When it comes to the holiday season, the Disneyland Resort is undoubtedly at its most magical while it’s transformed into the Merriest Place on Earth, through January 6, 2020. Whether it’s the guest-favorite holiday experiences and traditions that return every year – which include the snowfall on Main Street U.S.A., the ever-present décor, the “A Christmas Fantasy” parade, the “Believe . . . in Holiday Magic” fireworks spectacular, “World of Color – Season of Light,” the incredible transformations of Sleeping Beauty Castle, It’s a Small World Holiday, Haunted Mansion Holiday and Cars Land, and a meet-and-greet with Santa, himself – or the always changing Disney-themed treats and merchandise, there is something for everyone, across both parks, throughout Downtown Disney and at the Disneyland Resort hotels.
One of the highlights of holiday time at the Disneyland Resort is the culinary and cultural celebration guests will experience at the Festival of Holidays, now in its fourth year at Disney California Adventure Park. There are eight marketplace kiosks offering food inspired by five different cultural holidays – Christmas, Navidad, Kwanzaa, Diwali and Hanukkah – with a combination of returning favorites and new menu items. In fact, there is so much to choose from when it comes to food and beverages that, especially if you’re a local who is planning on making several trips before the new year, you can save something new to try, with each return. And while you’re filling up on holiday treats, you can also check-out entertainment from The Sound (celebrating Christmas and Kwanzaa with holiday songs performed a cappella), Mariachi Divas (putting their own festive spin on holiday classics), Mostly Kosher (honoring Hanukkah with an eclectic blend of klezmer, jazz, Latin and rock), Blue13 Dance Company (saluting Diwali with traditional dances), Phat Cat Swinger (with swinging holiday music selections), The Suffragettes (a festival cover band), and the Holiday Toy Drummers, or stand on the sidelines as Mickey and Minnie Mouse dance with their friends for “Mickey’s Happy Holidays” character cavalcade (which runs from Paradise Gardens Park to Carthay Circle).
Collider was recently invited out to the Disneyland Resort, to eat, drink and be merry, and to report back on the special holiday offerings, this year. While there, we also got the chance to chat with Susana Tubert, Creative Director for Disney Parks Live Entertainment at the Disneyland Resort, and she shared stories about how the Festival of Holidays originally came about, selecting the entertainment line-up, the synergy with the various divisions involved in putting together such a celebration, and why the holidays are such a magical time at the Disneyland Resort.
How did the Festival of Holidays come about?
SUSANA TUBERT: ¡Viva Navidad! was my first project, out of the gate, and that really set the terrain for a celebration of diversity because it’s a story from the characters’ point of view. You have José Carioca from Brazil, and Panchito from Mexico, and Donald Duck is every man, every duck. He’s a culture seeker and wants to learn how to dance these fun Samba steps. We found a great balance of entertainment that is both culturally authentic and uniquely Disney, by surrounding these characters with authentic Mariachis and Folklorico dancers. So, after a couple of years of watching the success of that, leadership decided it was a great opportunity to develop a holiday celebration that’s unique to Disney California Adventure Park.
Festival of Holidays not only celebrates Christmas, but also Navidad, from a Latin American perspective, and Three Kings, plus Hanukkah, Diwali and Kwanzaa. What I feel most passionate about is that we didn’t decide to go around the world, like Epcot does. We really looked for that groundbreaking voice of Southern California. Mostly Kosher performs traditional klezmer music, but they mash it up with rock and roll and jazz. Blue13 celebrates Diwali, and this year, there’s a beautiful staging that explains the mythology of Diwali, and how light overcomes darkness and good over evil. At the same time, they end with a Bollywood dance party that’s hip-hop. The Mariachi Divas sing “Jingle Bells” in Spanish and English. So, the festival really came about as a need to recognize, embrace, and celebrate the diverse cultural influences that exist in Southern California.
It’s amazing that you don’t have to go outside of Southern California to find such a mix. Was it hard to narrow down the entertainment?
TUBERT: We met with a lot of groups. We interviewed and auditioned a lot of our authentic partners to come here. Because we had such a clear vision of what we wanted to do, it wasn’t hard to land on these particular collaborators. To me, the success of the festival is that we have this culturally authentic component, and we also have the characters. This year, we have “Mickey’s Happy Holidays,” which follows the main theme of the festival, about togetherness. The festival says that, no matter where you come from and no matter what you choose to celebrate, we all share the same core values. We love to sing and dance together. We love to eat, and we love to give gifts. All of us. So, that feeling of togetherness that the festival captures is also captured in “Mickey’s Happy Holidays” because you have Disney characters side by side with Pixar characters, with the Country Bears, with the Toy Drummers, and with parade performers. It’s a very endearing message of family and together, which are really important values at Disneyland, but they’re heightened at the holiday season. Those are the values of our theme parks, year round.
How does one see “Mickey’s Happy Holidays,” if they want to check it out?
TUBERT: It takes place twice a day, and the show moments happen, once at the Obelisk and once at Carthay Circle. But as they travel, it’s not just a walk and wave. There’s actual choreography that’s built into the cavalcade, so as a guest, even if you’re not standing at the two destinations and you watch it go by, they stop and do choreography, as well. It includes everyone. It’s really special.
One of the things that’s so impressive about the Disney Parks entertainment is the coordination between food, drinks, merchandise and entertainment. How challenging is it to weave all of that together with one vision?
TUBERT: Actually, it’s not as challenging as it sounds because we have such great partnerships within the different divisions in our company. There great synergy, in all of the festivals, with food and beverage. The food really mirrors the mission and the vision of the festival. With the merchandise, it’s the same thing. I feel like we have found a very holistic approach to creating an immersive experience that runs the gamut, from entertainment to food to merchandise. Once the positioning of our festival was clear to everyone an we arrived at what that mission vision statement was, it was really fun to collaborate with our partners. Here’s an example: the Mariachi Divas single “Jingle Bells” in English and Spanish because it really speaks to the Mexican American community here in Southern California, and you can have a tamale that has turkey and cranberry. That mash-up with the food reflects that cultural hybrid that exists here, especially for blended families. It’s a great opportunity for a family that might be Jewish and Christian, to celebrate both holidays. It’s a very welcoming experience, and I’m so proud of it. There are also crafts for the children. We learned from our guests that the parents love it when we not only provide entertainment, but we also provide educational value. I call it cultural engagement, and it’s about giving parents an opportunity to explain to children what Diwali is, what Hanukkah is, and what Kwanzaa is. When our guests create the holiday cards, there’s a little explanation [of the different traditions] on the back, so that if parents choose to explain that to their children, they can, and it enriches their knowledge and cultural appreciation.
What makes the holidays at the Disneyland Resort so magical?
TUBERT: Well, first of all, the holidays are one big immersive celebration, that goes from park to park. There isn’t a corner of these theme parks that isn’t celebrating the spirit of the holidays. The two parks are decorated in such unique and different ways. If I was coming to celebrate the holidays, I would make sure to go to both parks because they compliment each other so beautifully. At Disneyland, you have the decor from the turn of the century. And at DCA, you have the decor from the 1920s and 1930s. The holidays brings out the love in everyone, and the love for family and for sharing. I feel like we touch on those components in a very special, magical way. This year, at Tomorrowland Terrace, we also have a character dance party (“Disney Holiday Dance Party”). I think it’s great that we have knowledge that our guests love the spectacular. “Believe . . . In Holiday Magic” is one of the most popular fireworks shows, ever. “World of Color – Season of Light” is extraordinary, in that Disney way. And at the same time, we recognize that our guests love the intimate moments of togetherness with the characters. So, the fact that the holiday season is featuring two parties with characters adds another layer of specialness to the whole thing.
Festival of Holidays Tip #1: You can purchase a Sip & Savor Pass with eight tear-off tabes good for marketplace menu items, including desserts and non-alcoholic speciality beverages.
Festival of Holidays Tip #2: Guests can go to one location to order everything they want to try from any marketplace kiosk, pay for it all at one time, and then pick up their orders from the different kiosks, throughout that day.
Check out more photos from the event below.