The twinkling lights, sparkling decorations, Christmas parade, and fireworks mean it’s the holiday season at the Disneyland Resort. Here’s the best and worst at the Disney theme parks so you can make sure your holiday trip is extra magical:

The Best:

Let it Snow: Growing up in Ohio meant Christmas=cold and snow. But in Southern California, Christmas=warm and sunshine. Disneyland rushed to the rescue with their fake snow. Not only is it plasticized and strategically placed across the top of Sleeping Beauty’s castle to make it look like they’re braving a snowy winter, it also falls from the sky at the end of their spectacular fireworks show, “Believe…in Holiday Magic” (spoiler alert: it’s soap). If that’s not enough, they launch snowflakes bigger than my four-year-old child at the end of “World of Color: Season of Light” in California Adventure while you gawk and wonder, “How’d they do that?” It’s magical.

Disneyland treats.

Yummy Treats: The Disneyland Resort knows how to delight your taste buds. It’s a foodies dream. On a recent trip, I bought a chocolate covered Mickey marshmallow treat thinking it was just that. But – surprise! – it was marshmallows, covered with caramel, covered with chocolate, covered with sugar, covered with my mouth.

They bring out so many treats it’s hard not to find an excuse to indulge in something. They even create candy canes by hand alternatively between Trolley Treats in California Adventure and the Candy Palace in Disneyland. If you’re there on a day when they’re being made, you’ll get a wristband you can use to return later to buy a candy cane that will melt in your mouth as it melts away your wallet. They’re #12.99. But Mmmmmmm… Here are the upcoming dates for homemade candy canes:

Disneyland Candy Palace: Monday, Dec. 4, Wednesday, Dec. 6, Friday, Dec. 8,  also Dec. 11, 13, 15, 18, 20 & 24.

Disney California Adventure: Trolley Treats: Tuesday, Dec. 5, Thursday, Dec. 7, also Dec. 9, 12, 14, 16, 19, 21 & 25.

The Food: Throughout the holidays, the Disneyland Resort changes out the menu at several restaurants in both parks and offers mini bites and wine during the Festival of Holidays in California Adventure. One of my favorite places to eat in that park is the Plaza Grill that offers a Mexican menu in conjunction with their Viva Navidad celebration. The week of Christmas, Flo’s V-8 Café and Carnation Plaza (in Disneyland) offers a turkey meal that’s delicious.

Mardi gras themed Christmas decorations.

Mardi gras themed Christmas decorations.

The Shows: In both parks, there are tons of festivities to ring in the holidays. In Disneyland, the fireworks in Disneyland are fantastic and I always appreciate the nod to the real meaning of Christmas when the music plays “Silent Night” and a single firework shoots across the sky to look like the star of

Bethlehem. I also enjoy the Christmas Fantasy Parade where you get to see toy soldiers play trumpets and hear Santa say “Merry Christmas” in multiple languages. The Candlelight Ceremony is especially meaningful but is not advertised because of its popularity. It’s December 2nd & 3rd and features an orchestra, choir, and a celebrity reading Christmas passages from the Bible. In Calfornia Adventure, Viva Navidad is delightful and they have entertainment throughout the day.

The Decorations: Both parks feature decorations that match the theme of different areas. In Disneyland, New Orleans square lights up with Mardi Gras themed Christmas decorations, Frontierland has more of a rustic appeal, Fantasyland’s décor is more light and airy, and Main Street features animpressive Christmas tree and many lights. In California Adventure, they redo the shop windows on Buena Vista Street and give Radiator Springs a fantastic makeover filled with visual treats.

The Rides: During the holidays, they re-theme several attractions to give them a fresh spin. In Disneyland, It’s a Small World is themed for Christmas and the music is far less irritating than hearing the small world song bore a hole in your ears. The re-theming of the Haunted Mansion also ads a fun dimension to that ride. In California Aventure, they add some Christmas flare to Mater’s Jingle Jamboree and Luigi’s Joy to the Whirl attraction in Radiator Springs.

The Worst: 

The Crowds: There’s a reason the Disneyland Resort blocks out nearly all of their passholders during the week of Christmas: it’s incredibly crowded. You are in a constant sea of people and it can feel particularly crushing after one of the big shows has ended and you’re trying to make your way  out of the park. For parents, it can be unnerving but a stroller can help part the seas. Pro tip: when a show has ended, find a place nearby to sit down to wait out the crowds or slip into a ride near the event and – voila! – the crowd has disappeared when it’s over.

Being Incorrectly Politically Correct: In California Adventure, they feature a tree near the entrance that is decorated with twinkling Christmas lights, Christmas ornaments, and images of Santa’s face. It

This is NOT a Christmas tree.

This is NOT a Christmas tree.

looks suspiciously like a Christmas tree but the Disneyland Resort labels it as the “Holiday Tree.” Every night they light the “Holiday Tree.” I’ve asked Disney Cast Members why it’s not called a Christmas Tree and the answer I most frequently got was “they’re trying not to offend anyone.” A few of them even told me they thought it was ridiculous. Come on, Disneyland, we all know it’s a Christmas Tree.

Angels with Pumpkin Heads: While I think the re-theming of the Haunted Mansion is great, I’m always disturbed at the end of the ride where they’ve removed the heads of angels blowing trumpets and replaced them with scary jack-o-lantern heads. Given the significance of the birth of Jesus, I’ve always felt those props were in poor taste. Mixing up Christmas and Halloween is inherently funny but I think they cross a line when they tamper with the birth of Jesus. Am I being too sensitive?

Okay, my “Worst” list is short. I didn’t mention all the holiday merchandise because it’s not really my thing. I once bought the blinking Christmas lights necklace and wore it around proudly but that has been the extent of my purchasing. If you’re excited about Christmas merchandise, you’ll find it in abundance.

The holiday season is one of my favorite times of year to visit the Disneyland parks and I’ve always thought it was well worth the trip. If you can endure the crowds, you can enjoy a magical day.

What do you think is the best/worst at the Disneyland parks during the holidays?