We always kick off the festive season with a Disneyland Christmas visit. It's technically referred to as Disneyland Holidays, but my family calls it Disneyland Christmas so we're just gonna roll with that here. This is a HUGE tradition for us, and I feel pretty knowledgeable after visiting for years. If any of you are looking to celebrate the season in Disney style, here are my pro tips!

Disneyland Christmas Tips to Maximize the Fun

Disneyland Christmas highlights you’ve gotta see, from Merry Mickey sights to festive food

First: setting expectations. Our family finds that we tend to ride fewer rides than usual during our annual Disneyland Christmas visit. The park has tons of decorations to look at, we're really enjoying together time, and there are more scheduled events than usual that we want to attend. We always have a chat with the kids and explain that we need to know their current must-do rides so that we can prioritize them in between all the festivity.

Grand Californian Gingerbread House

Stay at the Grand Californian

We like to book a night at this magnificent hotel that has its own entrance straight into Disney California Adventure park. A lot of families buy 2-day Park Hopper tickets and stay here on the night in-between. Even if you're doing a single day, though, it's well worth it. Call ahead and ask if you can get a fireworks-view room: it's a phenomenally magical experience. We've also stayed in rooms overlooking Downtown Disney and had a blast people-watching and listening to holiday music from our balcony.

Check-in isn't until 3pm but you can arrive and park as early as you want, drop your bags at the front and take advantage of their incredible pool until your room is ready. There's a nice changing room and the heated pools are totally uncrowded this time of year. You'll also want to leave plenty of downtime to enjoy the decor at the hotel, including the giant Gingerbread House in the lobby. You can even leave your car in the parking lot or with valet the entire day you check out without any extra fees, maximizing your time and saving on parking fees.

Do Extra Magic Hour, Strategically

Guests with a valid hotel key get into a selected park a whole hour early! Check the calendar ahead of time to know which park you're headed to (it switches between Disneyland and California Adventure), and be in line at least half an hour before Extra Magic Hour starts. You'll want to drop your luggage with the Bell Check beforehand, or plan to return and pack up before auto-checkout time at 11am.

The moment you step into your Extra Magic Hour park, hop into the app and book your FastPass for whatever must-do rides are in the other park. This is where MaxPass and Park Hopper tickets really pay for themselves. You can experience an uncrowded morning at one park and pre-plan an easygoing afternoon at the other. It's also good to know that not ALL of the lands are open during Early Magic Hour: it's Fantasyland and Tomorrowland in Disneyland, and Guardians of the Galaxy, Paradise Pier and Cars Land on the California Adventure side.

Red Rose Taverne

Eat Breakfast at Red Rose Taverne

No matter which park we've started in, we scurry on over here for breakfast when the crowds start to accumulate after a couple of hours. Mickey and snowman pancakes for the win! This Beauty and the Beast-themed eatery is tucked into the heart of Fantasyland. It's relatively inexpensive for park food, and you don't need reservations. This charming spot is really enjoyable all-year-round, but it's a must for a true Disneyland Christmas experience. While you're there, try the Grey Stuff – it's delicious!

Disneyland Christmas Castle decorations

Get that Christmas Castle Picture

Nab this epic holiday photo early in the day, while crowds are low and your makeup still looks decent. With MaxPass, you get to use the services of a photographer at the photo station and downloads or your photos are free. BOOM. Done.

Check Showtimes

There is a TON of entertainment this time of year. You won't want to miss A Christmas Fantasy Parade, Disney ¡Viva Navidad! or “Believe…In Holiday Magic” Fireworks. We usually plan our day out while we're eating breakfast.

Disneyland Santa

Visit Santa

We like to wander past Redwood Creek Challenge Trail in California Adventure on our way to Radiator Springs and look for a sign announcing what time Santa will be setting up shop. Get in line to meet him as early as possible – it's super magical and it gets busy! This is another photo experience that's included in your MaxPass add-on.

Disneyland Christmas drinks

Eat the Festive Food

Disney always goes ALL OUT with seasonal eats. This year, they're hosting the Festive Foods Marketplace with food stands serving holiday favorites that celebrate traditions from around the globe. We bought a Sip and Savor Pass and ate our way through California Adventure with creative cuisine like jalapeño latkes and pumpkin soup with maple cashew cream.

Don't Miss Cars Land

The decorators go ALL OUT transforming Lightning McQueen's stomping grounds into a joyous jubilee. Make sure to go on Luigi's Joy to the Whirl and Mater's Jingle Jamboree.

Grand Californian fireplace

Unwind and Refresh at the Hotel

We usually swing back by the Grand Californian in the afternoon when we're switching from one park to another. We get some grab-and-go food at White Water Snacks and eat it in the rocking chairs by the fireplace or by the grand Christmas tree in the lobby. A quiet TV with little chairs around it shows Mickey reels to entertain kids, and there are lots of quiet corners where a baby or toddler can catch a quick nap. If you're really organized, check a bag with the Bell Hop earlier full of light sweaters and scarves. Grab it during this afternoon refresh, and you'll be all set when the sun sets!

Disneyland Christmas collectibles

Buy Some Seasonal Swag

Every year, Disney creates limited edition collectibles that can serve as phenomenal decorations around the house. We buy an ornament annually and add a new character or two to our buddies that hang out by our Christmas tree at home. It's a great way to keep the Disneyland Christmas magic going all season long.

Disneyland Main Street Christmas tree

Get to Main Street or Buena Vista for Tree Lighting

Both parks have awesome tree lighting experiences at 5pm each day. We like to circle back to Main Street in Disneyland to experience their lighting and hop in line for some family photos with the tree as a backdrop before the area gets busy. With night falling, this is an awesome time to browse the shops, see the Haunted Mansion's Holiday makeover featuring Jack Skellington, experience It's a Small World's transformation, and look at the lights around New Orleans Square. This also puts you in the perfect position for the nighttime parade and fireworks.

What's your favorite Disneyland Christmas experience?