There are a lot of things that Disney does well but when it comes to holiday celebrations everyone else pales by comparison. I knew this firsthand from having visited both of the North American Disney parks at Christmas in past years but was reminded of it on a recent visit to Disneyland in Southern California. Halloween Time was in full swing at the park and I discovered that the magic of Disney is as much on display at this time of year as it is at Christmas.
Halloween Time at the Disneyland Resort - September 9 through October 31, 2016
The Halloween celebration at Disneyland runs from mid-September (beginning September 11th in 2015) through November 1st and during that time guests are treated to seasonal fun throughout the park from spooky (but not too spooky!) decorations to Halloween-themed rides. These are my picks for 6 of the best things to see and do at Disneyland during Halloween Time.
Halloween Decorations - Main Street U.S.A.
As you arrive at the entrance gates to Disneyland Park you will be greeted by Disney's Fab 5 in pumpkin form which sets the Halloween mood in the best possible way. If you are arriving at the park first thing in the morning though it's best to avoid the temptation to linger and plan instead to return mid-afternoon when it's less crowded and you have the time to appreciate and photograph the Halloween decorations on Main Street U.S.A. leading up to Sleeping Beauty's Castle. The shops along Main Street are decorated for the season with pumpkin displays on the second story ledges and there is a gigantic Mickey Mouse pumpkin which offers the perfect family photo op with the Castle in the background. My favourite seasonal touch is the carved pumpkins representing each of the park's lands that encircle the Partners statue of Walt and Mickey in front of Sleeping Beauty's Castle.
Halloween Themed Rides
One of my favourite Disney rides has always been The Haunted Mansion and it's even better when themed for the holidays. From mid-September through New Year's the ride is transformed into Haunted Mansion Holiday when Jack Skellington from Tim Burton's The Nightmare Before Christmas gives the mansion a makeover. You might want to ride it several times to be certain not to miss any of the details including the much talked about return of the Hatbox ghost and the gingerbread house of cards. Space Mountain also undergoes a transformation for Halloween becoming Ghost Galaxy when it's overtaken by a mysterious and powerful phantom. I wasn't brave enough to ride this one but I hear that it is awesome for older kids and adults.
Mickey's Halloween Party
One of the highlights of the season is Mickey's Halloween Party which is held on select nights in September and October at Disneyland Park. This not-so-frightful event is a special ticketed event which means that the park is closed to everyone who hasn't purchased tickets for the party. Ticket holders can arrive at the park up to three hours prior to the start of the party but if you want to spend the entire day then you will need to purchase a regular admission ticket in addition to the ticket for the party. Kids and adults alike are encouraged to come in costume to this event (the only time that adults are permitted to dress up when visiting Disney Parks) to enjoy trick-or-treating, photos with Disney pals and Disney villains, holiday entertainment and access to all the attractions. The event also includes the Halloween Screams fireworks spectacular which is exclusively presented on the nights of Mickey's Halloween Party and the all-new Paint the Night electrical parade which features more than 1.5 million glowing LED lights. I didn't have the chance to experience Mickey's Halloween Party for myself but it is definitely on my wish list!
Halloween in Frontierland
Frontierland is the place to be during the Halloween season. There's a fabulous Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) display with skeleton figurines and brightly coloured flowers outside the Rancho del Zocalo Restaurant in celebration of the Mexican holiday and nearby Big Thunder Ranch is also overflowing with pumpkins and fall decor. If you're hungry for a bite to eat then head to the Big Thunder Ranch Barbecue to enjoy a family-style meal and some live entertainment amidst the festive decorations. (Editor's Note: Big Thunder Ranch is now permanently closed.)
One of my absolute favourite things about Disney is seeing the characters in different costumes. I have even been known to force (or bribe) one kid or the other to line up to meet a character just so I could get a photo in a unique costume. It should come as no surprise then that I loved having an opportunity to see some of the characters at Disneyland dressed in their Halloween costumes. I bumped into Mickey, Minnie, Goofy and Chip and Dale in their Halloween costumes in Town Square and also saw Jack Skellington and Sally in New Orleans Square but there are many other characters to be found especially at Mickey's Halloween Party.
Halloween Shopping and Halloween Treats
Shopping for the perfect souvenir is an important part of the Disney experience and it's even more fun at Halloween when the shops around the park, the resort hotels and in Downtown Disney are filled with themed merchandise including home decor, Halloween-themed ear hats or headbands, souvenir t-shirts and plush toys. And I dare you to even try to walk past any of the park bakeries displaying their delectable seasonal specialties in the window - these Halloween themed treats are simply to die for (I couldn't resist)!
Fall has to be one of the best times of the year to visit the Disneyland Park. It's a little less crowded and not quite as hot as it is during the summer and all the fabulous Halloween theming makes it seem all the more magical. I think it just might have become my favourite time to visit!
Tips for Visiting Disneyland at Halloween
- Be prepared for the weather - don't assume that temperatures will have cooled down once fall has arrived in Southern California. I visited late September and it was still quite hot. Don't forget sunscreen and remember to stay hydrated for the best park experience.
- Plan ahead - Halloween season is a busy time in the parks. Make priority dining reservations and book fast passes as soon as possible.
- Mickey's Halloween Party sells out so purchase tickets as far in advance as possible to avoid disappointment.
- Download the official Disneyland App to check wait times, find favourite characters, use GPS enabled maps and more.
- Anyone who is planning to visit multiple theme parks in the area should consider purchasing the Southern California CityPASS which includes admission to Disneyland Resort & California Adventure, LEGOLAND California, and SeaWorld San Diego. Southern California CityPASS is the only multi-park admission pass that includes the 3-Day Park Hopper Ticket for Disneyland® and Disney California Adventure® plus a Magic Morning for Disneyland®. One day at San Diego Zoo or San Diego Zoo Safari Park can be added to your CityPASS, exclusively on citypass.com.
Have you visited one of the Disney Parks during the Halloween season? What did you like best?
I visited Southern California as a guest of CityPASS and Disneyland. My opinions are, as always, my own.