When the crypt doors creak and the tombstones quake… it’s time to go to Disneyland for Halloween Time! Disneyland’s massively popular Halloween overlay is back and better than ever, with some new additions that keep the spooks “alive” in both parks. We decided to check out the fun in early October while the festivities were in full swing.
A word of caution regarding Halloween Time: it is incredibly popular which translates to large crowds, long lines, and a rough experience even for seasoned veterans. While I love the overlays on Space Mountain (Ghost Galaxy for Halloween) and Haunted Mansion (Haunted Mansion Holiday from Halloween through the New Year) and the decorations all over both parks and Downtown Disney are fantastic, it is a really rough time of year to visit. Disneyland is a local theme park, more so than Walt Disney World, and it shows when seasonal or limited time events happen. If you visit at this time of year come with the right mind-set. Expect that crowds will be near unbearable, the special rides will have the longest lines, and the weather will be warmer than you want it to be (or colder when you least expect it).
There were three big additions to Halloween Time this year: Halloween on Buena Vista Street, Cars Land Halloween and Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout- Monsters After Dark. These add much more holiday theming to DCA, which helps even out the crowds a bit between Disneyland and DCA. Disneyland is still pretty packed, especially if Mickey’s Halloween Party is scheduled, so the new stuff in DCA gives guests another option.
Buena Vista Street has been decorated with spooky bats and bunting but the big draws are Oogie Boogie (who features prominently in the Halloween Time promotional advertising) and the Headless Horseman. Oogie Boogie is depicted on top of the park entrance in a dramatic fashion with the bats from Buena Vista Street forming his image. There is no Oogie Boogie character wandering around, but in the evenings Oogie Boogie’s presence is felt as his voice booms from the Carthay Circle tower and transforms Buena Vista Street into its nighttime form: green lights, scary music, darker atmosphere. It’s actually startling when the sound of a bell begins to toll from the Carthay Circle tower. I was confused since I know there’s nothing up there that can make that sound and a bell never tolls on the hour like a clocktower. Then we heard Oogie Boogie’s memorable baritone and knew it was part of the new Halloween overlay.
The Headless Horseman is not a character you can meet, but you can take a picture with his statue in front of Elias & Co. Headless Horseman merchandise is also popular. There was a little light-up charm that you could clip onto bottles and bags that was sold out when we visited. In the mornings the line to take pictures with the statue isn’t long, but by the end of the day you could be waiting at least 15 minutes for the PhotoPass photographer (and that’s with two photographers working that location).
The Cars Land Halloween decorations are probably the second most crowded area of the park, but with good reason. The decorations here are clever, with a wink to automotive and Cars fans that everyone can appreciate. There are a number of PhotoPass photographers in the land but the lines can get long, especially for the scarecrow by the Cars Land sign and the ones down the middle of the street. We found a photographer hanging around in front of Lizzie’s Curios where there’s a zombie car emerging from the ground. Since this was off to the side no one seemed to know this person was available to take pictures and we walked right up. After a few other guests saw us a line started to form, though.
The definite longest line in the park belongs to Guardians of the Galaxy: Mission Breakout- Monsters After Dark. Since the ride only opened a relatively short while ago it was a surprise to find out that there would be a Halloween overlay. The ride remains the same as it usually is during the day, but starting at 5pm the ride switches over to its Halloween version.
For those getting FastPass a word of warning: if you do not have MaxPass you will not get a FastPass. The tickets run out that fast. We started trying for FastPass first thing in the morning but paused when we saw that at around 11am the tickets were still only for 1pm. What gives? We went over to the attraction to ask a Cast Member. They explained that tickets for the After Dark version aren’t distributed until 3pm, which ensures that folks know what they’re getting a FastPass for and that the evening FastPass doesn’t run out by morning. They also said that MaxPass would secure a FastPass for this overlay, so that meant we could be somewhere else entirely but still grab a FastPass using our phones.
Around 1:30pm we were in A Bug’s Land heading back towards Clarabelle’s for a frozen treat when we saw a very, very, very long line near the restrooms. A Mission Breakout Cast Member was at the end with a sign saying this was the end of the line for FastPass Distribution. Just distribution! The machines aren’t even running for another hour and a half and people are in line! After getting our food and settling into a seat at Clarabelle’s we saw a couple next to us periodically checking their Disneyland app and discussing how late they think they would get a FastPass. We surmised they were going to use MaxPass like us. We opened the app at 2:55pm and began the app version of Refreshing the page.
At 3pm precisely the app allowed you to click on Mission Breakout and begin selecting your FastPass party. Then the worst thing happened: the app stalled! The couple next to us were quietly cheering that they had tickets at 6pm. The tickets just went live, they’re going fast, and my app isn’t working! Thankfully after a minute the app responded and we got FastPasses for 7pm. Success!
At 5:15pm we decided to check the app again to see what time Distribution was at. All the FastPasses were gone! We thought of all those people standing in line waiting for the machines, probably told very quickly that their 75 minute wait had been for nothing. If you’ve looked at MaxPass and said it was a waste of money this would be an instance where you’d have to consider how much it is worth for a FastPass to a popular attraction. By the time night had fallen the Standby line was 150 minutes and the FastPass line wasn’t as short as it had been in the past, with guests waiting about 10-15 minutes with FastPass. It was a shorter line and I’m glad we went for the FastPass, but if we didn’t have MaxPass we would have been in that Standby line with the masses.
As for the ride itself, I loved the fact that it was meant to be a continuation of the narrative from the usual version of the ride. This takes place after you’ve rescued the Guardians and basically released everything in the Collector’s tower. When you step inside the lobby emergency lighting is on, the welcome video is on the fritz, and Cosmo’s cell has an Under Renovation curtain around it (if you’ll recall from the usual ride Cosmo was rescued too at the end). I loved the continuity of remembering that Cosmo can’t be shown in the queue, since he’d be gone. The video shorts between a distorted version of the film we usually see with the Collector and what appears to be a closed-circuit video of the Collector’s assistant assuring guests that nothing is wrong, everything’s fine here. The distorted audio adds to the creepiness of it all.
In the Collector’s office Rocket informs us that Baby Groot went back inside (sigh) and we have to help Rocket distract the various beasties inside before they eat Groot. We’re just meant to be bait for the monsters while Rocket and Groot escape. The loading area has been redone as much as the lobby, with new lighting and sound effects to let guests know the tower’s creatures are on the loose. Even the spiel before you board is a little different, with audio skipping and distorting creepily.
The ride is a fixed sequence, meaning that unlike during the day where you could get different music and visual sequences at night everyone sees and experiences the same ride. It is full of the same drops and thrills as the daytime version, so if you like Mission Breakout on a typical day you’ll like Monsters After Dark. The new visuals are fun scary rather than terrifying, so you’ll be spooked without worrying about going into fits of terror. It was one of the highlights of our trip and we hope to see it come back year after year from now on.
But we didn’t come to the parks just for the rides; we came for food too! Each season and holiday brings out new food and we were eager to try it all out.
In Disneyland we found the Pumpkin Spice Churro. Cinnamon, nutmeg, and ginger aren’t just for your Starbucks drinks; they make a pretty great churro, too. The blend of holiday spices was just different enough be a new kind of tasty. The line can get long and there’s only one cart that sells them, which is to the right of Sleeping Beauty Castle on the path to go to the Matterhorn.
One of the new items we had to try was the Spider Silk Ice Cream Sandwich, a charcoal cherry macaron ice cream sandwich at Clarabelle’s in DCA. Don’t let the charcoal in the ice cream scare you off, this is good. The macaron is a black-colored almond macaron decorated with royal icing spider webs. Inside is a scoop of charcoal cherry ice cream and raspberry sauce. The charcoal is actually good for you (ask gastroenterologists why charcoal is good for your digestion) and it tastes phenomenal in the ice cream, adding an earthy bottom note to the sweetness of the cherries. As an added bonus there is a little sprinkle of Pop Rocks thrown in, just enough to startle you. My only complaint is that it can temporarily turn your teeth and tongue black. The ice cream went well with the sweet-sour of the raspberry sauce, but don’t try to eat this as a sandwich. They are generous with their scoops so you’ll probably lose ice cream if you try to hold and bite this sucker.
We also had to have the Bat Wing Sundae, a gigantic waffle bowl dipped in chocolate and sprinkles filled with vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, raspberry sauce, and finished with two bat wing cookies. The cookies are more like Little Debbie brownies than cookies (I see your eyes gleaming out there) so their texture is moist and tender, topped with a thin layer of chocolate fudge. This is a two person sundae, so find your favorite friend to share germs with and dig in.
Disneyland has a huge new draw in their daily doughnuts. These lovelies change every day and are made fresh. They’re only served until 10:30am, so early visitors get the prize. For Halloween there were two additions we were happy to consume.
The Frankenstein doughnut is a long john-style doughnut topped with green icing and chocolate icing designed like Frankenstein’s monster. For “bolts” there were two mini Twix candy car pieces stuck into the sides of the doughnut. This was fun to look at and better to eat. The Twix candies were a fun addition that kids may fight over.
Our favorite Halloween doughnut hands-down was the Mike Wazowski croissant doughnut filled with marshmallow cream. This work of wonder is available at Schmoozies in DCA, but just like in Disneyland it’s only available in the mornings. Disneyland’s doughnut guru has created a stellar recipe for their version of Dominique Ansel’s famous Cronut and it really shines with this delicious treat. The buttery, flaky laminated dough layers up perfectly into a tall doughnut that is filled with a light marshmallow cream. While I was initially wary of the marshmallow, thinking it would be too sweet, it was actually just a touch sweet. Coupled with the fact that the doughnut wasn’t very sweet on its own (the green frosting is less sweet than you would think), both elements came together to make a wonderful treat. While I loved the Gamma Ray croissant doughnut from the Summer of Heroes earlier in 2017, I think this one topped it. My guess is that Schmoozies will be the home of croissant doughnuts for the foreseeable future.
Also available at Schmoozies is the delightful Mummy Macaron. This consists of an almond macaron designed like an Egyptian mummy and filled with a scoop of rainbow sherbet. Busy Bumble loves rainbow sherbet so we weren’t going to pass this up, even if it was a bit early in the day for frozen desserts. The sandwich is made to order, so be prepared to wait if there’s a long line at the window, but it will be worth it. The rainbow sherbet’s fruitiness and the macaron’s rounded sweetness compliment each other well, making a dessert many fans will enjoy. Just don’t try to eat it like a sandwich: much like the Spider Silk Sandwich this needs a plate and a spoon, and maybe another person.
Further back in DCA, in Paradise Pier, you can check out the Plaza de la Familia in the Paradise Gardens dining area near Goofy’s Sky School. This is a whole exhibit devoted to the upcoming Pixar film Coco, which is centered around Dia de los Muertos, the Mexican Day of the Dead. There are activities to do, exhibits to see, and food to eat.
One area we stopped at because it was so impressive was a wall composed of thousands of notes of love and remembrance for loved ones, written by guests. It truly was moving to see that every tag we read was something meaningful and loving about friends, family, or even strangers. The notes were written in many languages (we saw Spanish, Arabic, Japanese, French, and Portuguese alongside English) but they all shared the same feelings: we love our families and friends, we miss and celebrate those who have passed before us, and we value what time we have together while we have it.
In a small pavilion in the back was an exhibit devoted to the film Coco, with some insight into the characters, what parts of Mexican culture inspired the creators, and what we can expect from the film. It isn’t too spoiler-y, so it was fun to walk through and see everything. I have a feeling I will love Dante, the main character Miguel’s dog. There are a number of “albums” for Ernesto de la Cruz, a popular singer-actor within the film. The exhibit also helped educate guests on the meanings behind some of the symbols and rituals of Dia de los Muertos, many of which seem to be very important to the plot of the film.
We had been looking forward to eating at the Paradise Garden Grill because of their special Mexican menu but found ourselves too full for an entrée (imagine that). They had some amazing food such as Yucatan tamales (wrapped in banana leaf instead of corn husk) and street tacos and we were bummed to have missed out. Not wanting to miss out on everything we did sample a couple of sweets.
The Mexican sweetbread filled with custard was a new take on a familiar staple of Mexican cuisine. The vanilla custard inside was simple and minimal, which I liked. I’ve only had Mexican sweetbread without any filling so the minimal custard was a surprise without being overpowering. The dough was a little on the dry side, which can be the case with sweetbread, so I wished I had something to cut through it other than the custard. This would have been great in the morning with some coffee.
We also got a small cup of Tres Leches Cake Trifle. This soaked sponge cake is very popular and is very sweet. As with many soaked desserts not everyone will care for the mushy texture, but the trifle was actually not too wet. The addition of colorful sugar and chocolate pearls on top made for a nice textural contrast. Luckily this is basically a dessert in a shot glass, so the richness wasn’t something I had to struggle through for an entire plate. By the way, that pretty skull is made of chocolate. Oh, and don’t forget to a Cast Member at the pick-up window for a spoon: they don’t have any in the self-service stations, only knives and forks.
Finally, there was the souvenirs that everyone had to have. First up: the Poison Apple Stein.
This beauty has been a favorite during Halloweens in the past. The stein has been known to sell out and trying to find it is a bit of an adventure. We lucked out this year in that the parks had stocked up earlier in the season and we stumbled upon them at Fairfax Fare in the Hollywood Backlot of DCA. This was being sold with your choice of pineapple or grapes, which was a refreshing snack and a change from all the sugar and baked goods we’d consumed. In the past you could purchase a sundae at the Gibson Girl Ice Cream Parlor in Disneyland and get a stein or a hot beverage from the Main Street Coffee Cart with the stein on the side. This is a fun Halloween decoration (it even glows in the dark!) but I wouldn’t put anything hot in it. It is made from plastic and I’m not sure how heat-resistant it is.
The item we had to stand in line for was the green poison apple glow cube at the Carthay Circle Lounge. A special variant of the ever popular seasonal poison apple glow cubes (usually in read), this could only be found at the Carthay Circle Lounge. The Lounge opens for business at 11am and people were beginning to line up around 10am. We got in line around 10:30am and ended up behind about 10 groups all talking about getting that glow cube.
The Lounge is very popular as a cool and calm retreat from the rest of the park, so expect a fair amount of people even if they don’t have an exclusive souvenir item. There is bar seating but also some lovely chairs and tables in the area where guests wait to go up to the Carthay Circle Dining Room. We were seated at 11:30am in a comfortable seat of armchairs with the aim for a light lunch and drinks.
The drink menu is very extensive, with mixed cocktails alongside beer, wine, and non-alcoholic drinks. The drink we wanted was the Poisoned Apple-tini, a concoction of Crown Royal apple brandy, Dekuyper sour apple Schnapps, and a splash of cranberry juice. All of this was highlighted by the ethereal green glow of our coveted glow cubes. The drink itself is fruity without being syrupy sweet, tasting like the fall holidays in a glass. Much like the tiki drinks at Trader Sam’s, this is one that sneaks up on you: tastes mild as you drink it, but don’t try ordering another unless you fancy seeing the world at an angle.
We never drink alcohol without water and food to offset it, so we had ice water and an appetizer for our lunch. The food menu is not as expansive as the drinks menu, but it has a quite a few golden picks for those who want a nibble or those who need something more substantial. Since we’d eaten earlier and had plans to eat more we settled on the Autumn Flatbread.
This is basically Thanksgiving pizza: smoked gouda and sharp cheddar, roasted turkey breast, Granny Smith apples, fresh cranberries, sweet potato puree, Brussels sprout leaves, and green onions. That is a lot of ingredients, but it was an amazing and filling dish. The flatbread was well cooked, so that the center wasn’t soggy from all the toppings. The toppings themselves can get away from your slice, but they stayed put for the most part. I will definitely return to the Lounge next Halloween Time for this.
As you can see there is a ton of things to do, see, and consume during Halloween Time. It is one of the busiest times of the year for a reason. If you go, know what you’re getting into but know that you can enjoy yourself without burning out or getting tired of pumpkin everything.