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Visiting Disneyland over the holidays? Use the new Genie app (and follow these tips)

Sleeping Beauty's Castle at Disneyland at night.
Sleeping Beauty’s Castle at Disneyland takes on its winter decor and lights for the holiday season.
(Joshua Sudock )

Every holiday season since Disneyland opened in 1955, the park is adorned with hundreds of twinkly lights, ornaments and wreaths, a glittering display that brings heavy crowds over the month of December.

Those crowds, as much a holiday tradition at Disneyland and neighboring California Adventure park as the seasonal decorations, are likely to be smaller this year because of new rules requiring guests to make reservations before walking up to the gate. In the past, visitors could drop by without pre-booking, forcing park operators to close the gates when capacity was reached.

Planning some holiday cheer at the parks? If you already have a reservation or are planning to book one, here are 10 tips on how to make the most of your visit this festive season.

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How to reserve

To get into the parks, you need to buy a ticket and book a reservation for the day you plan to visit. The Disneyland reservation website shows that both Disneyland and California Adventure Park are nearly booked solid through Jan. 2. But don’t panic yet. The reservation system is fluid and Disney operators can add new openings at any time. Refresh your web browser often to find reservation openings. Some Disneyland fans say new openings seem to be added nightly after midnight. (We haven’t been able to confirm such speculation.)

Celebrate the holidays a bit later

Holiday decorations will stay up, and seasonal performances will continue, until Jan. 9. The Disneyland reservation website shows plenty of openings for the nine days after New Year’s Eve. If you book a reservation for Jan. 2 through Jan. 9, you can avoid the crowds and still see all the holiday lights, ornaments, shows and parades.

Use Genie or Genie+

Starting Dec. 8, park visitors can use a new feature on the Disneyland App called Genie, which uses algorithms and wait-time data to create an itinerary that can help you squeeze in your top choices for rides, attractions and restaurants during your visit. If you pay an extra $20 a day, you can upgrade to Genie+, which also lets you use the new expedited “Lightning Lanes” installed at 19 of the most popular rides in Disneyland and California Adventure.

Lightning Lanes are estimated to cut your wait times by as much as 90% compared with the traditional stand-by queues. The Genie+, however, won’t get you access to the Lightning Lanes for the three most popular rides: Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance at Disneyland, as well as Radiator Springs Racers and Webslingers: A Spider-man Adventure at California Adventure Park. To get into those expedited lanes you’ll need to fork over an additional $7 to $20 per ride, depending on the ride and demand on that day. You can pay that fee through the Disneyland app.

Disneyland's It's a Small World ride, illuminated for the Christmas holidays.
Disneyland’s It’s a Small World ride will be illuminated for the Christmas holidays through Jan. 9, 2022.
(Joshua Sudock)

Snag the best parade view

The Christmas Fantasy Parade that launched Nov. 12 at Disneyland draws huge crowds along the parade route, so finding a good viewing spot can be tough. Longtime Disneyland fans recommend camping out in front of the It’s a Small World ride, near where the parade begins and ends. The parade launches twice a day and the 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 at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.
(Jan Wagner)

Resistance is not futile

Among the most popular rides at Disneyland is Rise of the Resistance at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. The park has paused the use of the virtual queueing system adopted when the attraction first opened. If you are not going to pay for the Lightning Lanes, you’ll need to stand in a traditional line that could keep you waiting for as long as three hours. A long queue is unavoidable, but Disneyland enthusiasts say you can cut your wait time by showing up in the late morning but before 1 p.m. That is when guests who bought park hopper tickets are allowed to switch from California Adventure Park to Disneyland. Another opportune time to visit Rise of the Resistance is around 7:30 p.m., just before the ride closes at 8 p.m.

A couple and their children enjoy the falling snow on Main Street on Nov. 19, 2019.
A family revels in falling, man-made snow on Main Street during the holidays.
(Myung J. Chun/Los Angeles Times)

Let it snow

Several attractions at Disneyland don’t require you to stand in line. For example, just hang out anywhere on Main Street USA with a clear view of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle in the early evening to see Wintertime Enchantment, a display of projection lighting, music and faux snow that falls onto the crowds from blowers atop nearby buildings. If the holiday spirit hasn’t yet grabbed you, this taste of winter should do it. The times vary, so check the Disney website for details.

Fireworks are back

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

New treats

The park offers several new holiday meals and snacks, including pozole (hominy soup) and an arepa encantada (a cornmeal cake topped with Impossible beef). Disneyland fans have been raving about the Gingerbread Mickey cookies, sold at the Jolly Holiday Bakery Cafe and Market House, both on Main Street USA, among other locations. Use the food ordering feature on the Disneyland app to save time and avoid standing in line with other guests.

Santa Claus on a parade float at Disneyland
Santa Claus is the star attraction in Disneyland’s annual Christmas Fantasy Parade, which started up again Nov. 12.
(Joshua Sudock )

Where’s Santa?

You can spot old Saint Nick waving from the last float of the Christmas Fantasy Parade. He will also be greeting 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 for waves, smiles and photos, but they won’t be allowed to hug him or sit on his lap. Santa will be there through Dec. 24.

The Three Caballeros anchor Disney's Viva Navidad street parade at California Adventure Park.
The Three Caballeros anchor Disney’s Viva Navidad street parade at California Adventure Park.
(Paul Hiffmeyer / Disneyland Resort)

South of the border fun

Disneyland is packed with lots of holiday festivities, but California Adventure Park also has its share, including the high-energy Viva Navidad Street Party, with mariachi musicians and folklorico and samba dancers. Disney enthusiasts have been giving the performances rave reviews. You won’t want to miss seeing Mickey and Minnie Mouse in colorful Latin American dress, dancing to “Feliz Navidad.” The party kicks off six times a day. Check the park’s website for exact times.


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