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Halloween Party Throw Down: Disney World vs. Disneyland

Welcome back guest author Katie Drake with a review of the Halloween parties at Disney World and Disneyland. Note that your experience with crowds, candy, and weather may differ based on the dates you attend the parties.

Disneyland and WDW’s Magic Kingdom are both arguably at their best at Halloween time, with decorations and special sweet treats coming out in force for the holiday.

Both parks feature some of their most-anticipated hard ticket special events — Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party at Magic Kingdom (MNSSHP), and Mickey’s Halloween Party at Disneyland.

MNSSHP Sign

Mickey's Halloween Party in Disneyland

Of course most guests will only get to visit one, but which party to choose? The events are as alike as their confusingly similar names, but there are a few differences that make each one unique.

My family had the opportunity to attend MNSSHP in Walt Disney World in 2010, and followed it up with Mickey’s Halloween Party in Disneyland in 2011. Here’s a head to head comparison so you can start planning on where to head for Halloween 2012!

Parade

Both parades feature a wide variety of favorite Disney characters dressed in their Halloween costumes, but the Florida parade wins this round based on one thing — the Headless Horseman.

Headless Horseman Rides in Magic Kingdom (c) Disney

Mickey's Halloween Party Parade in Disneyland

It’s not quite the same now that he has to walk down the parade route, instead of canter, but the sight is still something amazing to see. Other than that, the parades are pretty similar.

Parade Winner: Magic Kingdom

Halloween Fireworks

Again, this is an area where both events are very similar, down to the same electro-pop version of “Poor Unfortunate Souls” following Ursula’s appearance. The main thing that will impact your enjoyment is the host.

Halloween Screams at Disneyland

Jack Skellington fills the sky at Disneyland, and Zero makes a special appearance flying over Sleeping Beauty’s castle. Haunted Mansion fans get a kick out of the show in Florida, which is hosted by the “ghost host” who narrates your doombuggy.

Both shows are fabulous though, and guests are sure to enjoy either one. Just make sure you stake out a spot on the hub early!

Winner: Depends on your preference of host. Slight edge to Disneyland, because the Zero effect is so cute.

The Treats

First of all, there is a lot of candy. At both parties, my family of three made quite the haul — this year, wracking up around 20 pounds of candy without trying very hard.

At MNSSHP we got some decent candy, but it was mostly off-brand or Goofy’s Candy Co. stuff, with those tiny, two-bite boxes of raisins as the healthy snacks. While we got a lot of candy, most of it was the kind of stuff I can easily resist, and most of it ended up getting handed out to Trick-or-Treaters.

MNSSHP Candy in 2009

Disneyland was a different story. We stood in a few of the long lines for treats, and got loaded up with name brand candies. We won’t be able to eat all of it, but were certainly putting a much larger dent in that year’s pile.

The healthy treats were what really put Disneyland on top though. The kids snacked on apple slices — fresh and freeze dried — as well as fresh carrots and Craisins. Overall, much better sweets and snacks.

Mickey Mouse Fruit Crisps

Candy Winner: Disneyland

Characters and Costumes

My little cousin dressed as Snow White at the Florida party and had the chance to get her photo taken with all seven dwarfs, which was pretty dang cool. Overall, there are just more characters out for autographs and photos at Magic Kingdom’s party, including several you don’t see very often.

They were easy to meet, and there were also character dance parties where we got to spend plenty of time dancing.

Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party features many more characters, and more guests in costume, than its Disneyland counterpart.

Disneyland was a different story. There just weren’t very many characters out, and those that were had huge lines! We ended up skipping several, because the line was just too long. A pirate-themed dance party with Goofy and Pluto was so crowded we could only look in, and it took a few minutes before we could even see which characters were there!

Costumes by guests were also better in Florida. We were worried we’d be the only adults dressed up, and ended up being so glad we had brought costumes! Nearly everyone was dressed up — adults and children — most in incredibly detailed and creative outfits.

Even the Statues wear Costumes in Walt Disney World

Our past experience made us prepared for Disneyland’s party, so imagine our surprise when we were some of the only adults in costume! There were still a few people dressed up, but we were definitely in the minority. Still, nearly all of the children at Disneyland were dressed up. It might have something to do with the large number of locals who attend the parties.

Winner: Magic Kingdom

Atmosphere

While both parks are dressed up for the holiday, Disneyland really offers something special. The Rivers of America are full of smoke and purple lights, with spooky music floating through the air.

Hundreds of intricately carved pumpkins surround Big Thunder Ranch, and figuring out which characters are represented is a lot of fun.

Pumpkin Carvers

Live scarecrows fill the hub, interacting with guests with hilarious results.

Talking Scarecrow

And Disneyland offers a unique chance to experience two special holiday overlays. Jack Skellington and his crew from “The Nightmare Before Christmas” take over the Haunted Mansion, and an intergalactic spook has taken over for Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy.

Magic Kingdom has plenty of charming Halloween décor, but the park is just missing those extra touches that make Disneyland so much fun.

Winner: Disneyland

Crowd levels

This for me is really why you go to the Halloween party — the chance at short lines and the feeling that the park and characters are pretty much yours alone. There are still a few lines for popular rides, but there are plenty of others that are pretty much walk-ons.

Join a line for the Candy Trails to Trick or Treat

At Magic Kingdom, lines for the characters were short, and we only waited more than a few minutes for one ride — Peter Pan’s Flight. At Disneyland, it was a completely different story. The park seemed as full as it is at the peak of summer, and it often seemed there was hardly room to move down the sidewalk.

Lines were long for Trick-or-Treating, restaurants, and many rides. I normally don’t mind crowds, but I’ll admit claustrophobia was starting to set in as we tried to make our way around the park.

Winner: Magic Kingdom

Other Considerations

For me, there are two things that are vital to the success of any day at Disney — weather and transportation. I think I lost 12 pounds in the sauna of my costume at Disney World, where the temperature never seems to decline even when the sun goes down. The humidity is also miserable, making princess dresses hot and itchy and pirate make-up run.

Disneyland is by no means cold, but there is a slight chill in the air that makes wearing a heavy costume bearable. Maybe it’s just that I grew up expecting snow on Halloween, but the stifling heat is just wrong. A tiny chill that doesn’t require a sweater seems just perfect and helps set the spooky atmosphere.

Don't forget to pick up some souvenirs!

The other thing I really noticed at Disneyland was how easy it was to get to the party. This is obviously a consideration during any visit, but it seemed especially relevant in costume.

We stayed off property at a hotel across Harbor Blvd., and I clocked our walk to the park at 9 minutes. You read that right, WDW vets, we walked to the main gate in the same amount of time it takes to walk to the bus stop at your on-property resort in Florida.

Once we were done, it was a quick walk back to the hotel, no waiting for the bus followed by a long, stuffy ride in costume.

Winner: Disneyland

Verdict

This is a tough call. I really wanted to call this one for Disneyland, based on the cool holiday overlays, great extra decorations, cool weather and better candy. But the Disneyland party was just missing that special feeling that the park was closed to all but a select few, as thousands of un-costumed guests clogged the sidewalks and elbowed their way in for more candy.

For me, the ticket price is the cost of exclusive access, and the Disneyland party just didn’t feel that way for me. Visitors will have a great time at either party, but unless you are a diehard “Nightmare Before Christmas” fan, you’ll probably have more fun at Magic Kingdom.

Which party is your favorite? What makes or breaks the Disney parties for your family? Sound-off in the comments below!

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29 Comments

  1. Sarah says:

    How does this work? We’ll b at the MK in Oct for MNSSHP, but we didn’t purchase tix for that event. Do they kick everyone out of the park at a certain time, how do they know who’s got tix or not? I really want 2 go, but have 2 c if the funds r there 1st. Thanx!!!! Luv all the pix too!

  2. Randy says:

    Attended “Mickey’s Halloween Party” last year and heading to WDW for the party there this year. I have to agree, the crowds at Disneyland were overwhelming. More crowded than during regular park hours and wait times were long for everything. Was disappointed in the parade as it appeared to be just thrown together without really having to do with Halloween except that the characters had masks and pumpkins.

    **Sarah – MK closes to guest without “wristbands” at 7:00. Cast members are walking around checking and ride attendants check. They slowly move non-party guests toward the Exit gates.

  3. Christine says:

    I’ve attended both parties, and while I enjoyed both, I gotta give the edge to Disneyland’s version. The Halloween overlays on the Haunted Mansion and Space Mountain, the fireworks show, the ridiculous amounts of candy, doing the running man with pirate Donald Duck, and the general theming/atmosphere, were what made the event SO much fun. Yes, the WDW party has a way cooler parade and better photo ops with characters, but those things are lower on my list of priorities. I didn’t think the crowd level was too bad, but the fact that there are less party nights at Disneyland, likely has an affect on attendance (and of course, tighter walkways and bottleneck areas can always make Disneyland feel super crowded). I’ve never quite understood why people want to spend too much time getting on rides during these parties, to me the main draw is to experience the special holiday elements these parties have to offer.

    If you really love Halloween, treat yourself to either one of these parties because you’ll have a great time!

  4. Michelle Liliedahl says:

    Hi Sarah! Randy is right, wristbands are provided for the MNSSHP and if you don’t have a wristband after the park closes (7:00pm) you will be politely moved toward the exits. Tickets are cheaper if your purchase them in advance (about $6.00pp cheaper). We’ll be there again this October, can’t wait. The headless horseman rocks!

  5. Stacey says:

    We have been to th MNSSHP several times. We love it, there are many dressed up characters milling around, and dancing at various “dance parties”. My girls got to dance with Chip and Dale, the highlight of their trip. The crowds seem much smaller too, we ran through Space Mountain 3 times with no breaks. It felt like we had no wait anywhere, so it’s a graeat night to see virtually everything. Most people were dressed up and the holiday vibe was amazing. It’s our favorite thing to do at WDW.

  6. Susanne says:

    Attended Not Very Scary party in 2010. We were able to ride every ride, some twice, because of the smaller crowd. Our group (youngest was 10) was not as interested in gathering candy, but we still got alot because of short lines. Still have our treat bags and wrist bands. (Didn’t take mine off for a week)
    The parade was great. I’m glad the headless horseman will slow down because by the time we heard “clippity-clop” he was gone. He had a spotter with him, and she was running to keep up.
    We went to the Very Merry party in 2011. I’d love to hear how these compare between parks, too.

  7. Disney Robb says:

    This was an awesome review … I’m not sure I’ll ever get to Disneyland, but the descriptions of what happens at each park to make the party special were excellent. We’re heading to WDW in late October and my family has opted to skip MNSSHP … based on your experience, is the access to the rides, the “trick-or-treating”, the parade, and the fireworks worth the extra cost? Right now I’m planning to land on the beach at the Poly to watch the fireworks show with my kiddos.

  8. Dana says:

    I’d like to know how the tickets for this work, also. I heard that tickets to go to the party cost almost as much as admission itself, so that sounds like a downer. Plus, it’sj ust me and my husband (no kids), and we thought maybe that would seem weird. Do a lot of adults go to this by themselves?

  9. Christal says:

    We did Disneyland last year for Halloween and it was SO crowed. I agree with everything that was said. The candy was awesome and The Nightmare before Christmas (haunted manson) is awesome. We did have fun and really enjoyed it, just wish it wasnt so crowed. I am looking forward to WDW we are going in Oct and I cant wait to do the not so scary night. Best part is my kids dont even know we are going yet :) cant wait to suprise them. First trip to WDW!!!

  10. Cynthia says:

    Attended the party in WDW in 2009. Loved it! It was just myself and sister no kids. We had a great time. Plenty of adults without kids at party. Met groups that participate every year with no kids, so enjoy!

  11. Kate says:

    Are there any policies about adult costumes for Halloween at WDW? My husband and I are planning on going with another couple, so four adults, and we’d like to dress up-but I want to make sure we don’t get turned away!

  12. chris says:

    Pop-up blog? I’m missing the food angle. It can’t just be the trick-or-treat stuff, right? Do either of these have special food items during the party?

    I guess price isn’t worth mentioning now that both are about the same: full peak night adult ticket is $69 at DL, about $75 at WDW. I went to both in 2009, back when DL’s party was in DCA so it didn’t feel as crowded even on Halloween night and DL’s prices were a good bit lower.

  13. Deborah says:

    We went to the party at Disneyland last year and I think the crowd level really depends on the date and day of the week you go. We went on Oct 11 – a Tuesday a few weeks before Halloween – and the general crowd level was not bad. Lines were long for candy and some characters but we easily got spots to watch the parade and fireworks without arriving an hour early. We already have tickets for Oct 15 this year. I’d rather see unique Disney-themed candy vs. brand name stuff I can buy at Costco. I agree that the slight chill in the air helps create the right atmosphere.

  14. Mara says:

    Fall 2010 was one of the hottest ever so that could have had something to do with the evening heat for the MNSSH. I attended that fall and loved it. I’d recommend it to anyone who was planning to attend the Disney parks in the fall season. Can’t compare to Disneyland, since I’ve never been. But if the option was going to the MK during the day or for the Halloween events, I would choose just the Halloween events (everything is still open and when I went they were letting people with wrist bands in before the actual start time). And if you have kids-dress them as a Disney character. They get more attention from the CMs than kids who weren’t. And when I went we did get LOTS of brand name candy, so maybe it just depends on the day.

  15. carmen says:

    I attended the Mickeys Halloween party at Disneyland last year and I was a little dissappointed. I had been to two Christmas party’s at WDW and they were great. I was expecting that same caliber at DL. I thought the Haunted Mansion was fabulous it blew me away! I thought the rest of the park decor was lacking. The crowds were just horrible elbow to elbow. DL’s crowd controlling ability is not what WDW’s is. Way too many people, I think they should of had more parties and sold less tickets. The parade was short and disjointed but I really enjoyed Zero and the fireworks. I am going to WDW’s Mickey Halloween party this year and I really hope it is as good as their Christmas party.

  16. Meg says:

    I’m so glad you posted this! My husband & I did MNSSHP last time we were in WDW a few years ago and LOVED it. It just so happens we’ll be in Disneyland this year when Mickey’s Halloween Party is running and we were considering going to this one – but we’ll have our 1 year old with us. With it being a night event, it was going to be only an hour or two for him and then off to bed with Grandma & Grandpa, then a couple more hours for us, but reading the comparison and others’ comments, I think we’ll wait until we’re in WDW again (& he’s a bit older). Thanks for saving us the money this time around :-)

  17. Essie says:

    I went to MNSSHP in 2010 and loved it so much that I can’t wait to go back again. You really need to go in costume, even adults, if you really want to enjoy it.

  18. Janet says:

    Susanne, Disneyland doesn’t have a Christmas party. Everyone gets to enjoy the parade, decorations & Christmas fireworks. There’s no extra cost. We did the WDW version years ago & it decided to rain – not a great experience. Even though Disneyland lacks the free cocoa & cookies, their Christmas experience is still a better buy. Just pay for the day & get the parade & fireworks for free.

    As for the Holloween parties, I’ve read lots of comments here, but there’s two things I wanted to mention. First, there’s no comparison, WDW’s parade is 100 times better. Who doesn’t love the hitchhiking ghosts, the dancing ghouls & the headless horseman.
    We’ve been asking for a “Boo to you” type parade since the Holloween parties were at DCA. All we had at DCA was that little character cavalcade. The cavalcade turned into a mini parade when the parties moved back to Disneyland, but isn’t very great.

    Secondly, the reason Disneyland’s parties feel much more crowded, is that the first year of the Holloween Fireworks, they were part of general admission. The next year, they were only at the parties. We have way more local annual passholders then WDW. The APs were not happy campers to be told they must buy a ticket for the party to see the fireworks. They felt it should be part of their perks for having an annual pass. Many of them try to hide in the crowds, so they can stay until after fireworks.

    With the park not having a hard close, it’s no easy task to check each & every person for a wristband, when everyone’s waiting for fireworks on Main St. (Lots of coats,jackets, etc, as it’s usually colder here then in Florida in October.) The cast members do try, but they can only send the party crashers on their way, they aren’t walking them out the gate.

  19. Carrie says:

    Totally agree. We went to both parties about a week apart, and our experience at Disneyland’s was awful. It was SO crowded—even more crowded than a busy summer day! Aside from the fireworks, the only reason I pay for after-hours parties is the limited attendance. As an annual passholder, I was mad that I’d paid extra for an experience that was just as crowded as one of the days I can get in for “free” using my AP.

  20. Kim says:

    We went to DL’s party last year and agree about the crowds. We did go on a Friday which was the only day available on our trip (and it was my daughter’s birthday so she begged to go on this day).

    I think while there were long lines for the candy they moved very quickly, especially in the ‘back’ of the park so we collected a lot of candy and my daughter enjoyed the choices.

    My biggest complaint is the lines for the characters. They are obviously a huge draw on this night because of their costumes so I think Disney needs to have multiple character appearances to alleviate the waits. We spent nearly all of our time on waiting for characters because my daughter loves to do this but the party would have been more enjoyable with shorter lines.

    I also agree the parade was a little disappointing. It was very short. The fireworks were very good. I did notice many adults dressed up, maybe because it was Friday(?) so more were apt to come out. The best were the families that all dressed up together; my favorite was a family where everyone wore white t-shirts with their names and ear hats like they were all on the Mickey Mouse Club. Cute!

    To Kate, don’t worry, you will not be turned away, Disney lifts its ban on costumes for adults on these nights. There are some restrictions like no swords and masks but otherwise it’s ok.

  21. Tiffany says:

    Very nice post! :) My family is planning on going to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party this year. We’ve heard that the park is busier on the nights closer to the actual Halloween date, do you know if this is true? You mentioned the park was hardly busy at all, I was wondering what time of the month your family visited. We’re planning on going in early October :)

  22. Melissa says:

    I’m surprised to hear that fewer adults in Disneyland were in costume. I had assumed that the Florida weather would have kept a lot of people from dressing up.

  23. will says:

    didnt realize the headless horsmen no longer canters…

  24. Chris says:

    Great article. I attended MNSSHP a few years back and had a great time. Attened Disneyland’s Mickey’s Halloween Party on Friday 9/28/12 and it was not a good experience due to crowds. The party starts at 7, but ticket holders can enter at 4. From 4pm to 7pm the park was crazy crowded. We hid from the crowds at Cafe Orleans thinking that it would get less crowded eventually. After the first parade some people left, but the lands were always packed. Line for candy were VERY long. Lines for Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy was 45 minutes. The line for Haunted Mansion Holiday was just out of control – no one could figure out where it even started as the New Orleans Square land was overloaded with people. The only section of the park that was peaceful was Main Street which was a bit of a ghost town. The party also means that some restaurants close – so the food lines that were open were very long. At 10:30pm I gave up. The crowds won. I won’t be doing that event again. I did get to see the fireworks from near the Carnation Cafe – which was the only empty area of the park. I think Disneyland oversold this event. Too bad as it was great at WDW a few years back.

  25. Anthony says:

    My family and I have attended all 3 years that Mickey’s Halloween Party has been at Disneyland (2010-2012). Before that it was at California Adventure and although it cost a lot less, we had no desire to go. I will have to say that the first year (2010) was the best. The lines where non-existence. I think it had to do with it being the first year it was at Disneyland instead of Californa Adventure and word was not out yet. Defiently more of the “exclusive experience” that you mention. Last year and again this year it was sold out the nights we went. I would have to disagree about the adults in costumes. I would say more than half of us adults had costumes on last year (2011) which is when you went and even more this year. Maybe it was a difference in the night you went as opposed to when my family went. I would agree that the first year (2010) it was mostly children but me and my wife dressed that year too and I would say a good amount of other adults did also. We hope to go every year as long as they keep it at Disneyland. Hopefully, they will limit the amount of tickets they sell in the future so it goes back to not being so crowded just like the first year.

  26. Anthony says:

    @Dana, don’t worry that you won’t have kids with you. I see many adults of all ages at Disneyland’s version without kids and in costume. I think it’s cool.

  27. Stacy says:

    We were extremely disappointed. We went on Oct. 26 for the party and it was so crowded. In fact, I would have to say it was more crowded during the “exclusive – ticket only” party than it was earlier that day or the rest of the week-end. The lines were long to see the characters, which our three year old loves, and the lines for trick-or-treating were equally long. Walking down the streets was nearly impossible without bumping into other people. I had hoped it was going to be morel like when you get into the park early with magical morning passes. We won’t spend the money for this in the future. I feel like Disney is becoming greedy, raising prices for regular day and park hopper passes, raising the price for this event and overselling for the event. What a shame!

  28. Jennie says:

    Just got back from WDW last Wed (went to the party on Sun). Went to DL party this Mon night. Overall I give the win to WDW for their haunted parade. DL doesn’t even come close sadly.

    I do beg to differ on costume clad guests. I found that there were at least 3x as many costumed guests at DL and not just a basic costume. Many of us were very elaborately clad. I have to give the win to DL on costumes. :) I agree the DL treats were way better. We came home with 10 pds of candy and weren’t even trying.

  29. Adrienne Blackwell says:

    We are in the process of setting up our trip next October and I am torn! We have only been to Disney World before, so I am a little biased when choosing WDW over DL. BUT, my daughter and I LOVE The Nightmare Before Christmas. She loves Sparky!! She is always carrying him with her everywhere! Back to my comment– Is there a considerably larger amount of TNBC merchandise and decorations at Disneyland then there are at Disney World? That might just be our deciding factor. Although I just also found out that Jack and Sally will be making their character debut at WDW this Halloween. I am so torn haha :)

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