Review: Holiday Time at Disneyland Tour

December 21, 2012

We don’t usually take tours at Disneyland—not because we’re locals, but because the ones we’ve tried have been universally disappointing. Unlike Walt Disney World, which offers actual behind-the-scenes tours on which you can actually learn actual things, Disneyland keeps its tours onstage and superficial. With the exception of the Club 33 lobby and Walt’s Main Street apartment (only recently added to the Walk in Walt’s Footsteps tour), you’ll go no place you can’t access on your own and you’ll learn nothing you couldn’t have gleaned from skimming one of the park’s glossy souvenir books. And while the guides we’ve had were always friendly, they generally lacked in-depth knowledge of the park and parroted a dismaying amount of myth and misinformation.

Still, we booked the Holiday Time at Disneyland Park tour with high hopes that there’d be something of value there besides just access to seats at Candlelight Processional that night, part of an offer limited to the first weekend in December. (To read my review of Candlelight Processional, click here.) Normally the tour costs $65, but we were willing to cough up $150 this time for Candlelight, and it was worth it. The tour itself is nowhere near worth $65 unless you want a front-row seat to the Christmas parade. Wait… where are you going? Don’t you want to read why…?

I promise, I went in with an open mind. In fact, I had zero idea what the tour was about or where it would go, blithely assuming it would be like the fascinating holiday tour D23 gave us at Walt Disney World during Magic & Merriment last year. That one included backstage stops at the holiday warehouse, the float barn, and the entertainment services building. The main features of Holiday Time at Disneyland are getting to skip part of the lines for Haunted Mansion Holiday and “it’s a small world” holiday, plus seating along the route of the holiday parade. Also, it’s built around the lightweight premise that you’ll be learning about holiday traditions around the world. Not sure what that has to do with Disneyland or why they didn’t just print out that page from Wikipedia for us, cuz the guide was practically reading from it.

To begin, we checked in at the Tour Garden and were given name badges and separated into groups by color. I was expecting ear pieces like some of the tours have, but this is not one of them.

A gaggle of guides came out and gathered each of their respective groups, then we all started the tour in different places. Our “Holiday Time at Disneyland Park” tour inexplicably started at Disney California Adventure Park. (At least call the thing “Holiday Time at Disneyland Resort” if you’re gonna do that!)

Our cheerful and friendly guide said a few words about how Buena Vista Street was designed to look like the L.A. Walt saw when he arrived in California, and then we were off to the next stop.

We stopped at the big Christmas tree and were told that it’s adorned with period-appropriate ornaments, just in case we hadn’t, you know, looked at it. Too bad about those piercing and anachronistic LED lights, though….

Off we went to Cars Land, where we stood 2 feet inside the entrance and had the different cars’ Christmas trees described to us but didn’t actually go see any of them. Patrick sneaked away from the group to grab this one…

Filmore’s tree

Back to Buena Vista Street we went, stopping in at the candy shop to glance at the garland and pick up a free flavored marshmallow. I had to give mine to Patrick cuz it was some fruity nonsense.

Back we marched across the Esplanade!

Now THERE is something I’ve never noticed before—the Matterhorn peeking over the roofs of Main Street!

Our guide pointed out Walt’s apartment above the firehouse and described the tradition of honoring Disney employees with windows on Main Street, as the veteran Disney park-goers in the group politely stifled yawns.

As is usual these days, there’s an unnecessarily elaborate backstory about a Jewish family that supposedly lives in this apartment above Main Street

From there it was a looong walk to Haunted Mansion Holiday, where we skipped the modest line outside and then got stuck in a crowd of guests in the load area that was backed all the way up to the elevators. There was no information on the tour that tied into the mansion—we just kinda went on it and then went on our way. In fact, most of the tour was punctuated by long periods of just walking places. Seems like earpieces would’ve allowed us to continue to learn as we went. Then again, they seemed to be so short on meaningful content already, maybe they couldn’t think of anything for the guide to say in transit.

It’s next to impossible to shoot, but this year’s gingerbread house may be the best yet!

From there, we walked around by Big Thunder Ranch and made a pit stop in Fantasyland before continuing on to “it’s a small world.” It was just starting to rain…

Skipping the line at “it’s a small world” saved maybe 5 minutes at that time of day. At night, when all the Christmas lights are on, is when you’d really need that perk.

As we got off of Small World, it was really beginning to rain—just in time for reserved seating at the Christmas Fantasy parade! In fair weather, I’m sure these are great seats…

I was sorta shocked that the guides didn’t have ponchos for us. At the special events I’ve been to at Walt Disney World, they seem to produce ponchos out of thin air the moment it starts raining. But I forgot… Southern Californians treat every storm as if it’s the first time they’ve ever seen water fall from the sky. At least they gave us mugs of hot chocolate, which we clutched as we huddled together on wet seats in the rain. If you do take this tour for the parade seating, be ready to hip-check someone for a front-row seat if you want good photos.

Wait! Slow down! I’m still writing it down!

Hey, Ginger! We’re EATING your cousin!!!

“Who took my picture just then?! Was it yoooooooou?”

“Ow! My nose!

If it were 1998, this caption would be “Talk to the hand, Grumpy!”

“Oooh! Oooh! May I talk to the hand, too?!”

This guy is SO getting mugged the minute he steps backstage…

On the tour of Walt Disney World’s Creative Costuming department at D23’s Sip & Scream this year, we learned that WDW got some of these reindeer costumes from Disneyland but has had to alter them to make them warmer for the performers Back East. I would’ve thought our winters were about the same, temperature-wise.

So Santa merits an umbrella in the rain but Mrs. Claus doesn’t? I see how it is…

Of course, it is a holey umbrella… Maybe that’s Mrs. Claus’s trick on Santa!

Disney Princess decoys, à la Queen Amidala

Wow, Disney’s REALLY trying to get something in this parade to interest boys!

After the parade, we were given our tickets for seats at Candlelight Processional and told where to go to redeem them. It all seemed so easy at the time…

Our tour loot (yes, there were actually 2 pins… yes, we’ll be unloading them on eBay)

At the end of the tour I checked with Patrick to see if it was just I who thought it kind of a disappointment, and his eye-roll said it all. If it cost, like, $30, I think I could recommend the Holiday Time at Disneyland Park (And Also California Adventure Park) Tour. It’s pleasant enough, strolling around the parks looking at Christmas decorations and hearing superficial factoids about other countries’ holiday traditions. Getting to wait slightly less time for two rides is nice. The hot chocolate, cookie and pin have gotta be worth, what, like $15 in Disney money? And the seats at the parade are no doubt a big draw for people who like parades.

But $65 seems awfully steep for no behind-the-scenes access or truly inside information. It would be great if they talked about the history of celebrating the holidays at Disneyland and/or gave you background on how decorations are designed, created and installed, even if it’s impossible for them to show you backstage. Maybe next year…

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Tim December 21, 2012 at 10:29 AM

It’s a shame about the LEDs on the Buena Vista Street tree. I guess they must have looked old-timey enough before being turned on to make the decorators feel like they made the right decision. I appreciate the want to have efficient lighting but there is something to the warmth of incandescence that is hard to beat.

The painfully elaborate backstory obsession has been a hoot to watch play out. For years we’ve had to (gasp!) infer why something is in the park from context clues or (double gasp!) just simply enjoy it for what it is. Thankfully that is less of a problem nowadays.

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Carrie December 21, 2012 at 11:51 AM

Yes! (On both counts) I’m so glad someone else gets the LED thing. I hate how tiny and piercing they appear. I’ll be glad when someone invents a string of energy-efficient Christmas lights that look like the classics.

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Hope December 21, 2012 at 5:08 PM

I couldn’ve have guaranteed Candlelight seating, but for what you got, you could’ve given me the money and I could’ve given you the same tour! I might have even thrown in the poncho. ;)

This is exactly why we’ve never done the holiday tour. We’ve only done the Walk in Walt’s footsteps tour and plan to do it again now that they’ve added the apartment as a pitstop (and let you take pictures). It’s a shame that this is so expensive and doesn’t really offer an in depth knowledge. You could’ve gotten the same info from merely looking at your surroundings or going with to the parks with a Disney fan.

I enjoyed the pictures you got though. I really love the holiday decor all over the resort and thought they did a great job on Buena Vista street. I’ don’t think I saw the tree lit up at DCA so I guess you’ll have to wait till next year to see if I agree about the LED lights. ;)

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Carrie December 21, 2012 at 5:46 PM

LOL! Waiting with bated breath to hear what you think!

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nora December 26, 2012 at 9:06 AM

I haven’t written up our D23 Magic & Merriment at WDW tour review yet (before the end of January I’m hoping!), but overall, very similar to your experience at DL this year. The tours can be such a disappointment sometimes and as experienced WDW visitors we can see how it would be SO EASY and SO NOT EXPENSIVE to “plus the experiences”…
Must say though, I do like the Jiminy Cricket in the Christmas Parade, much nicer than the one I got my photo with on Earth Day at WDW.

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Carrie December 26, 2012 at 9:20 AM

I’ll be interested to read your review! In 2011, Magic & Merriment got us on a nifty backstage tour but was generally less exclusive and interesting than the one we went to in 2009. I wonder if the quality will just decline every year…

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nora December 26, 2012 at 9:36 AM

We also did the Yuletide Fantasy tour (2010 & 2012) and the Holiday D-Lights tour (2010 & 2012). The Holiday D-Lights tour was improved this year and included access to the Special Events & Decorating Support backstage. The Yuletide Fantasy was not much changed, but our tour guides were decidedly better in 2012, it included a visit to the Holiday Decorating area backstage. The Holiday D-Lights tour is our favorite of the three (incl D23 M&M) that we did this year.
Our complaints with D23 events at WDW: they don’t give you the itinerary well in advance, it’s clear that WDW isn’t directly involved in planning & organizing the event, the times that were on the schedule weren’t the times that things happened, and the scavenger hunt wasn’t a Christmas scavenger hunt but more of a Fantasyland hunt (and it hadn’t been truly opened but 3 days! – we elected to skip the scavenger hunt).

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Carrie December 26, 2012 at 9:48 AM

Interesting… thanks for the mini review!

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Laura E December 26, 2012 at 12:29 PM

I am highly disappointed that this tour has not changed in 10 years to improve. We did this tour in early December 2002. Pretty much as you describe was our tour as well, except for a few other disappointments. We also had done the Holiday tour in 1997 in WDW and loved all the history and backstage information we received. At the time we went in Dec 2002, it happened to be a very busy weekend and the park was busting at the seams. We should have known that things were going to be a problem when our tour guide who was all of 4 ft 9 came forth and started leading our group of twelve into the crowd, talking about all the decorations without regard to those at the end of the line or that none of us could find her in a crowd. She lost several members our our party through out the tour and we had to wait for them to find us. We had to wait in line at its a small world (no skpping the lines with her). Then when she took us to the special seating for the parade, she guided our group the first ones there to the back row. I said no things and picked the front row. (I was a pill a the time), which caused a stir with her, but I felt after a lousy tour, I was going to get something. I wish Disney could have done better. Maybe a early morning tour before the park is open.

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Carrie December 26, 2012 at 12:55 PM

Wow. Well I feel better knowing it wasn’t just a one-off for us, but I can’t believe they haven’t improved the tour in 10 years! At least add earphones—they use them for other Disneyland tours, after all…

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spencerjamiel January 14, 2013 at 7:59 PM

wow. How disappointing. I am sorry you didn’t have a better time. Thank you for sharing your experience!

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Carrie January 14, 2013 at 9:27 PM

Any time! :)

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