Theme Park Insider

First taste of Disney California Adventure's Festival of the Holidays

November 10, 2016, 2:15 PM · It's 92 degrees here in Anaheim today, so what better time to celebrate the holiday season?

DCA gate

Yes, the sarcasm is dripping as quickly as my sweat as I make my way around Disney California Adventure this afternoon, for the first official day of the park's new "Festival of the Holidays." The new World of Color - Season of Light is debuting at 9 tonight, but before then, I'm tasting many of the selections available at the festival's 14 food and beverage booths.

There's way too much here for one person to eat in a day, so I'm picking what looks good to me. And even if I had an inexhaustible appetite, I don't know that my bank account would support a complete tour of the festival. Disney's charging entree prices for many of these bites, running the risk that you'll empty your credit before filling your stomach.

That said, I enjoyed almost everything I ate today. Let's start with a favorite from Walt Disney World's Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, the Kalua Pork Slider [$7.50], which I tried along with the Roaster Turkey Slider [$8.00] at the Winter Sliderland booth.

Winter Sliderland

One bite taught me why so many Epcot fans rave about this pork sandwich. The pineapple jam and cider slaw complement the well-seasoned pork, making this my favorite selection at the festival so far. The turkey slider was a bit of a mess - the cranberry sauce and gravy conspired to lubricate the sandwich beyond the point where it could be eaten comfortably as finger food. But that turkey! With the taste of perfectly roasted turkey breast in the middle of a schmear of stuffing and all that gravy, this was a taste of Thanksgiving dinner, as it should be. But I still preferred the more complex flavor of the pork — which tastes like Thanksgiving dinner on a beach in Maui. Waaaaay better. Aloha, pilgrims.

For my next course, I walked next door to the Southern Hope Holidays booth, where I tried the Grilled Spicy Chicken Sausage with Red Beans and Rice [$7.50], the Sweet Potato Pie [$4.50], and a Cranberry Sweet Tea [$6.50].

Southern Hope Holidays

It's about one-fourth of a sausage link here, with a dab of red beans and a spoonful of rice. But if Disney skimped on the portions here, it did not skimp on the spiciness. The red beans delivered even more heat than the sausage, which I found a touch dry, though flavorful. But the sweet potato pie starred here. I always prefer the heartier flavor of a sweet potato pie over the more cloying pumpkin, and this was as flavorful as full slice of pie, with a lovely dollop of cinnamon cream on top providing a perfect accompaniment. The cranberry tea, served with Disney's ubiquitous berry foam, was... well... sweet. But could we please quit slapping foam on top of iced drinks? Foam + ice cubes = awkward.

My third stop required me to double back toward The Little Mermaid ride to visit Yuletide Yummies.

Yuletide Yummies

This booth wins the Instagram award for most photogenic food. But, as the cynic in me will suggest, good looks doesn't always equal great taste. The Mini Turkey Pot Pie [$8.00] was the one disappointment I tried today. Thin, with only flecks of turkey and veggies and no discernible gravy, this was pretty much a flaky crust under a cranberry drizzle.

Mini Turkey Pie

The Eggnog Cheesecake [$4.25] was as advertised, but more the taste and consistency of a homemade Jell-O cheesecake mix than a hefty New York-style slice. The Mocha Yule Log [$4.75] is by far the most handsome dish served at the festival, and the tastiest of the three food options I tried here. But there's not that much mocha in this cake, which needs some time to come to room temperature for its flavors to emerge. Fortunately, with today's heat — that didn't take long.

But that heat certainly helped amplify my enjoyment of the Frozen Chocolate Milk [$6.50]. ("It's not really frozen," the cast member at the register warned. "Today, what is?" I replied.) It's a refreshing twist on a chocolate milk shake — not as heavy but just as cold — and with an audacious helping of whipped cream and sprinkles on top.

My recommendation? Go with the Chocolate Milk, then pick up a Kalua Pork Slider and wrap your meal with the Sweet Potato Pie. At $18.50, that's not the best deal you'll find in a local theme park, but that combo provides a rewarding line-up of flavors that will put you in the holiday spirit.

Even if the 92-degree day won't.

Update, 5:28pm: The sun's down, as is the temperature, so I ventured back outside for the dinner round. Not as ambitious this time, but I tried four more items that interested me.

Holiday Swedish Meatballs

The Holiday Swedish Meatballs [$7] from Mistletoe Morsels were pretty much the same as the meatballs Disney served at the Frozen snow-play pavilion last year. The creamy brown gravy and lingonberry sauce were good enough, but three meatballs for seven bucks encourages me to do the math on how much I should be charging my family the next time I make these for Sunday dinner. The Merry Berry Sherbet Punch [$4.25] was a couple of tiny scoops of Breyer's raspberry sherbet topped with about half a can of Sprite. (I watched the CM make it.)

Smoked Duck Spring Roll

Behold, the $8.75 spring roll, from Good Fortune's Feast. It's smoked duck in there, tasty as can be, but spending nearly nine bucks for this three-bite taste made me wonder if I'd incurred neurological damage in the unseasonal heat earlier today. Good fortune for Disney, not so much for me.

Braised Beef Short Ribs

But let's end on an encouraging note, shall we? The best dish I tasted today was the final one — the Braised Beef Short Ribs, with Smashed Potatoes and Sauerbraten Sauce [$8.75], from Heritage Cottage. This was a reasonable cut of short ribs for the price, with a hefty dollop of potatoes and a tasty sauce. Definitely the best choice of the evening.

Festival of the Holidays runs through January 8 at Disney California Adventure.

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Replies (10)

November 10, 2016 at 2:58 PM · Except for the Pork Slider, everything else looks meh. It's not as great as I had imagined. I won't be trying them unfortunately. Costco actually sells a pulled pork slider in their outside counter service booth for $4.50. No card needed.

The frozen chocolate milk looks like it was poured out of a machine that you might see at Dairy Queen or Burger King. I recommend you order the chocolate shake there first for the low ocst of $3.00.

The sweet potato pie could be sold at Walmart for $1.00. I tried their single serving pumpkin pie. Pretty good.

As for Cranberry Sweat Tea, buy cranberry juice and sweat tea and mix 50/50. Arnold Palmer will tell you its okay.

November 10, 2016 at 4:37 PM · I hope you didn't eat all of that yourself! You shared with someone, right? Otherwise, you're going to need new pants soon.

Were there any fish or veggie options?

November 10, 2016 at 4:45 PM · It sounds like this event has the same problem that the Food & Wine Festival did...too high of price for what you get. Spending roughly the same amount at both events last spring, I got nearly twice as much at the Knott's Boysenberry Festival as I did at DCA's event. Even if the items are great (and they do look pretty good), it really needs to be $4-5 an item instead of $6-8 to make the event worthwhile.
November 10, 2016 at 5:13 PM · How long will it last? You did say that there's a lot more available than what you highlighted here so I don't think people should judge whether or not it's worth it based on that. And would anyone go to DCA just for this? I wouldn't. So it's just and added perk for those already going to the park. And because of that I'm not complaining about the price because it's theme park prices. The only complaint I have about the article is the use of the word "schmear." I hate that word! What's wrong with the word "spread" ? Yeah I'm being that guy.
November 10, 2016 at 6:31 PM · A schmear is thicker than a spread. At least that's how I am rationalizing it.
November 11, 2016 at 6:32 AM · Do they offer a tasting sampler lanyard like they do at Epcot's F&W festival? Agree with others here; hard to justify the prices without some kind of sampler "deal"
November 11, 2016 at 8:34 AM · The last remaining 3 items look much better than the previous, but the prices are way beyond reasonable. I still think they should offer some holiday cookies and cupcakes. I might just buy them in their bakeries. BTW: IKEA sells a whole meal of Swedish meatballs for half the price. You can get 5 additional meatballs for $1.
November 11, 2016 at 12:17 PM · Seeing this makes me really miss the early days of Epcot's Wine and Food Festival. It was designed to be a tiny taste, not a small entree, so you could eat and drink around World Showcase Lagoon on about $30. Your stomach would just be full, and your wallet would not be completely empty. I liked the fact that you would spend about the same as you would for a full meal in a restaurant, but you got the experience of trying many things. Now, the portion sizes are just too big for that, and the prices have also grown. Oh well...
November 12, 2016 at 9:06 AM · I like Disneyland's twist on the Food and Wine Festival
November 15, 2016 at 12:25 PM · Thank you for biting the bullet on those high prices to give us a well-rounded review of the food offerings! Your blog is one of the few that highlighted more than just the desserts. I'm a bit disappointed in the high prices/small portions, but with your recommendations, I know which foods to focus on and which to avoid. Again, thank you!

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