How to take the perfect family holiday pictures at Disneyland

Christine and Robert with Santa at Disneyland
Christine and Robert with Santa at Disneyland (Image credit: iMore)

The Romero family at Winnie the Pooh's corner in Disneyland

The Romero family at Winnie the Pooh's corner in Disneyland (Image credit: Christine Romero-Chan / iMore)

It's that time of year again — the holidays are upon us! And that means you may be taking a trip out to Disneyland in Anaheim, California (or perhaps Walt Disney World in Florida). If you are, then it's the perfect time to do so, with all of the holiday decor that's out, including Snow White's Castle, as well as being able to see Santa Claus in both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. So without further ado, here are some tips on getting the perfect Disneyland family photos for your annual Christmas cards.

Purchase a MaxPass

Christine and Robert Romero at DCA with a Magic Shot cookie

Christine and Robert Romero at DCA with a Magic Shot cookie (Image credit: iMore)

One of the biggest tips I can offer is that if you're going to be at Disneyland, then look into getting MaxPass to go along with your ticket. While MaxPass costs $15 per day, or $100 on top of the cost of an Annual Passport (starting at $399 for the Southern California Select), it is well worth the cost.

With MaxPass, you not only are able to get FASTPASS selections right from your smartphone with the Disneyland app, but you get unlimited PhotoPass downloads. There are select PhotoPass locations in both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure where you can have a Cast Member Photographer take a series of photos for you and your family with a DSLR, and then you can buy and download them for your own personal use. The photos are usually around $10-$15 for the day, so honestly, the MaxPass is worth it, as you get both the PhotoPass pictures and have the ability to get FASTPASS for certain attractions without having to go to the physical kiosk.

I also enjoy the PhotoPass photographers due to the fact that their pictures always come out looking nicer than any iPhone photo (you can't compare an iPhone to a DSLR), and you can also request Magic Shots, which add a bit of Disney magic to your photo.

Get a photo with Santa!

Did you know that there is a Santa Claus in both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure? That's right! This is the perfect opportunity to get a great family portrait with Santa to send out to family and friends this holiday season.

In Disneyland, Santa Claus is located at Critter Country, Pooh's thotful spot. If you have no idea where that is, it's pretty much behind Splash Mountain.

Redwood Creek Santa spot

Redwood Creek Santa spot (Image credit: Christine Romero-Chan / iMore)

For Disney California Adventure, you can find Santa at Grizzly Peak, Ahwahnee Camp Circle. This would be within the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail, which is near Grizzly River Run.

I recommend getting in line for these early, as they do tend to get long and packed with big groups who may want to take several different variations for their photos. And while you can just use your own camera, such as your iPhone, these pictures come out best with the PhotoPass photographers, so I highly recommend getting a MaxPass, as mentioned in the previous section.

Find the large Christmas trees in both parks

Christine and Robert at the Disneyland Christmas Tree

Christine and Robert at the Disneyland Christmas Tree (Image credit: iMore)

Like Santa Claus, there are two large Christmas trees in both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. These are both great opportunities for a Christmas family photo.

In Disneyland, the Christmas tree is hard to miss — it's pretty much at the entrance of Main Street. It's also the larger of the two trees (it's the bigger park, after all), and there are at least two lines to get photos at it. The Christmas tree in Disney California Adventure is located on Buena Vista Street, which is just a brief little walk from the main entrance gates. It's hard to miss as well.

You can use your own device, or use MaxPass/PhotoPass for more professional images.

Search for PhotoPass photographers

Christine and Robert in front of holiday Sleeping Beauty's Castle at Disneyland

Christine and Robert in front of holiday Sleeping Beauty's Castle at Disneyland (Image credit: iMore)

In addition to the PhotoPass photographers at major spots like Santa and the Christmas trees, there are more scattered throughout the park, and they can help you get the best Disney holiday photos!

If you are not sure what they look like, search for Cast Members who are wearing khaki vests on top of white shirts with blue shorts or pants. You should also be able to easily spot them due to the large camera that they are wearing around their necks, along with that signature Disney name tag.

Some great spots for these other PhotoPass photo opportunities are in front of Sleeping Beauty's Castle and the Partner's Statue at Disneyland, in front of the Cars Land entrance in Disney California Adventure, as well as the rocks and waterfalls behind Grizzly River Run.

You should also look for the "Nikon Picture Spot" signs that are scattered around at nice photo op spots around both parks. If you spot one, then a PhotoPass photographer should not be too far behind. Otherwise, you can just use your own smartphone or digital camera for a free picture.

Look for other miscellaneous holiday decor

Christine and Robert at Radiator Springs Racers entrance at DCA

Christine and Robert at Radiator Springs Racers entrance at DCA (Image credit: Christine Romero-Chan / iMore)

In addition to the usual Santas and Christmas trees, there is plenty of other cute holiday decor in both parks that make perfect backdrops for your family photos. I highly recommend just taking a look around you as you walk with your family to your next ride, attraction, show, or restaurant — there are a ton of great opportunities for family photos, and they may not always be super obvious. Plus, it's Disney, so just take a look around you; there's always something that will make a great photo.

Downtown Disney 2019 Holiday Decor

Downtown Disney 2019 Holiday Decor (Image credit: Christine Romero-Chan / iMore)

If you need ideas, try getting a group photo in front of "it's a small world," as it looks great both day and nighttime, though the lights at night are spectacular. I also recommend getting pictures from the sides of the castle instead of the traditional "front of castle" photo, as it offers a more interesting and unique angle and perspective. Getting a group picture on Main Street is also nice, especially with the Christmas garland hanging above and the Castle off in the distance.

Right now, Downtown Disney has some interesting decorations for the holidays in the form of neon trees and light rings, so it has a totally '80s kind of aesthetic. It's distinctive and not your typical holiday decor, but it looks amazing at night, giving you another great spot for a fun family photo.

Check the schedule for character meet-and-greets

Christine and Robert meet the Three Caballeros

Christine and Robert meet the Three Caballeros (Image credit: Christine Romero-Chan / iMore)

Disneyland is a great place to go if you or your kids want to meet specific characters and get precious photo opportunities with your favorites. But during the holidays, the characters are also usually decked out in their holiday outfits, so you definitely don't want to miss out on those chances.

Make sure to download the Disneyland app so you have an always up-to-date schedule of characters. The app tells you what characters will be doing scheduled appearances for the day, and even tell you what time and where to find them. For some of the more popular characters, like Jack and Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas, you'll want to get there early, as the line gets pretty long and they may not be able to get everyone before they're scheduled to leave.

You'll probably find other characters simply roaming around the parks. Sometimes this is because the cast member is simply going on their break or whatever, but others are just meant to roam certain areas throughout the day. For example, you will find Dr. Facilier in New Orleans Square, and various princesses in Fantasyland.

Just keep your eyes peeled for characters! You may even walk by character meet-and-greet opportunities without even knowing it, so pay attention and get in line if it interests you.

Make use of that Ultra Wide lens on your iPhone 11

iPhone 11 Pro in New York

iPhone 11 Pro in New York (Image credit: Rene Ritchie / iMore)

If you're going to Disneyland with a larger family group, then it may sometimes get hard to fit everyone into the image if you're using a smartphone. But if someone has an iPhone 11 or iPhone 11 Pro, then make sure to take advantage of that Ultra Wide lens whenever possible.

With the iPhone 11 Ultra Wide lens, you get a 120-degree field of view, so it becomes much easier to get everyone into your family photo. It also helps get more of the scene into the image, which is also nice.

Happy holidays at Disneyland!

The holidays are here, and Disneyland is one of the best places you can go to celebrate and spend time with your family. However, be warned that this is also one of the busiest times of the year at the parks as well, even though Signature Passholders like myself are blocked out for the last two weeks of Christmas. So if you're braving the crowds, make sure to have a little patience and be nice to the Cast Members.

Happy holidays and have fun at Disneyland!

Christine Chan

Christine Romero-Chan was formerly a Senior Editor for iMore. She has been writing about technology, specifically Apple, for over a decade at a variety of websites. She is currently part of the Digital Trends team, and has been using Apple’s smartphone since the original iPhone back in 2007. While her main speciality is the iPhone, she also covers Apple Watch, iPad, and Mac when needed. When she isn’t writing about Apple, Christine can often be found at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, as she is a passholder and obsessed with all things Disney, especially Star Wars. Christine also enjoys coffee, food, photography, mechanical keyboards, and spending as much time with her new daughter as possible.