Virtually all theme parks showcase the dark side for their Halloween events, with walk-through haunted houses that go for the jugular – figuratively and literally. But Disney World‘s Magic Kingdom, home of princesses, fairies, pixie dust, and the innocuous “It’s a Small World,” foregoes chainsaw-wielding zombies and PG-13 gore, and focuses on what it does best: parades, fireworks, shows, and E-Ticket rides. To dispel any ambiguity, The Mouse calls its fall event “Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party.”
Guests of all ages are encouraged to come in costume, and the park’s streets are teeming with people outfitted in clever garb. On the evening I attended, an utterly convincing Princess Leia, circa 1977’s original “Star Wars,” walked past an entire grim, grinning family that looked like it had escaped from the Haunted Mansion. I questioned the parenting skills of a woman dressed as Cruella de Vil as she assembled her litter of children made up as cute Dalmatians.
Whether they are in costume or not, visitors can go trick-or-treating at locations throughout the Magic Kingdom. The park provides bags, and cast members are generous as they dole out fistfuls of candy treats.
In Frontierland, a character known as Cactus-Flower Cate corrals a posse of costumed kids for an impromptu promenade that serves as a warm-up to Mickey’s Boo-to-You Halloween Parade. One of the highlights of the party, the main-event procession is packed with 175 performers.
Many of the characters rarely appear at the parks, including the hyenas from “The Lion King” and gravediggers from the Haunted Mansion who drag spark-making shovels in unison. On their float, Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and Goofy are themselves in costume for Halloween. The parade kicks off with the Headless Horseman galloping down the street. Despite the event’s title, that’s a tad more than not-so-scary.
Also kind of scary: Space Mountain, which offers rides in total darkness at the party. With all of the effects and all of the lights shut off from start to finish, the experience, which is new this year, is disorienting. People are often surprised to learn that the famous coaster pokes along at a top speed of 27 mph. That wouldn’t get you a traffic ticket in a school zone, but in the inky blackness (of deep space?), it feels disarmingly out of control. With no distracting effects and no way to anticipate what’s coming next, passengers are left to contemplate Space Mountain’s new, hard-driving soundtrack that Disney introduced for the party along with the rough ride that the aging steel coaster delivers.
Pirates of the Caribbean gets a Halloween makeover this year as well with the introduction of Gunpowder Pete, a live actor inserted among the yo-hoing, animatronic buccaneers. Townspeople warn guests in the queue to be on the lookout for the marauding rascal. More Borscht Belt comedian than foreboding villain, Pete keeps up a steady patter with passing boatloads of passengers. Sample line: “If you think you’ll catch me, you’re living in Fantasyland.”
One of the selling points of the separate-admission nighttime event (which costs $75 to $125 for adult tickets, depending on the date) is that attendance is limited, and lines are kept to a minimum for the select rides that are open. Many of the attractions were walk-ons or had short waits when I visited, but the lines did swell for a few of the more popular ones. At one point, for example, Pirates posted a 30-minute wait. Another in-demand ride was the Mad Tea Party, which features trippy lights and effects to accompany the spinning teacups at this year’s Halloween party.
It wouldn’t be a Disney park party without fireworks, and “Happy HalloWishes” delivers. The show features the company’s animated villains and offers synchronized pyrotechnics that light up the skies above Cinderella Castle. Like most of the nighttime spectaculars that Disney presents, the show includes digital projections. But Happy HalloWishes’ visual media is minimal compared to other park productions.
There are lots of characters, including some of Disney’s more obscure ones, available across the Magic Kingdom to meet and greet visitors. As is the norm at the parks these days, some hold court in designated places, and cast members help keep the proceedings orderly. But in a return to a mostly abandoned Disney tradition, many characters roam the streets and welcome chance encounters with guests.
Speaking of obscure characters, the event’s show, “Hocus Pocus Villain Spectacular,” reprises the Sanderson Sisters from the live-action movie starring Bette Midler. Although “Hocus Pocus” opened in theaters 25 years ago, the movie has become a cult classic according to Denise Case, show director for Disney Parks Live Entertainment. “It’s part of a Halloween tradition for a lot of families to watch the movie on television,” she explains. “Its following, especially among millennials, is strong.” Now in its fourth year at the Halloween party, the show, like the film, includes music, lots of comedy, and a touch of villainy.
Might Disney, with its vast array of movies and characters, consider developing walk-through haunted houses like its competitors, perhaps for a separate event at another Disney World park? Disney’s Hollywood Studios would seem to be an ideal spot to stage something a bit scarier and edgier. Case doesn’t know what the future might hold, but she thinks the Magic Kingdom’s Not-So-Scary party fills an important niche. “It’s a great alternative to other parks’ Halloween offerings.”
Then again, Disney’s Hollywood Studios will embrace the dark side when it welcomes Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. There’s bound to be some scares when the intergalactic forces of good and evil clash in the rabidly anticipated new themed land that’s set to open late next year.
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