I’m changing up the next couple blog posts from my norm of restaurant experiences to vacation stories. I hardly travel anymore so there won’t be many of these, but I know some readers who are parents might appreciate the insight. If you have a kid (or kids) this thought may have crossed your mind: Christmas in the Disneyland parks.

It sounded like a great idea a couple months prior to the holidays. Taking our five year old to the “happiest place on earth” led my wife and I to believe that we’d be the parents of the year. At least that’s what we were hoping our son would think. He was thrilled when we broke the news and he talked about the trip non-stop leading up to it. We did have a great time, but it wasn’t as perfect as we pictured. I was foolish enough to think that most other people spent the holidays with their families. How naive. Apparently, the week between xmas and New Years is one of their busiest of the year. Am I really one of the few who has always had a traditional Christmas at home with family?

With our three day park hopper passes we spent Day 1 at Disney’s California Adventure. Fortunately, Christmas Eve wasn’t bad. We stayed the whole day and while it was busy, it was nothing compared to the large masses of people we encountered the other two days. I did enough pre-planning to know to get the World of Color fast passes first thing in the morning. Right after that, it was time to hit up their newest and busiest attraction, Radiator Springs Racers, in the “just like the movies” setting of Cars Land. Fast passes for that ride go quick, so get them early before they’re gone.

This might sound sacrilegious to the Disney faithful, but I prefer California Adventure to Disneyland. It’s a compact park that’s easy to navigate and based on my few visits it’s typically less crowded than its sister property. With Radiator Springs Racers, California Screamin’, Tower of Terror and Soarin’ Over California, there are more exciting rides as a whole. For the three years of age and under crowd you’ll find lots to do in A Bug’s land. For adults, there’s alcohol throughout the park. Food will always be expensive, but it’s more refined than most amusement parks.

The main reason to come here was, of course, to spend the holidays in Disney. I’m not sure what I was envisioning, but I thought the place would be more decked out in xmas swag. Cars Land did the best job with their holiday decor made up of various car parts. And in every eatery there were special items like gingerbread men, holiday cookies, brownies, cake pops, etc. Street lights were decorated and Christmas trees could be found throughout the park. But, it wasn’t as over-the-top as one might think. Consider it tastefully decorated.

Our first day there was spent waiting and riding most of the rides. Typical wait times varied from 45 minutes to an hour and a half. So, if you plan on checking out stores and shows, two days at the park would be appropriate. There are several smartphone apps with park maps and wait times for rides. It comes in handy when planning which rides to go on. The one I used — DL Maps — is free on iTunes (although there is an upgrade that you can pay for).

In the end, my kid had a blast and I survived the crowds. It may not have been the ideal time to go, but seeing my kid happy is all that matters.

You can read my reviews of all Disney attractions I experienced on Yelp.

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