What to do, see and eat during the Lunar New Year celebration at Disneyland

Festival season has begun at the Disneyland Resort, with the annual Lunar New Year celebration at Disney California Adventure. Over the past decade, Disneyland's Lunar New Year festivities have grown from relatively modest weekend events to multi-week extravaganzas that have overhauled the theme park's entertainment and food offerings.

Running now through February 18, the celebration combines traditions from Chinese, Korean and Vietnamese cultures with the company's signature characters. For example, since this was the Year of the Dragon, the return of Mulan's New Year's Procession was a logical choice. (The mini-parade includes a Chinese dragon puppet and an appearance by Mulan and her dragon friend Mushu.)

If you're planning a trip to the Anaheim theme park in the coming weeks, here's what you should make time for.

What to eat

The colorful tangerine mousse cake is part of Disney California Adventure's Lunar New Year food offering.

(Todd Martens/Los Angeles Times)

The centerpiece of California Adventure's New Year's festivities is the food, with special offerings that honor, adapt and blend different traditions. These include the theme park's restaurants, the resort's hotels and a series of pop-up food stalls at California Adventure, similar to what the park offers during the Food & Wine Festival and end-of-year events, although slightly smaller in scale.

On the opening day of the festivities, I sampled as much as my stomach – and my wallet – could handle, including a few offerings from the six food stalls dotted around California Adventure's main promenade. I also enjoyed the holiday menus at the Pixar-themed Lamplight Lounge and the Grand Californian's Hearthstone Lounge.

Highlights from the stalls included a quesabirria spring roll, which successfully split the difference between a spring roll and a quesadilla thanks to a hearty pile of melted cheese, and a tangerine mousse cake, which had a glowing, bulbous appearance and was fluffier than usual. it was fruity.

It's worth noting that California Adventure's food stalls can be hit and miss. I've never really been disappointed, but I've never been completely impressed either, because these are small bites designed to be savored. I found the fried chicken dumplings with lemongrass I had to be a little lacking – the mix of overly crunchy and gummyness contrasted and distracted, resulting in an item that felt unseasoned and unremarkable. The Red Spice Friends chicken tenders – while quite spicy – were lean in meat, at least in the small selection I received.

Colorful iced coffee topped with cocoa powder.

Vietnamese-style taro iced coffee is one of many limited-time food and beverage options during Disney California Adventure's Lunar New Year celebrations.

(David Nguyen / Disneyland Resort)

Still, the four offerings were enough to serve as an impromptu dinner, and I'm eager to try the garlic noodles, a BBQ pork bun, and the Vietnamese-style taro iced coffee, the latter of which came highly recommended. The park offers a “Sip and Savor” pass, which sells for $46 and allows for six snacks or non-alcoholic drinks. Since most food and drinks cost somewhere between $6 and $9, the pass can provide a small discount (the pass costs $43 for those who have the Magic Key annual pass).

However, I would highly recommend that you make a reservation at the Lamplight Lounge, or join the restaurant's waiting list while you are in the park. Lamplight already has one of the resort's best dishes – the sweet and spicy al pastor pork chop – and is offering a spicy pork belly noodle dish during Lunar New Year.

At $27 it's on the pricier side, but it's a large dish with spiced Szechuan sauce and a nice mix of flavors and textures, while carrots, cucumbers and peanuts complete the presentation. I had hoped to add a dessert of Lunar New Year milk tea and taro donuts, but it was just too filling. The next time.

What to see

Mulan's Lunar New Year Procession returns for the Lunar New Year celebration at Disney California Adventure.

Mulan's Lunar New Year Procession returns for the Lunar New Year celebration at Disney California Adventure.

(Todd Martens/Los Angeles Times)

Disney has a rich history with dragons – Maleficent, Elliott, Figment, the demonic fire-breathing figure from the end of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride – and while part of me hoped the Year of the Dragon would be a chance to showcase this creature-rich place, the resort has relied on old standbys. The aforementioned Mulan's Lunar New Year Procession is back and gives Mushu, the red-orange dragon from the animated film, a starring role at the center of the small parade.

More important, however, is the fact that the mini-parade successfully combines Disney characters with cultural traditions. Different segments evoke folkloric dances and the meaning behind different colors and flowers. Whether it's martial arts or fan and umbrella dancing, the story ties it all into the character of Mulan, but it's nice to see Disney's animation team using the company's characters as a springboard into other customs.

Meilin Lee, in the form of a half panda, and her mother Ming Lee from Disney/Pixar's 'Turning Red'.

Characters Meilin Lee and her mother Ming Lee from “Turning Red” meet guests during Disney's Lunar New Year festivities.

(Disneyland Resort / Christian Thompson)

The same applies to the beautiful pre-show of World of Color, 'Hurry Home', a heart-warming story about a lantern on a quest for home. It's another recurring piece from Disney's Lunar New Year celebration, and it revolves around a nostalgic and wistful score by composer Tan Dun and playful scenes featuring Mushu. It has a more painterly feel than the main show World of Color, giving it a personal touch.

Lunar New Year has also introduced a new character meet-and-greet in the park. It's welcome to see Meilin Lee and her mother Ming Lee from the Pixar film “Turning Red” hit the parks as the two light-heartedly play out the mother-daughter dynamic in their brief time with guests.

The characters faced long lines on the opening day of Lunar New Year, a good sign, I hope, for the long-term appeal of “Turning Red,” a film that subtly explored the emotional turmoil of adolescence, the insecurities of young adulthood and the complexity of family relationships.

And don't miss this special place for reflection

There's more, as there's live sugar art and Chinese and Korean music traditions are highlighted on various days of the Lunar New Year (check out the Disneyland site for specific dates and playing times). But it is also worth spending a moment in the Paradise Gardens section of the park, as this is where you will find the Chinese New Year Greeting Wall. It's a place where you can take a few minutes to connect with other guests through their hopes and dreams for the coming year, and where you can also write your own personal message.

Smile, cry or write a note dreaming of some good will. I'll be back wishing for emotional healing in the coming year. It's a little hidden corner, a corner that connects theme park fantasies with our own.

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