Too early for Halloween and Christmas? Not at Disneyland
Themed decor, lights, rides, food, gift items and entertainment are planned virtually every day through Jan. 9, with discounts for California residents
Disney fans will tell you that the dates between Memorial Day and Labor Day have always been prime time for out-of-state tourists to visit at the Anaheim sister parks Disneyland and Disney California Adventure.
As a result, most savvy California Disney theme park-lovers patiently wait it out during the long summer months so they can return in the fall for smaller crowds, cooler temperatures and the annual series of holiday events that kicked off this month and continue through early January. Halloween Time events are now underway through Oct. 31, and the annual Holidays at the Disney Resort will run Nov. 12 through Jan. 9. To honor Californians’ loyalty, Disney is now offering discounted tickets, as low as $83 a day, to state residents through Sept. 30.
Disney officials say Halloween Time has become the most popular themed event of the year for regular park visitors. Many fans come each fall to enjoy the “Nightmare Before Christmas” makeover at Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion ride, but crowds also line up in long queues to buy Halloween-themed popcorn containers, cobwebbed mouse ears, glow-in-the-dark sweatshirts and ghostly macaron cookies.
Here’s a look at some of the highlights of this fall’s Halloween Time and Christmas holiday festivities.
Haunted Mansion Holiday: The Haunted Mansion celebrated its 52nd year in August, but this year also marks the 20th anniversary of the ride’s annual seasonal overlay, with themed decorations and music from the cult favorite Disney film “Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas.” Every year, Disney Parks art director Tim Wollweber designs a new gargantuan gingerbread house for the dinner table in the mansion’s spook-filled dining room. Wollweber said this year’s 13-foot-tall creation is the largest yet, with design elements that pay homage to some of the gingerbread houses from years past. This year’s house required more than 30 pounds of gingerbread and 120 pounds of frosting. Riders only get a brief glimpse of the house as they glide past in their “doom buggies,” but their shared observations are a popular topic on social media each year. Unlike the other Halloween Time events, the “Nightmare” theme will stay in place at the mansion through Jan. 9.
Plaza de Familia: Through Nov. 2, the Paradise Gardens Park at Disney California Adventure has been renamed Plaza de Familia. It’s filled with decorations, photo spots, crafts stations and onsite entertainment themed around the Disney animated film “Coco” and Mexico’s tradition of Dia de los Muertos. Co-designed by Disney senior art director Dan Torres and creative director Susana Tubert, it’s a family-friendly stop where park visitors can honor the memories of their loved ones by hanging a card in their name on a memory wall near a Tree of Life sculpture. They can also enjoy mariachi music and storytelling, pose at photo stops and learn about the history of Mexico’s Day of the Dead. The decor includes paper marigold flowers, colorful papel picado (perforated paper) designs and calavera sugar skull statues. “It’s culturally authentic and uniquely Disney,” Tubert said.
Oogie Boogie Bash: These special-ticket trick-or-treating-themed Halloween events take place from 6 to 11 p.m. on 22 select nights through Oct. 31 at Disney California Adventure. During those hours, the park is closed to all but Oogie Boogie ticket holders, who can enjoy immersive trick-or-treat trails throughout the park, walk-around characters in Halloween costumes, a Disney villains parade, a spooky walk-through of Redwood Creek Challenge Trail, a live Mickey and friends Halloween show, special photo stations and holiday lighting. Elaborately costumed fans fly in from all over the country to attend. Depending on the night, prices start at $114. This year’s events sold out months ago, but some members of the Magic Key Holders Facebook group are selling their tickets at face value on that page.
Pumpkin Festival: Along Main Street U.S.A. in Disneyland, more than 300 handcarved pumpkins are on display in shop windows and atop storefronts. There are also oversize pumpkin sculptures surrounding the statue of Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse in the park’s Central Plaza.
Holiday treats and gifts: Throngs of visitors turn out on Labor Day weekend to buy limited-time seasonal merchandise and sample the themed treats introduced just for Halloween Time. On Sept. 3, the clear favorite gift item among parkgoers was the Mummy Mickey souvenir popcorn container. The top-selling Halloween Time food items, according to Disney pastry chef Gracey Gomez, are the Coco Cake, a multicolored layer cake with churro mousse filling and cream cheese frosting; the Oogie-Boogie funnel cake fries; and the Mickey vampire bat sugar cookies.
Halloween Screams: Throughout both parks, nighttime lighting and digital projections create images of rising ghosts, flames and classic Disney villains on walls and attractions. The Guardians of the Galaxy ride in Disney California Adventure also takes on a new nighttime color scheme and look during Halloween Time.
Photo spots: At Disney California, grown-ups can pose in front of a full-size headless horseman sculpture in Carthay Circle, and children can enjoy posing in front of the less-scary Cars Land car sculptures dressed in Halloween costumes. At Disneyland, the enormous Mickey jack-o’-lantern in Disneyland’s front plaza is the park’s most popular photo stop each fall.
Holidays at Disneyland Resort
This year’s Christmas-themed season has been expanded by three nights to celebrate the parks’ return from pre-pandemic shutdowns. As always, the holiday events include themed decorations, a new parade and fireworks show, themed food offerings and holiday overlays on rides. It runs Nov. 12 through Jan. 9.
Disneyland Christmas tree: The 60-foot holiday tree, decorated with more than 4,800 lights and nearly 1,800 old-fashioned ornaments, returns to Disneyland’s entrance plaza for holiday card photo ops.
Sleeping Beauty’s winter castle: Expect big crowds at Disneyland on Nov. 12, when the annual winter overlay of snowy rooftops, festive wreaths and icicle lighting on Sleeping Beauty’s castle is illuminated for the first night of the holiday season.
“A Christmas Fantasy Parade”: Santa Claus and Disney characters take part in this 40-minute parade down Disneyland’s Main Street and beyond. Highlights include dancing gingerbread cookies, marching toy soldiers, Anna, Elsa and Olaf on a “Frozen” float, and Disney princesses and princes dancing on a candlelit ball float.
“Believe ... in Holiday Magic” fireworks and snow: Disneyland’s 15-minute nightly fireworks spectacular includes 80,000 twinkling lights and surprise snowfall along portions of Main Street U.S.A. and the central plaza.
“It’s a Small World” Holiday: Now in its 55th year, “It’s a Small World” boat ride remains one of the park’s most beloved attractions. But it’s extra popular during the holidays when its exterior and interior décor is spruced up with hundreds of thousands of lights and decorations and its recorded “It’s a Small World” song track is intermixed with Christmas carols.
Buena Vista Street holiday tree: Disney California Adventure park has its own 50-foot-tall holiday tree that will be erected in the plaza outside Elias & Co. gift shop, featuring hundreds of lights, garlands and ornaments.
Disney Viva Navidad: Holiday traditions from Mexico are celebrated with live mariachi bands, ballet folklorico dancing, samba musical entertainment and 12-foot-tall Oaxaca-style Santa and Mrs. Claus puppets in the Paradise Gardens Park area of Disney California Adventure.
Disney Festival of Holidays: Daily throughout Disney California Adventure park there will be live music and drumming celebrating holidays, including Christmas, Hanukkah, Diwali, Kwanzaa and Three King’s Day.
Santa’s Holiday Visit: From Nov. 12 through Dec. 24, Santa Claus will be in residence for visits and photos at the Redwood Creek Challenge Trail at Disney California Adventure.
Ride makeovers: Two rides in Disney California Adventure’s Cars Land will have holiday makeovers. Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree tractor ride will feature holiday decorations and music, and Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters will become Luigi’s Joy to the Whirl, with a holiday soundtrack.
Disneyland & Disney California Adventure
Where: 1313 Disneyland Drive, Anaheim
Tickets: Start at $83 per day for California residents in ZIP codes 90000 -96199, through Sept. 30
COVID protocol: Vaccination is not required to visit the Disney parks, but unvaccinated people are required to wear a face mask at all times. Face masks are also required inside all rides and buildings.
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