Christmas at Disneyland: What's new for 2013?

November 15, 2013, 8:31 PM · It's the holiday season again at the Disneyland Resort in California. That means the decorations are up at Disneyland,

Sleeping Beauty Castle for Christmas

and Disney California Adventure.

Carthay Circle with holiday decorations

But what's new for this year at the parks? Disney hosted another big media shindig on Thursday to show off its holiday festivities. We posted our review of World of Color - Winter Dreams last night, and it's the clear standout among this year's additions to the resort's holiday line-up. While Winter Dreams doesn't reach the original World of Color's emotional range, it surpasses the regular version of the show in its technical scope, with the addition of hundreds of lights around the area. With Fantasmic! at Disneyland and World of Color at California Adventure, the Disneyland Resort offers an unsurpassed one-two punch of evening entertainment, and Winter Dreams should help keep the park packed with locals returning to see a new version of the show this holiday season. Here's the video, in case you missed it when we updated that review earlier today:

If Winter Dreams represents the best of Disney's effort to create compelling new experiences for the holiday, Disneyland Park's new addition for the 2013 season represents Disney's worst. The holiday makeover of the Jungle Cruise, Jingle Cruise, might be Disney's laziest holiday effort yet.

Jingle Cruise sign

You'll find a dozen or so strings of lights strung around the queue, and a few decorations slapped around…

Jingle Cruise queue

But that's all you're guaranteed to get. After waiting 30 minutes for a ride that's typically a walk-on during a school-year weekday, I ended up with a skipper who added just two brief holiday jokes to what was otherwise the standard Jungle spiel. (He added "Snow" to the Dr. Falls joke, and "I guess Santa won't be landing here" to the Danger dock bit. That's it.) The quality of the Jungle Cruise experience always has depended upon the quality of your skipper — it's the most inconsistent attraction in the theme park business. But if Disney's going to promote Jingle Cruise as different enough from the Jungle Cruise to merit a tweak to its name, then the skipper needs to deliver something other than the same old spiel. If Disney's not going to care enough to try with Jingle Cruise, why should visitors care enough to take their chances with it?

Stick instead to Disneyland's established holiday overlays. Disney's added a new projection display to the Small World facade this year for It's a Small World Holiday. Here's a look, followed by a ride-through of the attraction:

Disney's most popular holiday attraction overlay remains Haunted Mansion Holiday, the Halloween/Christmas mashup that's been playing this year since September.

Haunted Mansion Holiday

If you're visiting with children, consider a stop by the Jingle Jangle Jamboree at Big Thunder Ranch.

Big Thunder Ranch at Christmas

Disney's been making more aggressive use of the old arena space behind the ranch in recent years, filling it with a variety of activities for kids during Halloween and Christmas. Insiders know by now that the Thunder Ranch festivals also are often the easiest places in the park to meet Mickey, Goofy and the other popular Disney characters with little or no wait.

Santa Goofy

Near the end of the day, Disneyland continues its annual performance of the "Christmas Fantasy" parade. Here are a few highlights, featuring the princess segment, as well as Santa's appearance at the end.

A final recommendation: Back over at California Adventure, Disney's introducing a "Viva Navidad" celebration this year at the Paradise Gardens. Clearly aimed at Southern California's immense Latino community, Viva Navidad plays to one of the resort's strengths: seasonal food specials. With so many off-property restaurants in easy walking distance, and so many visitors being locals who drop in for short visits, Disneyland can't take guests eating in the parks for granted. So the resort competes much more aggressively on food price and quality than Walt Disney World seems to. And seasonal menu changes are part of that strategy. For Viva Navidad, Disney's introduced a new Latino-themed menu at Paradise Garden Grill and Boardwalk Pizza and Pasta.

Viva Navidad menu

I sampled several of the Viva Navidad offerings during a reception after the Winter Dreams premiere: a sweet tamale with jalapeno cheese, a shrimp cocktail, pozole, and chicken mole over rice.


The shrimp cocktail included avocado, which I can't eat, so I can't give a fair assessment of that. The pozole didn't do much for me, though, frankly, at the end of a 90-degree day, I just wasn't in the mood for a hearty pork-and-hominy soup. I liked the simple tamale, but I'd order a whole plate of the mole — a dish with a flavor profile way more complex than you typically find in a theme park, with a nice blend of decadent savory chocolate heated with peppery spice.

For dessert, I sampled a "chocoflan," Mickey-shaped Conchitas, a fruit empanada, and Buñuelos con Cajeta (the cinnamon-sugar-dusted fried dough with caramel sauce).


The Chocoflan was my favorite. I'm not a huge fan of custardy flan, but this tasted more like a chocolate coated cheesecake with caramel pooled at the bottom.


Viva Navidad also will feature live performances by Mariachi and Norteño music groups on the Paradise Garden stage, as well as a "street party" parade with dancers, giant puppets, and the Three Caballeros.

Disneyland's holiday festivities continue through January 6, 2014.

Replies (5)

November 15, 2013 at 10:48 PM · As far as the Jingle Cruise goes, I think that if Disney had just quietly added the decorations and new jokes without promoting it as a "holiday transformation," people would have thought of them as really neat little touches. Heck, even I probably would have sung its praises (and I've been an opponent of the Jingle Cruise concept since it was announced).

But by making it sound like a big deal, it made some people expect much more than was done (like African bull elephants wearing Santa hats, as shown on the poster), and it made others, like me, wonder why they have to keep changing classic attractions every few months.

Sometimes, when it comes to marketing the holidays, less is more. Add the decorations, let the skippers tell seasonal jokes, and let people be pleasantly surprised instead of taking everything as a marketing opportunity. The holidays at Disney parks are truly magical -- you don't have to specifically advertise the addition of some decorations in one of the queues.

November 15, 2013 at 10:51 PM · Robert, you can't eat avocado??? I am sooooo sorry! Love the Disneyland updates, though! Thx.
November 15, 2013 at 11:37 PM · Yeah, avocados, bananas and walnuts, for some reason. Used to love 'em, but my throat just closes up and my mouth burns like fire when I eat any of them now.
November 16, 2013 at 6:04 PM · As much as I love Disneyland's Christmas, I can't take the combination of cold damp weather and the big crowds. It is just too much of a good/bad thing. I did the Small World Holiday and the Christams Haunted Mansion one too many times. Can't take another collision of the holidays.
November 17, 2013 at 9:32 AM · What are the Christmas products found in the stores?

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