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Five Disney California Adventure Holiday Favorites

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Disney California Adventure holiday favorites
Disney California Adventure is decked out for the holidays. (Photos by Seth Kubersky)

It may not have the six decades of cherished Christmas traditions of its older sibling across the Disneyland Resort esplanade, but don’t dismiss the Disney California Adventure holiday celebrations. The park has made great strides since its Cars Land-fueled rebirth last summer, and this year’s enhanced seasonal offerings are no exception. Once you’ve finished checking out my five favorite Disneyland holiday additions, tackle these top picks among DCA’s Christmas presents.

Buena Vista Street Decor and Shows

As soon as you step through Disney California Adventure’s Art Deco gates into the 1920’s era Buena Vista Street, you’ll notice the seasonal spirit in the shop windows. DCA has been criticized for redecorating the original Imagineer-designed window dispays with non-period merchandise, but the retail corridor’s holiday treatments for 2013 represent a return to form.

These displays evoke pre-WWII Christmas cartoons like Walt Disney’s 1933 A Night Before Christmas.

My favorite window belongs to Julius Katz, who is apparently Buena Vista Street’s sole Jewish resident.

But the real treat is when the streets come to life at regular times during throughout the day with holiday entertainment.

The Buena Vista Street Community Bell Ringers ring out familiar carols for a Christmas sing-along several times each day.

The Red Car News Boys perform their standard show (already one of my favorites in the park) with medly of seasonal songs inserted for extra holiday fun.


However, the highlight of Buena Vista Street’s lineup is the nightly Holiday Tree Lighting ceremony on Carthay Circle, which combines many of the aforementioned entertainment elements with some iconic characters and a dazzling tree covered in oversized old-fashioned ornaments:

Elias & Co. Santa Claus

Disneyland has a perfectly charming traditional Santa Claus who holds court at Big Thunder Ranch

But I must confess a fascination with the Santa meet & greet at Elias & Co. on Buena Vista Street, because it seems designed as a sly shout-out to my all-time favorite Christmas comedy: A Christmas Story.

The whole setup is a nod to vintage department store Santas of the 1930s and 40s, as memorably depicted in the classic 1983 movie.

I especially love the eye-popping elf assistants’ costumes, which add the perfect touch of camp.

This Santa certainly seems to know what his whole meet & greet is winking at. When I told him that my holiday wish was for a “Red Ryder BB gun,” he swiftly deadpaned “you’ll shoot your eye out, kid.”

Santa even smiled as I snapped a cellphone photo for my #SelfiesWithSanta series. Now that’s the kind of magic that holiday memories are made of!


Viva Navidad

As Guy Selga reported, the Paradise Gardens area of Disney California Adventure has been taken over by the Three Caballeros and their pals from south of the border for the Hispanic-flavored Viva Navidad celebrations.

Normally I’d grouse about Mexican food displacing my favorite menu of Mediterranean meats, but I’ll let it slide because this is the best Mexican quick-service I’ve tasted inside a theme park. (Take that, Rancho del Zocalo.)

The barbaccoa sopes and chicken mole are worthy of a full dining review, if the menu sticks around past New Years, as I suspect it might. But for now, feast on these photos.

Once you’ve finished eating, don’t miss the street party mini-parade staged several times each afternoon:

…or the Latin dance lessons.

And of course, no Navidad could be complete without a photo op with Donald, Panchito, and Jose. I’ve seen the trio do meet & greets at Epcot’s Mexican pavilion, but this was the most animated and interactive encounter I’ve ever had with Three Caballeros characters.


Cars Land Lights

The Cars Land sunset lighting ceremony is a high point of any DCA day throughout the year.

But during Christmas time, the evening illumination takes on an added enchantment, as each attraction and establishment along Radiator Springs’ main drag is decorated with unique automotively-inspired lights.


World of Color Winter Dreams

Finally, we come to World of Color Winter Dreams, the latest addition to Disneyland Resort’s lineup of holiday headliners, and my personal pick for the best of the pack. Last year, Disney California Adventure added a Prep & Landing preshow to their acclaimed nighttime water fountain extravaganza, but this year they went all out with a brand-new production that outdoes the original in some aspects.

The show starts with a “virtual chorus” of Internet volunteer vocalists singing a chorale while snowflakes with their disembodied heads float by; as an opening act it’s innofensive, if a little creepy, and a clever way for Disney to avoid paying professional singers.

The show proper stars Olaf, the talking snowman from the new CGI Disney film Frozen. To be honest, I had little interest in the movie before seeing Winter Dreams, and was was frankly terrified that Olaf, who seems so annoying in the movie’s trailers, would quickly grow tiresome as the new show’s host. But the opposite occured; Olaf (voiced by The Book of Mormon’s Josh Gad) turned out to be much more entertaining than I anticipated (even during the juvenile but jolly “follow the bouncing butt” sing-along), and the strong “Let It Go” song, actually inspired me to want to see the flick.

Moreover, Winter Dreams as a whole has more consistent pacing and tighter transitions between segments than the standard World of Color, which sometimes feels like one false ending after another. I also appreciated Winter Dreams’ emphasis on humor over sentimentality, as the Toy Story Nutcracker scene made me laugh out loud more than once.Though both shows have nearly the same running, Winter Dreams feels slightly shorter, leaving you wanting more.

The flame explosions are absent in the holiday edition, but two new special effects make up for it. California Screamin’s entire structure has been outfitted with new colored lights, that synchronize in stunning ways during the new show’s climax. And oversized “presents” planted throughout the viewing area open up near the show’s end to expel floating soap-bubble snowflakes, apparently utilizing a new technology called “Flogos” that I recently saw demonstrated at IAAPA.

Winter Dreams has made World of Color more popular than ever, so be sure to secure a FastPass for a viewing section as early in the day as possible (i.e. immediately after getting your Radiator Springs Racers FastPass). Alternatively, take advantage of a World of Color dining package; the $39 lunch deal at Carthay Circle is a fair bargain, as you are getting desert and central show viewing included for the price of an entree and appetizer.

Finally, if you can’t do any of the above, try standing behind the FastPass crowd during the later show; look between The Little Mermiad and Golden Zephyr. You’ll actually have a better view of the effects than those close up to the water.


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Seth Kubersky

Author of The Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando. Co-author of The Unofficial Guide to Disneyland and Beyond Disney. Contributor to Unofficial Guides to WDW and Las Vegas. Live Active Cultures columnist for the Orlando Weekly. Travel and arts journalist. Theatrical director and producer.

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