Dueling Disney: The Holidays

Written by Jeff Heimbuch. Posted in Animal Kingdom, Disney, Disney History, Disney Hollywood Studios, Disney Parks, Disneyland Resort, Dueling Disney, Epcot, Features, Keith Gluck, Magic Kingdom, Walt Disney World

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Published on October 09, 2013 at 3:00 am with 16 Comments

This is Halloween, this is Halloween–Pumpkins scream in the dead of night. This is Halloween, everybody make a scene–Trick or treat till the neighbors gonna die of fright. Here comes Santa Claus, here comes Santa Claus, right down Santa Claus Lane. Vixen and Blitzen and all his reindeer–pullin’ on the reins.

The Holidays are a magical time at the Disney Parks, and whether you prefer dressing up and collecting candy, or drinking cocoa under the twinkling lights of the castle, there’s something magical for everyone to enjoy.

(As usual, Keith is representing Disneyland, while Jeff represents Walt Disney World)

Topic 19: The Holidays

Jeff: Ah yes. It must be time for the holidays, because Halloween stuff is out in August, and Christmas things will be on the shelf soon after that. There is no better time to spend the Holidays than at the Disney Theme Parks. And of course, how else should you spend them then by going to some pretty awesome parties hosted around the Resorts. Both Halloween and Christmas are chock full of them, and they are pretty amazing. Not to mention some of the special theming the Parks (and some of the attractions!) receive!

Keith: Spoiler alert: My home resort does one holiday way better than yours, and vice versa.

I’m going to start off with something I don’t love, but other people seem to. Ghost Galaxy is the Halloween overlay of Space Mountain in Disneyland. Debuting in 2009, the makeover was meant to add a little fright during an otherwise tame Halloween celebration. “It’s classic Space Mountain with a whole new look,” said Steve Roach, the ride’s show producer. “For the first time, it’s something actually very frightening for Halloween. I don’t think we’ve done anything this scary before.”

Apparently Mr. Roach wasn’t there when Disney put real live people in the suit of armor inside the Haunted Mansion. I still wake up screaming.

Hey guys! Did you know that Ghost Galaxy has a backstory? Neither did I. Wait for it… You are being recruited to explore an unknown phenomena during a deep-space research trip. But then, SOMETHING GOES TERRIBLY WRONG, and you and your helpless co-researchers are thrust into an unknown galaxy with cosmic phenomena at every turn! And cheap projections.

So I know I’m supposed to be pumping Ghost Galaxy up to help my case, but artistic integrity prevents me from lavishing praise on something I find mediocre at best, mildly annoying at worst. The “ghosts trying to grab you” effect doesn’t do much for me. It’s not that I loathe the overlay. It’s still the same track, so the ride is still fun. It’s just that it causes wait times to triple, so I pretty much abandon any notion of riding Space Mountain during my October trips. That being said, because the wait times are so exorbitant, I’m forced to assume other people do enjoy it. Therefore I shall reluctantly claim this as a win for the Disneyland side (note: that’s Disneyland’s side, not my Disney Side). Boom, Heimbuch. Boom.


Jeff: I went on Ghost Galaxy for the first time a few weeks ago, and I have to agree with the majority of folks out there (and NOT with Keith, apparently) that I think it is a fun overlay. Plus, it scared me at the end, for I am a baby. But I loved it! I consider that a Heimbuch Win.

Anyway, we at Walt Disney World don’t get any specific ride overlays, unfortunately, for Halloween OR Christmas. But what we DO get for Halloween are pumpkins. Lots and lots of pumpkins. That’s right folks, pumpkins appear everywhere through out the Magic Kingdom, as do the colors orange, yellow, and black. And let’s face it, those fall colors are pretty rockin. Now, I know you’re saying “Jeff, that’s like comparing attractions to pumpkins.” And you’d be correct in that assumption. And for that, I have no defense.

So instead, I’ll just go off on a tangent about Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party! That’s right, not only can you enjoy the park in its full Halloween splendor, but you can also go to a private party where you can dress up in costumes, enjoy a Halloween party, AND go trick or treating. That’s right…FREE CANDY! Well, it’s free provided you get about $70 worth of it first, to cover the ticket price, but after that…FREE CANDY! We all love FREE CANDY! Take it back to your room and gorge yourself sick on it!

The Boo To You parade is pretty spectacular as well. Walt Disney World is the ONLY place you can see The Headless Horseman ride through the park, flaming pumpkin in hand (pumpkins again!) to kick off the parade. The music is catchy, the floats are great, and the Cadaver Dans rock my work. WHATCHUKNOWABOUTTHAT, Keith?!

Keith: We’ve got a Halloween party, too! Mickey’s Halloween Party features fun stuff like: Mike and Sulley having a scare-off in the Tomorrowland Terrace (seriously, how do these characters keep ending up in Tomorrowland?), trick-or-treat stations handing out delicious Californian candy (which, is like, way better than Floridian candy), a costume party cavalcade, and of course a special Halloween-themed fireworks show called Halloween Screams. We also have our own version of the Cadaver Dans, and they can be heard harmonizing on a graveyard-themed raft floating on the Rivers of America. And you want pumpkins? We’ve got pumpkins! We’ve got so many pumpkins, even Charlie Brown would be proud.

Speaking of pumpkin, how about some PUMPKIN BEIGNETS? That alone might win this duel for me. I was in Disneyland over the weekend and I sat in the French Market enjoying said pumpkin beignets, a Mint Julep, and live jazz. Now that’s definitely something you can’t do in a Walt Disney World park.


Over in Big Thunder Ranch, while some Disney villains are roaming the area, you can also find your favorite Disney characters dressed up in Halloween costumes. On the other side of Frontierland, guests can enjoy a fun display of the Mexican holiday Dia de los Muertos. While the actual holiday does begin at midnight on October 31, it differs from Halloween insofar as it celebrates death. The two holidays have a tendency to become somewhat synonymous however due to their respective dates and subject matter, so they are often recognized along with one another.

Let’s face it, Jeff. The Headless Horseman isn’t going to be enough to win this holiday for you. Disneyland flat-out knows how to celebrate Halloween! Okay we can end the article now. Thanks for reading, everyone!

Jeff: What is this?! You can’t just say we end the article, and then we end the article! This isn’t a dictatorship! WE ARE A PARTNERSHIP, MR. GLUCK! FIFTY-FIFTY!

That said, let’s move on to another holiday, and one that I do believe Walt Disney World does MUCH better than Disneyland. If you’re thinking about Christmas, you would be QUITE correct.

Christmas, and the holidays over all, are done so well at Walt Disney World that, if there ever was a time to end the article in someone’s favor, it would be now and in mine. MINE. Let’s talk a bit about the The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights. Initially constructed by Jennings Osborne as a gift for his six-year-old daughter, the display has become one of the most popular attractions during the park’s holiday season. It started in 1986, and each year after that became bigger and bigger. Because it was such a spectacle, the Supreme Court ordered it closed in 1995. That’s right, the lights were so cray cray that the government shut it down. But, Disney swooped in after hearing of the story, and offered to continue the family’s tradition at Disney-MGM Studios. These days, the lights alone are worth the price of admission into that half day park, Disney Hollywood Studios. The LED lights (which were added in 2011) are choreographed to various holiday-themed music, and put on a show every 20 minutes. It REALLY is a sight to behold. Not to mention the fake that “snow” falls during every show. And to tie it back to the previous holiday, be sure to look out for the black Halloween cat, hidden somewhere in the show!

Do you have amazing light shows, Keith? I THINK NOT.


Keith: Hey! I ended this installment already!

So, yeah. The Osborne Lights in Disney’s Hollywood Studios is probably one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. Do they still do the thing where you put on 3D glasses and see shapes in some of the lights? That show is an absolute must-do, and by itself enough reason to visit Walt Disney World during the Holidays.

Oh wait. I am writing for the wrong side. Disneyland is the best!

Much like Walt Disney World, we have special Christmas parades, shows, and fireworks. “Believe… In Holiday Magic” can be seen in the skies above Disneyland, and “World of Color – Winter Dreams” will be dancing on top of Paradise Bay in Disney California Adventure starting November 15. And let’s not forget that the charming and original Disney Castle will soon come alive with icicles and beautiful holiday lighting.

Disneyland also does a pretty awesome Candlelight Ceremony and Processional. I know Epcot holds theirs in the America Gardens Theatre, but Disneyland’s takes place on the steps of the Main Street Railroad Station. There’s something about that “venue” that makes it feel so much more intimate than Epcot’s. Last year we had actor/Disney Legends Kurt Russell and Dick Van Dyke (among others), as well as Jeff’s favorite actor, John Stamos. The earliest dates for this show, December 1-2, are by invitation only. It’s been that way ever since 1958, when Walt Disney first held the private ceremonies to thank partners in the community for their support throughout the year.

Jeff: It’s certainly more intimate there, but it’s also WAY more crowded when trying to get in or out of the park. I personally like it much better at the American Gardens Theatre in EPCOT. And narrated by Neil Patrick Harris. It’s truly legend…wait for it, and I hope you’re not lactose intolerant because the second half of the word is…dary! Legendary, for sure.

While we’re talking about EPCOT, let’s talk about how other countries around the world celebrate their holidays. Because that is just what you can do there…learn about how countries around the world celebrate the holidays. Every so often, you can hear from the different incarnations of Santa Claus, or his corresponding figure, about how the holidays are celebrated in each of the countries around the World Showcase. It is cultural learning at its finest, if you ask me, when you watch these International Yuletide Extravaganzas, as they are called. Or, mayhap you’d like to take a gander at IllumiNations: Reflections of Earth, as it adds a holiday tag to the end.

And that’s just EPCOT. I didn’t even GET to the Magic Kingdom’s holiday party yet!

Keith: Hahaha, is “mayhap” your new favorite word? When you texted me with that the other day I shook my head and muttered, “Oh that Heimbuch.”

In terms of sheer spectacle, I don’t think Disneyland can hold a candle (light processional — see what I did there) to Walt Disney World. Christmas around the World, the IllumiNations tag, Osborne Lights, it’s all just magnificent. That being said, what we lack in spectacle, we make up for in substance.

Overlays, Jeff. We’ve got ‘em. And they’re good.

The aforementioned Ghost Galaxy isn’t our only holiday treat! Epcot may have “Christmas around the World,” but we’ve got “it’s a small world” Holiday, celebrating holiday festivities from around the globe. And in case you guys need another reminder of how unbelievably superior our small world is to yours, just check this out.


As for the crowning jewel of all Disney overlays, every fall the Haunted Mansion is completely transformed into Haunted Mansion Holiday, themed of course after the wonderful Tim Burton film The Nightmare Before Christmas. This year marks the 13th season of the holiday spooktacular, and it just seems to get better every year. The new projections in the stretching room are amazing! They also happen to make much more sense than what was in there before.

At first the suits at Disney weren’t too thrilled with the notion of an overlay themed after the Burton pic. After all, it was considered a touch too “twisted” for a Disney attraction. But now it’s hard to imagine Disneyland without it. I know that many people don’t love the fact that the regular Mansion is gone for four months. And for the record, of course I prefer the original Mansion. But c’mon. Haunted Mansion Holiday is a fun (temporary) change, and I for one am happy to see it each Holiday season. I only wish they would wait until after Labor Day to start the installation. It should start running in early October, not September.


Jeff: I love having an overlay that stays for one fourth of the year.

OH WAIT. I’M KIDDING. But seriously, this is the first year I’ve seen Haunted Mansion Holiday in person, and I was impressed. I’m sure I’ll be sick of it in a month, though, and want the regular Mansion back.

But back to Walt Disney World, where the holidays reign supreme! That’s right, to cap everything off, the Magic Kingdom has Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. And I assure you, it is very merry indeed. Not only do they have an unlimited supply of cookies for you to consume, but they also give out hot chocolate all night long. I LOVE HOT CHOCOLATE, KEITH.


On top of that, their holiday offerings at the party are great. Mickey’s Once Upon A Christmastime Parade? Totally awesome. Totally Tomorrowland Christmas? More awesome. Holiday Wishes? Don’t even make me say it.

The Magic Kingdom truly transforms into a winter wonderland during the holiday season, and it is absolutely spectacular. Throw in some snow, some holiday themed dressings, and man, you’re having one heck of a Christmas.

Sorry, Keith, but if folks want Yuletide cheer, they’re better off at Walt Disney World.

Keith: I fully concede you guys do Christmas better. But we’ve got Halloween all sewn up. And since the Haunted Mansion Holiday covers both holidays, I believe that might just give the Disneyland Resort the edge in this duel! Your special shows can be seen a handful of times throughout the day, while our overlays run from rope-drop to kick-out! Point: Disneyland Resort.

How about it? Both Keith and Jeff seemed to have conceded one holiday to each other, but overall, who takes the prize? Walt Disney World with its amazing shows, or Disneyland Resort with its seasonal overlays? Let us know below!

Dueling Disney is written by Keith Gluck and Jeff Heimbuch

If you have any questions or comments, feel free to email us at [email protected] or [email protected]

You can follow us on Twitter: @DisneyProject and @JeffHeimbuch

About Jeff Heimbuch

Jeff has been in love with all things Disney since a very early age. He writes From The Mouth Of The Mouse and The 626 every week for MiceChat. He also collaborates on The Disney Review every weekend. Aside from that, he is one half of the devastatingly good looking duo of the weekly vid/podcast Communicore Weekly (the other half being fellow MiceChat columnist George Taylor), which you can find at www.communicoreweekly.com Jeff is also writing a book with former Imagineer and Disney Legend, Rolly Crump. You can find out more about the book at www.itskindofacutestory.com

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  • billyjobobb

    3 words.
    Haunted Mansion Holiday

    game set match!

  • JiminyCricketFan

    It is interesting lumping both Halloween and Christmas together. I have to feel that Halloween slightly is better at Disneyland and Christmas is slightly better at WDW. Disneyland wins Halloween because of having more themed attractions for the holiday. W DW wins Christmas because of all the many hotels as well as Epcot decorations.

  • parker4fm

    Hey guys…don’t give Disneyland any ideas. I’m not sure I want another hard ticket event at Disneyland. (Christmas holiday party)

    I think Disneyland gets the best of both worlds without having the hard ticket event that WDW has. :)

    This does bring up a good conversation on as to why DCA received little to no theming for Halloween…

  • FerretAfros

    I’m surprised that they didn’t mention that DL’s Halloween Screams fireworks is just a neutered version of WDW’s HalloWishes. Still a fun show, but it’s one category that WDW clearly wins for Halloween

  • red014

    Headless Horseman. Being there in person to see him ride through Liberty Square is worth the price of admission alone.

  • Malin

    Disneyland would easily win Halloween for me if it was not for the fact it doesn’t have the Boo To You Parade. Improve your parade offerings and your on to a winner.

  • poohmeg

    I have made peace with everything Thanksgiving – New Year’s Day being lumped together as “the holidays” – but Halloween, really? Will you do another version in January with “the other holidays of Valentine’s Day – Fourth of July? :)

  • amyuilani

    I am not a fan of the Space Mountain overlay because I don’t think they go far enough. It doesn’t feel like a unique attraction, but rather just new cels over the lights and a weird soundtrack. Listen to the music by itself when you can (you can usually catch it at least once a day on E Ticket Radio – Live 365). To me it sounds more like monsters than ghosts. I don’t know. I think that’s a good concept, but not as well executed as Disney can do.

  • aquila

    I think Osborne lights wins Christmas for WDW and NBC overlay wins Halloween for DL. But I must admit that headless horseman is the coolest character I have ever seen at a Disney park:)

  • Orlando71

    Disney World wins purely because of the Christmas tree and gingerbread house in the Grand Floridian. But seriously, the Christmas Party at Magic Kingdom was the most fun ive ever had at Disney. And the fireworks, snow, and superior light projections and ice crystals on a superior castle top it off.

  • ssaamm

    A hard ticket event is a bad point for me

  • Big D

    I’m with Keith on the Ghost Galaxy. That seems super lame to me. As for which resort wins, again, I’ll say pretty much the same thing I’ve said on every Dueling Disney. If you take Disneyland and try to match it up against any one park from WDW, Disneyland wins, no matter what subject you’re talking about. I’ll even take Disneyland over Disney Studios with the (admittedly) jaw-dropping Osbone Lights. But to take “The Disneyland Resort” and compare it to all of Walt Disney World, then WDW wins just based on quantity. And you didn’t even mention some of the hotels. I had a chance to take a tour of all of the deluxe hotels at WDW during Christmas a few years ago. The life-size gingerbread house at The Grand Floridian is awesome, the display in the lobby of the Boardwalk is amazing, and some of the crazy decorations that the RV’s display at Ft Wilderness Campground are worth a trip up there. My personal favorite Christmas decor was actually the Kidani Villas, where they successfully managed to create African themed Christmas decor. So WDW wins I guess.

  • Quentin

    Ghost Galaxy is what wins it for me.

  • jediblueman

    I don’t like Ghost Galaxy because I love Michael Giacchino’s music, and losing that music bothers me on the ride.

  • Illusion0fLife

    For once this is a really tough call. I’m tempted to give it to Disneyland because of how great two out of the three overlays are (also, a fair helping of home park bias), but in the end, I voted Walt Disney World simply because they have more to offer.