It turns out there’s a reason they call Disneyland “the happiest place on earth.” Hint: it’s because, well, it is! Take the general magic and happiness of Disneyland and add a heaping spoonful of holiday twinkle. Now you’ve got yourself the happiest holiday place on earth.
We were so lucky to visit Disneyland in Anaheim, California for their Family Media Day. We loved ringing in the holiday season with Mickey and the gang. From the moment we entered the Disneyland park, we saw holiday magic everywhere. Start with the beautiful pine garlands adorning Main Street and the horse-drawn trolleys sporting jingle bells. Don’t miss the dreamy holiday music swirling in the air. The Disney castle gleams with colorful sparkle and snow-covered turrets. Top it all off with a 50-foot(!) Christmas tree dripping with ornaments. Bam! You’ve got instant, heart-warming holiday vibes.
Let’s be real. Disneyland always bursts with amazing things, but the holidays are a truly special time to visit. Visitors find a beautiful, Christmas-y look and feel around every corner, but there are special seasonal events and attractions. First, the family-friendly classic ride, It’s a Small World gets a stunning holiday update. We loved the moving gingerbread men, sparking candy houses, glittering Christmas trees, and snow-covered everything! That iconic It’s a Small World tune gets blended with Jingle Bells for the ultimate festive earworm.
Another amazing holiday moment is the Christmas Fantasy Parade which is a massive parade down Main Street. It features every character your heart could desire, all on holiday floats depicting the best parts of the holiday season. You’ll see cookie baking and ice skaters, and Santa Claus himself on a big, old sparkly sleigh!
Over on the other side of the park, at Disney California Adventure Park, the Disney Festival of Holidays features food and entertainment from holidays celebrated all over the world. The Festive Foods Marketplace offers the best opportunity to taste a variety of delicacies beyond regular theme park fare. And if you can make it up past 9 p.m., you’ll get a big payoff at the World of Color holiday light and fountain show at Paradise Pier in Disney California Adventure Park.
Doing almost anything with a toddler can involve a roller coaster of emotions — especially when you involve a lot of waiting and a good dose of sensory overload. We definitely had our moments with my 2.5 year old, but that famous Disney magic made it all worthwhile. Seeing her face light up at the sight of the Christmas parade, watching her coyly approach Minnie Mouse for a smooch, and witnessing her run, jump, and twirl with excitement (or perhaps it was the sugar??) was the payoff of a lifetime. There were a few things I did to prepare in advance that really helped us to move smoothly through the park, reduce the meltdowns, and make the most of what turned into a 12-hour day!
Download the Disneyland app
Do this ahead of time and familiarize yourself with all the features before you head out to the park. The main screen shows an excellent, interactive map of the entire park including wait times for rides, times for shows and parades, and locations of food, restrooms, first aid, etc. You can also make restaurant reservations, access photos that the photographers take of you in the park (if you choose to have those kinds of photos taken), and perhaps the best feature of the app is the use of the newly-introduced Disney MaxPass.
For an additional $10 per person, you can check in for rides that qualify for the MaxPass program (generally the most popular rides) ahead of time on the app and it will give you a time window to return and head straight to the front of the line. So key for toddler attention spans! We used the Disney MaxPass for It’s a Small World and it was the most pleasant experience. We simply checked in on the app, went to have a little snack and a run around in the shade, and returned at our designated time, and boom – we were loaded straight onto a boat. THE BEST.
Don’t try to cover too much ground
There are only so many rides that toddlers are actually tall enough for or could tolerate (in terms of darkness/scariness factor) so I would keep your expectations for rides pretty low. That said, the best spot to kick off your day (or at least to plan to spend a lot of time) would be Fantasy Land and Storybook Land. They are directly beside each other and feature most of the toddler-friendly rides – It’s a Small World, the Mad Tea Party (aka The Tea Cups), Dumbo the Flying Elephant, Alice in Wonderland, Storybook Land Canal Boats, King Arthur’s Carousel, etc.
Directly behind Fantasy Land is Mickey’s Toontown which is set up like an adorable little neighborhood, featuring Mickey’s House, Minnie’s House, Goofy’s Playhouse, and Donald’s Ship (among others), which are all amazing play areas for little ones. Each of the lands certainly has options for toddlers to stay entertained, but these are definitely going to be the best areas to hang out.
I mean, is there even a toddler known to man waddling around without a Ziploc baggie of crackers? Disneyland allows you to bring food into the park (although they draw the line at full-on coolers), so you can certainly stash enough snacks to get you through the day. Doling them out in lines really keeps kids occupied. I knew temptation for sugary treats would be everywhere, so I made sure I had enough healthy stuff in my bag to supplement the sugar/carb overload. I packed hearty things that would stand the test of time in my backpack, like apples, bananas (softer fruits in containers), nuts, power bars, and veggie sticks.
Keep it lean
Do your shoulders a favor and don’t bog yourself down with too much baggage. Bring a travel or umbrella stroller instead of your big, bulky stroller and carry the smallest backpack you can, instead of a huge diaper bag. Now this one is definitely a fashion-killer, but a fanny pack is the best decision I ever made. Tickets, money, and your phone/camera are quickly and easily accessible to catch all those special Disney moments.
So much more than rides
Take some time to do a little pre-research on the attractions you’d like to see beyond the rides — there are so many! Plan to fill your day with delightful entertainment that doesn’t require waiting in long lines. Toddlers find everything exciting. My daughter followed around a man who was sweeping up for about 10 minutes, because she was enthralled with his broom contraption! A couple of our favorite shows were the Christmas Fantasy Parade down Main Street, Mickey and the Magical Map. A highlight for little ones is the Disney Junior Dance Party at Disney California Adventure Park.
We had the most magical time at Disneyland’s holiday Family Media Day. All holiday happy vibes really kicked off the season and lingered long after our visit. For more info on visiting Disneyland this holiday season, click here.
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