Our guide to Halloween Time at Disneyland, California Adventure & Downtown Disney features tips & tricks for the event, which runs September 3 through October 31, 2021. Info includes Oogie Boogie Bash, decorations, food, Haunted Mansion Holiday, and more! (Updated July 8, 2021.)
Official dates and details for 2021 Halloween Time at Disneyland Resort have now been released! Things are kicking off a week early, beginning the first Friday of September 2021, just in time for the Labor Day holiday weekend. Despite a lot still “temporarily unavailable” during Disneyland’s phased reopening, the spook season will more or less occur as normal, with only minor modifications.
Additionally, Disneyland Resort has announced the return of Oogie Boogie Bash, an after-hours special event at DCA. For more details, dates, and pricing, see our Guide to 2021 Oogie Boogie Bash – A Disney Halloween Party. Here’s what else you can expect during 2021 Halloween Time at Disneyland…
As a quick overview of what to expect at DCA, Buena Vista Street is decked out in Nightmare Before Christmas decor and Cars Land has an amusingly clever Halloween overhaul once again. Back in Paradise Garden’s Plaza de la Familia, there’s an underrated celebration inspired by Pixar’s Coco that features live entertainment, meet & greets, craft making, unique foods, and merchandise.
Inside Disneyland, you’ll find the giant Mickey Mouse pumpkin and other decor on Main Street, Ray Bradbury’s Halloween Tree, and Dia de Los Muertos decorations in Frontierland. At the front of both parks, you’ll also find Mickey and other classic Disney characters meeting for photos in their Halloween costumes. There’s so much more to Halloween Time than just these basics, so let’s cover everything you need to know!
To start with, crowds are not typically light during Halloween Time at Disneyland. Things start out slow in early September, and get progressively worse until October, which tends to be pure chaos. In fact, it can be so busy during the Halloween season, that all of the parking at Disneyland can close to capacity.
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 new photos and thoughts about the festivities, so let’s take a look at Halloween Time at Disneyland & Disney California Adventure, sharing some of our tips and reviews for the various offerings. Let’s get started with the hard ticket event at DCA…
Oogie Boogie Bash – A Disney Halloween Party
Oogie Boogie Bash seems like a good place to start this guide as it is the major Halloween offering, which will be in its second year in 2021. We won’t fixate on this party too much as we have the aforementioned Guide to Oogie Boogie Bash – A Disney Halloween Party that covers it in excruciating detail.
It’s a really well done (if uneven) event with a lot of selling points and more than enough to fill an evening, which is where our strategy guide so you know what to prioritize comes into play. We attended the party for its debut year, and had a blast. Read our Photos & Review: Oogie Boogie Bash Party Report for more on what we did, photos, etc. if you’re on the fence about whether you should attend (and if it’s worth the money.
Additionally, there are a few things you need to know about Oogie Boogie Bash – A Disney Halloween Party…
First, Oogie Boogie Bash sells out quickly. Halloween party tickets have not gone on sale yet, but once they do, you should determine whether you want to attend by and purchase your tickets by late summer.
By the time September rolls around, most dates will likely already be sold out. (If you need regular park tickets, check out our Guide to Buying Discount Disneyland Tickets to save money.)
Second, on nights when Oogie Boogie Bash is occurring, DCA closes at 6 pm. This is significant because it results in Disneyland being more crowded on party days and DCA being less crowded until around 4 pm, as tourists don’t want to use their tickets for what amounts to a little over a half day at DCA.
As such, we highly recommend Park Hoppers during the Halloween season. If you’re not attending Oogie Boogie Bash, start in DCA on the mornings of the event, and then head over to Disneyland in the evenings. The latter will absolutely be busier than on a normal night, but it’s still your best option from a crowds perspective.
The good news is that the crowd situation is not nearly as bad as it has been in the past. Originally, this move was motivated by the expectation that large Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge crowds would descend upon Disneyland (which has not really happened). Irrespective of Star Wars Land attendance, we view moving the party and other Halloween offerings over to Disney California Adventure as the right decision.
Annual attendees of Mickey’s Halloween Party might very well disagree with that assessment, but it’s definitely better for tourists and locals who are not attending the special event. During this popular time of year, it’s not really practical for Disneyland to close early to day guests. For the last several years, this has led to a veritable roller coaster of crowd patterns. This move normalizes attendance and helps avoid crushing congestion on non-party nights.
DCA Halloween Decorations
Anyone who has visited Disney California Adventure and Disneyland at Halloween knows it can get pretty busy. In fact, the last several years have featured really heavy crowds, which is a big reason why so much of the event has shifted over to Disney California Adventure.
In large part, the goal of these Halloween attraction overlays and decorations is to draw crowds to Disney California Adventure during the busy Halloween Time season. Additional rumors have suggested that the goal is to phase-in the idea of DCA as the “Halloween Park” and draw crowds away from Disneyland.
On Buena Vista Street, there’s Halloween decor inspired by Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas. Oogie Boogie has risen from the shadows to take over Disney California Adventure, and his oversized silhouette rises above the main entrance turnstiles, and a bat motif is present throughout the area.
At night, Buena Vista Street looks even better, as the special lighting and audio take prominence. This lighting is pretty well done, and even the simple touches like purple lights in the trees really enhance the area. The whole area has a wonderfully spooky vibe and is really enjoyable.
However, it doesn’t hold a candle to the best area of Disney California Adventure at Halloween…
The “Haul-O-Ween” decor in Cars Land takes the crown there, and is an absolute hoot. 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 has become Radiator Screams. This overlay nails the vibe of Cars Land, which always has had a ton of cool ‘wink and nod’ type details that are meant to elicit a chuckle out of astute guests.
I’m surprised at the level of detail in the Haul-O-Ween overlay, and there’s really a ton to see, especially if you take the time to really explore the land. Some of it is totally cheesy, but in way that really works for Cars Land, and that’ll put a grin on your face.
We highly recommend visiting Cars Land for Haul-O-Ween just before sunset, and sticking around for the unique lighting moment (it’s different from the normal one).
Although they are not “decorations” per se, the Super Hero Lightning McQueen and Vampire Mater meet & greets are incredibly popular (and the costumes are HILARIOUS!). There’s also the glorious Clown Red costume, which I can only assume is synergy for the upcoming cross-over film, Pennywise the Car.
We’d recommend asking a Cast Member when the sets for each character start, and jumping into line 5 minutes before one of their sets. Once the vehicle actually appears, the lines tend to balloon.
DCA Halloween Attractions
Every night once the sun goes down, Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT! transforms into Guardians of the Galaxy – Monsters After Dark. This means you can experience two versions of this attraction in the same day.
Monsters After Dark has a different 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 an oddball song, “Monsters After Dark,” created especially for this attraction.
Whether you love it or loathe it will likely depend upon your opinion of Mission: BREAKOUT. I do appreciate that there’s an entirely unique storyline, and enough to differentiate this attraction from the regular Mission: BREAKOUT, but I can’t say it does a ton for me. There are a few clever, tongue-in-cheek moments, and it’s fun enough.
Ultimately, my biggest issue with Monsters After Dark is that it replaces the iconic classic rock songs that play a huge role in the regular attraction with an incredibly grating “song” that attempts to sound like death metal and, as best I can tell, has lyrics consisting of only three words: MONSTERS AFTER DARK!
Nevertheless, Monsters After Dark is incredibly popular. We’d recommend doing it as early as you can. Failing that, save it until the end of the night, and jump in line at the last minute.
For the Haul-O-Ween overlay in Cars Land, Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree becomes Mater’s Graveyard JamBOOree and Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters transforms into Luigi’s Honkin’ Haul-O-Ween.
We did both of these attractions, and found them to be quite cute and fun. Ultimately, nothing has changed aside from the soundtracks, but those are well-done. This is particularly the case with Mater’s Graveyard JamBOOree, which is every bit as goofy as you’d expect for this attraction. As with the normal version of the attraction, Mater’s Graveyard JamBOOree is a hoot that we highly recommend.
Haul-O-Ween in Cars Land is a smash hit with guests, and for good reason. It’s clear a lot of work and effort was put into the decorations and attraction overlays, and the results bear that out with something that’s detailed and just plain fun. I’m optimistic this is just the start of what will become a huge Halloween draw at DCA, and hope it expands even further.
Music of Coco at Plaza de la Familia
As with Viva Navidad during the holiday season in November and December, the entertainment at Plaza de la Familia is the sleeper hit of the September and October entertainment at Disney California Adventure. This celebration of Latino holiday culture takes place in the Paradise Garden area at the back of the park, and is easy to miss as a result.
Plaza de la Familia’s daily festivities include dancing and live music, crafts and face-painting for children, special Mexican foods at Paradise Garden Grill and BoardWalk Pizza & Pasta (and nearby carts), Mariachi music, a special photo opportunity with Miguel from Coco, and an iconic Tree of Life experience.
The highlight of this all is the Musical Celebration of Coco street party. This brings to life songs from Pixar’s Coco via enchanting performances by the Storytellers of Plaza de la Familia, singer/storyteller Mateo, a folklórico dance ensemble, and the Grammy-winning Mariachi Divas. Miguel even makes a cameo in an appearance inspired by Mexican folk art!
This is the sleeper hit of Halloween at Disneyland Resort, and is something every guest should see. Find time to fit it into your schedule, because it’s full of fun cultural offerings. It’s a rich cultural experience with touches of Disney whimsy–the kind of thing you’d expect the old EPCOT Center to deliver!
DCA Halloween Food
Oh, and the final thing you need to know about Halloween Time at Disney California Adventure is that the seasonal menus are very, very good. We cover these in depth in our Disney California Adventure Halloween Foods post.
Suffice to say, save some room for both the special entrees and desserts. This is particularly true in Cars Land, where both Flo’s V8 Cafe and the Cozy Cone Motel have special snacks and entrees.
As you can see, Disney California Adventure has more than ever for Halloween! The big addition, as covered at the top of the post, is Oogie Boogie Bash. The end goal is to have Halloween be the ‘big draw’ at Disney California Adventure to draw crowds away from Disneyland.
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. Many of these are decorated to reflect the adjacent shops, and there are a ton of clever hidden gags and references in these, so keep your eyes peeled.
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, there is plenty of Dia de los Muertos decor near Rancho del Zocalo. These vibrant and authentic decorations are really well done, and a great change of pace from the normal pumpkins elsewhere.
Disneyland Halloween 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. In the last few years, an Audio Animatronics Sally figure was added to Haunted Mansion Holiday’s graveyard scene. Also, there’s a new cake in the ballroom every 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 locals, 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. 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.
Normally, Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy is the other Halloween attraction. However, it has not run for a couple of years now, and it’s unclear whether Ghost Galaxy will return for 2021 Halloween Time at Disneyland. At some point down the road, Ghost Galaxy will likely return, so the following is what to expect if/when it does.
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 projections, but we love it. It’s corny in the way many Halloween movies are cheesy, and is very fun as a result.
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. 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.
Halloween Entertainment at Disneyland
The good news about the Halloween party moving over to Disney California Adventure is that the Halloween Screams fireworks have stayed behind, and are now available for all guests to enjoy! We’re big fans of Halloween Screams, and highly recommend catching it on a weekend, when there’s actually pyro (well, if the Santa Ana winds cooperate!).
Halloween Screams is hosted Jack Skellington and his ghost dog Zero, with the nighttime spectacular featuring soaring flames, projections of rising ghosts and classic Disney villains like Maleficent and Ursula the Sea Witch, lasers, spotlights, and other effects set to a medley of Halloween-inspired songs. (Plus, fireworks on select nights.)
If you’re looking to meet unique characters or familiar Disney friends in their Halloween costumes, you’re in luck. The two most popular characters are Jack Skellington and Sally, who “materialize” near Haunted Mansion. Aside from them, our favorites are Mickey Mouse and friends, who meet in Town Square throughout the day wearing their Halloween costumes.
In addition to the above, free-roaming characters are common at Disneyland, and those are great for spontaneous interactions and random moments. As for the others, we highly recommend consulting the “characters” drop-down in the Disneyland app, which gives set times for each character.
For Town Square in particular, arrive slightly before the time of the character you want to meet, and inquire with a character attendant where the character you’d like to see will be meeting. This is our approach, and it saves us a good deal of time waiting in line!
Halloween Food at Disneyland
Disneyland’s Halloween snack game is strong. This is because these seasonal snacks can be marketed to Disneyland locals, many of whom actually might make a special trip to the parks to try some of them. 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.
To us, this is one of the biggest draws of visiting during the Halloween season, and we enjoy these snacks so much that we usually spend multiple days following the “Food Guide” pamphlet and grazing around the parks. You can see some of our favorites in our Best Halloween Foods & Desserts at Disneyland post.
Mickey’s Halloween Party at Disneyland
IMPORTANT NOTE: Oogie Boogie Bash has replaced Mickey’s Halloween Party. We cover everything you need to know (for now) about Oogie Boogie Bash Halloween Party at Disney California Adventure in this post.
With that said, it’s unclear whether Mickey’s Halloween Party will return in 2022 or 2023, but we highly doubt it. Our expectation is that Oogie Boogie Bash is the permanent replacement for Mickey’s Halloween Party. However, Disney has not officially confirmed that, so we’re leaving this section here…for now. We also have a dedicated Mickey’s Halloween Party at Disneyland Tips post if you want more detailed info and analysis.
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.
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 the 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!
Do you enjoy Halloween Time at Disneyland? Which seasonal event at Disneyland is your favorite? Have you attended Oogie Boogie Bash – A Disney Halloween Party? Have a favorite attraction overlay and entertainment during the Halloween season at Disneyland and DCA? Any questions? Hearing from you is half the fun, so if you have additional Halloween tips or questions, please share them in the comments!