Hong Kong Disneyland's Sort-of-Scary Halloween Party
Published: October 28, 2013 at 10:36 AM
Disney's first (and, for the moment, only) Chinese outpost amps up the fright factor during the witching season, which makes the park's Haunted Halloween event drastically different from the "Not-So-Scary" varieties found in Orlando and Anaheim. That's not the only thing that separates HKDL's Halloween celebration (which runs Thursdays through Sundays in October) from its stateside counterparts. Haunted Halloween doesn't require a separate ticket or an additional charge. Visitors pay the same price (450 Hong Kong dollars; about $58 U.S.) as they would on any other day, but get to reap the benefits of longer hours and extra attractions. Not bad.
My wife and I checked out Disney's Haunted Halloween last week, on a day that felt uncrowded in comparison to any other Disney park – although the sidewalks of Main Street, U.S.A. became a little bit fuller after dark, as guests came after school or work to enjoy the holiday festivities. A $299 HKD Night Pass (available after 6 p.m. only on the Haunted Halloween days) surely aided in this.
We arrived early for a full day at the park, and were each given a Scream-No-More Challenge Passport, with information about HKDL's shriek-inducing attractions and stickers to mark our progress (or lack thereof). On our way in, we began to discover HKDL's decorative Halloween touches, from a Mickey face partially composed of pumpkins in front of the Hong Kong Disneyland Railroad to the "Nightmare Before Christmas"-themed displays in the Main Street shop windows to the imposing figure of Chernabog, rising in the center of the hub before Sleeping Beauty's castle. Of course, the "Fantasia" standout looked even cooler at night, when his yellow eyes lit up while spirits appeared to swirl around him.
Amidst the park's usual offerings, there were other seasonal treats to take in during the daylight hours – such as Babyhead, "Toy Story"'s tortured doll/erector set arachnid that had made its way from Sid's house to Andy's backyard in Toy Story Land. And any time is a good time to ride Space Mountain with its Ghost Galaxy overlay, which is running throughout October, whether you visit on a Haunted Halloween day or not.
This was my first time on Ghost Galaxy (it's been running in Anaheim since 2009, although it originated in Hong Kong in 2007) and I was slightly underwhelmed. It had nothing to do with this version of Space Mountain, a copy of the one-track/two-person-wide rocket car version at Disneyland that moves at a zippy clip … especially in the last third of the ride. On the other hand, the projections of nebulous space ghosts that appeared as we coasted failed to add any excitement or terror to the experience. Maybe I was hoping for too much.
As we wandered through Grizzly Gulch in the twilight hours, we saw that the land's Halloween Fair was in full swing. On the path between Adventureland and the entrance to the Big Grizzly Mountain Runaway Mine Cars coaster, five wooden carnival booths had been set up, each with a different carnival game. Children and adults could try their paw at Grizzly Bowling or pick up a mallet and see if they could get the strongman bell to ring.
Everyone who participated received a large Grizzly Gulch sticker from a cast member and those who did well got an extra one or two. Of course, that was open to interpretation. My wife and I both failed to knock down all the pins at Grizzly Bowling, but only I was lauded for a "great job" and was given an extra sticker. Perhaps my Grizzly Bowling technique was just that superb. As we walked away from the area, we noticed that each sticker was themed to the activity, with scenes of Grizzly Gulch's furry residents joining the fun. Nice touch.
As if we didn't have enough stickers already, we headed next to Fantasyland, where cast members were stationed at four elaborate pumpkin displays to hand out stickers (of Mickey and the gang in formal Halloween attire) and snacks (mini rolls of Mentos and Dole pouches of yogurt-covered fruit pieces). After dark, these stations would also serve as photo spots for Mickey, Minnie, Chip and Dale, and something truly terrifying: Duffy.
It still wasn't quite dark enough to venture into one of HKDL's two haunted houses (both were open at 2 p.m., but you've got to wait until after dark, right?), so we headed down to Main Street's Market House Bakery, which was stocked with terrifying treats. One we had to try was a doughy roll made to look like Jack Skellington with strawberry jam "blood" and cream cheese filling (32 HKD, or about 4 bucks). The roll was light and airy while the jam and cream provided a rich, flavorful counterpoint – although I could have used more "blood" and "guts," but who couldn't at Halloween?
Next, we decided we'd have enough time to visit the park's Graves Academy haunted house (located on the Adventureland side of the central hub) and then get set up for the HKDL's Halloween parade. Anticipation is half the fun of going into a haunt and with a 40-minute wait (our longest for anything at the park), we got our money's worth. But the line moved steadily and included entertainment in the form of a balloon artist and a statue of Graves Academy founder Alistair Graves, which would occasionally come to life with a turning head and glowing eyes.
Graves Academy itself was a solid haunt that stayed true to its theme – a demented boarding school – throughout the 10-minute walk-through. From classrooms where students were threatened not to speak (or else face grave consequences) to the horrifying cafeteria kitchen, the haunted house exploited plenty of school-themed scares. Every scene was well-detailed, from rows of desks to a fully stocked school library, although not quite up to the level of a full-time Disney park attraction. This isn't Mystic Manor, but when old-fashioned darkness and yelling work this well, it doesn't need to be.
Having escaped with our lives (if not diplomas) from Graves Academy, we wandered into Tomorrowland to check out the Party Zone, a stage featuring live music acts, including a pretty wonderful drumming group. The land was also home to the Boo-tique, where cast members were supposed to doling out frightening face paint – although we never saw anyone participating.
With less than 10 minutes until parade time, we were happy to find a spot one row back from the curb on the Tomorrowland side of the hub. I had read that the Glow in the Park parade was themed to "The Nightmare Before Christmas," but didn't know exactly what that entailed until the first float came rolling around the bend. On a pumpkin sat a pretty mobile, two-story tall Jack Skellington, greeting guests (in Chinese) and bending his torso and turning his head to leer at the parade watchers on both sides. Pretty darn cool.
The next float featured Sally, Doctor Finkelstein and his ghoulish laboratory, after which the parade became a Halloween catch-all. There were glowing attendees (hence the parade's name) to a zombie ball, acrobatic lava dancers, a villains float with Maleficent, Jafar and Captain Hook and the grand finale of Mickey and company on a pirate ship in their Halloween duds. Short but sweet and if it's not quite the Magic Kingdom's Boo to You parade, well, what is?
Soon after, we made our way to the Sideshow Carnival Extraordinaire, on the outskirts of Adventureland, where three circus-type wagons were set up. However, this was more "side" than "show," as cast members appeared in richly detailed costumes for the sole purpose of posing for pictures with guests. With giant wings and a mean makeup job, bat boy looked amazing, but not quite enough for me to wait in a 20-person line when I could just snap a quick shot and move along.
After all, we had another haunt to get to – The Revenge of the Headless Horseman, located somewhere in the twilight zone between Adventureland and Grizzly Gulch. The sideshow characters that we encountered on the way proved to be a well-matched set-up for this haunt, themed as a traveling carnival where the star attraction is one horseman, sans noggin. I don't think I'm spoiling anything to say that everything goes horribly, terribly wrong when the Headless Horseman takes umbrage at all the other carnival acts, who think they're so special with the heads still connected to their necks and everything.
Creepy carnivals can be marvelous fodder for haunted attractions, and this one wore its theme well, delivering creative scares of both the animatronic and live actor varieties. Disney park fans might especially appreciate the nod to Madame Leota, in a scene where the Headless Horseman has smashed a crystal ball to leave its floating head gasping for life (the haunt uses the same effect employed in the Haunted Mansion, which does not exist in Hong Kong). Between HKDL's two haunts, I'd give this one the edge. Although it felt shorter, the theming was more lively and the set-ups more surprising.
Make no mistake, although neither is as gory or terrifying as what you're likely to find at Universal's Halloween Horror Nights, the two haunts are aimed at teenagers and adults and are not appropriate for young ones. These grim, grinning ghosts are not just out to socialize.
Much more social were the vampires and werewolves (and, from the looks of it, were-lions) terrorizing Main Street, made almost unrecognizable by copious amounts of fog and dramatic, red lighting. The monsters split their time between posing for guest photos and chasing around shrieking teenage girls. Every so often, the music would swell and the two bloodthirsty gangs would square off in a "West Side Story"-type duel. All that prancing, while entertaining, made them a whole lot less scary, regardless of prominent brows, fangs and snouts.
After a day packed with a giant pumpkin king, a murderous horseman and more stickers than we'll ever know what to do with, we decided to call it a night. I learned that a Disney park can get pretty spooky when it wants to, although the experience left me wanting one last scare – how about an It's a Small World Halloween overlay? Think "Children of the Corn." Now that could be really scary.