We’ve officially entered the busiest time of year for Disney theme parks: the holiday season. Since Disneyland decked the halls, the holiday hoopla has arrived. After all, it’s the most magical time of year at the happiest place on Earth, so why wouldn’t fans flock to the parks?
If you’re spending Christmas or New Year’s at Disney, you may be wondering how you’ll navigate those Disneyland holiday crowds?
That’s where we come in. We’ve compiled our best tips for spending a full day at Disneyland Resort during Christmas and New Year’s, and we’re sharing them all with you — because a busy day at Disney is still better than a typical day anywhere else.
Keep reading for all our Disneyland holiday strategies to navigate the parks with style!
Prepare to Rope Drop
It may seem cliché, but it’s everyone’s number one tip for a reason. You’ve got to arrive at the parks early if you want to make the most out of your day, no matter the time of year, but Christmas and New Year’s are especially role-drop-til-fireworks days.
We recommend planning to arrive at the theme park gates by 7:30 or 7:45 to ensure you’re inside the park well before 8 a.m. That way, you can head to your must-do rides first thing!
To prep, get to the Mickey & Friends and Pixar Pals parking structures by 7 a.m., then place a mobile order for the Downtown Disney Starbucks. By the time you get there, your order should be ready for you to pick up before you stroll through the theme park turnstiles. Then you can caffeinate and cruise through your Disney with a bit of pep in your step–you’re going to need it!
Mobile Order at the Beginning of the Day
Let’s face it — nobody wants to be hangry in their happy place. But did you know that you can place a mobile order hours in advance? Yup, mobile-ordering-in-advance is the Disneyland app’s best-kept secret. With just a few clicks, you can use the Genie feature to order your food for the entire day by selecting the return times that work for you.
Because Christmas and New Year’s tend to be some of the busiest days of the year at the Disney theme parks, planning out your meals is essential.
Disney snack hack: Mobile order one (or, who are we kidding, a few!) Mickey-shaped gingerbread cookie from Jolly Holiday Bakery Café as soon as you enter the park. Thank us later!
Use the Walk-Up Waitlist
Eating at a table-service restaurant for lunch or dinner is always a great way to take a break from the crowds. But reservations are hard to come by for peak days like Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day. That’s where the walk-up waitlist comes in as one of our top Disneyland holiday tips. Found within the Disneyland app, the mobile waitlist is often used for table-service restaurants. Now, there is a chance it won’t be activated during your visit, but it doesn’t hurt to try. When in doubt, ask a Cast Member at the restaurant if there’s any availability day-of.
If you don’t want to rely on the walk-up waitlist but haven’t had any luck snagging a reservation ahead of time, try signing up for email alerts for dining reservations on MouseDining.com before your trip. This excellent free service delivers reservation notifications straight to your email inbox. It can save you a lot of time refreshing the Disneyland website searching for open reservations.
Consider Disney Genie+ for Disneyland Holidays
It may have had a rocky start, but Disney Genie+ officially launched on the West Coast, and it’s worth considering if you want to avoid long lines during your Disneyland holiday visit. For $20 per person, you can get on a lot more rides in a single day, especially if you park hop. Get the full scoop on Disney Genie at Disneyland here.
Our best tip is to avoid purchasing the individual Lightning Lane passes. Since Christmas and New Year’s are some of the year’s busiest days, individual Lightning Lane selections are bound to be costly. Save your money and put it toward one of our favorite holiday snacks instead.
Ride Attractions During the Shows
Whether or not you plan to Disney Genie+, take advantage of lower wait times by heading to attractions when popular shows are going on. Many guests will camp out to secure their spots for the Christmas parade and fireworks shows (A Christmas Fantasy Parade and Believe…in Holiday Magic fireworks, respectively). Even those who don’t spend hours staking out a spot will rush to Main Street minutes before showtime.
Instead, you can experience rides with lower waits times. Of course, the most popular attractions like Haunted Mansion Holiday and Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance will likely still boast long lines. But, as a percentage of theme park guests flock to see the parade and fireworks, the wait times for many rides will inevitably go down.
If you’ve never experienced Big Thunder Mountain Railroad while the fireworks were going off, add it to your bucket list. There’s nothing more magical.
Watch the Fireworks at “it’s a small world”
If you want to end your Disney Christmas day with fireworks, head to “it’s a small world.” With its wide-open walkways and panoramic views, the “it’s a small world” plaza is the perfect place to watch the Believe…in Holiday Magic Nighttime Spectacular. Arrive around 30 minutes before showtime (check the Disneyland app for details!), and you should be able to secure an excellent spot. Then, cruise over to the Matterhorn Bobsleds or Space Mountain for a late-night thrill while most other guests head to the park exit.
Stay in the Know All Year Long
We’re bringing you Disneyland holiday tips and tricks this season, but you can stay up-to-date on all things Disney all year long by subscribing to our Perfecting the Magic newsletter. We’re dropping magic right in your inbox every week, and you don’t want to miss it.