I’m not a big fan of overlays or the over-saturation of seasonal festivals. I give exception to the holiday overlays like it’s a small world and Haunted Mansion, or Epcot’s Food & Wine Festival, but other than that I think they’re kinda cheap and lazy. I probably wouldn’t feel this strongly if Disney didn’t raise the ticket prices every year and CEO Bob Iger didn’t have the potential to earn 423 million dollars in bonuses while his employees go hungry. End rant.
But I digress, because here’s the thing, despite all the politics that Disney has been haphazardly battling, I absolutely fell in love with Pixar Fest last week. How do you keep pulling us in, Disney? How do you continually win us over with your spirit and tenderness and make us spend thousands on park tickets and food? Obviously, I was skeptical going in because I expected it to be a couple of banners and regurgitated old parades. And yes, it was basically that as far as the atmospheric elements. But, I think it’s a good time merely for the fact that the festival is Pixar themed. The movies and the music from those movies captured our hearts, so naturally, if we see a Bing Bong themed parade float or hear a Dapper Dan rendition of You’ve Got a Friend in Me, you’ve won us over. Due to this alone, the festival had just the right amount of heart, charm, fun, and nostalgia. Watching the crowd light up when Owl City’s When Can I See You Again began as Tinker Bell lead Paint the Night preview was incredible. I’ve never seen so many Disney fanatics lose their mind over a parade. It was magical and we were all crying over our churros.
And the food. Dear lawd, the food was good. Disney, in general, has really stepped up their game on the food quality and it seems like every month they’re coming up with new creations. To get the most out of Pixar Fest, head to the Paradise Garden Grill, which is to the right of the Goofy’s Sky School in California Adventure. This is where they feature a lot of the unique food, a special character spot, and a Pixar themed band. The only disappointing factor was the highly anticipated Pizza Planet overlay that really fell flat. More on that below. The festival runs now through September 3rd, 2018, so take a look below at our guide to get yourself better prepared!
There are some hidden touches here and there adding to the Festival, but not enough that will hinder your experience if it’s your first time. I know people who have only ever ridden the Haunted Mansion with the Nightmare Before Christmas overlay because it’s the only time they’ve ever visited. There are some decorations and of course, the giant Pixar Fest sign hanging above the entrances. My favorite touch is that the Esplanade (the large walking area connecting the two park entrances), which plays a fresh new background soundtrack featuring Pixar soundtracks as opposed to their normal backtracking. It’s a subtle and super sweet detail. And of course, there are the Pixar monorail makeovers. Other than that, there are themed banners hanging about and the new Pixar Pier sign has been branded on the future Incredicoaster.
Some of the festival dishes I highly recommend due to their deliciousness. Other items just come with some extra toppings that are yummy, but not quite as unique. As always, don’t get discouraged if you can’t hit every single thing they have to offer! There will always be new Disney food trends, whether it’s the dole whip donut, millennial pink champagne, or the rainbow-unicorn churro. That last one doesn’t exist, but I wish. As mentioned before, the main hub for Pixar Fest celebrations and festival food is at the Paradise Garden Grill. They had a lot to offer back there!
Here are a few that I tried last weekend:
Lots-O-Straw-Bear-Y Funnel Cake (Hungry Bear Restaurant-Disneyland): Layers of strawberries, blueberries, strawberry butter and pink sugary crumbles. This was really good, but honestly, the best part was the fried dough (duh!). I could only get through half of it, so try to share! They have another version called Jessie’s Berry Jubilee Funnel Cake served at the Stagedoor Cafe next to Hoop-de-Doo review. That one has oreo crumbles and creme anglaise, dusted with gold sugars.
Tres Leches Parfait (Paradise Garden Grill-California Adventure): If you’re one for rich desserts, this is the one to try! I had already eaten breakfast, so I didn’t think I’d get through all of it, but oh man, this is an amazing treat. It’s vanilla cake layered with a caramel cream and dark rum. Basically a caramel tiramisu. I will never stop dreaming about this treat.
Spicy Corn Dog (Corn Dog Castle-California Adventure): Let me try to paint a picture for you: This was a spicy hot link sausage, a layer of pepper jack cheese, and then a cajun chicken sausage, dipped in their housemade batter and fried to perfection. You start off eating a corndog, eat a fried cheese stick, then another corndog. It comes with a blackberry-serrano chile dipping sauce that is the right amount of spice and sweet. It’s a euphoric experience.
Agua de Jamaica (Paradise Garden Grill-California Adventure): It was too hot for the Mexican hot cocoa, so I went with the hibiscus tea slush. In essence, it was a fruit slushy. This was nice and refreshing in the hot Cali sun, but doesn’t compare to the other treats I indulged in.
Pizza Planet (Overlay at Redd Rockett’s Pizza Port in Disneyland): I had such high hopes for this one. We all thought we were getting the Pizza Planet we deserve, but sadly got a sign and some decals on the walls. There’s a cheeseburger pizza that’s supposedly ok, but the line was too long to attempt it. This is one of those moments where Disney builds a lot of hype, makes you feel like you absolutely must see this brand new attraction (spend more money) and they give you low effort with low-quality results. Yikes. Maybe someday, Pizza Planet!
Initially, I thought bringing back two former parades is a bit of a cop out, but they did add a couple of new floats and characters that are quite adorable.
Pixar Pals Character Spot (Paradise Garden Grill at California Adventure): Throughout the day, this new spot features characters like Woody, Mike & Sulley, and Russel from Up. It’s a good chance to meet some friends that are more difficult to find.
PhotoPass Spot (Cars Land): The cars parked at PhotoPass spot at the “Welcome to Cars Land” entrance are dressed up and looking adorable!
Dapper Dans and Disneyland Band: The regular Disney musicians will perform some Pixar soundtracks and songs in their daily performances. A very cute touch.
Pixarmonic Orchestra (Paradise Garden Bandstand at California Adventure): This was the best discovery for me. The most adorable ragtime band that plays their renditions of Pixar songs and jokes in short, 30-minute sets. They were hilarious, ridiculous, and super talented artists. Here’s a short video I got of their performance last week.
Pixar Play Parade (Disneyland Day Parade): This is another old parade that they spruced up a bit. It was cute and all, but it was no Paint the Night, of course. They added a couple new floats and characters including Inside Out and Up. And also, you guys, the moment I saw Russell riding Kevin, I flipped the heck out. It’s so cute.
Paint the Night Parade: If anything, I think the whole festival is worth it if you can catch this parade. Fans were furious when they prematurely removed this gorgeous and technologically advanced parade a few years ago. But now it’s back! Imagine grabbing a cup of Mexican Hot Chocolate in your Coco souvenir mug and settling up for that 10:30 showing on a warm summer night. *sigh* Pure Disney comforts.
Together Forever – A Pixar Nighttime Spectacular: The special fireworks that feature all the beloved Pixar movies is full of heart. So much heart that the person standing next to me was sobbing through the entire show. I definitely teared up a bit myself, don’t get me wrong. It has that extra special Disney touch where they combined touching images, well-timed fireworks, and just the right amount of sweeping orchestrations to pull at your heartstrings and say “Ok Disney, take all my money, you’re worth it.” The best part is that the same projections that are displayed on Main Street and the castle are also projected on the front of it’s a small world, the water features used in Fantasmic on the Rivers of America and The Matterhorn. So it’s easier to get a nice view of the show.
Reason being, Disneyland’s castle is much smaller than Disney World’s so the projecting mapping technology doesn’t work quite as well for big crowds. Disney had to figure out how to bring the same experiences of Disney World’s firework displays to Disneyland. Their solution is brilliant, which is to apply the projections to other areas of the park, not just the castle. If you want the castle experience, I had a great time watching from the middle of Main Street. I could see all the projections, have a bit of the castle experience, and didn’t have to wait 3 hours to see it. Also, there’s an awesome surprise during the Coco segment on Main Street!
Pixar Shorts (Sunset Showcase Theatre – previously Muppet Theatre- at California Adventure): I never quite got over the fact that they turned the Muppet Vision 3D Theatre into a regular movie theatre to show previews (i.e. advertisements) for upcoming Disney movies. It seemed so unnecessary to me. I did really enjoy watching the Pixar Shorts in this venue, however. Throughout this summer, they are having a special showing of 3 Pixar shorts which are For the Birds, Lava, and Piper. This is actually quite cute because they made the show 3D and use other special effects like wind and wall televisions to add to the presentation. Best way to experience this? Grab an iced coffee from Schmoozie’s and settle in for an air-conditioned 20-minute break.
Imagineering Blue Sky Cellar: This little cozy cove tucked away next to the Wine Country Trattoria is only open when the parks are previewing new attractions. The last time it was open was in 2013 they were displaying the new Starbucks that were moving into the parks. They’ve reopened the walk-through attraction to preview all the concept art and concept models for Pixar Pier and also play a short movie depicting the Imagineering process. It’s a cute display and also offers some escape from the heat for a short bit.
In honor of Pixar Fest, California Adventure has opened their new souvenir shop, Knick Knacks, located on Pixar Pier (formerly known as Paradise Pier). They added some new merch to the shop and a kiosk where you can print some Pixar art and take it home with you. Throughout the parks, they are also selling things like a Mike Wazowski Souvenir Sipper, the connecting Sulley Popcorn Bucket, and the Pixar Luxo Lamp Straw that people are going crazy over. You can find these at places like Schmoozie’s, popcorn carts, and the Disneyland (left of the castle) or California Adventure (in front of Pixar Pier) cappuccino carts. The cutest Pixar Fest souvenir is the Coco jarrita ceramic mug sold at Paradise Garden Grill. For more details on the special merchandise, you can visit Disneyland News.
Pro Tips for Getting the Most Out of Your Experience
- No need to stand in line! If there’s a line for that Sulley Popcorn Bucket or the Paradise Garden Grill, come back later. Throughout the day, the line will come and go. Especially if it’s a bit later in the summer.
- When To Go: Pixar Pier in California Adventure along with the renovated Incredicoaster and Lamplight Lounge (formerly Cove Bar/Ariel’s Grotto) will open on June 23rd. The parks are likely to be a madhouse the first week of opening so if you do visit during that time, I highly advise purchasing the MaxPass to help with the lines. If you have the chance, go later in the summer. Pixar Fest lasts until September 3rd and the crowds will go down closer to fall. And it will be slightly (slightly!) cooler.
- Check out disneyland.com for parade and show times throughout the summer and don’t forget to subscribe to my newsletter for future updates! (See how I snuck that in there?)
This festival won my heart and I have a feeling it will for you too! Hopefully, they can pull some more events like this in the future and it will only get better once Pixar Pier is open!