Disneyland in December: The Second Time is a Charm

We approached Disneyland a bit more prepared today than on our last visit. Armed with tips from my readers a few healthy snacks, and two tired but excited kids we entered the park via the Monorail that runs from the hotel area to Tomorrowland.

Tomorrowland was the perfect first stop because E has been begging us for months to buy him a car. Not a Fred Flintstone-like Little Tykes car, but a real car that he can paint his name on and drive around (without a car seat, thank you very much). Autopia, where kids drive around an outdoor track in gas powered cars seemed sure to be a hit. It is also a ride that I loved during my own childhood visits to Disneyland (at least until I was old enough to realize that the cars pretty much steer themselves).

We tried Disney's fast pass system, where you swipe your park tickets and in return are given passes that entitle you to come back within a specified time window to wait in a shorter line. Our passes said to return in an hour. That was just enough time to rent strollers, ride on the Astro Orbiter, and return.

The last time we were in Disneyland D raced towards the Astro Orbiter shrieking (a ride where rocket ships circle around in the sky), while E absolutely refused to ride. This time we got smart and had D ask him to join her. Remembering the history, she begged. It worked like a charm, and he climbed on board enthusiastically. He loved the sensation of flying, and for the first time, he climbed off a ride happy instead of traumatized. Whew!

Autopia too (not surprisingly) was a hit. E is old enough to drive himself (but not to ride alone) and felt so grown up climbing into the car, putting on a lap-belt (instead of buckling into a car seat) and steering. D squeezed in a car with Peyman and I, and had a harder time reaching the wheel (even very small children must sit on the seat and not on a lap), but was equally delighted. When the ride ended, E begged to go on again, and the single low point in our day was gently steering him to the parade with the knowledge that riding Autopia again would mean another hour-and-a-half of waiting.

Today's parade is a "Christmas Parade" and in general, the park has been absolutely taken over by Christmas. For some that makes it a wonderland, but since we celebrate Hanukkah I'm less enthusiastic. Sure, there was the classic nod to other cultures in sometimes using the word "Holiday" but I saw no holiday symbols other than Santa and Christmas trees.

As a Jewish mother, that puts me in an interesting position. My son is at a Jewish preschool, and here in Seattle, Christmas celebrations and decorations tend to be understated. My kids haven't encountered Santa yet, and I dread the day that we have to have "The Santa Talk..." Every Jewish mother knows it... the talk where you tell your kids that Santa is imaginary, but that we need to keep that tidbit of information a secret from our friends who believe in him. . . and then you struggle to explain what a secret is, why it's ok to sometimes keep one, etc. etc. etc. Believe me, I'd rather talk about where babies come from.

As usual, I was unnecessarily worried. Despite all the announcements about presents from Santa on Christmas morning, my kids were so infatuated with the Disney characters that they barely noticed Santa. They probably thought he was one of the supporting characters in the star-studded lineup. The fact that they know Mickey and Minnie are adults in costume will probably make it easier for me to talk to them about Santa when the time comes. Still, it felt strange to be in a place that was so completely Christmas focused, and I wish I had seen a few nods to my own family's traditions in the park.

Like last night, the parade route was incredibly crowded, but we managed to find ourselves a spot at the edge of Main Street and sat down to wait while my husband ventured off in search of food. He returned just as the parade started, and we rested while the kids enjoyed the parade. D screeched with recognition and delight as each of the characters she had met at the mom blogger's party appeared. For her, they were all celebrities, and I think that if she'd known how, she would have said "I can't believe this is really happening to me." The next morning, when she woke up horse, I worried for about 10 minutes until I remembered back to this moment.

By the time the parade ended, it was well past D's naptime, and yet she seemed to be going strong. We decided that she could handle one more ride, and hightailed it to "Small World." Small World was my own favorite ride as a child, and on our last visit I was disappointed to find it closed for renovation. This time, though, armed with Fast Passes (a gift to each of the mom bloggers from Disney) we skipped past the line and got directly onto the ride. The kids were surprised and excited. Suddenly overtired and fussy, D recovered the instant her bum hit the boat's seat and announced "this makes me happy." As a mom it was fun to watch my kids faces light up as we journeyed through each "land" with its singing characters (albeit to the tune of "jingle bells" mixed with "small world" and lots of Christmas Decorations).

Nobody wants their childhood memories to be renovated. I had been worried that the renovation wouldn't be true to my memories of the ride, that the draw of high tech animatronics might prove too strong to resist, or that princesses might somehow force their way in, but none of those things was true. I would be hard pressed to say what had changed. The ride seemed a little more sparkly, a little prettier, and I suspect that the portrayals of different cultures were modernized a bit. The ride remained what it has always been, a sweet and nostalgic journey through different lands that is appropriate for all ages.

After we exited, poor overtired D put her head down on daddy's shoulder and fell asleep. Knowing that she would have a meltdown if she woke to find herself outside of the park, we hung out for another few hours, but we were all essentially as exhausted as she was. There were no more rides for us that day, just Ice Cream, a visit to Tune Town and story hour with the princesses. We left just as D was starting to wake up and headed to Grandma's house for dinner and a solid night of sleep before returning to Seattle in the morning.

Was Disneyland perfect? Did we have a carefree day with the kids? Of course not, but the kids had a wonderful time, and the magic of the Disney characters seemed to tap into a secret, gleeful spot that my normally contemplative son almost never gets to reach. As a mom, that made the journey worthwhile.

Related Links
Disneyland Mom Blogger's Event
Disneyland on the Spur of the Moment
10 Activities Near Disneyland that Kids and Adults Will Both Enjoy
What to do in Orange County, CA with kids

 Subscribe to our feed

Subscribe by email:


  1. Caitlin on December 17, 2008 at 10:53 a.m.

    Interesting post, especially on the issue of Christmas. It's always a tricky one to address - finding the balance between making sure minorities feel acknowledged and included but also letting the majority feel they can celebrate their own traditions without stepping on egg shells.

    Maybe you can tell your children that some people believe in Santa Claus and some people don't - just like explaining other religions? I guess it's the same with the Easter Bunny. At least you get the Tooth Fairy if you want it!

    Of course, there was also a real person called Saint Nicholas but I don't know if that's useful information or not.

    I seem to recall my Jewish friends telling me that Hannukkah is not anywhere near the most important date on the Jewish holiday calendar and that people make a bigger deal of it than it warrants simply because of its proximity to Christmas and the desire not to let their children feel left out. Do you agree with this? How do you see it?

    I would be interested to know if Disneyland does anything on any of the other Jewish high holidays or at different times of the year for other religious holidays. I wouldn't be surprised if they didn't but I would be interested to know.

    I celebrate Christmas as a secular, humanist, cultural holiday but not as a religious one.

  2. Shelly Rivoli (Travels with Baby) on December 17, 2008 at 10:59 a.m.

    Love your refreshing candor! Nice post.

  3. Debbie on December 17, 2008 at 12:18 p.m.

    Everyone feels differently about this subject (which is what makes it so tricky)

    My family is multi-cultural with my husband's parents being non-practicing Muslims. So it feels exactly right to acknowledge that people have lots of different beliefs, and celebrate in many different ways.

    The tricky part for me is how to teach them to respect that. My nightmare scenario (which will probably happen at some point) is to get a call from another child's parents saying that their child came home in tears because one of my kids said "Santa isn't real."

    And of course I have my own childhood memories (Who doesn't have some kind of drama in their past) of being very very confused about why it was ok for me to keep this secret when other secrets were forbidden.

    I know that once E is out of preschool, he will start to hear all sorts of crazy assertions about Santa not visiting us because Jews are bad. While I don't love it, I think it's part of growing up in a multi-cultural society. That multi-culturalism is something I really value about the area I live in, and it's ok that it isn't always pretty. Things have changed a lot since I was a kid (for the better) and the only way they continue to improve is when we live, play, and work together as a community.

    Yes, Hanukkah is a minor holiday. The tradition is to give a few gold coins, but most secular families make a big deal so that their kids have something in their culture to feel great about at this time of year. I grew up with that tradition ;) and of course I have fond memories of all those presents!

    We're still keeping Hanukkah very low key. We'll focus mostly on keeping the traditions alive. My kids are still small, they have everything they need, and they don't have a lot of expectations, so I don't see any reason to create a lot of material desires. How much to do each year is something we'll figure out as they grow, but it has more to do with our family values than the proximity to Christmas.

  4. Kristi (Ciao Bambino) on December 17, 2008 at 12:59 p.m.

    My kids are 3 and 5 now but when my son was 1.5 years old we bought the southern california year pass and he was so afraid of most rides that we spent our visits riding the "pooh pots" over and over and just walking around. In all that walking I did discover a few finds for families that are worth noting.

    - Baby changing and feeding station. Private cubicles with rocking chairs for nursing/feeding and a separate changing area with toddler-sized toilets. Enter Disneyland and proceed down Main Street. Make a right at the last candy shop on your right and half a block on your right you will see the strollers parked.
    - The Pooh Pots
    The Many Adventures of Pooh are located in Critter Country. Fondly called the “Pooh Pots” there is never more than a 5 minute wait and you can go on them again and again.
    - Lunch.
    Hungry Bear restaurant is next to the Pooh Pots. It feels like a retreat from the hustle and bustle of Disneyland. Food is the same as every other restaurant but it is on the “lake” and you can watch ducks and paddle boats go by as you dine. Bathrooms below the eating area are large and not busy.

    Good luck because Disneyland really can be an adventure for everyone.... If you have more time to visit attractions in Orange county check out http://www.ciaobambino.com/oc_article...
    for additional activities with the kids.

  5. Chris (Amateur Traveler travel podcast) on December 18, 2008 at 9:15 p.m.

    I hope you checked out my episode on strategies for tackling Disneyland ;-)

  6. Caitlin on December 19, 2008 at 12:04 a.m.

    I do feel strongly that Christmas is not exclusively a Christian holiday. Of course, there is a religious dimension for people who believe in that side. However, it's also a cultural holiday and the concept of a midwinter festival predates Christianity in Europe. I am not a Christian but I feel that Christmas is very much a part of my cultural heritage.

    Christmas transcends religion - and I mean that in a good way. I'm not talking about the crass materialism and commercialism, but the values of tradition and coming together. I think it might be different in North America because you have Thanksgiving (which originally had a religious dimension too but is now more of a secular holiday) to fulfil that role. However, for me growing up in Australia and now living in the UK, Christmas is not wholly a religious holiday.

    It's slightly different for me because I don't belong to another religion either, but I do know Jews and Buddhists who celebrate Christmas in the same way I do.

  7. BabyShrink on December 19, 2008 at 2:59 p.m.

    Hi! Nice to discover your blog. We LOVE Disneyland and I posted some suggestions here http://babyshrink.com/?s=Disneyland&x...
    we go back in late January, so I'm excited to see how the kids react now that they're just a bit older.

    My main suggestion is to keep the pace SLOW and your expectations manageable...easier said than done, but little kids don't really know what they're missing. They just get into the moment!

    Have a great holiday and aloha!

  8. Debbie on December 20, 2008 at 2:41 a.m.

    Yes, I'm sure you are right that the decision to celebrate Christmas is for some a secular decision instead of a religious one. I certainly know lots of people who aren't religious, but do celebrate Christmas, and clearly I wouldn't want to diminish anyone's enjoyment of the holiday. People should do what feels right to them, and there's nothing wrong with picking and choosing the traditions that make sense for you.

    Americans whose faith doesn't include a holiday at this time of year sometimes celebrate Christmas in an effort to prevent their kids from feeling left out, and of course over time it will become a part of those families traditions just like Thanksgiving.

    It was also interesting to get private email from Christians who felt like the materialism surrounding Christmas had gotten so extreme, that the holiday is no longer their own.

    For us, though, Christmas isn't part of our family tradition and it doesn't feel like "ours" any more than Ramadan would if we happened to move to a country where that was a widely celebrated holiday. For me it would feel disingenuous to bring a Christmas tree in my home or introducing Santa as real to my kids.

  9. Mara Gorman on December 20, 2008 at 6:35 p.m.

    I'm late to this post (catching up in my reader) but I very much enjoyed reading both the text itself and the comments. I actually have Christian friends who are really stressed about Santa because they intend to tell their children he's not real when asked - they consider doing otherwise to be lying to their children. I don't know if this is any consolation, but you're not alone!

    I'm very glad your second trip to Disney was more positive. Interesting that it was the sponsored one that was that way - makes you understand why they have those junkets!

  10. Debbie on December 21, 2008 at 12:59 a.m.

    Certainly the perks that came along with the sponsored trip made the trip easier (although not all of them did, we would have chosen different flight times if we'd be on our budget instead of Disney's). The party on Friday night was extra fun for the kids, and I it put them more at ease than they had been the first time we entered the park. More than that, though, I think we were able to hit the ground running this time... we had a better idea of what the kids would enjoy + I had done a little research in advance.

    I always thought it was funny to see so many books and websites devoted to "how to get the most out of Disneyland." For a seasoned traveler who has taken her kids to all sorts of places that aren't usually considered "kid-friendly" it seemed like overkill to read up on a manufactured environment that was designed with families in mind. I get it now, though, the park is huge, crowded, and a little overwhelming at first. Because it isn't the real world, a lot of the skills we've learned that will help us hit the ground running in Phoenix next week simply don't apply. That first trip was ill-fated in part because we were so totally unprepared to make it work.

  11. Bridget Smith on December 22, 2008 at 4:04 p.m.

    Glad you had fun at your Disneyland getaway. We were there right after you, and you are right it is Christmas to the hilt. I love Christmas, but even a little balance would be nice so all kids could feel welcomed and acknowledged.

    My main Disneyland beef was the lack of opportunities to connect with characters throughout the park. I feel that I shouldn't have to pay for expensive character meals or other meet and greet opportunities when the cost of admission is so expensive. The characters are what makes Disneyland so special...little ones should be able to enjoy them throughout the park.

    If you are looking for a more low key interactive and generally smaller scale amusement park for your little ones, I would recommend Legoland California. I love that park so much I wrote a book about it :).

    Even in family friendly parks, it helps to be prepared for the particular age group you are bringing. Our family ranges in age from 9-4 so it took a few trips to figure out how what worked for the whole crowd as well as what Legoland had to offer for each age group. I wrote my book to try and shorten that process.

    Have fun in Pheonix!

  12. Caitlin on December 23, 2008 at 6:47 a.m.

    I'm not suggesting that anyone should celebrate Christmas if that doesn't feel authentic to them but I dislike Christians claiming the holiday as exclusively theirs. It's not.

    A midwinter festival and many of the traditions we now associate with Christmas wholly predate Christianity. And certainly hundreds of years of layers of cultural traditions have made it more than a religious holiday for people of European descent.

    The other thing that really bugs me is when Christians claim the Nativity is the "true meaning of Christmas" and act as if all the non-religious cultural traditions (Christmas trees, Santa Claus, Christmas pudding) are second-rate. Christmas can be materialistic but that's not confined to non-Christians. Christmas can also be a time of joy and peace, bringing family together, helping those less fortunate and honouring timeless cultural traditions and Christians don't have a monopoly on this.

  13. lola Wilkison on August 23, 2010 at 8:03 a.m.

    We are planning a trip to Disneyland from Vancouver, BC, Canada, in December 2011. This will be our daughter's first trip and she will be almost 4 years old. We are planning on flying. If anyone has any tips to make it easier I would greatly appreciate it!

    Thanks! <3

  14. Debbie Dubrow on August 23, 2010 at 2 p.m.


    Thanks for writing! Here are some tips about flying with kids that might help: http://www.deliciousbaby.com/travel/f...

    Hope you have a wonderful trip.