Celebrating Halloween at Disneyland — from parties, a pumpkin festival and ride overlays, here’s what you need to know
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Disclaimer: The author attended a media event as a guest of Disneyland. She’ll return to Disneyland again later during the Halloween season as a regular paid guest with her family. Look for further updates from that trip.
Last year’s extended theme park closures in the state of California meant that the Disneyland Resort was shuttered during the Halloween season. The holiday is thankfully back in 2021 in Anaheim at the parks — and in a major way this year.
Disneyland’s “Halloween Time” just launched on Sept. 3, 2021. A specially ticketed evening party in Disney California Adventure, Oogie Boogie Bash, returned on September 9, 2021. Although Disneyland reopened more than four months ago, it has been fairly slow to ramp back up to full speed until now. The Halloween season feels like Disneyland has finally returned to much more normal operations. From the rides to the decor to the dining, nearly everything is back and firing on all cylinders in the parks at last.
If you are considering a fall trip to the Happiest Place on Earth, here’s what you can expect to see and do this September and October during the Disneyland Halloween Time celebration.
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Halloween Time essential details
Disneyland’s Halloween Time is open this year from Sept. 3 until Oct. 31, 2021. Some of the related Dia de los Muertos offerings that are a part of the season remain open until Nov. 2, 2021.
Currently and for the foreseeable future, park reservations are required to visit Disneyland. There are a number of 2021 operational differences at Disneyland to keep in mind as well. Be sure to visit TPG’s guide to making Disneyland reservations and tips on the current Disneyland ticket types to be certain not to run afoul of any of the new requirements.
Halloween ride overlays at Disneyland Resort
For ride fans, Disneyland doesn’t disappoint with its seasonal ride overlays each fall. This year is no exception. Four attractions between the two California parks get special decor, music and ride experiences.
The most popular and transformative is Haunted Mansion Holiday in Disneyland park. This attraction is celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2021. The classic ride in New Orleans Square is completely re-themed, featuring Jack Skellington and the characters from Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” Disney’s pastry chefs always construct an elaborate gingerbread house in the mansion’s banquet hall scene each year, but this year’s is bigger and better than ever in celebration of the anniversary.
The ride is always popular but is even more so when the overlay is in place. Expect long lines, and consider rope dropping the attraction if you can get into the park early. Disney Genie+, a replacement for MaxPass and FastPass, is due to come to Disneyland some time later this fall and is likely to be a not too expensive way to cut some of the line for this attraction.
Over in Disney California Adventure, Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: Breakout! gets a thrilling overlay all its own. Each afternoon, the ride changes over to Monsters After Dark, with a more frightening video sequence and heavy metal soundtrack. This year, the attraction takes its place within the brand new Avengers Campus that opened earlier this summer.
Two more minor transformations in Disney California Adventure are fun for families with little ones. Luigi’s Rollickin’ Roadsters is retooled as Luigi’s Honkin’ Haul-O-Ween, featuring creepy tunes with an Italian flair. Similarly, Mater’s Junkyard Jamboree becomes Mater’s Graveyard JamBOOree, transforming with the music into a not too scary haunted graveyard.
In years past, Space Mountain has also gotten a minor overlay, Ghost Galaxy. That offering is on pause in 2021. It’s one of the very few cutbacks I spotted this season.
Main Street Pumpkin Festival
While plenty of guests come for the rides, Disneyland’s Halloween Time decor is just as much of a draw for many. And it’s safe to say Disney is not skimping on the decorations this year.
Over in Disneyland, the mood is bright and cheery, with bold orange colors and pumpkins everywhere on Main Street U.S.A. Pumpkin heads in the shape of classic characters sit atop the entrance to the park. A giant smiling and winking Mickey jack-o-lantern is in the center of Town Square.
Down at the hub in front of the castle, the Walt and Mickey “Partners” statue is surrounded by jack-o-lanterns carved to feature Disney characters – one for each land in the park. The whole area is perfect for families to explore and take photos.
Distanced character meet and greets are easy to find in this same space, especially from the train station platform overlooking Town Square. Spending less than half an hour in the area on opening day, I spotted a costumed Donald Duck, Chip ‘n’ Dale, and Goofy as well as villains like the Queen of Hearts and Jafar.
Entertainment is much more fully back in this area as well. Cavalcades pop up regularly throughout the day. I watched the Disneyland Band led by a costumed Mickey and Minnie. I was also able to witness the long-awaited return of Disneyland’s barbershop quartet, the Dapper Dans, singing Halloween Time songs in front of the fire station.
Disney California Adventure’s Buena Vista Street and “Haul-O-Ween”
Across the esplanade at Disney California Adventure park, the Halloween vibe is undoubtedly a bit edgier, although still family-friendly. Purple is the dominant color scheme. A brand new Oogie Boogie figure looms large over the entrance to DCA, and the Headless Horseman stands in the center of Buena Vista Street by Carthay Circle.
Just a bit farther into the park, the always popular Cars Land is decked out for the holiday too, celebrating “Haul-O-Ween.” Even if you aren’t planning to ride the two ride overlays in this area of the park, it’s worth a visit for the decor and photo opportunities, including the land’s entrance as well as costumed Cars meet and greets.
Plaza de la Familia and Dia de los Muertos
From Lunar New Year to Festival of Holidays, one thing that Disneyland has done exceptionally well in recent years is incorporate California’s diverse cultures into celebrations in the park. Fall is now about more than just the Halloween holiday. The Mexican holiday of Dia de los Muertos now features even more prominently in the decor and offerings.
Over in Frontierland in Disneyland, the decorations in front of Rancho de Zocalo are colorful and extensive. But the hub of the Dia de los Muertos offerings is in Disney California Adventure. The Paradise Gardens area near Goofy’s Sky School is transformed into Plaza de la Familia. Live musical acts perform on the bandstand, puppeteers perform with traditional Mexican dancers in a Musical Celebration of Coco, kids can decorate spirit guide masks, and guests can write remembrances to hang by the Tree of Life. It’s a meaningful and touching educational experience as well as quality Disney entertainment.
Halloween Screams show and fireworks
The Halloween entertainment continues into the evenings. In previous years, the Halloween Screams nighttime projection show and fireworks in Disneyland park used to only take place during Halloween party event evenings. That party moved to Disney California Adventure in 2019 (more on that below), meaning that Halloween Screams is now open for anyone with a ticket and reservation for Disneyland park. Fireworks are only offered on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, but projection show is worth a watch even on non-fireworks nights.
If you’re looking to watch Halloween Screams while escaping the crush of the usual crowds on Main Street and in front of the castle, consider watching in front of it’s a small world where projections on the ride’s facade are unique and equally engaging.
Halloween food and merchandise
Unlike several other seasonal celebrations at Disney parks, there is no official food festival element of Halloween Time at Disneyland. But that doesn’t stop the chefs from pulling out all the stops to create themed food all over the resort.
Disneyland’s reopening these past several months has been marked by limited restaurants and food offerings. But with the launch of Halloween Time, it seems safe to say this era is in the rearview mirror. Almost every restaurant in the parks now has special menu items for the holiday. Both sweet and savory seasonal foods are available. It was so much that I quickly gave up even trying to taste a representative sampling during my trip.
Stores are stocked with merchandise galore as well, sure to please Disney collectors. Even if you don’t buy (and I didn’t because my house is stuffed to the gills with Disney memorabilia), it’s enjoyable window shopping.
Oogie Boogie Bash
Last but certainly not least is Disneyland’s annual Halloween Party. In 2019, Disneyland’s traditional party made the move to Disney California Adventure Park where it got a new name – Oogie Boogie Bash — and a slightly spookier theme.
While Disney World is hosting a pared-down after-hours event this year, Boo Bash, instead of its normal Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, Disneyland is holding full-scale regular Halloween parties as always. Guests at Oogie Boogie Bash can see the Frightfully Fun Parade, dress up in costumes, trick-or-treat in the park, and walk down immersive treat trails to meet unique villains in interactive experiences.
The event is sold out completely for 2021. It usually sells out many weeks in advance, so plan way ahead for next year. In the meantime, get more details on TPG’s guide to Oogie Boogie Bash.
Halloween Time tips and final thoughts
Witnessing Disneyland much more fully back in business and celebrating a holiday like usual was heartening to see. Of course, public health concerns still loom large this fall and are an important consideration for guests. With limited capacity, so many attractions outdoors (many more than Disney World), an indoor mask requirement, and California holding strong with lower COVID-19 case numbers and high vaccination rates, Disneyland feels pretty safe right now all things considered.
For travelers who feel comfortable traveling to theme parks right now, Halloween Time is an amazing time to visit the Disneyland Resort with all the extras in place. And to top it off, crowds are incredibly reasonable right now. During my visit, most rides posted just 5-30 minute waits even at peak times. Guests who can visit midweek in September especially are likely to get the most bang for their buck, as crowds on weekdays have been very low since the school year began in California. If you are a California resident, don’t forget about the three-day California resident deal that expires at the end of the month for some extra savings.
If you are thinking of visiting Disneyland during 2021’s Halloween Time, keep in mind the following:
- Annual passes (now known as Magic Keys) are back. This means the parks will be more crowded in the evenings and on weekends as locals use their passes.
- Most California schools have a holiday for Indigenous Peoples Day on October 11, 2021. Expect bigger crowds that whole weekend. Crowds will also likely increase in the few weeks approaching Halloween, as October is traditionally more popular than September.
- On Oogie Boogie Bash party days (most Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays), Disney California Adventure will usually be less crowded. Guests with one park per day tickets tend to reserve Disneyland park because of DCA closing early. If you opt for DCA that morning (especially if you have a park hopper ticket), you will likely find ride lines to be very short much of the time.
- September and early October are often the hottest parts of the year in Southern California. Check the weather and plan accordingly, especially if you are headed to an Oogie Boogie Bash party in full costume!
Feature photo by Joshua Sudock/Disneyland Resort.
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