Attraction Reviews

Disney California Adventure Christmas & Festival of Holidays Guide

The Holiday Season has begun at Disneyland Resort, running from November 12th through January 9th! Decorations abound, special entertainment is throughout the park, there’s several ride layovers and plenty of food to try. We’ve already covered Disneyland at Christmas so today we’ll move on to it’s next door neighbor, California Adventure. In this post, we’ll cover all of DCA’s Christmas offerings, giving a brief summary of each!

As I mentioned, we’ve already covered Disneyland at Christmas and will cover Disney Merriest Nights in a few weeks. There are some decorations and events in Downtown Disney. If you’re interested in a guide about those areas then please let us know in the comments below. This post will solely focus on Disney California Adventure and it’s offerings!

DCA Festival of Holidays entrance

The Christmas season is one of the best times to visit Disney Parks and Disney California Adventure is no exception to that. DCA has an event called Festival of Holidays that includes special entertainment and food. On top of that there are ride overlays and character meet & greets. None of that would feel that festive though without decorations, which is where we’ll start the guide!

Decorations

Like Disneyland, the entrance is where you’ll find a good amount of the holiday decorations in California Adventure. Buena Vista Street is lined with lights and garlands, the windows have different holiday displays and the center of the street features a stunning Christmas tree. This isn’t Main Street, which is vibrant and like a scene out of an overzealous but joyful Christmas movie. But Buena Vista Street doesn’t try to be that.

DCA Mickey Minnie ornament Christmas tree

Take the icon itself, Carthay Circle, for example. Instead of being adorned with icicle lights and lit in a stunning blue, Carthay has an understated wreath on it that looks elegant against the white building. The showstopper is the tree across the way from the restaurant as it is close to the same height as Disneyland’s and has vintage, oversized Disney ornaments on it. Mixed in with the lights on the tree it makes for a welcoming place to relax and take in the sights.

Grizzly Peak follows suit with some understated and lovely décor. I especially like the Christmas sweaters and hats on the bear statues throughout the area. All of the Christmas decorations in the land fit in with the National Park spirit, with oars as centerpieces of wreaths and a rustic look throughout. Redwood Creek Challenge Trail, which doubles as a Santa Claus meet & greet, has even more of these decorations involved with reindeer, bells and other paintings hanging from lampposts. It’s beautiful but not something that people will go out of their way to see.

DCA bear statues wreath scarves Christmas

Cars Land might be the opposite of that. Garlands stretch across the sky with tires as the centerpiece. In typical Cars Land fashion, puns abound and bright lights are all over the place. While I don’t think they quite measure up to the abundance of Halloween decorations, there are some nice changes here. I like that the garlands are all shining with Christmas lights.

The rest of the park is a little hollow on decorations. There’s not much going on in Hollywood Land or Avengers Campus. Likewise, Pixar Pier is noticeably bare although I’m not sure why. It seems like a great spot for some fun decorations. Paradise Gardens Park (also known as “Huh? That’s a land?”) has a number of stages and Marketplaces set up for entertainment and food. There’s not much room for elaborate decorations among all of those!

DCA Christmas Tree Carthay Circle

Overall, the park looks really nice with the highlights being Cars Land and Buena Vista Street. It doesn’t measure up to Disneyland in terms of décor but it is worth walking through all of the decorated areas!

Ride Overlays

The ride overlays are pretty simple here, being in Cars Land’s minor attractions. Mater’s Jingle Jamboree is cute and fun! Mater changes the words to some classic Christmas song as guests whip around on the ride vehicles. It’s silly and small but adds some holiday spirit to the usual attraction. The same exact plan goes into effect at Luigi’s Joy to the Whirl. That one does have a better name though! Luigi just sings a different song this time around. I prefer Mater’s as there’s a variety of songs involved. Both attractions are fun though, especially for kids.

As previously mentioned, Redwood Creek Challenge Trail is turned into Santa’s Holiday Visit with an elaborate area to meet Santa. Somewhat surprisingly, there are little touches throughout this impressive playground as well. Kids could “fly with the reindeer” on the tire zipline and there’s plenty of other decorations throughout. There’s also a place to decorate (and buy!) cookies near where Santa Claus is. The area is well worth checking out even if you don’t have kids!

DCA Cars Land garlands neon Christmas

Entertainment & Character Meets

DCA is home to tons of live entertainment for Festival of Holidays as well as a few special character interactions. Starting with the latter, there’s the aforementioned Santa! Mickey and the rest of the fab five meet guests in their golden age of Hollywood Christmas best. Horace and Clarabelle are also around, dressed for the holidays. Do cows need to be warmer in the winter months? Probably not, but Clarabelle constantly embraces fashion. Even Mater had a Santa hat on for his meet! Mirabel from the upcoming Encanto is also meeting guests.

If you can’t get enough characters there, Mickey’s Happy Holidays is a cavalcade that comes down the spine of DCA twice a day. Characters dance along to a drumline behind them. It’s an enjoyable watch but nothing spectacular. I do like the character costumes on this one.

DCA Horace Christmas Festival of Holidays

On Buena Vista Street, there’s a Christmas tree lighting every night. The guide says it happens at 5:30 but I can confirm that’s not always the case. I’d check with someone in the area before sunset on when the tree will actually light up. As for another lighting, Cars Land does it’s usual neon light up at sunset but has a holiday flair to it.

There are a number of bands that perform throughout California Adventure during Festival of Holidays! Here’s a list of them:

  • Mariachi Divas put their own festive spin on classic holiday tunes
  • Mostly Kosher honors Hanukkah with an eclectic blend of musical styles from klezmer and jazz to Latin and rock
  • The spirited Blue13 Dance Company celebrates Diwali with traditional dances during an unforgettable Bollywood party
  • Phat Cat Swinger presents brassy, classy, swinging holiday music selections with a fresh new twist
  • Hear the magic of The Mistletoes! Celebrating Christmas and the spirit of Kwanzaa, this a cappella vocal ensemble reimagines holiday hits with rhythm and soul!
  • The Suffragettes, an exciting festival cover band, rock the holidays with chart-topping hits from favorite musical artists
  • Holiday Toy Drummers march to their own beat while drumming up smiles wherever they go
DCA Festival of Holidays The Mistletoes Christmas

Disney ¡Viva Navidad! is a sort of mini festival inside of the main Festival of Holidays. This features the Disney ¡Viva Navidad! Street Party, which has the Three Caballeros hosting a party with live music and dancers. From January third through ninth there will be a special celebration of Three Kings’ Day which will have special décor. Both of these take place in Paradise Gardens Park.

We’ve watched a good amount of the live music and recommend at least catching a few shows if you’re in California Adventure. All of the bands are talented and worth seeing. The whole atmosphere is very World Showcase-esque, with energy and stages all over the area.

DCA Mickey and friends Christmas

Food

Festival of Holidays is a special reason to gorge on mass amounts of food. The festival is home to eight different food marketplaces, as well as a number of other specialty items throughout the park. We’ve already covered all of the menus here! DCA has other items available, as well, that you can find here.

We’ve tried a good amount of the food marketplace options and will have a review of them in the coming days. In short, our favorites have been the Beef Pot Roast on a Potato Roll, Braised Pork Belly Adobo with Garlic Fried Rice and the Reimagined Beef Brisket Wellington with Oikos® Greek Yogurt-Onion Sauce. Keep checking the site for updated reviews on the specialty food!

DCA Festival of Holidays deconstructed beef wellington Christmas

As a whole, I was impressed with what California Adventure offered. I thought it was different enough from Disneyland to make it worthwhile and it was so nice to have a bunch of live entertainment back inside of the park! Where as Disneyland stands out because of the beautiful decorations and feeling, DCA stands out thanks to the live music and food. Spend the day eating and listening, it’ll make for a lovely, holiday-filled day!

What do you think of Disney California Adventure at Christmas time? Let us know in the comments below! Planning a trip to Disneyland? Check out our Planning Guide here. If you enjoy what you are reading here on Wandering in Disney please share this post with your friends, as well as like our social media pages. You can also subscribe to the blog via WordPress or email. All of those links are on the right side of this page. Thank you for reading, we really appreciate it!

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