This post features tips and info for Halloween Time at Disneyland, occurring September 11 to November 1, 2015. The hard ticket Mickey’s Halloween Party will be held during this time, with tickets costing $63 to $84, depending upon the night and whether you qualify for an Annual Passholder discount. Besides this party, entertainment during the Halloween Time at Disneyland season is included in the cost of regular theme park admission.
For those considering visiting during Halloween Time at Disneyland, there’s good news and bad news. The good news is that the standard offerings during the Halloween season in Disneyland are superior to those in Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. The decorations are better, the entertainment is superior, the seasonal snacks are more plentiful (and most are absolutely delicious), and there are two attractions at Disneyland that receive Halloween overlays (plus extra entertainment in Big Thunder Ranch), versus zero at Walt Disney World.
The bad news is that hard ticket Disneyland’s Mickey’s Halloween Party is inferior to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, crowds are not light (still better than summer) during Halloween Time at Disneyland like they are in the fall at Walt Disney World, and there are no other fall offerings justifying a visit to Disneyland Resort specifically during the Halloween season, versus Epcot’s International Food & Wine Festival, which is also a big draw during the fall at Walt Disney World.
With all of that said, we think Halloween Time at Disneyland is an incredible time to visit Disneyland. In fact, after Christmas at Disneyland, Halloween Time at Disneyland is our absolute favorite time of the year to visit. The only reason Christmas gets the edge is because all of its entertainment is included with the normal cost of admission, and Disney California Adventure gets into the fun during the Christmas season, too.
Note that for 2015, expect Halloween Time at Disneyland to be impacted by the Disneyland 60th Anniversary Diamond Celebration. While we still expect all seasonal attraction overlays to happen, and Mickey’s Halloween Party 2015 dates have already been announced, it is likely that the park will have fewer decorations (with the 60th Anniversary decorations largely staying up) than normal as the Diamond Celebration will still be in full swing. Please keep in mind that this is speculation at this point. For more information and planning tips about the 60th, read our Ultimate Guide to the Disneyland Diamond Celebration.
We attended the first weekend of Halloween Time at Disneyland (September 12-15) last year, and had an awesome time. We’ve updated this post with some new photos and thoughts from this year’s festivities, so let’s take a look at Halloween Time at Disneyland, sharing some of our tips and reviews for the various offerings…
Disneyland Resort Halloween Decorations
The bulk of the Halloween decorations at Disneyland Resort are in Disneyland (as always, this article distinguishes between the whole resort by referring to it as “Disneyland Resort” and Walt Disney’s original theme park as “Disneyland;” we don’t go for this “Disneyland Park” business that marketing tries to use to differentiate the two). Disney California Adventure has some decorations, but Disneyland goes all out.
This is apparent as soon as you approach Disneyland from the Esplanade, as the Fab Five are all above the turnstiles in pumpkin form. These just might be our favorite decorations, as they are clever and really set the tone from the beginning. These are probably also the easiest decorations to forget to photograph. It’s a waste of time to photograph them during the morning rush when you need to spend your time getting into Disneyland and efficiently hitting attractions, but consider leaving the park during the middle of the day to grab a few photos of them.
The decorations continue in front of the Main Street Train Station, and then throughout Main Street once you’re into the park. While other areas of Disneyland are decorated, Main Street definitely has the most decorations. Our favorite of these decorations is the large Mickey Mouse pumpkin photo op at the near end of the street. This is a popular photo op early in the day, but is less popular during the middle of the day (grab your first photo of it in mid-afternoon when the Southern California skies are most likely to be blue–after the coastal haze has burned off). It’s again popular on the way out of the park at the end of the night, unless you wait until the very end, which is when we recommend grabbing a second photo of it.
Much like Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, Disneyland also has pumpkins adorning the ledges and windows on the second story of Main Street buildings. Some of the details of these pumpkins are great, and we highly recommend taking a few minutes to check out all of the pumpkins on Main Street at some point during the day. There are some clever references in there.
Partners also has many pumpkins around it in the flower bed there, making a great photo op, especially at night with Main Street in the background (the pumpkins are only in the rear 180 degrees of the flower bed).
Main Street has a lot of decorations, but Frontierland is the show-stealer when it comes to Halloween. Perhaps the coolest “decoration” of all is one that’s frequently overlooked, and that’s the Ray Bradbury Halloween Tree in Frontierland. This tree is modeled after Bradbury’s 1972 novel, titled The Halloween Tree, which is a story about 8 boys’ travels across time and space, with the Halloween Tree itself serving as a metaphor representing the confluence of cultural Halloween traditions. (This is per Wikipedia…you didn’t actually think we know what “confluence” means, did you?!) The Halloween Tree was introduced in 2007 with Ray Bradbury on-hand for its dedication.
As a Disney history fan, I really appreciate this tree. Ray Bradbury was a huge proponent of EPCOT Center. His role in developing the original script for Spaceship Earth is frequently noted, but there’s a good chance EPCOT Center wouldn’t have been the theme park it was at opening without Ray Bradbury so strongly advocating for it among other scholarly minds. His writings on the significance of Disney theme parks have given them an air of legitimacy to otherwise dismissive critics, too. Ray Bradbury is definitely deserving of this tribute, and I hope it continues on for decades to come. If you want to read and see more, read our The Halloween Tree at Disneyland post.
Also in Frontierland are plenty of Dia de los Muertos decor near Rancho del Zocalo. Although we aren’t familiar with the cultural traditions of the “Day of the Dead,” these decorations seem very culturally-specific to the event. Regardless of their authenticity, they are really well done, and a great change of pace from the normal pumpkins elsewhere.
Continuing through Frontierland, Big Thunder Ranch is fully decked out for Halloween as the Halloween Carnival. This includes the Scare-dy-Crow Shack as well as the absolute best Halloween attraction at Disneyland. More on this below. The decorations in Big Thunder Ranch are quite excellent, and we recommend devoting a good half hour to exploring this area. Not only are the decorations well done, but there are some clever creations back here, too.
There are also arts and crafts that kids can do back here, while adults can purchase some typical carnival snacks back while the kids have fun. This area reminded me of a local Halloween farm I used to visit in Michigan…except with significantly better art design and a much larger budget. The point is that it feels like a ranch you actually might visit in the country during the Halloween season, not a part of a busy theme park. It’s a great way to revisit these places of your youth, or expose your kids to a bygone era of good ole fashioned country fun. Maybe that’s just me, though.
Billy Hill and the Hillbillies (who have been “retired” from Disneyland) have been replaced by the Mystic Magic Show, which features various illusions and tricks in a fun little show. There’s standard magic, plus juggling, fortune telling, and more. It’s a good show, but it’s not nearly the Halloween Hootenanny that our beloved Billy Hill and the Hillbillies provided.
With the exception of some light decorations elsewhere in the park and a few sparse decorations here and there in elsewhere in the Resort, that covers the Disneyland Resort Halloween Time decorations. It’s virtually all in Disneyland (park). Plenty to see and photograph if you enjoy Halloween!
Halloween Time at Disneyland Attractions
Most fans will tell you that Disneyland has two Halloween attractions: Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy and Haunted Mansion Holiday. This is flat out ignorant. Anyone with any sense knows that the flagship Halloween attraction at Disneyland is Big Thunder Ranch, where…drumroll…there are GOATS DRESSED FOR HALLOWEEN. Sometimes, this just means handkerchiefs around their necks. Other times, it means that plus witch hats. Other times, it means neither (as was the case for the first weekend of Halloween Time last year, although we’re told they will have handkerchiefs later…in case you care!)
Goat jokes aside, Big Thunder Ranch, which is known as the Halloween Carnival during Halloween Time at Disneyland, is a Halloween “attraction” that is well worth your time. First, the area is located in a wooded area of the park that just screams “fall,” and the decorations here are beautiful. This sets the tone for the experience. There are a lot of crafts and other activities for kids plus character meet & greets that rarely have lines, and the Mystic Magic How, making this area is a nice respite for adults, too.
The talented pumpkin carvers back here are also fun for guests of all ages to watch, and some of their designs are really cool. They work relatively quickly so it’s not equivalent to watching grass grow, either.
If you’re into character meet & greets, this is also the best place for that. The villains meet & greet generally has a long line, but Mickey Mouse, Minnie Mouse, Chip & Dale, and Donald Duck all regularly roam the area in their halloween costumes, and the waits to meet them are rarely long. We highly recommend heading back on an afternoon (weekdays are lightest) to quickly meet these characters.
Finally, there are carnival games and some other diversions that you can spend plenty of time doing. Thanks to its location, Big Thunder Ranch is never really busy, but it does draw crowds for the dedicated villains meet & greets. There’s really no need to prioritize this Carnival in your touring unless you want to meet the villains. Of course, a villains meet & greet could be set up at a sketchy hotel on the wrong end of Harbor Boulevard at 2 am and it would probably still draw long lines. People love those villains!
People also love goats…and you can never go wrong with talking to them for a few hours of your day! In fact, we love these goats so much that we suggest Disney add another Halloween themed attraction to Tomorrowland, called “Goat Galaxy.” The attraction would consist of moving the Big Thunder Ranch to the Captain EO theater at night, and just letting them roam around in there. The goats would add another layer to the experience, and would be another great in-theater effect. Plus, Captain EO is so bizarre and creepy that it’s basically already a Halloween attraction. Okay, it’s not really a good (or serious) idea, but it would make Captain EO more tolerable!
Since we don’t ever anticipate this happening, we highly encourage you to use the hashtag #goatgalaxy on Instagram or Twitter when you take a selfie with the goats. Oh, you will be taking selfies with the goats! 😉
Most of you aren’t quite as enamored with goats as we are (fools), so let’s move on to the big two. Haunted Mansion Holiday is the flagship attraction during the holiday seasons (both Halloween and Christmas) at Disneyland, and we absolutely love it. We think it’s brilliant how the attraction is totally transformed into something different, and how it changes each year to keep the locals coming back to see those changes.
Some traditionalist Disneyland fans don’t care for it, and if you’ve never seen regular Haunted Mansion, you might be disappointed by seeing the overlay instead of that, but for everyone else, this is great fun. We have an entire page dedicated to an overview of Haunted Mansion Holiday, which includes a ride-through video and numerous photos, so if you want to know more about the substance of Haunted Mansion Holiday, check that out.
In terms of when we recommend doing Haunted Mansion Holiday, early morning is your best bet. Normally, Haunted Mansion is a low-wait attraction, but since the overlay is a big draw for Annual Passholders, the line for Haunted Mansion Holiday gets longer and longer as the day goes on. By nighttime, it’s often one of the longer lines in the park, and it’s now running without FastPass. We typically do the super-headliners like Indiana Jones Adventure, Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy, Star Tours, Peter Pan’s Flight and Fantasyland dark rides, and then hit Haunted Mansion Holiday before noon. Although it’s not specific to Halloween Time, read our Ideal 1-Day Disneyland Park Itinerary to get an idea of more strategy for the park.
We usually do it a few times in a row, and then don’t do it again unless we note an uncommonly short line in the afternoon (which does happen from time to time). Definitely don’t wait until night to experience it. The ambiance at night in the queue is better, but that can be seen without getting in line for the attraction. Since the entire ride is indoors, there’s no benefit to actually waiting in line and doing Haunted Mansion Holiday at night.
Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy is the other Halloween attraction. The overlay for Ghost Galaxy basically consists of some projections, music, and different lighting at night. It’s more of a change in tone to Space Mountain than a change in substance like Haunted Mansion Holiday. Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy is a little cheesy with its ghost projections, but we absolutely love it. It’s cheesy in the way many Halloween movies are cheesy, and is very fun as a result. Plus, the soundtrack is excellent, and turning your head to “follow” the ghosts around the ride actually creates the illusion that the ride is more intense. Note that while it’s corny for adults, some younger riders might actually be scared by it (there are signs up informing guests of the scare-factor).
Space Mountain always has some of the longest lines at Disneyland, and the same is true of Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy. We recommend making this the first attraction you experience when you first arrive at the park in the morning, and we also recommend grabbing a FastPass for it later that will be valid after sundown. There is cool lighting and projections on the exterior of Space Mountain at night, and this is best seen when in line for Space Mountain due to the elevated queue. The substance of the attraction is the same during the day versus during the night, but Space Mountain has FastPass, there’s no harm in doing it at night, since you won’t have to wait in a long line for it like you’d have to do with Haunted Mansion Holiday, which lacks FastPass.
Actually, in terms of the quality of the experience, both Ghost Galaxy and Haunted Mansion Holiday are best during the daylight hours. This is because your eyes will have adjusted to darkness better at night, and will allow you to see some things in both attractions that spoil the illusion a bit. Not a huge deal, but something to consider.
Over at Disney California Adventure, there’s only one Halloween “attraction,” and that’s the special Halloween version of Mad T Party. I’m not exactly a Mad T Party fan, but I thought the differences were slight, at best. Basically, there are a few Halloween-ish decorations around the stages.
Halloween Time at Disneyland Food
When it comes to Halloween dining and snacks, Disneyland absolutely trounces Walt Disney World. This is likely because these seasonal snacks can be marketed to Disneyland Annual Passholders, many of whom actually might make a special trip to the parks to try some of them. Disney routinely posts articles concerning seasonal snacks at Disneyland Resort on the official Disney Parks Blog, so it would seem like this is the case. Whatever the reason, this is great for guests, especially pumpkin fanatics like us. Perhaps that needs a little more emphasis. WE ARE PUMPKIN FANATICS!!!!!1!!!
Our fridge is currently stocked with pumpkin ice cream, pumpkin macaroons, and pumpkin cheesecake. We have pumpkin coffee and pumpkin candles. The only reason we don’t have more “pumpkin stuff” on hand is because we eat it almost as soon as we buy it. We mention this not because we feel you all will care about these intimate details about our everyday lives, but because Disneyland Resort Halloween snacks are heavily skewed toward pumpkin lovers like us. If you don’t love pumpkin foods, you’re far less inclined to be as smitten over Disneyland’s Halloween snacks as we are, but there’s still plenty for you.
We normally eat our weight in food each day we visit the Disney theme parks, and fortunately there are so many Halloween snacks that we can do exactly that. Here’s just a partial list of which special snacks and foods we’ve tried during Halloween Time at Disneyland: Pumpkin Minnie Demitasse, Banana Fritters, Pumpkin Fritters, Pumpkin Cheesecake, and Pumpkin Mickey Beignets. Last year, our favorite snack was the pumpkin cupcake from Jolly Holiday Bakery pictured at the top of this section. We’re pretty much “over” the Disney cupcake craze, but this cupcake was exceptional and is highly recommended.
To us, this is one of the biggest draws of visiting during the Halloween season, and we enjoyed these snacks so much that it’s a tough call for us whether we’d rather do a day snacking around Disneyland during Halloween Time, or snacking around the World Showcase during Food & Wine Festival. There’s more variety in the snacks at Food & Wine Festival, but the lines are shorter and the weather is better at Disneyland!
The topic of these snacks is really deserving of its own post, so check out our Halloween Time at Disneyland Snacks post for some of our favorites.
Mickey’s Halloween Party at Disneyland
For 2015, Mickey’s Halloween Party will be held September 25, 28, 30 and October 2, 5, 7, 9, 12, 14, 16, 19, 22, 23, 25, 27, 29, and 31. Tickets are now on sale for Annual Passholders, and go on sale to the general public on July 29. The cheapest tickets for Annual Passholders are $63, with the most expensive dates (October 29 and Halloween) costing a whopping $84!
We have yet to do Mickey’s Halloween Party at Disneyland, so we can’t offer a fair review of it, but we will be attending the party for the first time in 2015. Let’s instead call this a preview with some insight as to why we haven’t done it based on our extensive research into whether we should do it. The main reason why we haven’t done Disneyland’s Halloween Party yet is because it doesn’t look like it offers very good value for money. I’m sure someday we will do Mickey’s Halloween Party someday just to cross it off our list, but for now we’re holding out.
Let’s start with some background info: Mickey’s Halloween Party runs at Disneyland (park) from either 6 pm until 11 pm or 7 pm until midnight on each of the 13 nights that it’s held. It operates very much like Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween, so if you’ve been to that, you should more or less understand how this party works. Just in case you haven’t, this is a separately ticketed event that occurs after Disneyland closes to day guests using normal park tickets. If you need regular park tickets, check out our Guide to Buying Discount Disneyland Tickets to save money!
You do not need to purchase normal Disneyland tickets AND the party tickets to attend the party. You can’t use your party ticket for normal daytime admission to Disneyland, and you can’t use your normal day ticket for admission to Mickey’s Halloween Party at Disneyland. Tickets are sometimes available on the day of the event, but if you really want to go, your best bet is purchasing tickets in advance, as many nights do sell out (and day of tickets are more expensive, anyway).
We recommend doing something else in the morning of Mickey’s Halloween Party and only visiting Disneyland in the evening on a party night and saving your regular park tickets for other days. While the party itself only runs for 5 hours, guests may enter Disneyland 3 hours before the party starts, which means 8 hours of entertainment total. In an ideal world, we’d recommend getting a 3-day Park Hopper ticket and spending at least 4 days at Disneyland Resort, with the morning of the Halloween Party spent doing the Goofy’s Kitchen character breakfast at Disneyland Hotel followed by a couple of hours in Downtown Disney, before heading in the park that afternoon and using only your Mickey’s Halloween Party ticket that day. It’s a good way to stretch your vacation dollars and make the cost of the Halloween Party a little more palatable.
Although the parties are often more crowded than a normal day at Disneyland, the wait times for rides are generally lower. If you don’t care about the Halloween Party, that may be a way to experience attractions more efficiently (if you’re going for the Halloween entertainment and ambiance, we do not recommend doing any rides during any hard ticket parties).
Guests are encouraged to wear costumes to Mickey’s Halloween Party, but costumes aren’t required. As for what’s allowed and prohibited, use common sense. I know sometimes common sense isn’t so common, so here are some baselines: don’t wear anything offensive or grotesque (I’d love to paint “Captain EO SUCKS!” on my chest in war paint and carrying around Hooter’s head on a spear a la Lord of the Flies, but that wouldn’t fly). Don’t wear anything that completely obscures your face. Don’t form a line signing autographs and taking photos with other guests if you’re dressed as a Disney character. Although not a rule, per se, when planning your costume, keep in mind that Disneyland Resort is located in SoCal. A full body ALF costume would be totally rad, but it will also be totally hot (it would also break the rules, but we assume Disneyland Cast Members would make an exception for something so awesome).
Trick or treating is popular during Mickey’s Halloween Party. If you have kids, this might be exactly what you’ll end up doing because kids really like trick or treating. However, if you’re going without kids, we’d strongly suggest thinking this through before spending your entire night chasing “free” candy. An entire bag of Halloween candy costs, what, $3 at Target? The party tickets purchased in order to get that “free” candy are significantly more than $3. If this is how you have fun, more power to you, but it’s probably not the best use of your time. If you plan on doing character meet & greets, you definitely will not be able to get everything done at the party even if you don’t do any trick or treating. We know this based on our experiences at Walt Disney World’s Halloween party. The time it takes to complete meet & greets is deceptively long.
Mickey’s Halloween Party at Disneyland doesn’t seem like a great value to us because it lacks a full parade and the other entertainment that is offered at Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party at Walt Disney World. Instead, the main draw here is the HalloScreams fireworks. Granted, with Zero from Nightmare Before Christmas flying over Sleeping Beauty Castle during those fireworks, it sounds like an awesome show, but that’s not enough to convince us to drop $60+ each on Mickey’s Halloween Party. (The upside to this not being a “free” seasonal show is that the amazing “Remember… Dreams Come True” fireworks are shown on non-party nights!)
The other entertainment generally consists of character meet & greets and a twice-nightly character cavalcade. (Seriously, Disneyland, this party has been running for several years and still no full parade? It’s time to step up your game.) I love photography, so the special, moody lighting set-up throughout Disneyland during Mickey’s Halloween Party would also appeal to me, but not enough to justify the cost of the party. There’s also a different ambiance to Mickey’s Halloween Party, as many guests dress up, making it really feel like a Halloween experience in Disneyland. We know that this same ambiance really makes a difference during Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party at Walt Disney World, so the same likely holds true at Disneyland’s Mickey’s Halloween Party.
The other selling points of the party, including some of the meet and greets, occur during normal operating hours. Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy and Haunted Mansion Holiday can be experienced without tickets to Mickey’s Halloween Party, so we don’t think those attractions can fairly be counted as Halloween Party benefits.
Several people who we trust have indicated to us that Mickey’s Halloween Party isn’t worth the money. Friend of the site Guy Selga wrote an excellent report on it, and we recommend you check that out if you’re considering attending Mickey’s Halloween Party at Disneyland. If you’re a fan of character meet & greets or really want to attend a fun Halloween party, it very well might be worth the money to you. As stated from the outset, this is more of a preview than anything else–we can’t fairly say one way or the other whether it’s worth the money. If attending Mickey’s Halloween Party would stretch your budget, you might think twice about going. If money is no concern, you might as well go and have a good time without worrying whether you’re getting sufficient value out of the cost of the party tickets.
Disney’s Happiest Haunts Tour
We have not done the Happiest Haunts Tour at Disneyland. Consensus on it seems to be that it’s less informative than the Holiday Time at Disneyland Tour, and more about adventure and the charisma of the tour guide. Everyone seems to gush over the Christmas tour and we really didn’t think it was all that great, so we opted not to do this tour (which still generally gets positive reviews, but slightly less positive reviews than the Holiday Time at Disneyland Tour).
Although the exact nature of this tour varies from guide to guide and year to year, it’s generally a scavenger hunt/adventure through Disneyland and Disney California Adventure that takes guests on a number of “spooky” attractions (roughly 6) with front of the line access. The scavenger hunt is tied together as a story that the tour guide tells along the way and supposedly has a surprise ending. You’ll probably know based upon the description whether this tour will appeal to you. It doesn’t really appeal to us, but your mileage may vary.
Here is a review, and another, and another, and another of the Disney’s Happiest Haunts Tour in case you want to read more about it.
Overall, Halloween Time at Disneyland is a ton of fun, and a great time to visit both in terms of offerings and park atmosphere. September and October are great times of year to visit Disneyland, generally, so it’s unlikely that you’ll be disappointed with a fall trip to Disneyland, even if you aren’t a Halloween fan. While Halloween doesn’t top Christmas in terms of best times of year to visit, it does have a lot to offer that’s different from the “normal” Disneyland entertainment, and the Halloween offerings are far more than some light decorations, even if you opt not to attend Mickey’s Halloween Party.
If you’re heading to Disneyland for the Diamond Celebration or for Halloween Time at Disneyland, we have tons of posts to help you plan, including our Tips for Saving Money on Disneyland Tickets, a look at Disneyland Area Hotel Reviews & Rankings, our Unique Packing List for Disney Trips, an index of our Disneyland Resort Restaurant Reviews, and a number of other things in our comprehensive Disneyland Trip Planning Guide!
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Do you enjoy Halloween Time at Disneyland? Which seasonal event at Disneyland is your favorite? Hearing from you is half the fun, so if you have additional Halloween tips or questions, please share them in the comments!