2003 Haunted Mansion Holiday
A look at this year's merchandise special
Tuesday, October 7, 2003
by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix, staff writer
Something about Disneyland's recent merchandise special events has
been bothering me.
Shortly after the Pirates of the Caribbean event last May, a regular
reader asked me why I had not written a review of the event. After all,
MousePlanet columnists have been known to race home from events and stay
up all night to provide our readers with next-day coverage. I can even
remember providing real-time updates during one such event. Here it was,
a week later and nary a peep from my keyboard. What gives?
they asked. Was it that bad?
The truth is, nothing about the Pirates eventgood or badinspired
me to write about it. There simply wasn't that much to say. The event
was exactly as advertised, there were no major disasters, and it certainly
wasn't a repeat of the cursed Pirates anniversary event in 2000. Even
so, I went home vaguely dissatisfied, yet unable to pinpoint the source
of my disappointment.
After attending the 2003 Haunted Mansion Holiday event last week, the
problems with the Pirates eventand other recent Disneyland eventscame
into focus: the events are all about the merchandise, with very little
focus on special.
Disneyland has hosted a lot of events over the past five years, and learned
many lessons about what to improve and what to avoid next time. By and
large, the merchants take these lesson to heart, and avoid making the
same mistake at the next event. Disneyland has these events down to a
near-science, and they keep getting more efficient, even as the events
grow larger and larger.
Unfortunately, efficient doesn't always leave room for special,
and frequent event attendees have started to voice their concern that
these merchandise special events are more about the merchandise, and less
about the experience. In the drive to sell more merchandise to more people
in less time, those elements that once made these events so magical have
fallen victim to the demands for scale and efficiency.
If you've come here looking for all of the details of the Haunted Mansion
event, don't worryI'll get there eventually. With photos and everything.
But first, let's go back a few years.
Once upon a time, Disneyland hosted after-hours park events for annual
passholders. These events were all about special, doing things
that day guests would never experience. As for the merchandise, it was
there if you knew where to look, and most people didn't care.
Then came the fooled ya Main Street Electrical Parade Farewell
Party in 1996, and the disastrous Light Magic dress rehearsal
annual passholder premiere in 1997. After that, passholder events went
the way of the Electrical Parade, which was resurrected at Disney's California
Adventure park, and far less magical.
The AP exclusive sneak peek at DCA in 2001 turned out to
be a mix-in (where a semi-private party where guests already in the park
are allowed to remain) with guests of a corporate party, and the AP preview
of A Bug's Land this past October was held after the area had already
been soft-opened for nearly a month to cast members, the media and the
In 1999, Disneyland started planning Enchanted Evening events,
starting with the Haunted Mansion anniversary. Of these, the Mr. Toad
event is still the gold standard by which all other events are measured.
The event was small and intimate, the entertainment top notchI still
get goosebumps when I read Sue Kruse's account of the Headless Horseman
finalethe food plentiful and excellent, and the merchandise served
as a souvenir of the event, not its central focus.
Lesson 1: Most people attend special events for the experience, and
will pay top dollar for a unique experience.
Unfortunately, small events don't produce a large profit margin, and
the Disney rule book equates breaking even with failure. Organizers realized
that for merchandise special events to continue, they needed to cram more
people into them and sell more merchandise.
Along came the disastrous Pirates of the Caribbean anniversary
event in May 2000. Disney raised the guest count without making necessary
adjustments to the staffing and infrastructure, and the results were long
lines and really cranky guests.
Lesson 2: Bigger isn't better when you aren't prepared.
The merchants took this lesson to heart, and were much better prepared
for the 2002 Divas event. Unfortunately, that event suffered from bad
weather and a hastily devised Plan B. Yet one thing that this
event won praise for was the entertainment. From transplanted Doombuggies
to a killer rendition of Reflections, people still talk about
Lesson 3: Great entertainment makes a great event, and can even save
a bad event.
As the events got bigger, they also focused more heavily on merchandise.
Really expensive merchandise, ranging from $700 vases to $8,500 paintings.
If these offerings were a bit out of your price range, you could always
settle for the same assortment of logo merchandisea pin, a watch,
a jacket, a T-shirt, a sweatshirt, and a few assorted resin doodads. The
time-consuming process of selecting and picking up the merchandise took
up so much of the event that attendees complained they had spent $200
for the privilege of waiting in line to spend more money.
Lesson 4: Inefficient merchandise distribution can kill an event.
In 2001, Disneyland hosted its first Haunted Mansion Holiday event. Fans
of the Haunted Mansion and Tim Burton's Nightmare Before Christmas
snapped up tickets the moment they were on sale; then hundreds canceled
when Disney announced five days before the event that the headliners,
Burton and composer Danny Elfman, would not attend after all. Despite
no-show celebs and merchandise distribution problems, those who had forked
out the $200 for the dinner package went home happy. Many declared the
dinner to be the best event meal served at Disneyland, and the special
gifts and activities were enough to satisfy most attendees.
Lesson 5: Dinner is the most important meal of the day, especially
when you're paying $200 for it.
When I reviewed the first Haunted Mansion event, I said that Disneyland
seemed to have a handle on the special event aspect, but needed
to work on the merchandise. By the time the second Haunted Mansion Holiday
event rolled around, Disneyland's event staff had a whole new game plan:
Merchandise selection and pickup was held before the event started, and
was conveniently located at the Grand Californian hotel so customers could
take their loot back to their hotel room or cars. The event was tightly
scheduled and well-staffed, and ran like clockwork.
Not surprisingly, some attendees complained that the event was formulaic
and overscheduled, and the event itinerary read like a to-do list:
- Item 1 - Ride the Haunted Mansion.
- Item 2 - Watch (yet another) panel discussion.
- Item 3 - Eat dinner.
- Item 4 - Go home.
The event planners learned how to make the event bigger and more efficient,
but seemed to lose sight of why people came in the first place. The event
wasn't all that special, the entertainment was lackluster, and the dinner
disappointing. But everyone got their merchandise in a timely manner,
and there wasn't a huge line outside City Hall at the end of the night.
Based on those criteria, the event was a resounding successbut it
wasn't special. The planners had gone to the opposite extreme. This time,
the merchandise was handled well, but there was very little that was special
about the event.
Based on those criteria, the event was a resounding
successbut it wasn't special.
The Pirates of the Caribbean movie premiere event this summer
was another example of a well-executed merchandise event completely lacking
in special. The least-expensive package was little more than
a $55 movie, and the $200 dinner barely an improvement.
Apart from the panel discussion, offered only to the dinner package guests,
there was no experience at that event that a regular day guest could not
have had for less money. A ride on an unaltered attractionwe were
hoping for live pirates, a dinner in the Blue Bayouwhile the ride
was still open to the public. And a screening of the movie at the local
AMC theater just didn't meet my criteria of a special experience. Is it
a surprise that Disney sold less than half of the dinner packages they
offered, and ended up cutting an entire dinner seating as a result?
Which brings us, at last, to the 2003 Haunted Mansion Holiday event.
Which lessons did the event planners retain while creating this event,
and which did they forget?
Jack returns to the Haunted Mansion, and finds a new house guest. Photo
by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.
The event started, as all events do these days, with registration and
merchandise distribution at the Grand Californian Hotel. The process looked
deceptively simple. We checked in and collected our information packet.
Everything was in order, with one small exception: a merchandise item
we had requested during the Random Selection Process but had not received
was suddenly availabledid we want it? We indicated that we did want
the item, and were told that we would have to come back in about 20 minutesthe
sole person who could work the merchandise distribution computer was on
a break. The cast member took back our information packets, saying that
we would need to pick them up when we came back.
We returned as instructed, paid for our additional item, and joined the
line of people waiting to collect their merchandise. This line was long
and slow-moving, as each customer inspected every item in their purchase
for flaws before they left the room. Once through this process, we went
to look at the event store, where unsold event merchandise
was available for sale. If the sparse quantity of leftovers is any indication,
the event was a rousing financial success. After surveying the remaining
items, and deciding that we did not need a $900 vase or the T-shirt, and
we went in search of the third Random Selection Process collection point.
Minor digression: Disney started using the Random Selection Process to
distribute limited edition items at merchandise events. The system works
like a lottery, with each attendee listing the items they would like to
buy, and the computer randomly assigning the available items among the
interested customers. Each attendee gets a first- and second-hance form,
with any merchandise left after round one distributed during round two.
Invariably, people are awarded more merchandise than they wanta
husband and wife might both request the same item in hopes that one of
them will get it, and then they wind up with four of them. During the
first few RSP-driven events, customers were responsible for buying everything
they were awarded. A few raised a stink, were allowed to return their
merchandise after the eventand Disney suddenly had a batch of returned
event merchandise with nobody to buy it. Now, Disney allows customers
to cancel unwanted items before the event. These items are awarded during
a Last Chance RSP. All attendees are given a third RSP form
with their information packet, with directions to turn it in at the registration
desk once they know what they want.
Bob Baker, Dave Avanzino and David Bird wait to meet event guests. Photo
by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.
After submitting our third RSP forms, we went to the Artist Meet and
Greet, held in the Wedding Garden of the Grand Californian. Many of the
artists who created the event merchandise were on hand to meet collectors
and answer questions. These are the kinds of special opportunities that
make events like this so greata chance to really talk with the artist
who created that $1,600 sculpture you just bought, or who painted that
vase you are about to take home.
Oogie Boogie left a set of clues outside the Haunted Mansion. Photo by
Unfortunately, the meet and greet was so far off the beaten path, and
so poorly signed, that most event guests never knew it was happening.
After an hour with very few visitors, the artists were moved inside, closer
to the registration desk so they could meet more attendees.
Unfortunately, the meet and greet was so far off the beaten path,
and so poorly signed, that most event guests never knew it was happening.
With merchandise disposed of and artists met, it was time to enter the
park for the event. We joined a large crowd trying to enter Disneyland,
many of them wearing the event-credential lanyard given to all attendees.
Someone in front of us complained, It's not like they didn't know
they would have 1,200 people trying to enter Disneyland right now!
Once through the crowded entrance, we made our way to the Haunted Mansion
for our special ride through the 2003 version.
Oogie Boogie placed the first of his 10 surprises in the pet cemetery.
Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.
We made our way through the gates, up the steps, and down the Stretching
Room with no delay, only to be met with a wall-to-wall press of bodies
once we reached the hallway. As we turned the corner, we saw the reason
for the delay. Large sheets of paper displayed before the
loading area listed the name of every event guest, and everyone felt compelled
to stop to find their name. In the past, these lists of names have been
displayed inside the attraction, making it hard for people to catch their
name as they rode by. This placement of the lists made is possible to
take a photo of your name, but also made for really long lines, with only
every second or third doombuggy getting loaded.
Props and costumes from the upcoming Haunted Mansion movie are
on display in the Disney Gallery. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.
We rode through the Mansion, trying to spot all 10 Oogie Boogie
references and look for other changes to the ride. The new Oogie Boogie
animatronic figure is incredible, and it was fun to have something new
to look for. As we exited the ride, we were given our first gift of the
evening: a resin Oogie Boogie pumpkin, a replica of one of the hidden
Oogies in the ride.
From there, we popped into the Disney Gallery to see the new exhibit
of props and art from the upcoming Haunted Mansion movie. We decided
against a trip to Le Bat en Rouge to see the new Nightmare merchandise,
as the line of people waiting to get into the tiny store was still out
In addition to the limited edition merchandise created just for the event,
Disneyland merchants created two different collections of coreor
open stockmerchandise. The first collection is based on the 2003
Haunted Mansion Holiday overlay, and includes logo shirts, pins, snow
globes, Christmas ornaments and assorted souvenirs. The true highlight
of this collection was the long-awaited Haunted Mansion Holiday CD, something
collectors have been demanding for the past two years.
The second collection is based on the classic Haunted Mansion attraction.
This merchandise is just fantastic, with Disneyland-specific themes and
graphics. Disneyland fans can finally have a toy model of the original
Haunted Mansion, instead of the WDW version previously offered. As one
longtime collector wrote, this new collection is a gold mine for
the Mansion collector. This is one of the greatest attraction-specific
collections ever created, and Mansion fans spent the weekend snapping
up the great new souvenirs.
After visiting the Gallery, we made the long walk to the Fantasyland
Theater for the evening's entertainment. We arrived, 30 minutes before
show time, to discover that the seating area reserved for the dinner package
guests was already full. Closer to the stage, the area reserved for VIPs
was nearly empty. Right along with they should have known 1200 people
were entering the park, comes they also should have known
they were going to have to make room in the theater for them.
We arrived, 30 minutes before show time, to discover that the seating
area reserved for the dinner package guests was already full.
To their credit, event managers quickly realized that there was not enough
seating, and opened up the lower sections to dinner package guests. My
husband went to get drinks and cookies from the tables scattered around
the theater, but returned empty-handedthey had run out of hot water
(for cocoa) and cookies. I have a feeling they weren't expecting
this many people, he remarked, as we watched cast members scramble
to bring out more snacks and drinks. Unfortunately, this is a comment
he would repeat several times as the event wore on.
Ken Page and Randy Baumberger share the stage. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.
As we waited for the show to begin, we surveyed the stage. The entertainment
at the last two events consisted of panel discussions with the animators
and voice talent from The Nightmare Before Christmas. After two
years, we were ready for a change. Yet the stage was set with a host chair,
podium and two guest chairs. A few hopeful souls speculated that perhaps
Burton and Elfman had decided to appear, but most were expecting another
hour with Glenn Shadix.
Ken Page and a helper use the wheel to select the next act. Photo by Adrienne
The lights dimmed and an invisible announcer started to introduce the
host of the show, but was quickly interrupted by the voice of an equally-invisible
Oogie Boogie. Suddenly, the fabric backdrop was ripped away and the chairs
and podiums were carried off. In their place were a curtained box, a large
roulette wheel and a live band, as Oogie Boogie welcomed us to his Boo-lesque
Behemoth and a Bunny take center stage. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.
Two performers turned the roulette wheel around to reveal Randy Baumberger,
the Senior Vice President of Operations for the Disneyland Resort, tied
to the front. After a bit of banter with the still-unseen Oogie Boogie,
the real surprise was revealed when Ken Page, the film voice of Oogie
Boogie, stepped on stage.
Dr. Finklestein finds that he has a brain after all. Photo by Adrienne
The crowd went wild. In fact, the crowd did not settle down for the next
25 minutes, as Oogie Boogie's Boo-lesque Revue took the stage.
The show took the format of a variety show, with Ken Page coming on-stage
between sets to spin a wheel which would randomly select the
next act to appear. The crowd loved these interludes, with one large group
chanting Wheel! Of! Fortune! during a spin.
The crowd went wild. In fact, the crowd did not settle down for the
next 25 minutes, as Oogie Boogie's Boo-lesque Revue took the
It's the hard knock life for Lock, Shock and Barrel. Photo by Adrienne
The audience reacted with glee as each group of characters took the stage
for their act, especially when the pun in each skit became apparent. Werewolf
sang Bad Moon Rising and Hound Dog, while Mummy
belted out Unchain My Heart to the witch who had captured
his heartin a jar. Behemoth and a giant pink Easter Bunny brought
the crowd to their knees with an interpretive ballet set to the Dance
of the Sugar Plum Fairies. Dr. Finklestein portrayed a very demented
Scarecrow with his rendition of If I Only Had a Brain.
Jack tells Sally, I've got boo, babe. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.
The trio of Lock, Shock and Barrel gave a whole new interpretation to
Hard Knock Life from Annie, and Dracula's version of
Some Enchanted Evening left the object of his affection weak
in the knees. Sally fell apartliterallyduring her solo performance
of All of Me, but managed to pull herself together enough
to play Cher to Jack Skellington's Sonny during a duet of I've Got
Mayor and Clown put on a happy face. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.
Clown with the Tearaway Face had everyone rolling in the aisles with
Send in the Clowns, followed by a duet of Put on a Happy
Face with the Mayor. Santa Claus was encouraged to perform Have
Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, pausing between verses to beg
the audience to free him from Oogie Boogie. Santa was joined by Jack as
Sandy Claws, and the two finished the song as a duet.
Jack and Santa sing an awkward duet. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.
Finally, Ken Page brought the house to its feet with a live performance
of Oogie's Song, and was joined on stage with a costumed Oogie
Boogie. (Is it too much to hope that this character will be seen around
the Haunted Mansion?) Page finished the song by exclaiming, That
was fun! This was the first time the singer had performed
the song live, the first time he had performed it outside a studio, and
the first time he had sung it in the 12 years since he recorded his dialogue
for the film.
This was the first time (Ken Page) had performed the song live, the
first time he had performed it outside a studio, and the first time
he had sung it in the 12 years since he recorded his dialogue for the
Ken Page comes face to face with his alter ego. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.
The show was a complete success, and our dining companions called it
the best event show ever. I truly hope that Randy and his team are looking
for a home for this show. Forget Mickey's Detective School or the
holiday show of the year, Oogie Boogie's Boo-lesque Revue deserves
a longer run. The Fantasyland Theater is being handed over to the Snow
White production, but there has to be a place to stage this show.
If Disney can put a Moto-X arena in DCA, it can build a new stage, seats
and a shade structure in the Festival of Fools arena.
The cast takes a final bow for an appreciative audience. Photo by Adrienne
We left the theater on a high note, and I was ecstatic to see the return
of great special event entertainment. In fact, had I known how the rest
of the night would turn out, I would have skipped dinner and left immediately
so as not to spoil my mood.
Have you ever attended an event, then read another person's account and
wondered, Did they go to the same event I went to? I certainly
have, and I always wonder how someone can have such a miserable time at
an event when I'm having a blast. Sadly, now I know, because I watched
it happen not two feet away from me.
The Blue Bayou was converted into a spooky banquet hall. Photo by Adrienne
When we arrived at The Blue Bayou for dinner, we were shown to our table
and greeted our eight table mates. We chatted about the event and munched
on the cheese tray set at our table. I spotted some of the people responsible
for the terrific event show, and went over to pay them my compliments.
Jack Skellington came out onto the balcony and greeted the guests, and
announced that the first course would be served. And it wasto nine
of the people at our table. My poor husband, however, was passed over,
and finally had to ask for his salad.
Would you believe the same happened with the entree? While the people
around us were eating their meal and singing along with the live entertainment,
Tony was trying to catch the attention of a waiter to bring his meal.
When his food finally arrived, Tony found it to be cold and unappetizing,
with the clever potato mushroom not only undercooked, but
actually rotten inside.
When his food finally arrived, Tony found it to be cold and unappetizing,
with the clever potato mushroom not only undercooked, but
actually rotten inside.
Most diners were served this clever dessert. Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.
The final straw was when the dessert course was presentedto all
but four people at our table. Apparently someone undercounted the desserts,
and the restaurant actually ran out midway through serving our table.
A manager apologized and we were served a dessert from the new French
Market menu. Just as we were finally served dessert, Jack came out and
wished everyone a good evening. Moments later, a crew came out on stage
and started to tear down the sound system and decorationswhile a
full third of the restaurant was still eating.
As we exited the restaurant, we were handed our second event gift: a
sketch of Jack as Sandy Claws to go with the Jack and Sally sketches we
received at the two previous events. A manager also told us, They
are keeping the Haunted Mansion open a while longer, so you can go ride
it again. We walked over to the Mansion, and reached the gates just
as they were locked for the night. A cast member asked, Did you
get to ride it at least once? When we said we had, he said, Well,
then come back tomorrow.
We walked over to the Mansion, and reached the gates just as they
were locked for the night. A cast member asked, Did you get to
ride it at least once? When we said we had, he said, Well,
then come back tomorrow.
Old and new Haunted Mansion merchandise is available in the Disney Gallery.
Photo by Adrienne Vincent-Phoenix.
Next we decided to see if the line to Le Bat en Rouge was shorter than
it had been earlier in the day, and discovered that the shop had closed
while we were still at dinner. Well, apparently we're done,
grumbled my completely irate husband. So we made our way towards Main
Street to check on the status of our third RSP. Along the way, we stopped
to fill out our event surveys. Let us just say that hungry men do not
leave nice comments on surveys.
A friendly cast member was stationed on Main Street to explain that a
power outage had prevented the merchants from running the third RSP drawing,
but that we would be notified by mail if we were selected for anything,
with the items shipped to our homes for free. Then we walked to the exit,
where were asked to write our names on a piece of paper to receive our
final event gift. We both signed our names, and the cast member said,
Thank you, have a good night!
Um, OK, but where was our gift? Oh! she exclaimed, didn't
they tell you back there? Apparently they had run out of the final
gifta metal Oogie Boogie ornamentand would be mailing it to
Apparently they had run out of the final gifta metal Oogie Boogie
ornamentand would be mailing it to us later.
Thus ended the 2003 Haunted Mansion Event. It started well, if a little
slow, got better and betterand then ended with a dull thud. Taken
individually, any one of these things would have been understandable.
Mistakes happen, desserts disappear, dinners run long
But the convergence
of these things on one person makes all the difference between a great
event and a disaster. I sat two feet from my husband the entire evening,
and had a much different event than he did. And, sadly, a lot of what
we experienced was because someoneor a lot of someonesdidn't
remember that bigger isn't always better.
We already know that there will be a Sleeping Beauty Ball in February,
a Tower of Terror event in the spring, and another Haunted Mansion Holiday
event in 2004. Merchandise special events are a definite part of Disneyland's
Unfortunately, I think the best events may be in the past. I wish for
a time machine so I could go back to the day I decided not to attend the
Mr. Toad event, and talk some sense into my younger self. Since I can't,
the best I can do is present my suggestions for special events, in the
hopes that a future event will be as magical:
Put the special back into special event Give
us an experience we can't get any other day. Let us walk through rides,
let us go backstage, let us see and touch things day guests never will.
Let us meet people we have never met, tell us stories that aren't already
published in Disney history books.
Look for another reason to throw a party I love the Haunted
Mansion and Pirates of the Caribbean as much as the next person, but there
are a few other rides out there. How about an Enchanted Tiki Room
event with a special performance of the original full-length show? A Mad
Tea Party? Trick or Treat in Toon Town? Peter Pan anniversary? The much
hoped-for Disneyland Train event? A behind-the-scenes Fantasmic
Reformulate the formula The last few events have been efficientbut
predictable. Perhaps we've explored the limit of the ride/show/dinner
Add more variety to the event merchandise There is a limit
to the number of Haunted Mansion Holiday charger plates any one person
can own, and I think that number has officially been achieved. The ten
people at my table last night came up with a list of 30+ items we'd like
to see you offer, and there wasn't a single vase on it. We love to take
home pieces of the rides - models and miniatures are wonderful treats.
Bring back quality The first Haunted Mansion Holiday dinner
was the best ever, and everything since then has been a disappointment.
In the drive to become uber creative, the food has become increasingly
inedible, the courses fewer and the portions smaller and smaller. Guests
should not leave an event dinner wondering how late the local McDonald's
is open, as was the discussion at our table.
Surprise us Headless horsemen riding down Main Street,
fireworks off the Castlemagical and memorable. Sorry, come
back tomorrownot so magical.
After the event, another returning attendee said, "overall it seems
that now the special has gone out of the event."
Oh goodit's not just me.
Thoughts, questions, or comments? Contact Adrienne here.