Mother Duck and I arrived back outside Disneyland at 11:30 PM on August 8, a mere half hour before the Haunted Mansion’s 50th anniversary. The space between Disneyland and DCA was practically packed with row after row of people, many in attire ranging from Haunted Mansion t-shirts to full costumes and face paint and all of them wearing their purple lanyards signifying them as attendees of the event to come. Waiting outside the park many hours after sundown as a half-moon shone down on us, while a variety of Disney songs played over the speakers, including the Pirates of the Caribbean theme song (both the movie and the ride version) and the theme from the Electrical Parade, was a truly surreal experience indeed.
We watched the clock tick away the minutes on the Disneyland train station beyond the gates. Finally, at 12:30 AM, we started forward, three forms identifying us as attendees of tonight’s event, our lanyard, wristband, and ticket. After this, we marched through Main Street as some late-night stragglers watched from the sidewalk on either side. We turn the corner, heading through Frontierland, and the first thing I see are a group of singers dressed in their ghoulish best, and behind them, the Rivers of America covered in fog and lit in an eerie manner by the tall lights awaiting the impending show.
We are instructed to wait in a long row beside the Mark Twain as people arrive. Being towards the back, we, along with those around us, either wait patiently or strain to get a view of the singers that we can now barely even hear. It’s a bit disappointing being so unable to see what’s going on, so I spend my time watching shadowy figures enshrouded in mist linger about the deck of the Mark Twain, while an old man behind us explains to those around him that he, as a child, was one of the first to ride the Haunted Mansion 50 years ago.
Finally, the group lurches forward, and we begin to crowd around the Rivers of America. Mother Duck and I get a view right up against the water, and I lean over the railing to watch thick, white mist pour forth from vents below us. Directly across the water in front of me, I see light streaming from behind a rectangular shape that I later learn to be the Haunted Mansion itself, obscured by the fog.
It’s so cold. Mother Duck brought a jacket, but I didn’t. It’s only fitting that I shiver there by the water, teeth chattering, as I await the “swinging wake” we’ve all been waiting for, as the Ghost Host himself announces that we won’t have to wait for much longer. Through the fog, there are countless lights, dozens and dozens, too many to count.
Thunder rolls and the clock projected over Tom Sawyer’s Island chimes, louder and louder and louder. After an ominous warning from the caretaker, Madame Leota shows up and summons the spirits, joined by a rendition of Grim Grinning Ghosts sung by both Madame Leota and the Cadaver Dans.
After a few bursts of spectral green fireworks, the show is over, and we are free to do as we please. (Just to clarify, only half the park is open, New Orleans Square, Frontierland, Adventureland, and Critter Country. Fortunately, this is my favorite half of the park anyway.) Our first order of business was the rides, with the Haunted Mansion itself being the obvious first choice. As we waited outside the mansion, which was aglow with various colorful lights as organ music played in the background, a guy was telling the people around him some rather terrible, but amusing jokes. The first joke involved a dad asking his son if his shirt was felt. The boy said no, only for the dad to reach out and touch his sleeve, replying, “Now it is”. The second joke was a dad telling his kids not to play under some trees because they looked “shady”.
For this event, the Haunted Mansion had a few limited time “surprises”, including two instances of the anniversary logo, one where you board the doom buggies and one in the séance room behind Madame Leota, and three live performers. One performer was sitting at the table in the ballroom, while another replaced Gus, the bearded Hitchhiking Ghost, at the end of the ride.
My favorite, however, was the return of the knight. In case you’re not familiar, there used to be a real person in the Haunted Mansion who would appear dressed as a knight and scare people early on at the endless hallway. After upsetting too many people and getting punched in the face a few times too many, they got rid of the live performer and simply kept a lifeless suit of armor in his place. This was one surprise that I totally expected, and I was not disappointed. Of course, this time he stayed far back from guests.
I also can’t forget the two men in the doom buggy in front of us as we went by the mirrors after the Hitchhiking Ghosts. Dressed in old-fashioned clothes and chains, they looked like they were having a great time indeed.
We also rode Pirates, where we literally had the pleasure of walking straight into our boat without waiting a single second in line. The last few rows of the boat…and the entire boat behind us…were actually totally empty! Last of all, we decided to give Big Thunder Mountain another try, considering it broke down on our last trip. This time, we finished the entire ride without issue, though we will never ride it again. Why, you might ask? Well, we both forgot how terrified we are of roller coasters, that’s why, and this is the fastest one in Disneyland (not including DCA)!
After this, we decided we would reward our bravery with a Doom Buggy Sundae at the Golden Horseshoe, a rather fitting restaurant considering it’s supposed to be haunted. (Walking about outside in Frontierland was the black widow bride herself, Constance Hatchaway, who I’m pretty sure was carrying an axe in that bouquet of hers….) This sundae is actually one of many free food and beverage options you could get that night. Each lanyard came with four coupons, each for a different category: Graveyard Snacks, Haunted Hors d’oeuvres, Ravenous Desserts, and Tempting Beverages. After this, we tried the Three Cheese Cristo at the Royal Street Veranda.
By this time, there was still plenty more we wanted to do, but only about 30 minutes left of our evening…err, morning. Deciding we would be unable to use our final two coupons, we opted for one final ride-through of Pirates because, as fitting as ending the event with the Haunted Mansion would have been, those super short wait times with Pirates was just too awesome, especially since we had no boats behind us. It was a little eerie, to be honest.
After spending a short span of time checking out Adventureland in the dark, where the tightrope walking lady from one of the Haunted Mansion’s stretching portraits was roaming, it was time to leave, and we walked back down Main Street with everyone as a jazz band played When the Saints Go Marching In.
As delightfully spooky as our time was, however, I do want to end this post with a short, little review about the Haunted Mansion Anniversary. I am going to be a bit critical because I want to be really honest about what I think was done well and what was not. (Honestly, I always get a bit frustrated at reviews that basically say, “Everything was great”.)
To start, one of my biggest complaints was that it was very disorganized. I mentioned it in my last post, but the initial preparations, including checking in and picking up pre-purchased merchandise, was a very confusing and time-consuming affair. On the positive side, the photo ops and check-in area was very cool, particularly the exterior of the Haunted Mansion recreated inside and the ominous hallway you have to walk down. I also did enjoy being able to purchase merchandise before we arrived and the raffle to make sure everyone had a fair shot at the limited edition items, like the anniversary pin of which only 999 were made. That gave people like me who bought tickets about a month after they went on sale an equal chance. Also, a special thanks to artist Joel Payne for being such a nice guy and for making our morning very special by signing both the front and back of my deluxe print of The Disembodied and for having a few photos taken with us, which he really didn’t have to do.
Fast forward to the event itself, and I feel as if they would have benefited from better organization here, as well. We were supposed to be able to get into the park at midnight, and then the show was supposed to start at 1. Now, I clearly misinterpreted this to mean that we would have an hour free in the park to have fun before the show started. But not only were we unable to explore freely once we got inside, we didn’t even get into the park until 12:30, and once we got inside, we were arranged in a fashion that made watching the singers impossible unless you were one of the lucky few in front.
The show itself also started late, cutting further into an already short event. Looking back at the event on YouTube, the show was really cool, and I kind of wish I could remember it better from when we were there in person. Honestly, if you’re not watching it through a camera that can zoom in really well, you won’t be able to see too great, especially since we were standing off to the side, as I assume most people were.
Now we arrive at the part of the event where we got to finally wander the park freely (the lands that were open, anyway). First off, I love the atmosphere, with the blue, green, and purple lights everywhere and the fog over the Rivers of America. Frankly, I always wanted to see that, and it’s really a sight to behold. I also love the little changes they made to the Haunted Mansion, with the organ music playing outside and the three live actors inside. The knight was my favorite. Getting to ride various attractions with no wait time was also so much fun, though I really wish we could have entered the Haunted Mansion in smaller groups. I have done this before when visiting the park when it first opens, and it is so cool. It’s a shame we didn’t get that same opportunity during the event.
There were also various other forms of entertainment, with my favorite being the Cadaver Dans, who would sometimes appear on the 21 Royal Balcony. Madame Leota would also make an appearance from time to time, as well. There were other live performances, as well, along with singers on the Mark Twain, though we didn’t have time to see them. The free food was very generous, as well, with very good sized portions.
The single biggest issue with the event was the fact that there were too many things to do and not nearly enough time to do it. We both wanted to ride a few select rides with short wait times and try each of the four food categories. Though we got our requisite rides out of the way, we only had time for two of the four foods, and we had no time for the Mark Twain, certain shows, or even to just relax and take in the atmosphere. If the event had started on time, and we had less time spent being controlled, I think we would have had enough time to do everything we wanted. Just an extra hour of freedom would have done the trick.
I had always wanted to attend a special event at Disneyland, and though I’m really glad I finally got to do so, I don’t think I’d ever do it again. It was just so short for the money spent, and it would have been more fun if they were less controlling. Aside from being late, I understand why they did what they did, but losing an hour and a half of a four-hour event cut into our time way too much. Even so, if I’m only going to attend one Disneyland after-hours event in my lifetime, the Haunted Mansion’s 50th anniversary is clearly the best one I think I could ever hope to see. Here’s to the Haunted Mansion’s next 50 years being as spirited as the last!