It’s crazy to think that after 15 years of existence Disney California Adventure finally has holiday offerings that rival Disneyland. It’s true. Not only are there a ton of things to experiance, but they’re all high in quality as well. This is a huge change from the days when a few wreaths and Santa clothes on some scarecrows were all the park got. The “Festival of Holidays” moniker is perfect because several different holidays are represented in the event, including Diwali, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and Christmas. An event like this that represents the diversity of California naturally fits in to Disney’s California-themed park. Lets go over some of the offerings:
Princess Elena’s Musical Grand Arrival
It may seem silly to lead off this post with a Disney princess but her popularity can’t be denied. Princess Elena is available to meet at Disneyland Resort for the first time, and she also has “musical cavalcade” to welcome her in. If you’d like to meet Elena you should make it a priority early in the day as her lines can quickly get long. She is located in the gazebo to the right of Paradise Garden Grill, near Goofy’s Sky School. As for her Musical Grand Arrival, it takes place on the walkway directly in front of Goofy’s Sky School. A group of dancers come out to Elena’s theme song and then the princess herself arrives on a float. The rest of the show is made up of a series of songs, sung by Elena. The show lasts 12 minutes. There isn’t a lot of room for guests to watch this show, so if it’s on your itinerary be sure to show up about 20 minutes early to grab a prime spot.
Elena’s Musical Grand Arrival Video:
Food & Wine Festival returned to DCA earlier this year and was a huge hit so Disney has brought the same booths back for the holiday season. This time a whopping 14 booths selling a variety of cultural holiday food can be found throughout the park. While the food is good quality it does not come cheap. Most of the savory items, such as the Roasted Turkey Slider from the Winter Sliderland booth, or Chicken & Potato Curry from Spice Salutations range in price from $7 and up. These are not full meals, but samples that can be finished in a couple of bites. For example, one of the dishes is a $8.50 shrimp cocktail that includes TWO SHRIMP. Sarah, Tom Bricker and I sampled some items, but we stuck to the desserts. Festival desserts are as small as the savory food options, but cost $4 to $6 each.
My top 4 Festival of Holidays desserts:
“Mocha Yule Log with candied chestnuts” from Yuletide Yummies – I could be wrong but this tasted like chocolate cake with mocha frosting. Tom and Sarah were big fans. It also gets huge bonus points for how photogenic it is.“Vanilla Rice Pudding with apple compote and cinnamon streusel crunch” from Heritage Cottage – Wow was this good. Even if you’re not a fan of rice pudding it’s hidden under layers of cinnamon and apple. The group I was with physically fought over who got to finish this one. It’s worth mentioning that this was the largest in size of all the desserts we bought.
“Sticky Toffee Pudding with Brandied Cream” from Yuletide Yummies – Fluffy cake with a delicious light toffee taste.
Sweet Potato Pie with candied pecans – Southern Home Holidays – I came in to this only wanting to do a top 3 but all of these were too good to not mention. The sweet potato innards were tasty and smooth, while the crust was perfectly flaky. My entire group really enjoyed this one.
Left: Gingerbread Bundt Cake from Yuletide Yummies – This was surprising because, and this may sound crazy, I think gingerbread usually has a little bit of “spice” or “kick” to it. But the bundt cake was smooth with a hint of gingerbread. The orange-vanilla sauce on top goes perfectly with it.
Right: Cardamom & Saffron Sweet Cheese Tart with mulled fruit – By far the most bland item we tried. Maybe that is the point of it, I really don’t know. Sweet Cheese Tart experts sound off in the comments. Everyone else avoid this one for better desserts.
Left: Raspberry Linzer Tart from Yuletide Yummies – It wasn’t good or bad which means it didn’t rank high for any of us.
Right: Pesto Puff Pastry Twist from Yuletide Yummies – The most savory of the desserts we tried. The twist itself was nice and flaky, almost like baklava. The pesto flavor was light and not overpowering.
Avoid the Eggnog Cheesecake with spiced whipped cream from Yuletide Yummies. My group universally hated this one due to it’s almost chemical-like taste. Moving on from the food.
Viva Navidad returns for it’s third year and while there aren’t any changes that doesn’t mean you should skip it. It’s a wonderful high energy show that is packed with enthusiastic performers. It’s not quite a parade, even though it is performed on part of DCA’s parade route near Goofy’s Sky School. The best spot is in the middle, near the Bayside Brews beer stand. Arrive about 15 minutes early if you want a prime spot. I love this show.
Besides the Viva Navidad street party there are also arts and crafts, character meet and greets, and food. Paradise Garden Grill converts their menu from Mediterranean skewers to Mexican food for the season. Unfortunately the Viva Navidad menu at Paradise Garden Grill has been shrunk down, had its entrees simplified, and its prices went up. Which sucks because the Viva Navidad entrees used to be some of the best food in the resort.
Disney has gone all out with live entertainment at Festival of Holidays. Descriptions from Disney’s website:
- Blue13 Dance Company – The spirited performers of Blue13 Dance Company turn up the fun with traditional Indian dances that build to a Bollywood party for all.
- Mostly Kosher – Klezmer band Mostly Kosher showcases an entertaining and eclectic musical tapestry that weaves together jazz, Latin, rock and hip-hop.
- RAISE – This uplifting a cappella vocal group brings a powerful, harmonious R&B spin to new and popular holiday songs.
- Holiday Toy Drummers – The mischievous Holiday Toy Drummers march to their own merry beat as they perform precision drills with holiday cheer.
- Mariachi Divas – Sing along with the GRAMMY Award-winning Mariachi Divas and their signature repertoire of catchy tunes.
It’s hard to pick a favorite out of these groups, but I’d have to go with Mariachi Divas. Usually they roam around the Pacific Wharf area of the park and play short shows, but for the holidays they are able to go on a stage and do an actual concert. They mix Disney songs in to their sets, but give them a mariachi twist. I also really enjoyed Mostly Kosher. But like I said, you can’t go wrong with any of these groups. You could spend hours sampling the foods and the performances.
Festival of Holidays is a solid experience overall. I mentioned the quality of everything earlier. It’s clear Disney wants this to be popular and stick around for many years. It looks like they invested a lot in to the infrastructure to make it all possible. Don’t forget about DCA’s other Christmas offerings this year, including Santa meet and greet and playground in Redwood Creek, the beautiful decorations in Buena Vista Street and Cars Land, as well as a new holiday version of World of Color. Festival of Holidays officially starts November 10, 2016 and will run through January 8, 2017. Let me know what you think or what you’re excited to see in the comments below.
Meet Santa at Redwood Creek Challenge Trail
In previous years Santa Claus has met in Elias & Sons on Buena Vista Street. This year Santa and some of his elf friends are available to meet at Redwood Creek Challenge Trail.
DCA Festival of Holidays 2016 map