Disneyland Christmas Touring Strategy to Maximize Time and Experience the Magic

Disneyland Christmas is one of the most magical times of year to visit the park. The holiday decor at Disneyland and California Adventure is breathtaking. The holidays at Disneyland tend to be crowded so we recommend using our Christmas time Disneyland strategy to get you through the day.

Before you dive into this strategy guide, check out our complete guide to Disneyland Christmas for all of the information on the holiday.

As always, we at Mickey Visit recommend planning your day in advance to avoid feeling overwhelmed (especially for Disneyland first timers!) at the parks.

There are a few basics that are essential to becoming familiar with in order to best use your time at the Disneyland Resort. This is especially important when you’re visiting during a seasonal celebration and the crowds may be higher than usual.

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Disneyland App To Jumpstart Your DayMorning strategy for Disneyland: Cast member holding plate of food

Disneyland has an app that you can download for either Android or iPhone that will give you the most accurate wait times for rides. This app is a must-have for anyone visiting Disneyland. You can link your park tickets to it, make dining reservations, use the mobile food ordering feature, and link your PhotoPass tickets.

Pro tip: download the Disneyland app PRIOR to your trip and become familiar with it. This way when you show up to the gates you are already a pro at using the app. Take a look at the layout of each park on the app so you have a rough idea of where you are going once you enter!

Doing Disneyland Rope Drop Right

Thirty minutes before park opening, cast members will begin letting guests into the parks. This helps control the flow of crowds and it can be a huge advantage for morning park visitors! There will be ropes (guarded by cast members) that block off access points of the lands until the official park opening time. Being one of the first groups positioned at those ropes can be a huge advantage for your morning strategy for Disneyland! To be there at Rope Drop plan to arrive at least one hour prior to the park opening.

Pro tip: Grab breakfast to go and eat while you’re waiting to be let in through the turnstiles. This will help keep adults happy and kids occupied during that early morning wait time. We always recommend either eating here or at your Disneyland hotel.

Popular Holiday Seasonal Attractions in Our Christmas Time Disneyland Strategyits a small world holiday

There are four rides at the Disneyland Resort that get the Christmas Time seasonal treatment which are definitely worth centering your day around. These attractions become even more popular than usual during these holiday overlays so our Christmas Time Disneyland strategy prioritizes these attractions so you don’t miss out!

  • Haunted Mansion Holiday
    • The Haunted Mansion gets a makeover inspired by Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. Be prepared to experience decor courtesy of Jack Skellington such as jack o’ lanterns and wreaths, terrifying toys, and a spooky scented gingerbread house! Sally and Oogie Boogie are also on hand to wish you “Season’s Screamings!”
  • “it’s a small world” Holiday
    • Enjoy it’s a small world with a holiday makeover including regional decorations and holiday songs!
    • Check the schedule to watch the “it’s a small world” holiday lighting and projection show that takes place every evening usually at 5:15PM.
  • Luigi’s Joy to the Whirl
    • Luigi and Guido celebrate Christmas with seasonal tunes and festive holiday decor.
  • Mater’s Jingle Jamboree
    • Don’t miss Mater’s Christmas celebration in his lit up holiday junkyard!

Christmas Time Disneyland Strategy: Haunted Mansion Holiday

  • If you plan on getting one of the coveted Candy Canes and you’re there on one of the selected dates- then you should go straight to Candy Palace to line up for your candy cane.

Get your picture in front of the Christmas Tree on Main Street. We recommend doing this in the morning for a few reasons: you’re fresh and looking your best, the line will be short, and it’s right on your way as you make it down Main Street.

The Best Christmas Time Disneyland Strategy

Check out our full normal Disneyland morning strategy and Disney California Adventure morning strategy for tips you can use in combination with the strategies below!


I am a holiday junkie and I take my son to Disneyland for the holidays every year. We manage to see and do everything so let me share with you how we tour the parks and incorporate all the holiday fun into our days.

  • Arrive at Rope Drop!
  • Get your picture in front of the Christmas Tree on Main Street (We recommend doing this in the morning for a few reasons: you’re fresh and looking your best, the line will be shorter, and it’s right on your way as you make it down Main Street)
    • But you might want to come back in the evening for a nighttime picture… you will have a longer wait but the tree will be lit.
    • You definitely want a nighttime photo in front of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle, you will have a wait for this one but it’s worth it!
  • Line up by the rope drop to Adventureland.
  • Ride Haunted Mansion Holiday.
    • Follow our touring plan for Disneyland from there!
  • Grab a spot to watch A Christmas Fantasy parade at 3:30PM (be sure to check the entertainment calendar for your visit as entertainment times shift throughout the season) by it’s a small world Holiday. This is my favorite spot to watch the parade because right afterwards we’ll beeline to it’s a Small World Holiday and then be right there for the 5 pm lighting for it’s a small world Holiday. Or, watch the parade that starts at 6:30PM and you will be well situated near plenty of food carts and space to hang out until it begins. Want to watch an earlier show?
  • Reserve a Genie+ reservation for it’s a small world Holiday for right after the parade ends. Since the parade will be coming from the direction of Main Street, U.S.A. I would make sure the return time begins around 7PM so you can hop right in line after the parade.
  • This is the one time of year that I will devote the time to snagging a spot for the fireworks. For the holidays they are the Believe… in Holiday Magic fireworks. If you are serious about seeing the fireworks in front of the castle, which are magical with the castle lit up with the holiday lights, you need to devote at least 2-3 hours of spot saving. Bring a blanket to sit on as the ground will be cold! You will also see the lighting of the castle: Wintertime Enchantment at Sleeping Beauty’s Winter Castle- which happens at 7:30PM and 8:30PM- while you wait for the fireworks to begin at 9:30PM if you save your spot in this area.

Since Haunted Mansion Holiday is easily one of the most popular Holiday themed rides you should head straight there at Rope Drop. This way you can ride it with the lowest time and it also allows you to ride it again later in the day with Genie+! Not a morning person? Save it for the end of the night, right before park closing as this can be the slowest time of the day.

California Adventure

  • Enjoy the Festival of Holidays marketplace booths earlier in the day to avoid the longest lines which will materialize in the evening. I like to hit my favorites for lunch!
  • Head over to Cars Land and see the Holiday decorations and themed attractions such as Luigi’s Joy to the Whirl and Mater’s Jingle Jamboree. The line for Luigi’s can get long so if you’re starting the day in California Adventure, consider crossing this off the list earlier in the day.
  • Consider taking advantage of the World of Color dessert party for the Seasons of Light- World of Color show which is a special themed showing of World of Color for the holidays. This is one thing I like to splurge on when we visit during the holidays! You will also receive themed holiday treats this time of year too!

Disneyland Holiday Entertainment Schedule

  • Disney Holiday Dance Party- 7:00PM to 11:00PM
  • A Christmas Fantasy Parade – 3:30PM, 6:30PM
  • “it’s a small world” Holiday Lighting – 5:00PM
  • Main Street, U.S.A. Holiday Tree Lighting -5:00PM
  • Wintertime Enchantment at Sleeping Beauty’s Winter Castle – 7:30PM, 8:30PM
  • “Believe…In Holiday Magic” Fireworks – 9:30PM

California Adventure Holiday Entertainment Schedule

  • World of Color – Season of Light –9:00PM, 10:15PM
  • Disney ¡Viva Navidad! Street Party – 12:15PM, 1:15PM, 2:15PM, 3:50PM, 4:45PM, 5:45PM
  • Holiday Concert featuring Phat Cat Swinger – 6:00PM, 7:15PM
  • Mickey’s Happy Holidays – 12:20PM, 1:45PM, 3:45PM, 5:15PM
  • Holiday Toy Drummers – 9:45AM, 10:45AM, 11:40AM, 12:40 PM, 2:45PM
  • Buena Vista Street Holiday Tree Lighting – 5:00PM
  • Paradise Garden Bandstand Presents The Wayu Band 
  • The Mistletoes at Pacific Wharf Stage

Check the Disneyland daily calendar for the most up to date times!

Disneyland Christmas Genie+ Tips

Utilizing Disney Genie+ during your visit is also a smart way to cut down on time spent in line during the busy Holiday season. Genie+ starts at $30 per day depending on the day and includes access to 19 rides along with unlimited PhotoPass downloads. This will be a huge help for the rides you’re saving for later in the day and for other attractions in the resort. Plus this is one of the most popular times of the year to get PhotoPass photos in front of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle or the 60-foot-tall Christmas tree!

I recommend saving it’s a small world Holiday for the evening so you can ride it when the outside is all lit up. Grab a Genie+ reservation for after 530-6PM so you can enjoy the beautiful display of lights. Since you will use Genie+ to ride it’s a small world Holiday, I recommend going straight to Haunted Mansion Holiday first thing in the morning as the lines for this attraction will be long all day and Genie+ reservations will run out quick!

Disneyland Genie+ Holiday Crowd Tips

Genie+ will see some strain under high crowd levels and this is something we experienced during our most recent Halloween trip during the peak time of the season. Reservation times for popular attractions often ran out quickly for the day along with many return times not being available until evening once the morning was over. If you plan on using Genie+ then it is crucial you arrive at the parks early and purchase it right away. If you don’t plan on arriving at the parks until after lunchtime, then you will not get as much use out of the service. Your best value for using Genie+ will be if you arrive at the parks early and use it consistently throughout the morning and afternoon. Avoid booking rides that have return times far out in the future that will tie up your ability, at least for as long as you can.

Keep in mind that the return lines for Genie+ Lightning Lanes will also start to see longer lines throughout the day so make sure to arrive at least 15 minutes before your reservation is set to expire. Take a screenshot of your time if you’re cutting it short, just in case.

Another key trick, refresh the tip board! Even if return times are gone for the day for many attractions, don’t give up. Many times you will see return times show back up on the tip board and you can grab them. So just keep pulling down on that screen to refresh and grab those additional Genie+ reservations.

But my favorite Genie+ hack, which can be a bit of a gamble, is to fish for Multiple Experience passes! When a ride breaks down during the time you had a reservation, you will be given a Multiple Experience pass which has no designated return time and can be used on any ride within the same ‘tier’ as the ride you held it for originally. Indiana Jones Adventure is notorious for breaking down, especially when it’s crowded, so during our last trip I booked reservations for Indy first thing in the morning. Twice out of our three mornings at Disneyland, I secured a Multiple Experience pass this way since Indy was not ready to run at park opening. If Indiana continued to stay temporarily closed, I would book another return time. If it was still closed for that return window, I’d be given another pass.

You do not need to redeem that Multiple Experience pass to book another return time so you can go ahead and make a new selection once you’re given one. Since ride breakdowns tend to happen more often when the parks are crowded, you can use this to your advantage if you’re willing to gamble with your Genie+ reservations. If you notice one particular ride is breaking down a lot, that’s the one to keep booking to try and fish for more passes. But you can usually count on Indy! This hack helped us ride attractions at our leisure with passes with no set return times and save them for our most favorite rides… plus ones we wanted to repeat!

Rise of the Resistance

You can also expect the Individual Lightning Lane purchase for Rise of the Resistance (averaging around $25 per person during our trip) to sell out very quickly during peak days of the season. Keep in mind that Rise will close at 9PM some nights so you want to plan to ride it early. Your best course of action is to NOT go here first thing in the morning as it will be the most crowded. We saw the best wait time for Rise of the Resistance, around 75 minutes, during dinner time and the fireworks. This would be your best bet to ride without paying for Lightning Lane or waiting in an extremely long line. At one point during the morning, we saw this ride with a wait time of 180 minutes! Definitely do NOT wait in that line, come back later!

More Disneyland Planning Tips

There is always a lot of information to consider before planning a Disneyland vacation. Make sure to spend time planning your days in the theme parks and become familiar with everything Disneyland has to offer. Don’t forget to subscribe to our FREE Deals Newsletter to stay on top of the current planning tips, strategies, and deals.

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Disclosure: We have used all the products recommended on Mickey Visit. We may receive compensation when you click on links to some products featured.

About Lindsay Brookshier

Lindsay is a college English instructor and has years of writing experience through various nonprofits, charities, newspapers, and online magazines. As the content director of Mickey Visit, she oversees article content and leads our fantastic team of writers to meet guest vacation needs. You can still find her writing weekly content to help make your Disney Parks trip fantastic here on Mickey Visit and Disney Dose- you can also view her recently featured posts on Disney Parks travel on Visit Anaheim, Nerd Wallet and SFGate. Lindsay comes from a dedicated Disney family and enjoys taking her son to the Disney parks as often as possible.

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