Disneyland Resort Update: Festival of Holidays

Disney California Adventure, Anaheim, CA

Greetings, ladies and gents!  Today's update is, well, several days late.  But that's what happens after a very busy Halloween season coupled with real life responsibilities.  But tardy or not, we have a sizeable update for you.  And if you like Christmas, you'll be especially in for a treat, since we're taking an in-depth look at the new Festival of Seasons holiday event at Disney California Adventure--a celebration of food and entertainment that spans holiday festivities of cultures all around the world.

Dan, that means you can stop reading now.

For everyone else, this year, DCA has branded the Christmas-time exhibits and shows taking place around Pacific Wharf and Paradise Pier into the Festival of Holidays.  It includes what amounts to a winter version of the Food and Wine event--complete with even more food stalls and more marketplace and activity boots--as well as a multitude of live shows and music and dance performances taking place throughout the night.  Everything culminates at the end of the night with the incredible and brand new World of Color: Season of Light fountain show in Paradise Bay, a show that marks a drastic and incredible improvement over the previous two years's "Winter Dreams" overlay for World of Color.

But before we head into California Adventure, lets take a quick stop outside the Mickey and Friends Parking Structure...

Security Checkpoint Expansion

In our last Disney update, I wondered how the expansion of Disney's secured areas from the Esplanade all the way out to include most of the Disneyland Resort property would impact the flow of vehicles and pedestrians at the Mickey and Friends Parking Structure.  Well, it appears we have our answer: they are modifying the course of the tram loading area to increase the length of space available for guests coming down the escalator, before they actually board the trams.  The tram loading is effectively being rotated 90-degrees, and concrete flatwork is currently being poured to bring the trams deeper into the structure when they turn into the loading area before having them U-turn out into territory that is currently part of the Pinocchio Parking lot.  This will enable guests coming down the escalator to queue up into what should be a more permanent security checkpoint, before turning around to then queue up to board the trams.

Now that we have that taken care of, lets go ahead and saunter into Disney California Adventure!

Festival Marketplace

Much like the April Food and Wine Festival, the Festival Marketplace contains a bonanza of food stalls and vendors selling snack-sized dishes, drinks (alcoholic and non-alcoholic), hand-made crafts, and other seasonal souvenirs and products.  The food stalls have been expanded.  There are nearly twice as many as during Food and Wine.  Unfortunately, the prices have also been expanded, which really puts a damper on what are otherwise some great cuisine reflecting cultures all around the world.  Each food item ranges in the $6-$9 range, but they are not full meal sized.  There are also sweets in the $4-$6 range, and drinks that run the gamut.  In addition, the Garden Grill has converted into a Mexican cuisne establishment for the holidays, continuing the trend from past years, which means those looking for Mediterranean food will have to go outside of the parks to Downtown Disney until the holiday season is over.

For those interested in looking at the menus, here you go:


In Paradise Pier, over by the gazebo area next to Goofy's Sky School and Garden Grill, there are a couple of holiday meet-and-greets set up as part of the ¡Viva Navidad! celebration, which has been co-opted under the Festival of Holidays umbrella.  Guests can line up to meet Mickey and Minnie and Princess Elena.

Festival Entertainment

The best part of the Festival of Holidays is the multitude of shows and entertainment options guests have.  It's almost overwhelming, because the spots are staggered to practically lead into each other.  With performance areas across from the Boudin Bakery in Pacific Wharf, by Sonoma Terrace, in Paradise Park, and over next to Goofy's Sky School, one can literally hop from point to point and see continues live theatrics!

Holiday Toy Drummers

This drumline performs a relatively short set a few times a day, gathering in the walkway area adjacent to the main entrance of Cars Land, across from the Boudin Bakery entrance.  They provide a quick, high energy percussion display that thrills the audience.  But before long, they are "called back to the toy store," ending a brief but very fun several minutes.

Blue13 Dance Company

Throughout the afternoon, in the center of Paradise Park on a stage set up over what is normally the water play area, the Blue13 Dance Company puts on a fiery take on traditional Indian and Bollywood style dances.  Representing the Diwali aspect of the global holiday celebrations, the quintent of dancers engages the audience and even invites a bit of guest participation as well.  It's an enthusiastic and rousing series that brings some great cultural flare to the Festival of Holidays.

Mostly Kosher

This modern Jewish revival band mixes traditional traditional Yiddish and klezmer tunes with an infusion of melodic jazz, Latin rhythms, and hip hop beats to create a lively and eclectic but engaging sound.  Playing on both a small stage at Sonoma Terrace and the larger Paradise Park stage--depending on the time of day or evening, this sextet follows the charismatic and sometimes goofy lead of frontman Leeav Sofer.  The multi-instrumentalist band uses the violin, clarinet, drums, upright bass, trombone, trumpet, accordion, guitar, and even a Star of David tambourine, and they make a very fun and entertaining show that includes a bit of celebration for Hanukkah and spread of general holiday cheer.


Also splitting time between Sonoma Terrace and Paradise Park is acapella group Raise, which croons both pop ballads and traditional holiday tunes, and sometimes mashups of the two or their own twists on said songs (like their "Seven Days of Kwanzaa" song).  With some pizzazz and showmanship thrown in, Raise offers an inspiring, sometimes emotional, and joyful melody for the holidays.

Mariachi Divas

The Grammy Award winning all-female band are regular staples at Disney California Adventure, but they put on a Christmas performance during the Festival of Holidays, crooning out bilingual ballads to a cheering audience.  It's great to see the group still remaining as enthusiastic as ever even after some of that mainstream recognition they've received, and they definitely have a fan base at the parks.

Street Party Shows

There are a couple of performances that make use of the parade route from Silly Symphony Swings over to Goofy's Sky School.  One is new for 2016, introducing Disney's recently debuted new Latina Princess, Elena of Avalor.  The other sees a return of holiday favorite, ¡Viva Navidad!, starring the Three Caballeros.

Princess Elena's Musical Grand Arrival

Over the summer, Disney made some news by introducing "the first Latina Disney princess" in the form of Elena of Avalar.  The teenage ruler of a faraway imaginary kingdom has a show on the Disney Channel, but lacking the support of a full feature film, it's understandable that many Disney guests are still not familiar with her.  This show serves to familiarize a potential audience with Elena and her backstory, then transitions into a wintertime celebration of the holidays, with Elena reminiscing about her favorite Christmas traditions and treasured memories.  It's a nice show that even has its own little parade float for support, and definitely something of interest for the guests.

¡Viva Navidad!

My favorite part of the holiday offerings at Disney California Adventure last year was easily ¡Viva Navidad!, a celebration of Latin American holiday culture, starring Donald Duck, José Carioca, and Panchito Pistoles.  It's basically a giant street party, with dancing live music and dancing and singing representative of traditions in Mexico and Brazil.  Mickey and Minnie even make appearances, as do giant floats of Santa and Mrs Claus.  The performance is utterly fantastic, and guests can't help but get into the spirit of the season with this engaging and heart-livening show.

World of Color: Season of Light

Finally, well after nightfall, there is the brand new World of Color show for the holiday season.  Coming off the heels of the rather disappointing World of Color: Celebrate and the heavily lampooned World of Color: Winter Dreams (mostly because it should have been called "World of Color: Frozen Dreams"), World of Color: Season of Light absolutely nails what DCA's nighttime fountain show spectacular should be.  In short, it is a Christmas clip show featuring beloved holiday tunes--some classic and some contemporary, intermixed with a deep volume of Disney characters, movies, and scenes, crafted around basic tenets of the holidays: joy of the season, the gift of love, the cherish of family, and the excitement of Christmas.  The show makes full use of the entire palette of technology available--towering fountain bursts, snazzy laser projections, dazzling light displays across California Screamin' and Mickey's Fun Wheel, crisp projections, and yes, some chestnut-roasting fire bursts all add up to a sensational and magnificent show.  FastPass is still required to reserve a spot in the official viewing area in Paradise Park, but there are other standby locations available by the Little Mermaid Ride and Ariel's Grotto, not to mention oblique views all around Paradise Bay.  Get a spot in the formal viewing area if you can, though.  It's well worth it!

World of Color: Season of Light is full of holiday grandeur.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is an absolutely massive update that covers only what's going on in Disney California Adventure during this holiday season (and not even the entire park, though Buena Vista Street, Cars Land, and Grizzly Peak have their traditional Christmas decorations recognizable from previous years).  Thereis also a meet-and-greet with Santa Clause in the Grizzly Peak Recreational Area--moved from the previous years' location at Elias and Company on Buena Vista Street--that I did not have a chance to photograph.

The Festival of Holidays has brought some fresh new energy to Disney California Adventure and is a great excuse to head over to Disneyland's neighbor during the merriest time of the year.  It's great to see this sort of commitment to content being devoted to Disneyland's second gate.  Christmas time is always wonderful around the Disneyland Resort, and no, I'm not being a paid pencil pusher in saying that.  Although my love of Halloween may suggest otherwise, I do enjoy the Christmas season very much, and it's hard to find a theme park that does this time of year more festively and upliftingly as the Disneyland Resort!


Architect. Photographer. Disney nerd. Haunt enthusiast. Travel bugged. Concert fiend. Asian.