Of all the holiday traditions, there’s one I look forward to the most: taking the kid to see Santa Claus. Although most parents cringe at the thought of a 90-minute line after fighting for a parking spot, I might have found maybe the best Santa experience in the world, and it exists at a place with great cocktails and some of the best ambiance for the holidays.
Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa is the place, which has everything from a 40-foot-tall decorated tree, life-size gingerbread house, caroling quartets, and the Napa Rose’s bar and lounge to keep things festive. We’ve hit this hidden yuletide gem every year as it’s surprisingly inexpensive, memorable, and indeed tasty.
As we’re all strapped for time this holiday season, here was our itinerary.
4:15 P.M.: Park in the Downtown Disney lot (bring your parking ticket for validation) and walk to the Grand Californian entrance midway through the downtown area. Don’t make eye contact with the iPad-wielding cast members and various panflutists as you dodge and weave to get there quicker.
4:30 P.M.: Once in the beautiful Craftsman inspired lobby, take selfies in front of the Christmas tree while your wife waits in the short line for Santa, you know, to test the exposure on your camera.
4:40 P.M.: Is that a life-sized gingerbread house? That needs a proper selfie as well. Rumor has it the house is 600 pounds of gingerbread and 600 pounds of powdered sugar. Impressive!
4:42 P.M.: Get the kid a hot chocolate and sit by the blazing hearth and pretend I’m a hotel guest here on vacation.
4:45 P.M.: The kid is next in line! Hop over and make sure she knows what she’s asking for.
4:46 P.M.: The kid nearly barfs hot chocolate nerves but is able to give Santa a huge hug and say, “Fuji Instax Mini 8 Instant Camera, mint colored, with the selfie mirror!” Santa nods, then smiles and says, “You’ll shoot your eye out, kid!” then poses for a few pics. We grab our Disney photopass and free candy canes, all giddy from seeing the big man with red rosy cheeks and swollen nog-belly.
4:50 P.M.: Listen to the Beverly Belles sing Christmas songs with a USO vibe. I think one of them winked at me! Make crank calls on the rotary phones and ask for Seymour Butts … then hang up while laughing wildly!
5:00 P.M.: The Napa Rose lounge is open! Grab a table, preferably by the fireplace, and order drinks. Go with a signature cocktail or a classic. I went with a classic Boulevardier, which is like a Negroni with bourbon instead of gin (Campari, Antica vermouth and Bulleit bourbon).
5:08 P.M.: My drink arrives, a ruby-red cocktail served in a Spiegelau coup garnished with orange peel, sweating cold and freshly fragrant with citrus, bourbon barrel, and sweet cherry notes. I’m not sure why, but this one drink reminds me of the holidays…kind of sweet, kind of boozy, and a kiss of bitter.
5:30 P.M.: Napa Rose lounge starts food service! Yay! So holiday hangry. The kid wants rabbit (like last year) but is disappointed that they refresh the menu seasonally. She orders a farm fresh gnocchi, we get a cheese plate.
6:15 P.M.: Parking validated, we head home and await the arrival of Santa with all of our presents! I hope be brought me a bottle of Pappy!
Downtown Disney is located at 1580 Disneyland Drive, Anaheim. The Grand Californian Hotel is at 1600 Disneyland Drive and is adjacent to Downtown Disney.