Is it Packed?: Disneyland Crowds in December

It’s the holiday season, and magic is in the air at Disneyland Resort! The quick answer to the burning question of whether to visit the parks in December is “yes!”

However, the longer answer to whether it is completely packed is, “yes, but it’s worth it.” In this piece, I’ll explain why you should visit Disneyland during one of its peak months for visitors from around the globe.

Disneyland Makes a Great Holiday Gift

Despite the crowds, Disneyland is a worthwhile adventure for everyone. If you’re thinking about gifts, think about giving an experience.

The Happiest Place on Earth was made for children of all ages. Throw out the gift exchange in favor of a trip to DLR where souvenirs can be traded for less desirable gifts, photos can be made into framed memories and the simple joy of family time will put a smile on everyone’s face.

Holiday Magic in the Parks

Christmas time at Disneyland is perhaps the most popular time of year. Featuring lots of lights, new shows and parades, great gift ideas and the genuine magic of the season, you’ll find yourself swept away into a world of holiday cheer!

Winter Wonder at Disneyland Park

Beyond boughs of holly, red and green lights, twinkling stars and a giant tree to mark the Christmas season, there are several holiday-specific attractions during December.

Featuring life-size toy soldiers, Mikey’s friends in holiday attire, a classic holiday ball with the Princesses, eight special reindeer and a visit from the man in red himself, this parade is a seasonal must-see! Join Cast Members for a special tribute to the season several times each day that make the hearts of every child (no matter how young at heart) swell with joy.

Another Disneyland classic, the holiday fireworks show feature your favorite songs from the season as well as Disney characters and music. Plus, the spectacle above the castle is truly something to behold in awe. If you are visiting for the first time, the tenth time or the millionth time; if you are a child or have a child; if you simply love the holiday season meshed with Disney magic, this show will have you believing in world peace and fairies alike!

A light show for all, catch “it’s a small world” from November to early January alight in color! The classic ride, usually dawned in white, features fun patterns and a full show commemorating the Xmas season, complete with a holiday soundtrack that you truly won’t get out of your head.

Think you’ll have “it’s a world of laughter, a world of tears… it’s a small world after all” stuck in your head all day? Think again! The interior of the ride gets a holiday makeover during this season and features little diddy’s like “Jingle Bells,” “Deck the Halls” and more that will have you humming, whistling and dreaming in the holiday spirit.

A spooky nightmare takes over the Haunted Mansion during the holidays at Disneyland! Join Jack Skellington and his friends for a ghoulish take over of the park.

Glistening snow tops the castle in December, and you’re invited to enjoy the view. Join Sleeping Beauty in lighting up the night as her Winter Castle provides the perfect backdrop for photos and nighttime spectacles. Be prepared for a light snow on Main Street!

Festival of Holidays at Disney California Adventure Park

From mid-November through December, Disney California Adventure transforms into a celebration of global holidays through the Festive Foods Marketplace and Disney ¡Viva Navidad! 

What makes the holidays more special than good good? Join several food and (adult) beverage vendors along the waterfront at Paradise Gardens Park for delightful tastes of the season from diverse cultures. Kiosks line the region, and their cooking will have you drooling just at the smell of their delicious concoctions. 

Plus, the transformation of DCA icons, like the Pixar Pal-A-Round and Cars Land main street, make it a perfect time for memorable photos. These amazing backdrops are here for a limited time, so use your December Disney vacation to capture them!

Santa Claus Comes to Town!

Santa is visiting Redwood Creek Challenge Trail in DCA! Take some time to meet the man in red and capture a holiday-favorite photo. If you have little ones, this is a prime opportunity for that super-cute Santa photo for the year. As a bonus, the line won’t be at a mall and go on “forever”!

While there may be some waiting (especially as you get closer to the actual holidays), it will be much more entertaining for kids with the option of running around the trails!

In addition to Santa being in town, your favorite characters will show off their best holiday attire throughout Disneyland Resort. Take a quick photo with them to add a dash of magic to your holiday card!

Looking for a more classically Disney photo op? Wait until just after sunset for a pristine view of the Winter Castle coated in shimmering blue-white snow. You can even knock out the classic Christmas tree background for your collection with one of the world’s biggest trees! Be sure to check for presents underneath its boughs!

The Truth About The Crowds (It is Packed)

In short, yes. Disneyland Resort will always be crowded in December due to the allure of the enhanced magic and extra sprinkle of Pixie Dust!

Disneyland busy days in December are numerous, most notably including Fridays through Sundays and winter break weeks for schools. According to an online crowd index, weekend wait times average 60 minutes. On the low side, less popular ride queues sit at about 30 minutes; on the other hand, the high side, most popular rides hit 90 minutes or more for their wait times.

Now, weekends being packed at Disneyland are not unusual. However, week days being heavy is less of a norm. When we see increases in wait times, it’s best to assume that there is a special event happenings (often park-wide, like the holiday season) or that there are school breaks.

In December, school winter breaks hit. Colleges start the season early in about mid-December. About a week later, around the 20th, you’ll see a huge increase in families with young children visiting the parks because their schools are out for the season. This trend will last until about the second week of January. Thus, if you are planning on heading to DLR after about the 10th, you can plan on it being packed with long queues.

December is one of the more unique months to take a trip to the parks, though, because the holidays do not pose any relief for Guests. While Christmas Eve and Christmas are widely celebrated, many families take the opportunity of a day or two off work and school for everyone to head to the Happiest Place on Earth and see Santa! Interestingly, Christmas Eve is usually less crowded than Christmas day, and both happen to fall into block out dates for many Annual Passholders.

For New Year’s Eve, there are special events at the parks, including fireworks at midnight. Plan on the Resort being full, but you may find wait times during the day are actually a bit lower than anticipated. Since special event Guests, Annual Passholders and multi-day visitors will typically aim to be awake and on Main Street for the nighttime spectacle, getting onto attractions during the day is slightly less of a hassle. 

Despite these incredibly busy times during peak season at Disneyland, there are ways to mitigate the crowds and ensure you have a magical time!

How to Handle Holiday Crowds at Disneyland

For your trip, you should plan on the following park hours:

Weekdays (Monday-Thursday)

  • Disneyland Park
    • Opens between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m.
    • Closes between 8 p.m. and midnight
  • Disney California Adventure Park
    • Opens 10:00 a.m.
    • Closes between 8 p.m. and midnight

Weekends (Friday-Sunday)

  • Disneyland Park
    • Opens by 9:00 a.m.
    • Closes midnight
  • Disney California Adventure Park
    • Opens 10:00 a.m.
    • Closes 10:00 p.m.

Note that these hours are subject to change.

Visiting During the Week

Your best bet for seeing as many attractions as possible and riding just about everything you want to is getting to the parks during the week. This means Monday through Thursday with a big emphasis on visiting either Wednesday or Thursday (beat long-weekend crowds).

When you visit during the week, plan on getting in early (8am is standard park open, but always check online in case of updates). If you can, stay late or even overnight to enjoy the best opportunity to do it all.

Going Only on the Weekends

Make the best of the crowds on weekends by planning ahead of time. Create an itinerary listing your “must do,” “want to do,” “don’t care” and “not in a million years” attractions. This will help you see how much you actually want to go on a ride or catch a show in order to best organize your time.

When you get to the park (as early as possible), plan on heading to the FASTPASS station for your biggest hit attraction. This will ensure that you have a timeframe to get in line for it, and it helps reduce the wait time for your favorite event.

Plan your day around the things you must see and want to see. While it may seem best to go in order of importance to you or simply by whatever is closest, you may actually run the risk of missing out on your big-ticket items.

Try to visit your “must do” early in the morning, late into the night, during shows/parades or throughout typical meal times for lunch and dinner (noon to 2pm and 5 to 8pm). These times are likely to clear out the queues just enough to see wait times drop by a few minutes or simply move faster than what is posted at the start of the line. 

Remember, there are no guarantees during peak season that you’ll do and see everything. Nonetheless, planning your trip will help you navigate the parks more easily and save you time guessing where is best to head next.

It is Literally a Holiday Treat

If you are travelling to Disneyland during the week from Christmas Eve through New Year’s Day, you already know that the parks will be at their highest capacity. As such, treat it as it is — a special vacation! 

Whether you chose to visit for holiday magic or because it was the only time-off for the family, you’re visiting Disneyland during a spectacular time of year. Plan to see your favorite things and to catch the holiday spectacles. December is the best month to take in holiday cheer, so relax and enjoy everything the season has to offer at the parks.

Make Your Stay Magical and Invest in Resort Accommodations

There are numerous hotel perks when staying at Disneyland Resort itself. By choosing one of the grandiose hotels right there, you gain special access to the parks, special food accommodations, great parking options and beyond!

Your accommodations right in or next to the park are Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, Disneyland Hotel, and Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel. For pricing and peeks into hotel offerings, click here

Grand Californian — the luxury resort of DLR with direct entrances into DCA and Downtown Disney for easy-access to attractions, restaurants and shops alike

Disneyland Hotel — the original resort located at the end of Downtown Disney with a five-minute-or-less jaunt to the parks’ entrances and quick access to amazing restaurants and shopping options

Paradise Pier Hotel — the off-site hotel that offers a less pricey but just as unique experience featuring views of DCA’s Pixar Pier that is just a short walk or shuttle ride away from DLR

Location and unique themes are perhaps the most notorious bonuses of staying at one of these hotels. However, there are additional perks that many have never heard of that can sweeten your December trip.

Hotel Vacation Package — receive access to exclusive hotel amenities like fitness centers and recreational centers

Extra Magic Hour — hotel guests are granted early access (typically 7-8 a.m.) at either Disneyland Park or DCA on a per-day basis; be sure to check with your Concierge for the schedule during your visit

Club Level — for an extra cost, the DLR hotels host a unique club experience that provides complimentary food, snacks on-the-go and drinks (yes, adult drinks, too!) throughout the day, concierge check-in, free movie check-out and special viewing night spectacles

  • Craftsman Club at the Grand Californian provides pristine views of World of Color 
  • E-Ticket Club at the Disneyland Hotel provides picturesque views of fireworks

General Tips for Crowd-Goers

Purchase admission and parking online to avoid standing in the ticket queue

Print your tickets at home or at your hotel of choice (be sure to confirm that they allow printing on site) 

Have an itinerary planned to ensure you see your “musts”

Start as early as you can and as late as you can at the parks for the best return-on-investment

Pack a bag with your gear for the day, including snacks and a water bottle, to avoid leaving the park for trips to the car or hotel

Eat your meals outside of normal or expected times (e.g., have lunch before noon and dinner before 5 p.m. or after 8 p.m.)

If you don’t care for shows and parades, use those time frames wisely for meals or big-name attractions to beat the lines a bit

Use your FASTPASSES wisely

Photos with characters are awesome, so be sure to check-in with Cast Members or on Disneyland tech (see below) to be sure you’re among the first in line 

If you have kids, there are a few other considerations when navigating one of the busiest times of the year at Disneyland.

Let your strollers go if possible

  • Downsize your stroller (don’t plan on big wagons)
  • Park in stroller parking in each park until you’ve hit all of the attractions you want in that area 
  • Rent a stroller from the Resort

Let your kids be kids

  • Plan on naps ahead of time and head to a restaurant where you can eat while they sleep
  • Bring toys (that could be accidentally lost) that keep them happy all day
  • Bring snacks and drinks with you for your little ones

No matter what you do to handle the crowds at Disneyland, save yourself a headache with patience. Moreover, try be courteous, even when it’s forced. Your Disney vacation should be filled with magic at the Happiest Place on Earth!

Disneyland Tech for Every Itinerary 

No matter when you visit the parks, there are several must-haves in your pocket. Most importantly, download the Disneyland App for the best features of the parks.

About the Disneyland Resort Mobile Application

The app is compatible with Apple and Android products. It is designed to give you information on anything of interest at Disneyland Resort from attraction locations and wait times to food options and mobile orders.

  • Check the most up-to-the-minute wait times, show times and character visits! 
  • Use the digital map with filters for attractions, events, food, restrooms, park services, etc. to easily navigate your visit
  • Buy tickets and view ticket purchases linked to the account
  • Mobile Order food and beverages from several fast-service dining options in both parks
  • Monitor your FASTPASS collection and use the app as your ticket access to get to the front of the queue!

Other App-Based Magic

  • Play Disney Parks is a separate mobile application from the Disneyland app that features fun games at specific rides in both parks; at select attractions, look for “Play Disney” signs
  • MaxPass is an optional for-purchase program connected with each individual ticket (at-cost) to get you more FASTPASSES faster

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