'Holiday Time at the Disneyland Resort' Tour

by Lisa Stiglic, contributing writer

I consider myself a seasoned Disneyland Resort veteran having spent three years as a cast member and then as an annual passholder for several years afterward. When something new comes along, I'm always eager to view the magic of the Disneyland Resort from a different angle. The holiday season at the resort is no different. Every year, more is added to the seasonal showcase so I decided to sneak a peek behind the scenes and booked myself on the "Holiday Time at the Disneyland Resort" Guided Tour.

On the day of the event I checked in at the tour kiosk near City Hall. There, I received my personalized button and my audio player with headphones and met with the rest of the group—roughly 15 guests. Our tour guide joined us and gave us a quick overview of the two-and-a-half hour tour, informing us that we would not be going on the favored holiday attractions—Jingle Cruise, "it's a small world" Holiday, and Haunted Mansion Holiday—but rather partaking in a historical, audio walking tour and ending with VIP seating for the parade. So, we put our headphones on and forged ahead. We did have some minimal difficulty with the audio players' resolution and usability so not all of our tour was audible. Luckily, our tour guide was loud. I recommend bringing a personal pair of earbuds to help with the audio.

Our tour first pointed us across the esplanade to Disney California Adventure. There, our guide talked about how Buena Vista Street's style was reminiscent of the 1920s when Walt Disney arrived in California. The 50-foot-tall Christmas tree near the end of Buena Vista Street displays giant replicas of the tin ornaments of the era. Underneath the tree are nods to some vintage toys as well, including the popular 1927 Donald Duck push toy. While standing at the base of the tree, we listened to a clip of Walt Disney recounting one Christmas morning when he gifted his daughter with a puppy. The scene left such an impression on Walt that it became a signature scene in the classic animated feature Lady and the Tramp.

A picturesque image of the 1920s-era Christmas tree in Disney California Adventure. Photo by Lisa Stiglic.

Back to Disneyland we went as we continued the tour, this time to the largest tree in the resort, the Main Street Christmas tree. This impressive evergreen must come down Main Street in sections due to its size. Cast members piece the tree together until it stands in all its 60-foot glory, covered with replicas of Victorian-era ornaments. A fun footnote about the tree is Disney Imagineers use forced perspective with the ornaments. Ornaments are larger on the bottom of the tree and smaller on top to give the illusion of a taller, elongated tree. From the tallest tree in the resort to the smallest, we glanced over at the fire station next to City Hall to view a tiny tree nestled in the window above the station. This location is actually Walt's apartment where he would stay during his park visits.

Walt's spirit shines on in the small tree dotted with glowing lights. Photo by Lisa Stiglic.

We then strolled a bit further down Main Street to stand in front of the Candy Palace where guests can view the candy makers at work. Although no workers were visible at the time, our guide did point out a hidden trick the Candy Palace uses to entice guests. Underneath the viewing window is a small vent that disperses scents of the season. For this holiday period, guests will smell the fragrances of sweet vanilla, spicy gingerbread, and snappy peppermint. Speaking of peppermint, fresh candy canes are currently available at both Candy Palace and Trolley Treats (in DCA). According to our guide, there are only three candy pullers who make roughly 105-110 shepherds' crooks per batch per day.

It's time for our own holiday treat: fresh peppermint bark. Photo by Lisa Stiglic.

Our tour wound us through Adventureland where we paused at Jingle Cruise to learn the backstory of how the holidays appeared in the jungle. Apparently, a cargo plane carrying decorations lost its packages while flying to its destination, creating some Christmas carnage. If you've not had a chance to board the cruise boats during the festive season, I highly recommend you prioritize and add it to your list. The seasonal jokes are still filled with puns, and the natives dressed in ugly holiday sweaters is a highlight.

Onward we forged to New Orleans Square with a brisk mention of Haunted Mansion Holiday, now in its sixteenth season. A Nightmare Before Christmas' Jack Skellington joins 100 hand-carved jack-o-lanterns scattered throughout the mansion. This year's special guest is Jack's gal pal Sally, whose influence can also be seen on the main ballroom's iconic gingerbread house.

From there we walked towards Fantasyland and our final destination, "it's a small world" Holiday. Our guide presented a few fun facts about the attraction there. It takes 12 cast members 15 days to decorate the attraction and install the 50,000 lights. Luckily, the decorations are already stored underneath the location. If you haven't already been on "it's a small world" Holiday this season, be on the lookout for a half dozen or so strategically placed number 20s in commemoration of "it's a small world" Holiday's 20th anniversary. I've only been able to find three so far myself.

Our final audio clip was Walt himself addressing the VIPs during the 1962 Christmas parade with his familiar, "See ya later" sign-off. The actual first Disneyland Christmas Parade was in 1958 and two years later, when Babes in Toyland arrived in the theaters, that particular theme was then incorporated into the park's parade. Guests can still view a bit of this Disneyland history every time the stately toy soldiers march past in The Christmas Fantasy Parade.

The iconic soldiers march in A Christmas Fantasy Parade as we watch from our VIP seats across from "it's a small world" Holiday. Photo by Lisa Stiglic.

What would a holiday visit be without cookies and hot chocolate? With a never-ending stream of rich, smooth cocoa in our own souvenir mugs, plus a tasty, zesty gingerbread person, we were set to wrap up our "Holiday Time at the Disneyland Resort" tour with a spectacular close-up of The Christmas Fantasy Parade followed by "Believe… in Holiday Magic" Fireworks Spectacular.

Our tour goodies we amassed include a one-of-a-kind Disneyland tour guide holiday pin. Photo by Lisa Stiglic.

The "Holiday Time at the Disneyland Resort" tour was enjoyable overall, but as a returning guest, I already knew many of the facts our guide emphasized. The tour highlight was the VIP seating during the parade, complete with drink and delectable cookie, but for me that was a steep price to pay ($85 per person, or $72 each with annual passport discount)—especially with the audio issues we encountered.

If you do have a few extra hours and are interested in learning some entertaining Disneyland holiday trivia, then I would recommend the tour, but make reservations as soon as you can as they go quickly. If the holiday attractions are the main draw for you, spend your time on those and stop in at Jolly Holiday Bakery for one of the delectable gingerbread cookies. You'll still have time to find great seats for the parade and fireworks after. The tour is currently available by calling 714-781-8687. Happy holidays!