Guide to Halloween Time at Disneyland

This post features tips and info for Halloween Time at Disneyland & Disney California Adventure, occurring September 7 to October 31, 2018. We’ll offer info & tips for the event, including 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 2018 Tips post. (This post was last updated September 18, 2018.) 

The good news is that Halloween 2018 is now underway! Disneyland and Disney California Adventure are all decked out for the season, with a spooky atmosphere and ghoulishly delightful decorations in both parks. Buena Vista Street is decked out in Nightmare Before Christmas decor, the giant Mickey Mouse pumpkin is up on Main Street, and Cars Land has an amusingly clever Halloween overhaul once again.

The (potentially) bad news is that not much has changed for this year. There were rumors of World of Color – Villainous debuting this year for Halloween, but unfortunately, World of Color is having technical difficulties and isn’t running, period. (Perhaps next year?) The silver lining in that is Disneyland Resort really stepped up its Halloween game last year, so ‘pretty much the same’ is still pretty good. Plus, there are a ton of new foods to try, so at least that is new and different!

Let’s start by covering the good and bad of what normally occurs during Halloween Time at Disneyland. 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 five attractions between Disneyland and Disney California Adventure 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 during Halloween Time at Disneyland–at least during October which tends to be pure chaos–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 & Disney California Adventure, sharing some of our tips and reviews for the various offerings. Let’s start with DCA…

Halloween Decorations – Disney California Adventure

Anyone who has visited Disney California Adventure and Disneyland last year knows that it has been an incredibly busy year. Last year, Disneyland was especially busy during the Halloween season. This was the second consecutive year of really heavy crowds, and last year’s spike can largely be attributed to the seasonal event is being expanded to Disney California Adventure.

For 2018, all of the DCA overlays have returned! 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” at Disneyland Resort to draw crowds away from Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge next year.

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, and his oversized silhouette rises above the main entrance turnstiles, and a swarm of bats encircle Carthay Circle Theatre.

My initial take on Buena Vista Street was that the decorations like hastily done, as if an Imagineering intern made a quick run to the Party City clearance aisle, and just bought whatever bunting they could find, and anything with bats on it. A lot of that bunting is under or oversized for where it’s hung, and during the day, it feels like an afterthought.

During the day, I still think that’s the case. The Buena Vista Street decorating job looks lazy and cheap. However, at night, the bunting and tacky bats fade into the background, and 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. At night, Buena Vista Street has a wonderfully spooky vibe, and is really enjoyable.

On the other hand, the “Haul-O-Ween” decor in Cars Land is a hoot no matter when you visit. 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.

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.

Overall, Haul-O-Ween in Cars Land is a smash hit with guests, and we cannot wait to see how this evolves over time. It’s clear a lot of work and effort was put into this overlay, 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.

Halloween Attractions – DCA 

Additionally, Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT! will transform into Guardians of the Galaxy – Monsters After Dark every night once the sun sets. This means you can experience two versions of this attraction in the same day. Hooray?

Monsters After Dark has 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.

We had the chance to experience Guardians of the Galaxy – Monsters After Dark and it was…a thing? Whether you love it or loathe it will likely depend upon your opinion of Mission: BREAKOUT. I do appreciate that there’s an entirely new 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, I suppose.

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! Imagine that on repeat for the duration of the ride. Yeah. You can read my full Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT Review for more thoughts–they apply pretty much equally to Monsters After Dark.

One thing to note with regard to Monsters After Dark is that it has consistently had issues with FastPass and MaxPass distribution. Due to the way the attraction switches over to Monsters After Dark after the sun goes down, it’s a tricky process to do the FastPass switchover, I guess.

We’d recommend getting a FastPass for this if you can, as waits have been long, and we’d recommend getting it as early as you can (which is currently late afternoon). Just don’t be surprised if there are some hiccups. Failing that, save it until the end of the night, and jump in line at the last minute.

For the new 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.

If you’re reading this with an eye on next year, we’re anticipating that Disney California Adventure will have even more for Halloween in 2019. Other potential additions include a rumored Halloween World of Color and more–perhaps that rumored Radiator Springs Racers overlay. The end goal is to have Halloween be the ‘big draw’ at Disney California Adventure in 2019 when Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens.

Regardless of what happens this year, we are pleased by the changes last year. 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, the Halloween additions to DCA are enough to draw guests (particularly locals) away from Disneyland easy the crowd burden there…at least, just a bit. On Page 2, we’ll cover what you need to know for planning a  Halloween Time visit to Disneyland (Park). Click here to continue reading!

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