Do you visit Disneyland during the holidays? Use the Genie Plus app

Every holiday season since Disneyland opened in 1955, the park has been adorned with hundreds of twinkling lights, ornaments and wreaths, a glittering spectacle that draws crowds in December.

Those crowds, which are as much a holiday tradition as the seasonal decorations at Disneyland and neighboring California Adventure Park, are likely to be smaller this year as new rules require guests to make reservations before heading to the gate. In the past, visitors could come by without prior notice, forcing park operators to close the gates when capacity was reached.

Planning some holiday spirit in the parks? If you already have a reservation or are planning to book one, here are 10 tips for making the most of your visit this festive season.

How to reserve

To get into the parks you need to buy a ticket and make a reservation for the day you want to visit them. The Disneyland reservations website shows that both Disneyland and California Adventure Park are almost fully booked through January 2nd. But don’t panic yet. The reservation system is fluid and Disney operators can add new openings at any time. Refresh your web browser frequently to find available spaces for reservations. Some Disneyland fans say new openings seem to be added every night after midnight. (We have not been able to confirm such speculation.)

Celebrate the holidays a little later

The Christmas decorations will remain in place and seasonal performances will continue through January 9th. The Disneyland reservations website shows many openings for the nine days after New Year’s Eve. By booking a reservation for January 2-9, you can avoid the crowds and still see all the Christmas lights, ornaments, shows, and parades.

Use Genie or Genie+

Beginning December 8, parkgoers will be able to take advantage of a new feature in the Disneyland app called Genie, which uses algorithms and wait time data to create an itinerary to help you make your top ride, attraction and dining choices during your visit. If you pay an additional $20 per day, you can upgrade to Genie+, which also gives you access to the new accelerated “Lightning Lanes” installed on 19 of the most popular rides at Disneyland and California Adventure.

Lightning lanes are estimated to reduce your wait times by up to 90% compared to traditional queues. However, the Genie+ doesn’t get you access to Lightning Lanes for the three most popular rides: Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance at Disneyland, and Radiator Springs Racers and Webslingers: A Spider-Man Adventure at California Adventure Park. To get into these expedited lanes, you’ll have to shell out an additional $7 to $20 per trip, depending on the ride and demand that day. You can pay this fee through the Disneyland app.

Disneyland's It's a Small World ride lit up for the Christmas holidays.

Disneyland’s It’s a Small World ride will be illuminated for the Christmas holidays through January 9, 2022.

(Joshua Sudock)

Grab the best view of the parade

The Christmas Fantasy Parade, which kicked off at Disneyland on November 12, draws huge crowds along the parade route, so finding a good vantage point can be difficult. Longtime Disneyland fans recommend camping in front of the It’s a Small World ride near the start and finish of the parade. The parade starts twice a day and start times vary between weekends and weekdays. Check the schedule here for details.

Inside Rise of the Resistance at Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge.

A scene from Rise of the Resistance in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.

(Jan Wagner)

Resistance is not futile

One of the most popular rides at Disneyland is Rise of the Resistance at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. The park has stopped using the virtual queuing system that was introduced when the attraction opened. If you don’t pay for Lightning Lanes, you’ll have to stand in a traditional line that could keep you waiting up to three hours. A long line is inevitable, but Disneyland enthusiasts say you can shorten your wait by arriving late morning but before 1 p.m. Then, guests who have purchased Park Hopper tickets will be allowed to transfer from California Adventure Park to Disneyland. Another good time to visit Rise of the Resistance is around 7:30pm, just before the ride closes at 8pm

A couple and their children enjoy the falling snow on Main Street on November 19, 2019.

A family wallows in falling, fake snow on Main Street during the holidays.

(Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times)

let it Snow

Skip the line at several Disneyland attractions. For example, in the early evening just linger anywhere on Main Street USA with an unobstructed view of Sleeping Beauty Castle to see Wintertime Enchantment, a show that features projection lighting, music and artificial snow falling on the crowd from fans on nearby buildings. If you haven’t got the holiday spirit yet, this foretaste of winter should. Times vary, so check the Disney website for details.

The fireworks are back

Most visitors watch the nightly “Believe in Holiday Magic” fireworks display from Main Street USA with Sleeping Beauty Castle in the foreground. However, some Disney fans suggest avoiding the crowds and standing in front of the It’s a Small World ride, where you can watch the fireworks overhead and an eye-catching light show on the attraction’s facade. See the Disneyland website for tee times.

New treats

The park is offering several new holiday dishes and snacks, including pozole (hominy soup) and arepa encantada (a cornmeal pie made with Impossible beef). Disneyland fans rave about the gingerbread Mickey cookies sold at places like the Jolly Holiday Bakery Cafe and the Market House, both on Main Street USA. Use the food ordering feature in the Disneyland app to save time and avoid standing in line with other guests.

Santa Claus on a float at Disneyland

Santa Claus is the main attraction of Disneyland’s annual Christmas Fantasy Parade, which began again on November 12.

(Joshua Sudock)

where is santa claus

You can see old Santa Nick waving from the last float of the Christmas Fancy Parade. He will also greet guests near the entrance to the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail at California Adventure Park. Due to pandemic protocols, children can sit on a bench in front of Santa to wave, smile and take photos, but are not allowed to hug him or sit on his lap. Santa will be there until December 24th.

The Three Caballeros host Disney's Viva Navidad street parade at California Adventure Park.

The Three Caballeros host Disney’s Viva Navidad street parade at California Adventure Park.

(Paul Hiffmeyer / Disneyland Resort)

fun south of the border

Disneyland is packed with holiday celebrations, but California Adventure Park has its share, too, including the energetic Viva Navidad Street Party with mariachi musicians and folklorico and samba dancers. Disney enthusiasts give the performances rave reviews. You won’t want to miss seeing Mickey and Minnie Mouse in colorful Latin dresses dancing to Feliz Navidad. The party starts six times a day. Check the park’s website for exact times. Do you visit Disneyland during the holidays? Use the Genie Plus app

Russell Falcon

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