Guide to Halloween Time at Disneyland

This post features tips and info for Halloween Time at Disneyland, occurring September 15, 2017 through October 31, 2017. We start with news about Halloween at Disney California Adventure this year. Following that, this guide offers info & tips for the event, which includes the Nightmare Before Christmas themed-Haunted Mansion Holiday, Ghost Galaxy, and Mickey’s Halloween Party. If you’re interested in knowing more about this special event, check out our Mickey’s Halloween Party at Disneyland 2017 Tips post. (This post was last updated September 15, 2017.) 

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 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–at least during October–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, particularly when it starts in mid-September. The only reason Christmas gets the edge is because all of its entertainment is included with the normal cost of admission.

We’ve updated this post with some new photos and thoughts about 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…

Disney California Adventure Halloween News!

Anyone who has visited Disneyland in 2017 knows that it has been an incredibly busy year. Last year, during an otherwise normal year, Disneyland was especially busy during the Halloween season. Likely realizing the bump in 2017 crowds plus extra interest in HalloweenTime offerings could be a recipe for disaster at Disneyland, the seasonal event is being expanded to Disney California Adventure for 2017.

Halloween overlays have been added to Cars Land, which is now decked out for “Haul-O-Ween.” For this new Haul-O-Ween overlay, Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree becomes Mater’s Graveyard JamBOOree and Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters transforms into Luigi’s Honkin’ Haul-O-Ween. (Contrary to previous rumors, an overlay has not been announced for Radiator Springs Racers.)

Cars Land has received an extensive Halloween overlay, as the citizens of Radiator Springs don their Halloween costumes and decorate their homes to celebrate “Haul-O-Ween.” From Fillmore’s Jack-Oil Lanterns and Flo’s Spider-Car to Witchy Miss Lizzie’s shop, Radiator Springs will become Radiator Screams.

Sarah had the chance to preview the Haul-O-Ween overlay yesterday, and thought it was really cute and quite elaborate. There’s a lot more detail to the decorations than we previously expected, and it’s really fun. Buena Vista Street, on the other hand, looks like it was decorated with overstock from Party City.

We’ll have full strategy and tips for experiencing the attraction overlays, spotting hidden details, and doing the Super Hero Lightning McQueen and Vampire Mater meet & greets next week.

Additionally, Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT! will transform into Guardians of the Galaxy – Monsters After Dark every night once the sun sets.

The attraction will have a new plot, starting immediately after the conclusion of Mission: BREAKOUT when (spoiler alert!), the Guardians have successfully escaped the Collector’s Fortress. Unfortunately, Groot was accidentally left behind. So now you’re helping Rocket distract the creatures while he saves Groot. There’s also a new song, “Monsters After Dark,” created especially for this attraction.

On Buena Vista Street, new Halloween decor will be added that is inspired by Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. Oogie Boogie has risen from the shadows to take over Disney California Adventure park, and his oversized silhouette rises above the main entrance turnstiles, and a swarm of bats encircle Carthay Circle Theatre.

In large part, the goal of these Halloween attraction overlays and decorations is to draw crowds to Disney California Adventure during the busy HalloweenTime season. Additional rumors have suggested that the long-term goal here is also to phase-in the idea of DCA as the “Halloween Park” at Disneyland Resort.

It is expected that this will be further cemented in 2018 with other additions, including a rumored Halloween World of Color and more. The end goal is to have Halloween be the ‘big draw’ at Disney California Adventure in 2019 when Star Wars Land opens.

Regardless of what happens next year, we are intrigued by the confirmed changes for 2017. Disney California Adventure used to play host to Mickey’s Halloween Parties when the park first opened, and had a much bigger Halloween presence until construction started on its big overhaul several years ago. With an imbalance in crowds once again arising between the two parks, it makes sense for DCA to receive additions to ease the crowd burden on Disneyland.

We’ll update this section with strategy and tips for Halloween at Disney California Adventure once we have a chance to experience these new offerings. For now, here’s what you need to know for planning Halloween at Disneyland…

Disneyland Resort Halloween Decorations

The bulk of the Halloween decorations at Disneyland Resort are in Disneyland. 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.

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 normally has pumpkins adorning the ledges and windows on the second story of Main Street buildings. This year do not be surprised to see fewer decorations as the 60th Anniversary decor will still be taking center stage.

Main Street normally 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.

As a Disney history fan, I really appreciate this tree. Ray Bradbury was a huge proponent of EPCOT Center. 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.

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

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. Last year, a brand new Audio Animatronics Sally figure was added to Haunted Mansion Holiday, plus there was (as always) a new cake. So you’ll definitely want to check it out this year!

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. 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, but move Haunted Mansion Holiday up to an earlier time due to its increased Halloween popularity.

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, which returns again this year to replace Space Mountain for the Halloween season. 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.

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, nothing special is done for Halloween.

Halloween Time at Disneyland Food

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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.

Seriously, we love pumpkin foods. Our fridge is currently stocked with pumpkin ice cream, pumpkin macaroons, and pumpkin cheesecake. We have pumpkin coffee and pumpkin candles. 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.

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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

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We have a dedicated Mickey’s Halloween Party at Disneyland Tips post if you want more detailed info and analysis. Here, we’ll provide a quick overview and hit some of the basics.

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 is a separately ticketed event that occurs after Disneyland closes to day guests using normal park tickets, and you need a special ticket to attend the party. (If you need regular park tickets, check out our Guide to Buying Discount Disneyland Tickets to save money.)

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 many rides during any hard ticket parties–you won’t have much extra time.)

Guests are encouraged to wear costumes to Mickey’s Halloween Party, but costumes aren’t required. When planning your costume, keep in mind that Disneyland Resort is located in SoCal…it can be hot at night.

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?

Frightfully Fun Parade returns to Mickey’s Halloween Party, and is the highlight of the event. Beyond that, the main draw is the HalloScreams fireworks, trick or treating, and wearing costumes.

Aside from the fireworks and parade, the other entertainment consists of character meet & greets. I love photography, so the special, moody lighting set-up throughout Disneyland during Mickey’s Halloween Party also appeal to me, and even if you’re not into photography, the ambiance of Mickey’s Halloween Party at Disneyland is festive.

The other selling points of the party, Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy and Haunted Mansion Holiday, can be experienced during the day without tickets to Mickey’s Halloween Party, so we don’t think those attractions can fairly be counted as Halloween Party benefits.

If you’re a fan of Halloween, parades, fireworks, character meet & greets, really want to attend a fun Halloween party, or if money is no issue, it very well might be worth the money to you. The ambiance is fun and really gets you in the mood for Halloween, and the entertainment is cute. However, if attending Mickey’s Halloween Party would stretch your budget, you might think twice about going.

We cover more of the pros & cons in our full Guide to Mickey’s Halloween Party at Disneyland post, so you can find a lot more detail there.

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).

This tour is 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 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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Your Thoughts…

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!

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