caught up in the spirit and joy of the attraction.
Check out the American Southwest, Hawaii, China, Australia, Mexico (Feliz Navidad!) and other destinations and countries represented in It’s a Small World, as they give glimpses of their respective cultures amid twinkling Christmas lights. It’s so festive, even the teenagers and young adults I saw on the ride couldn’t help but get sentimental and nostalgic.
Now, a Christmas holiday vacation at Disneyland isn’t confined to the most seasonally appropriate rides, of course. Use Fastpasses and make the most of your family trip there — the Matterhorn is fun, as is Thunder Mountain, and they’re both popular enough that using fastpasses for both will seriously cut down on your wait-on-line time.
And, of course, there are the parades. Disneyland (and its Orlando cohort, Walt Disney World) are famous for the fantastic, old-timey parades. Christmas holiday parades are tweaked to be appropriately seasonal, of course, and the children’s excitement is contagious. It’s so fun to watch little kids see their favorite characters, and point, and squeal, and get a wave in return from, say, Woody the Cowboy, or Goofy, or one of the smiling, swirling princesses.
Disneyland is one of the most popular tourist attractions in the entire state of California. It’s often crowded with hordes of happy traveling families who have saved up all year for this one magical vacation. The summer can be so hot in Southern California that children get cranky (yeah, their parents, too). Disneyland during the Christmas holiday season is cooler, even brisk: this is perfect weather for running from attraction to attraction all day.
The Disney Imagineers work creatively to make the entire theme park reminiscent of a more innocent era — that, with the temperate weather, less cranky crowds, and the sheer delight on our children’s faces, makes Christmas a most recommended time of year for a family vacation at Disneyland. To paraphrase: May your days be merry and bright, and if you want, may your next Christmas be at Disneyland.
Thank you to Disneyland for treating my family to the Disneyland Holidays event.