Halloweentime at Disneyland Proves Disney Can Still Make Magic… Went it Wants To

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There is a certain magic about Disneyland. Something special happens when you walk under that train station. Its really hard to put it into words or put your finger on it, but when it happens, you feel it and you know it. Halloweentime at Disneyland takes this special feeling and amps it up to a thousand! Walking in the park, you are assaulted by a myriad of pumpkins, ghosts, and everything in-between. Halloweentime at Disneyland shows that, when they care enough, Disney can do an amazing job at celebrating the season.

The “Autumn” season at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom does not offer much more than a bunch of pumpkins and a ton of orange and black bunting. Walking into the Magic Kingdom at WDW during this season doesn’t really do the best job at getting you in the mood. You are aware what season it is (even if it is 95 degrees outside in the middle of October), but you really don’t feel like you are enveloped by the season the way you do in Anaheim. To be honest, the Fall decoration don’t go much further than Main Street USA in Disney World. Though, this year, visitors to Magic Kingdom in Florida did see some pumpkins placed next to trees in Frontierland, it just seems like the effort to decorate and celebrate the Halloween season at Disney World is lazy and haphazard. So what makes Disneyland so special?    

I did not attend the Not So Scary Halloween Party this year at Disneyland, so let’s approach this from a regular day guest visiting Disneyland during Halloweentime. Walking to the park it is more than obvious that Halloweentime is in full bloom at the park. Pumpkins are spread up and down Main Street. On the tops of windows and attached to street lamps, the pumpkins are joined by orange and yellow bunting. This initial burst of color sets a great tone and really gets you in the mood to celebrate the season at Disneyland. All of Main Street is adorned top to bottom with beautiful decorations and it is done in a way that you are not overwhelmed or hit over the head with it. The giant winking Pumpkin Mickey Mouse head is a nice photo op also. It’s not subtle, but it is so well done it seems to blend in naturally.

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The hub at Disneyland is also decorated with special pumpkins. There are 7 pumpkins that surround the Partners statue and each pumpkin has a Disney character carved in it to represent a character. (Roger Rabbit for Toontown, Buzz Lightyear for Tomorrowland, Tarzan for Adventureland, Woody for Frontierland, Jack Skelington for New Orleans Square, Winnie the Pooh for Critter Country, and Tinkerbell for Fantasyland). This is such a nice touch and a wonderful addition to the hub. It is a perfect way to introduce guests to the characters and lands and it’s a nice way to reinforce the Halloweentime theme.

Over in Tomorrowland the biggest and only Halloweentime addition to the land is the Ghost Galaxy overlay onto Space Mountain. The overlay is simple yet amazing. Walking up to the ride there are signs that “warn” parents that the ride may be too scary for younger riders. This certainly got my attention and had me curious about what was inside. I already think that this version of Space Mountain is superior to the Orlando version, and the Ghost Galaxy overlay had me foaming at the mouth to see how much better it could get. The queue itself was the same and didn’t really do much in helping the guests buy into the story of Ghost Galaxy. I know there is a story here, but I don’t know exactly what it is. Getting on the ride is where you can truly see the impact of the overlay (duh!). On this version of Space Mountain there is no “blue light tunnel”, only darkness and menacing sounds coming from all around you. Creepy as hell! At the top of the first lift hill is where you get your first glimpse of the “Ghost”. The typical Space Mountain music (which is amazing) is turned off on this attraction, and instead some menacing face paced “spooky” music is piped into the ride vehicles. Throughout the ride the “Ghost” shows up on projection screens making angry faces and swiping at your ride vehicle. He seems genuinely annoyed at the fact that people are inside the mountain and on the ride. I really wanted to just stop the ride and ask this guy why he was so angry. Was he hungry, did he need a hug, did he just find out about another increase in the price of an annual pass? Whatever his problem was, he does a great job at showing up out of nowhere and making a grab for riders. The ride was more fun than scary. There was only one point in the ride where I actually ducked my head in fear of the ghost taking it off with his long bony orange fingers. Was this attraction overlay a show stopper? No. it was simple, fun, and a welcome addition. The overlay seemed to be simple enough to execute also. It has to be just a flip of a switch to change the music and another flip of the switch to turn on the projections. How much easier can it be? Also, outside the ride you can see and hear the ghost trying to break out of Space Mountain. Projections are placed on the mountain every 15 minutes or so and show dents and dings being made to the mountain from the inside. A very nice touch to an already awesome ride!

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Making our way over to New Orleans Square in Disneyland, we get an even greater display of Hallowentime. As we walk past Pirates of the Caribbean, if you look up, you get your first look at some of the special decorations. Skeleton heads are festooned on black and white bows with a black wreath behind them. These special bows envelop the area in New Orleans Square from the train depot to the Haunted Mansion. It is the perfect complement to what is the perfect Halloweentime Disneyland attraction overlay; Haunted Mansion Holiday. Just walking up to the Mansion I was impressed. The building looks almost unrecognizable! Christmas and Halloween decorations are spilling out of the Mansion. Jack and Sally are on the edge of the property, near the train station, doing a meet and greet, and special Halloweentime music fills the air. As we walk into the front door of the Mansion we see the
“000 days until Christmas” clock spinning above the front door. From the moment the door closes to the moment you set foot outside the exit door, you are immersed in what is pure Nightmare Before Christmas goodness! To run down everything that is in the Mansion for this overlay would take way too long but I can go over a few of my favorite scenes.

The traditional stretching room has been transformed with new portraits and a special appearance by Jack at the end. The Pumpkin King makes a smashing introduction to the audience and welcomes us into the Mansion. This effect so is crisp and clear. The Disney team did a really great job at making this “Scene 1” feel special and fresh. As we moved in our Doom Buggies throughout the house, my mind was racing, trying to wrap my mind around this massive overlay. When we reached the ballroom, I was speechless. A large real gingerbread house had been placed on the center table in the ballroom. On the face of the house is an advent calendar with two doors already opened (both doors opened to reveal skeleton heads). As we venture through the attic, which was now transformed into a room full of presents, a snake held a very long naughty and nice list. Our doom buggies lurched backwards and we got our glimpse of the large Jack Skellington animatronic figure. The outdoor graveyard room was a sight that can only be described as amazing! The curving snowy mountain from the Nightmare Before Christmas movie was constructed in all of its glory. Snow falls, as characters sing and Jack laughs in the background. As we leave the outdoor graveyard Oogie Boogie gives us our special presents and Sally urges us to “hurry back.”

As we left the Mansion I turned to the other people in my party and we all had the same, jaw on the floor expression on our face. This larger than life display of Halloweentime spirit had me reeling. Immediately, I began to agonize over the fact that we just couldn’t have this type of overlay in Disney World. I know, I’ve heard it all before, “Many people are making their first and only trip to the WDW Haunted Mansion, and want to see it as it without the overlay.” That’s fair enough, but if we could have the Nightmare overlay, I would go insane with joy. Until then, I will just have to settle for making the 7 hour flight to California each year. This attraction overlay restored my faith, a little bit, in Disney. It proved to me that someone (s) in the company still cared. It showed me that someone still wanted to make this season extra special for guests. I thought things couldn’t get any better. But then I turned the corner into Frontierland…

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Wow. That is what I kept repeating as I walked through the special area that was setup in this section of the park. Titled, “Big Thunder Barbeque Halloween Roundup”, this section of Frontierland in the Big Thunder Ranch was soaking in Halloweentime goodness. Pumpkins, pumpkin people, meet and greets, games, activities, and a special tent where guests can help conjure up a villain filled this part of the park. Orange and Halloween as far as the eye could see. Even the animals at the Big Thunder petting zoo sported cute little Halloween colored handkerchiefs around their necks. Little touches like this is what makes Disneyland so special for this time of the year. Mickey and Minnie did meet and greets in their special Halloweentime costumes next to a  special pumpkin carving station where you can ask an expert pumpkin carver for tips and hints on how to make your Jack o Lanterns extra special and spooky. This area was stunning and really did a great job at getting you in the mood for the season. I can not express how impressed I was with this area.

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As happy as I was, I left Disneyland a little upset. Why cant we do these special things sat Walt Disney World? Is there no money in the budget? Is the management staff too lazy? Does TDO just not care enough to make this time of the year extra special for guests? And not just guests who attend the Halloween party (even though those guests are getting less and less each year), but special for day guests and locals. Why can’t we have a pumpkin carving station? It something that is small in size, but would go a long way in making guests happy. Does Disney World management not want families making special Halloweentime memories? Of course not, but maybe they only want those families to make memories at a special Halloween party that costs $60+ to attend. With the exception of Haunted Mansion Holiday, the additions and changes made to Disneyland for Halloweentime are quick, easy, and seemingly inexpensive ones for Disney to make. So why do we get the bare minimum at Disney World. Why do we get less and less at Disney World each year? This trip to Disneyland at Halloweentime taught me that Disney can still make the season magical. They can still make your face light up with joy and fright. They can make you believe that a Pumpkin King rules over a Mansion each fall. They can still do it, if they care enough to.

So what do you think? What kind of additions would you like to see be made to the Magic Kingdom in Florida for Halloweentime?

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