When I was young, my dad's side of the family would always celebrate Lunar New Year/Chinese New Year. While my heritage is indeed Cambodian, further back in the family we have Chinese roots. Since there has been much conflict in my family, we stopped celebrating together years ago. Coming to Disney California Adventure for its Lunar New Year celebration really helped fill that void for me and helped me develop a new tradition.
Lunar New Year at DCA is a joyful time full of new beginnings, bright red lanterns and familiar characters sporting their best Asian-inspired outfits. Festival marketplaces are erected around the Paradise Gardens area, providing guests with a taste of several Asian cultures (Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese). Lunar New Year may not take over the entire park, but its presence is strong and wholeheartedly enjoyed by guests. While this celebration may be a small step, it is still wonderful to see Disney making an effort to welcome representation into the beloved theme parks.
Of course, in typical Jolene fashion, I reviewed all of the menu items and activities ahead of time. Although I come to the Disney parks quite often, I chose to "reserve" an entire day just to do Lunar New Year activities.
I started my LNY adventure one Disney visit early - I had planned to stay in Disneyland, but my friend and I park hopped to get a head start on eating.
The first thing we did was purchase our Sip & Savor Passes - fun commemorative lanyards with 6 break-off tabs to be exchanged for menu items from festival marketplaces and even some permanent fixtures. The Sip & Savor Pass can be purchased for a flat rate, in lieu of paying for each menu item individually (plus keyholders get a discount). These passes can be purchased at several locations in the park - I got mine near the festival marketplace, in front of the Little Mermaid ride.
I grabbed my first Sip & Savor item - the char siu BBQ pork bao, with pickled onions and jalapeños. The portion of pork was more than I anticipated, and the bao bun was perfectly fluffy. I thoroughly enjoyed the sweet and savory flavors! This was the perfect snack to munch on while getting a spot for the Mulan Processional (more on that later).
When I came back to DCA less than a week later, I began my LNY adventure, endeavoring to check off all of the items on my list. The moment I walked underneath the LNY arch and heard the music change, I knew I was in for a fun day of cultural indulgence.
Instead of heading to individual marketplaces, I went to the kiosk where you can order your food ahead of time (pictured above). This saves you from standing in line to order at each marketplace, then standing in line again for pickup. Once you order and pay for your food, you can pick up your orders at any time! Just make sure you don't lose your receipt.
I ordered my food, then went over to the Chinese calligraphy activity, located near the Paradise Grill and Goofy's Sky School. The line didn't look long, but I learned very quickly that it moved extremely slowly. However, that is because all of the calligraphy was done on the spot and was all personalized.
In this same area, there is also a Lucky Wishes wall, where guests can write their LNY wishes and hang them. It's quite a sight to see!
The calligrapher (I overheard her name was Miss Chen) was writing out beautiful new year blessings - guests could provide her what words they wanted to bring into the new year, and she would write them out. I found this to be incredibly unique, and I'm glad I stuck it out and waited.
If you are a Magic Keyholder and want a free LNY button, head over to the Silly Symphony Swings a little before 1PM. There is a button distribution as well as a special LNY photo opp!
Once I had gotten my prized calligraphy and snagged a key holder button, it was time to eat! I took my receipt to Lucky 8 Lantern to redeem for the bulgolgi short rib and the Soju Peach Yuja-Ade.
The bulgogi, Korean beef barbecue, was absolutely delicious. The beef was well-seasoned and had that familiar savory-but-ever-so-slightly-sweet magic going on. I'm not generally a fan of onions, but they added a touch of freshness to the dish. The Yuja-ade, soju, peach syrup, yuja, dragonfruit, lemon and butterfly pea flower tea, was pleasantly surprising. My drink was filled to the brim - it almost spilled when I was walking, so I took a sip off the top. It's obvious the pea flower tea was right on top (both in color and in taste), and I was surprised at how unsweet it was. Once I stuck my straw into the drink and mixed it a bit, I got all of the flavors, including the peach syrup that was hiding at the bottom. Overall this drink was very refreshing and not too sweet. There is also a non-alcoholic version available, without the soju.
My next order of business was the Impossible™ lion's head meatballs with Shaoxing wine reduction. They are described as "mini meatballs" but I was pretty surprised at the portion size.
If we are measuring by spoonful, it took at least 3 bites for me to eat one meatball! I didn't consider these mini at all, but they were pretty tasty. Impossible branded food has never disappointed me with regard to texture, and these were no exception. I thoroughly enjoyed them, but I don't think they would have been as good without the reduction.
I also snagged another drink, this time with a souvenir Mulan sipper. I'm not one to collect Disney cups, but I really could not resist this one! Since I got the sipper at Lucky Fortune Cookery, I chose to get the Hong Kong style milk tea with it, even after reading some less-than-glowing reviews. My verdict? I thought the tea was great. It was not too sweet, and the tea flavor was strong enough for me.
A popular part of Lunar New Year is Mulan's Processional, a fun parade showcasing Mulan and friends, as well as some gorgeous Asian artistry. Since I was spending the whole day there to engage in the festivities, I caught the processional several times from different places, at different times of day (We all should know how extra I am by now).
The processional is short, but dynamic. Educational narration on top of some favorite Mulan tunes makes for the perfect Lunar New Year parade.
Since I'd had so many savory food items, I thought it was time for a sweet snack. My only real "dessert" choice this time around was the green tea raspberry parfait from Paradise Garden Grill. When I arrived, the line was eternal, and I began to regret not ordering earlier with the rest of my food.
The good news is that this parfait was one of my favorite bites all day! Light green tea mousse with a strong, slightly bitter matcha flavor, a tart raspberry jelly, light white chocolate mousse and candy pearls combined to create a recipe for perfection. The description online says "white sponge cake" but I did not really find that in my parfait... unless they are referring to that teeny sliver you can see in the photo above. Either way, the cake was not missed.
I was slowly checking off my LNY to-do list when I realized I had not really done any character meet and greets! Once I gobbled up my parfait, I made my way over to the Paradise Gardens Gazebo to see what characters were available. Luckily, I arrived when there was no line. Unluckily, I had missed Mulan and Mushu. At least I got some cute photos!
Though I was scared away by the line previously, I decided to bite the bullet and wait to meet Raya over at the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail. I feel like this area of DCA is very unfamiliar to those without children, and often goes unnoticed. I was happy to see it utilized for such a special character.
The wait time was over an hour, but all I had was time (this is a perk of going to Disney by yourself!). As unpleasant as it was to wait that long, it did warm my heart to see Raya's popularity in the parks. As someone who has a Southeast Asian heritage, it felt incredible to be represented in this way.
The area leading up to Raya's meet and greet was beautifully designed. Disney is all about the details, and the jasmine scent flooding the area really helped transform the usual Redwood forest into the magical land of Kumandra. Brightly colored lanterns brought a sense of magic and whimsy, like a mystical oasis in a faraway forest.
When it was my turn, I finally understood why the line had been moving so slowly. Raya was making conversation with every guest, asking their name, making each moment special and truly unique. I'm not usually very interested in character meet and greets, but I really enjoyed this one. Bringing this kind of representation to the parks is so important!
Emotional and a little bit tired, I realized I had 2 more tabs to use on my Sip & Savor Pass, along with 2 tabs I had inherited from a friend. Even though I felt that I had gotten everything I wanted, I did not want to waste these tabs. I decided to try the pistachio cold brew, get the bulgolgi again, try a Mickey hot dog bun, and the baked char siu bao.
I went back to the kiosk where I originally ordered. By this time the sun had set, and the crowd was much thinner than it was previously, meaning all of the lines were shorter. I immediately went to Longevity Noodle Co to grab my salted pistachio cold brew, then next door to Lucky 8 Lantern for my bulgolgi.
The salted pistachio cold brew was delicious! I have tried a handful of the new Disney cold brew drinks, and this one was another win. The cold brew is flavored with orange blossom honey syrup, oat milk and salted pistachio foam. All of the flavors work together perfectly, though a little on the sweet side. I recommend mixing this up a bit before drinking.
Regretfully, the only item not checked off on my list was meeting Mulan. I stopped by a few times but only managed to meet the Three Little Pigs. It was still nice to see her from afar, interacting with guests.
My second plate of bulgolgi was another triumph (obviously I liked it if I got it twice in a day!). I took the Mickey hot dog bun to go, and since the cappuccino cart ran out of bao, I was able to trade for a mango pineapple pie. I tacked on a coffee kalua bundt cake (not a part of LNY but a new item I'd been wanting to try) and was ready to head home!
From dragon dancers to Chinese calligraphy, this year's Lunar New Year celebration will be one to remember. This special event runs until February 13, so if you have a chance, I highly recommend a visit!
Until next time,
Happy new year!