Holiday Survival Guide

by Todd Pickering, contributing writer

The turkey is demolished, Black Friday is in full swing, and you are planning a trip to the Disneyland Resort between December 25 and January 1 or 2. Help! No worries, here are all your holiday planning needs.

The lights of the holidays really sparkle like the Sleeping Beauty Castle. Photo by Todd Pickering.

If you haven't planned a trip yet and you can go the first few weeks of December the crowds are much lighter, especially early in the day and it is an amazing experience. Ok. Too late this year to plan that, but keep it in mind for next year. Here is my Top Ten List of things you should do to make your holiday time at the Disneyland Resort more enjoyable.

1. Prepare. Prepare. Prepare.

"We like to wing it and see where the day takes us." Not during the holidays. Any trip to the Disneyland Resort benefits from being carefully planned. but this time of the year it isn't only a good idea... it is a necessity. Make sure you click on this link to check out Disneyland's very thorough web site. Make that list. Check it twice.

Whether you are a large group of family/friends or just a duo, make sure you have conversations before you arrive so you are prepared. If you have never been or it's been a long time you must realize that things have changed and you need to know what is new. Now that you have the three Ps, here are three more.

2. Patience. Patience. Patience.

"We love to go, go, go, and move through the parks." You won't. Not at this time of year, so make sure you understand you will be in crowd after crowd. By being prepared you may avoid a bunch of these things but know that the Christmas parade, the fireworks, Fantasmic! and World of Color will all require a lot of waiting and fighting the crowds. You may have to choose just a few of these, and that patience may come in handy dealing with your family and group before you arrive and discuss choosing only one or two of these big shows. If you are doing multiple days, maybe do just one a day so you keep your cool with the crowds.

3. Make Reservations

"Oh, we like to freewheel it, eat on the run, and grab snacks. That's not for us." Do it anyway. Your patience will wear thin if you are always in long lines, and a reservation is an instant way to feel relaxed. By all means enjoy the snacks and walk up food places, but just make one or two reservations even if your trip is a few days or even one day. If your family wants to be in the park from sunrise until sunset, you know to book inside the parks, but if you and your companion like a glass of wine with dinner you know that Disneyland does not serve liquor. Patience is also increased with a nice glass of wine in a beautiful environment.

The Napa Rose is pricey but if you are looking for a fine dining dinner and an amazing glass of wine, treat yourself. Photo by Todd Pickering.

4. Get to the Parks Early

"But we like to sleep in!" or "But we like to grab a nice big breakfast!" Set that alarm. You have prepared by checking your park hours and you have made a reservation at Catal in Downtown Disney for 10 a.m. (8 to 11 a.m. are their current hours for breakfast). This means you beat the breakfast rush, missed the lunch rush, and are on attractions. If you can maintain this eating style with late breakfasts and early dinners, missing the meal time rush is the way to go. Another great tip is to try room service as your wake up call.

Room service is always a relaxing option. Photo by Margaret Worth.

5. Grab a Map and Guide Book

"We don't have time to read those." Read them. You got to the park early so take the time to look at the holiday offerings at Disney California Adventure and the entertainment guide that is good for both parks.

These are must haves for all Disneyland Resort trips but essential at this bustling time. Photo by Todd Pickering.

6. Grab Fastpasses

"We just take our chances like everyone else." Don't. The lines will be longer than usual. You grabbed an entertainment guide and it also lists the Fastpass system. You need to grab World of Color and Fantasmic! Fastpasses first thing as they sell out, or try a dining package that you have found on your Disney website search. Remember that even though you are getting on attractions quickly in the early morning, Fastpasses sell out quickly at this time of year. Some may be done for the day within a few hours.

Keep in mind that Guardians of the Galaxy is still the newest attraction with Radiator Springs Racers a close second. Star Tours has a few new scenes to watch in the rotating line up. Haunted Mansion Holiday and "it's a small world" Holiday are extra busy due to the theming (Note: the Fastpasses for "it's a small world" Holiday are shared with the Matterhorn Bobsleds.)

One of the most popular attractions this time of year is "it's a small world" Holiday. Photo by Todd Pickering.

7. Enjoy the Entertainment

"We just ride the attractions. We don't do music groups." You already have Fastpasses, and they are strict about the return times. If you wait in an attraction line you may not catch your next Fastpass, so take some time to enjoy the amazing music that Disney has assembled. Last year was the debut of the Festival of Holiday musical groups: Mostly Kosher, Mariachi Divas, Holiday Toy Soldiers, Blue 13 Dance Company, and Raise. This year the group Raise has a name change of The Sound. And it is indeed a much better sound.

The Sound has a much more colorful choice of costume by adding red plaid shirts (even though it was a bit warm for some of them). The music set is new, ending with the Kwanzaa song. There are more holiday tunes and a much more relaxed and improvisational style. At one point the group takes requests of holiday songs and amazingly pop right into the songs the audiences shout out with nice harmonies. Upon another viewing this format didn't work as The Sound didn't know them and one of the six just sang a quick line of the song. I believe that throughout the holiday season there will be a few more songs learned as they get more and more requests.

At least the adage of improvisation of being quick and moving on swiftly helped a lot. The group seemed more sure of themselves and really worked well off of each other with everyone truly taking the lead at one point. If harmonies are your favorite thing you really shouldn't miss this group currently performing at the Pacific Wharf (check your daily entertainment schedule as they may be performing in other areas too. They can change.)

The Sound is really making some good sounds over at Pacific Wharf stage. Photo by Todd Pickering.

You can see a critique of all of the other groups who are much the same this year. Festival of Holidays Entertainment at Disney California Adventure from last year gives you a breakdown of all the groups performing.

A quick addendum to the critique of the delightful Blue 13 Dance Company celebrating Diwali (which is the Indian Festival of Lights). It may seem like a strange choice to take your little ones to, but it may be their favorite. Three pals aged six, six, and seven loved learning the dance steps and being in a Bollywood style routine. Truly a highlight of the day, so once again don't underestimate the power of entertainment and participation. You may be surprised.

Blue 13 Dance Company is a great group for the little ones in your family. Photo by Todd Pickering.

Also keep your eye out for the new swing sounds of Phat Cat Swinger.

8. Two Turtle Doves with One Stone

"Why do you have to make terrible puns?" Sorry. But sometimes you can get two things at once. So since you have enjoyed time with the little ones dancing to Blue 13, maybe let the adults have a holiday cocktail and holiday magic at one of the hotels or DownTown Disney?

Trader Sam's by the Disneyland Hotel has snow on the islands this time of year. Photo by Melba Melissa Pickering.

Or maybe the kids are antsy to get on an attraction, but you want them to see another show. The perfect solution is riding Jumpin' Jellyfish and watching ¡Viva Navidad! at the same time.

See what planning and using your guide book can bring? Photo by Steve Lewis.

9. Candy Canes

"Is it really worth a look with all that is going on?" Yes. Absolutely. Do not miss this. And since you have killed two birds with one stone, for those in your group that don't like candy making can shop or catch the Dapper Dans singing holiday tunes. Isn't that clever? Don't be surprised when you see teens to tots to middle age ones all looking on in awe as the hot and pliable masses of sugar are pounded, pulled, twirled, and shaped to resemble the staff of St. Nicholas himself. The thought of being transported back to a true Main St. and able to watch what is a complete dying art could only happen in Disneyland.

You have to reserve a candy cane first thing in the morning right when the parks open, but even last year they made extra batches for those of us that want to ride an attraction instead of waiting in line. It's nice to buy a cane and enjoy it as you watch the other being made. Check with the candy shop for times.

Watching the candy makers on Main Street is always fun, but this time of the year it's magical. Photo by Todd Pickering.

10. Rest in the Afternoon

"We like to go all day!" Yes, but the sugar high from the candy cane has worn off so it's time to rest. This can mean a nap back at the hotel, riding the Mark Twain Riverboat, or just people watching. Since it is the holidays enjoy the Christmas tree in the lobby of the Grand Californian with your cocktail by the tree, fireplace, or gingerbread house. Yup, they have all three. And for those of you who have booked multiple days, one of my biggest tips is choosing a morning to sleep in and not rush into the parks.

One of the most relaxing places in all of the resort is the lobby of the Grand Californian Hotel. Photo by Todd Pickering.

A prepared, patient person who has risen early, eaten a sumptuous feast after dancing Bollywood with guide books, Fastpasses, turtle doves, and candy in hand deserves a bit of a rest. And to all a good night.