It's often said that you can't go home again, but you can definitely return to your childhood during Mickey's Halloween Party at Disneyland in Anaheim, part of the amusement park's holiday celebration through Oct. 31.
This family-friendly event is filled with happy surprises, a few scares and a lot of memory-making fun. And unlike at some parks, everyone is encouraged to come in costume.
During the inaugural party last Friday night, we saw a father and son dressed as Woody and Buzz Lightyear from “Toy Story,” three ladies as the Fairy Godmother and her sisters from “Cinderella” and a wonderfully innovative woman dressed as Ursula from “The Little Mermaid,” who had encircled her wheelchair with her character's purple tentacles.
Visitors also are welcome to participate in the trick-or-treat stations set up throughout the park; at most of them, healthy treats are available for those who don't want candy.
During the Halloween season in Disneyland, hundreds of hand-carved jack-o'-lanterns (no two are alike) are on display down Main Street U.S.A., Dia de los Muertos tableaus are in Frontierland, and villains, like Jaffar and Maleficent, wander the park, ready for photos.
Mickey's party adds more fun and longer hours. The Monsters U Dance Party at Tomorrowland Terrace starts with a scream, literally, and is great for letting little ones shake a leg. If you like barbershop harmony, catch Cadaver Dans, a quartet of ghouls who sing from a boat in the foggy Rivers of America.
There's a short, but satisfying costume parade, including pirates and princesses to scarecrows and monsters, all dancing to the strains of perky Disney tunes.
Thunder rumbles and the park goes dark as the music rises to an eerie melody, setting the stage for one of Disney's best fireworks shows. Zero, from “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” flies back and forth over Sleeping Beauty's Castle to open the show. It continues with a good variety of fire in the sky, including comet-like swooshes and the crowd's favorite, happy face designs. There are also big bursts of flames shooting from the ground at points, as well as lasers beaming across the park. Be sure to take a peek at the castle throughout the show, it changes color with patterns of ghosts, spiders and other creepy things cross its face.
Two popular rides have been made over for Mickey's Halloween Party to become Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy and Haunted Mansion Holiday. If you have been on them during previous Octobers, it's worth going again because they have new elements this year.
Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy boasts eyeballs, hands and entire phantasms floating in the dark as you travel the tracks. The roller coaster's music has also been changed and is extra creepy.
Haunted Mansion Holiday is like stepping inside of “The Nightmare Before Christmas” film. It is filled with all your favorite characters and craziness, along with matching music and, for extra fun, instead of the usual hitchhiking ghosts, you get a “gift” from the Boogeyman in your carriage as the ride comes to an end.
If you have teens who are “too cool” for Disneyland's offerings, send them over to the Mad T Party across the way at Disney California Adventure Park. This new activity boasts bands playing rock and pop covers, appearances by a stylish Alice in Wonderland guest singer, hot dance performances and a video game arcade. There is also the Drink Me beverage counter, where you can purchase adult beverages, with or without alcohol, that come in a glowing cup.
MICKEY'S HALLOWEEN PARTY
When: 7 p.m. to midnight Fridays, 6 to 11 p.m. select Mondays-Thursdays through Oct. 31.
Where: Disneyland, 1313 Disneyland Drive, Anaheim.
Tickets: $59-$74 children age 3-adult, costumes encouraged.
Information: 714-781-4636, www.disneyland.com/halloween
KNOTT'S HALLOWEEN HAUNT STILL A SCREAM
For 41 years, Knott's Berry Farm has toasted autumn by turning into Knott's Scary Farm with the premier event, Halloween Haunt. The offerings continue to grow with more intricate maze designs, wilder shows and creepier scare zones, all keeping its standing as the king of screams. Please note that this event is for mature audiences and not recommended for children under 13.
There are five new mazes to explore at the venue and it's hard to say which is the best, as each one speaks to a different fear. Vampire fans will enjoy Dominion of the Damned: Long Live the King with a creature of the night waiting for you at every turn. The vamps range from the fearsome Nosferatu to alluring visions reminiscent of Anne Rice novels.
Forevermore takes you into the mind of a serial killer who is bringing Edgar Allan Poe's stories to life. If you are a literature fan, you'll love this experience. As you walk through the maze, you can tick off the tales, such as “Pit and the Pendulum,” “The Masque of the Red Death” and “The Cask of Amontillado,” represented in a series of vignettes. We especially enjoyed Poe's library stuffed with books and ravens.
Explore the world of Houdini in Black Magic. Here, you see takes on the famed magician's tricks and, if you're lucky, you will see the man himself. This maze takes over the spot of the twisted big top that was a Haunt staple for several years, but don't fret, the evil clowns have been left behind to wander the boardwalk area, which boasts the decor of an abandoned sideshow.
The last two new spaces are The Gunslinger's Grave, a romp through the Old West that will make you shiver in your boots, and Mirror Mirror, a labyrinth of mirrors that dares you to find your way out.
Most of the returning mazes have new features or updated decor, so they are definitely worth revisiting. Our favorite is Trick or Treat. Ring the doorbell and the door opens, inviting you to explore the witch's house. A score of pumpkins greet you at the stairs, pass by them into the parlor and gradually work your way through room to room. Have you ever wondered what a witch's bathroom looks like? Let's just say she could use a new interior decorator when she decides to sell. Adding to the fun, watch out for her trickster minions who will want you to join them for dinner.
There are six live shows to add to your spooky fun. The most popular is The Hanging, which takes digs on the union of Disney and Star Wars in its stunt-filled slam on pop culture this year. But who in the ever-growing list of loser celebrities will be hung? To find out, you'll have to go.
KNOTT'S SCARY FARM HALLOWEEN HAUNT
When: 7 p.m.-1 a.m. Fridays and 7 p.m.-2 a.m. Saturdays through Nov. 2
Where: Knott's Berry Farm, 8039 Beach Blvd., Buena Park
Tickets: $38-$62, not recommended for children under 13. No costumes.
Information: 714-220-5200, www.knotts.com/scaryfarm