by Annemarie Moody, Contributing Writer
Your spookiest day at the Disneyland Resort during HalloweenTime (Sept. 17 - Oct. 31) is really not all that scary, especially compared to other Southern California theme parks’ October offerings. It’s more about the “treat” part of trick or treat, and the Happiest Haunts tour is the perfect way to enjoy the treats the parks have to offer.
As with all tours and events at Disneyland, the coordination in getting to the right place at the right time is the challenge. Neglecting to ask specifically where the tour started, my sister and I headed directly to the tour kiosk on Main Street in Disneyland, but were told to head directly to Tower of Terror. This was correct, but we hadn’t picked up our tickets yet, so had to backtrack over to Guest Relations at DCA before we could start at Tower of Terror. Again, my fault for not asking, but when you book, make sure to ask the ticketing agent where the tour starts. We were also not told whether we needed park admission, but a call back to the ticket line confirms that you do need admission to DCA, even though the tour mostly takes place at Disneyland. Please, learn from my mistake!
Once settled with our audio equipment (headphones with short-wave radio) as well as a glow-necklace with a “Ghost Relations” skeleton key at the end so the group can keep together in the waning light, we were introduced to our tour guide, cast member Valerie from Yorba Linda, Calif. Wildly enthusiastic about The Twilight Zone, and announcing (the deceased) Rod Serling as her boyfriend, Valerie proclaimed to have gotten our equipment on eBay so we could go on a ghost hunt in the park. Too “brave” to actually ride on Tower of Terror, Valerie “lost” us and we soon encountered cast member Gracey (of Baltimore, Md.). Gracey, with all the warmth and humor of a prickly cactus, stayed perfectly in character for a Halloween-themed tour guide.
“Any questions? No? Good,” he’d routinely say before we headed on our way, leaving no time for any actual questions or answers.
Held daily through October 31 at 5 p.m. and 5:05 p.m., the Happiest Haunts tour is scheduled for about three hours (mine was closer to two hours and 45 minutes) and covers both parks. Although most of the tour is spent at Disneyland, you will need admission to Disney California Adventure park to begin your tour, so be sure that your ticket has park-hopping privilege.
In addition to the wait-free experience at some of the most popular rides at Disneyland this time of year (Snow White’s Scary Adventures, Haunted Mansion Holiday, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy), Gracey entertained us with stories of the history of Halloween ,trick-or-treating, jack-o'-lanterns and the Mexican tradition Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) with a little sprinkle of Disney villain tales and Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow thrown in. With night falling earlier and earlier as the tours progress this fall, the glow-necklaces are a great way for the guide to keep track of their charges and also for ride operators to know where the beginning and end of the group is.
That said, as it got darker and the crowds thickened near Haunted Mansion in anticipation for that evening’s Fantasmic! performances, it became a bit of a trick to navigate the throngs. However, you always know where you’re going (if you get the guide’s veiled hints, that is) and that helps you find your way.
In a nice twist ending, the tour concludes at Haunted Mansion with Valerie managing to “find” us – the bright neon green glow-necklaces (which you keep as the tour souvenir) made us an easy, obvious target, much to the amusement of the kids in the group of about 20. Happily munching on our Mickey-shaped, chocolate-dipped, sprinkle-covered crispy rice treats, we all let her think she’d done a good job “looking” for us by riding on California Screamin’ and the Silly Symphony Swings and eating corn dogs while we were enthralled under Gracey's spell.
I won’t spoil the surprise ending, but know that the tour is great for children and adults alike—there aren’t really any true scares involved—just good Halloween-themed treats. Participants should be able to handle around three hours of fairly brisk walking. The tour includes as many as five rides, including Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy, and three of the rides have a 40" height requirement. Parents with shorter children should take this into consideration, as your child (and at least one adult) will have to sit out during several portions of the tour as the rest of the group rides these attractions.
At $64 per person regardless of age (20 percent discount for Premium and Deluxe Annual Passholders, AAA members and Disney Visa members, not including park admission), the tour is in the mid-range as far as price goes, and the fact that it’s only held for six weeks makes it a pretty good deal. This tour, like most of the others, is offered in foreign languages or with sign language interpretation with advance notice and is wheelchair accessible if the person can transfer onto rides. On select nights in 2010, Disney is offering an "Ultimate Experience" version of this tour that provides admission to Mickey's Halloween Party at Disneyland at the conclusion of the tour. The Ultimate Experience package is $99 per person (no additional discounts apply) and is offered October 1, 5, 8, 15, 19, 22, 26, 29 and 31. Reservations for Disney's Happiest Haunts can be made 30 days in advance by calling the Guided Tour office at (714) 781-4400.
Annemarie is a life-long Disneyland fan, first visiting the California park when she was 18 months old and has been back too many times to count. She lives and works in Pasadena, Calif., currently in marketing, but has worked as a reporter and news editor for several publications including The Arizona Republic and Animation World Network.