This past weekend, we experienced our first full Disneyland Halloween. Now that we’re Disney passholders (and got our priorities are straight), we had the chance to visit both Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure (DCA). Before we got passes, we could afford to go to Disneyland maybe once or twice a year, and we always chose summer or the Christmas season because, well, Christmas at Disneyland is as close to magic as you’ll get. But now that we’ve experienced Halloween Time, we thought we’d write about our impressions so you can get a taste of what to expect if you can make it before Halloween ends. Or, if you weren’t able to go, feel free to live vicariously through us!
On Saturday morning, we arrived to Disneyland bright and early after Shannon generously made us pumpkin muffins for breakfast (Trader Joe’s has the best mixes!). Walking into Disneyland is already magical, but the added Halloween decorations made it a completely different experience. First, you're greeted by the giant Mickey pumpkin head at the beginning of Main Street before you’re transported into a fall cornucopia of color. Orange, yellow, and red decorations adorn every single building as well as festive carved pumpkins that are themed according to the buildings they’re resting on. The entrance to The Mad Hatter shop was even topped with pumpkins with little hats on them. It was super adorable, festive, and fun.
One of the things I love most about the decor is that it actually makes you feel the holidays — which, living in SoCal, you never get to experience (like how it’s fall but it’s also 97 degrees outside — COME ON, CALIFORNIA.) Disneyland really knows how to make you feel the seasonal atmosphere without going too overboard. It still feels like Disneyland, which I appreciate.
After admiring the decorations, we went straight to Frontierland to snag Fantasmic passes. A little tip: Since Fantasmic has recently been updated and revamped, EVERYBODY wants to see it. So if it’s high on your priority list, that should be the first thing you do when you enter the park. We got there between 8:30 and 9 a.m., and by then the 7:30 p.m. show had already sold out. Luckily, we were still able to snag passes for the 10 p.m. showing.
Next, we headed over to DCA. (Oh, the freedom of going between both parks!) As far as we know, this is the first year DCA has gone all-out for Halloween, and we have to say, it looks absolutely phenomenal. Before you even enter the park, a giant Oogie Boogie looms over the entrance, grinning and chuckling with maniacal laughter. That just set the tone for the entire visit. The second we stepped past the gates, we were greeted by black bats suspended in mid-air and fluttering from the bell tower above Carthay Circle. Even the storefronts are overflowing with black and purple Disney Halloween displays. One of the best touches though is the Headless Horseman statue in the main plaza, which lights up and smokes at night. One of my favorite Halloween stories is Sleepy Hollow and Ichabod Crane, so this delighted me to no end.
The first thing we did at DCA was head over to Schmoozies on Buena Vista Street for an iced coffee and Monstermallow Cronut ($5.49). The cronut (a cross between a donut and a croissant) was LARGE and decorated to look like Mike Wazowski from Monster’s Inc. To our despair, Schmoozies was out of regular brewed coffee and iced coffee by 10 a.m. The tragedy! We settled for an iced latte instead (with an extra shot, of course).
After we snagged Guardians of the Galaxy FastPasses (a MUST, as the wait is usually 1-3 hours), we headed to Cars Land. To me, Cars Land is the true star of DCA. It seemed so random when it first opened in 2012, but I think it’s the best idea Disney has ever had. The attention to detail really is astounding, and it’s such a charming part of the Disney parks.
But HOLY COW. What they’ve done to it at Halloween is incredible. From mummy-wrapped tractors and vampire Mater to the Halloween soundtracks and the spooky-faced Cozy Cone Motel, Cars Land has been absolutely transformed. Every single addition is really clever — even in little things like putting faces in all the tires and making a mini “Brakes Motel” diorama, which is a take on Psycho’s Bates Motel, except in place of the motel, the “guests” are housed in spooky cones while a creepy-looking car leers on the hill above.
Even though we stopped to admire all the decorations, we pretty much headed straight to Radiator Springs Racers, located at the end of the main Cars Land drag. Besides the fact that this ride is breathtakingly beautiful (like, did we just step into Arizona right now?), Radiator Springs Racers is SO well done and is in my opinion one of the best rides at both parks. It’s always fun, but to my surprise, Racers had absolutely no Halloween decorations. Given that the rest of Cars Land is decked out in spooky garb, I thought they’d at least throw a few pumpkins in there or dress up the cars a bit for Halloween. I mean it’s completely fine; the ride is still awesome. But it was just strange coming from the Halloween Time transformation to the regular Racers. Maybe next year?
We walked through the park and ended up at Paradise Gardens on the far right corner of Paradise Pier (by the Paradise Garden Grill and Goofy’s Sky School), which Disney has currently dedicating entirely to Coco, an upcoming Disney Pixar animated film that’s based on the Mexican holiday Día de los Muertos. At the entrance, you’re greeted by two giant skeleton statues dressed in traditional Mexican garb, welcoming you in with gorgeous beautiful flowers. Once you enter, there’s an area where you can take slips of paper and write memories about your family and departed love ones and tie it to the walls they have set up. It’s actually really nice seeing people so into it and clamoring to write their memories for the paper-filled walls. Another cool addition was the Coco gazebo (Plaza de la Familia) that Disney filled with memorabilia and colorful paintings depicting scenes from the upcoming movie. Boards thoughtfully explain the synopsis of Coco and the history of the Día de Los Muertos holiday, while a mariachi band plays daily on the bandstand.
After a stroll through Paradise Pier and a quick single-rider jaunt on California Screamin’ (which never ceases to delight), we headed over to Guardians to redeem our FastPasses. Every single time we ride it, we’re simultaneously excited and super freaked out at the same time. For those still unfamiliar, Disney completely redid the ride, converting the Hollywood Tower of Terror into Guardians of the Galaxy’s Mission: Breakout! It’s thrilling, detailed, and loads of fun.
After Guardians, we stopped at the Studio Catering food truck by the Monster’s Inc. ride for lunch. We tried the Dragon Breath Tacos ($10.99), the Most Dangerous Tacos in the Galaxy ($8.99), and the Obviously Nachos ($7.49). They were all yummy, but my favorite was definitely the Dragon Breath Tacos. The juicy pork-belly tacos were topped with Korean BBQ sauce, Sriracha aioli, and a kimchi slaw, which provided a crunchy, spicy, and surprisingly refreshing bite in the hot weather.
Next, we decided to get out of the heat by heading into the Sunset Showcase Theater (next to Schmoozies) to watch the Thor: Ragnarok preview. Inside, you wait in front of a glass case housing a few costumes from the movie before being ushered to the actual theater, where you get a 3D sneak peek into the movie. Unexpectedly, it was absolutely hilarious and made us excited for the release on November 2. (Look out then for our review of the movie!)
We then headed to the Animation Academy across the street, where we all learned how to draw Scrooge McDuck. This place can be easily overlooked, especially if you’re focused on hitting the bigger rides like Guardians, California Screamin, or Soarin' Around the World. Even if you're artistically challenged, it's so much fun, and the break gives you a brief respite from the SoCal heat. Plus, the room leading into it is GORGEOUS and wonderfully colorful, with overlapping screens all over the walls that show scenes from various Disney animated films.
After that, we stood in line to get FastPasses for Mission: Breakout!’s Monsters After Dark (see more on that in Shannon’s review) and headed back to Paradise Pier to redeem our FastPasses for Midway Mania. (Yeah, we were kind of all over the place.) For the most part, Paradise Pier is the same as it always is, including Midway Mania. I do love that Mr. Potato Head is working again though, so you can listen to him and watch his fluid movements as you wait in line.
We then popped back over to Disneyland and grabbed some Dole whips before making our way to the Haunted Mansion, which converts into a Nightmare Before Christmas theme from Halloween through Christmas. Officially called “Haunted Mansion Holiday,” it’s been around since 2001, and the characters and decor have only gotten better. Every year, it seems like Disney updates it with some new technology, so each time we ride, there’s a new surprise. When the theme first came out, everything was very cartoony and came off a bit corny. Now with all the new advancements, they combine just the right amount of cartoon, technology, and animatronics so that you’re not only delighted — you’re super impressed, too. Take the life-size Oogie Boogie: He looks absolutely AMAZING. His voice and movement are so lifelike. What Disney can do with animatronics these days is incredible — like scary incredible. Definitely get a FastPass for this early though because the line can get up to 2-3 hours long, and the FastPasses go quickly.
We then headed over to Space Mountain, which transforms into “Ghost Galaxy” during Halloween. On the ride, you’re still speeding through space on a rocket, but this time the cosmos is filled with ghostly ghouls hovering all around you as you swerve around them in the darkness. The story and added projections aren’t as good as regular Space Mountain (and in our opinion no iteration can beat the Star Wars–themed HyperSpace Mountain), but it’s always a thrilling ride no matter how you spin it.
By then, our feet and stomachs were screaming, so we decided to try Rancho del Zocalo Mexican restaurant in Frontierland. I ate the Carne Asada & Red Chile Enchilada Platter ($14.49), while Shannon tried the seasonal Barbacoa Torta ($12.99). The enchilada platter, which comes with carne asada, two cheese enchiladas, refried beans, and Mexican rice, was just okay overall. But the carne asada was amazing. Seriously, the freshly grilled meat was tender and perfectly seasoned. We wish they had a plate of just carne asada because the enchiladas ended up being cold and not that good.
After dinner, we rushed back over to DCA one last time (thank the lawd) for Monsters After Dark. For those unfamiliar, after 5 p.m. DCA transforms the theme of Mission: Breakout! into Monsters After Dark — same ride, completely different story. Specially made for Halloween Time, the nighttime iteration has flashing lights, louder and edgier music, and a sense of urgency that make the ride that much more intense and fun - even though it still freaks me out! (Read more about Monsters After Dark in Shannon's stellar review.)
Right after Monsters, we started heading back to Disneyland's Mark Twain riverboat entrance, our assigned waiting area for Fantasmic. Definitely come early for this, as the actual seating is first come, first served. Also, I suggest bringing coffee and a blanket, since by then you might need a pick-me-up (I was slowly dying at this point). Plus, you’d probably rather sit on a blanket than on a ground thousands have walked on.
And at 10 p.m., the show began! This was my first experience seeing the newly revamped Fantasmic, which has a ton of new updates. First, the soundtrack has been reworked. While the old Fantasmic used instrumentals and snippets of Disney soundtracks, the new Fantasmic features modernized, digitized music. Disney has also added more projections — like what they now do to Sleeping Beauty's castle during the fireworks show. Other additions include replacing the Peter Pan ship with a Pirates of the Caribbean theme (a lot better and a smart move by Disney, in my opinion); the dancing Jungle book monkeys have new, more futuristic costumes that highlight their movement better; and Aladdin and Jasmine now soar through the air on their magic carpet ride (though I think in ours it was broken). The one major subtraction I noticed was the Pinocchio puppet bit in the middle, but that's minor. They also updated the dragon, which looks INCREDIBLE.
My only complaint was I think they made it too modern — but that may be the old 26-year-old fogey in me talking. For example, the old original soundtrack snippets were what made me feel nostalgia and triggered those emotions. To me, the digitized music sounds great but is also more generic and like any repetitive electronic soundtrack. Also, a lot more time — a little too much time — is spent on projecting movie clips onto the water screens. Don't get me wrong, it is super amazing. But if you're at the wrong angle, you don't know what the heck you're looking at. They definitely "World of Colored" it a lot more.
That being said, I really do absolutely LOVE Fantasmic, and that isn’t going to change. It’s the best show Disney has, and I’m so glad they brought it back. I still want to see it over and over!
Overall, our day at Halloween Time was so much fun, and it was amazing to see just how much work Disney puts into its seasons — and it only gets better every year. While every part of Disney is incredible all the time (we are selling our souls each month for Disney annual passes), I think I prefer Disneyland's Halloween in the daytime and DCA's Halloween at night. At Disneyland, the details are just so intricate and subtle that I feel like you appreciate it a lot more when you can actually see them. At DCA, because the whole park is newer, the decorations are more modern, so I feel like they can get away with more “futuristic” looks that can be geared toward nighttime. DCA’s color palette is dominated by purple and green, which just looks a lot cooler when the vividly colored LED bulbs light up the night.
October has historically been a low-attendance month for Disneyland and DCA. This year, however, DCA especially has been hitting record attendance, and we think that’s largely due to all the fun Halloween decor and new additions. If Halloween is your jam, we definitely recommend you try and experience it at both parks before October 31. If you can’t make it, don’t worry; we have no doubt it will be even better next year!
(And hopefully next October we’ll have a chance to attend Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween party … ah, the dream!)
'Til next time,