Halloween is the best time of year at Disney Parks. At Walt Disney World (WDW), Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party takes over Magic Kingdom Park with spooky fireworks, magic-filled performances and surprising additions to iconic rides. At Disneyland, the Oogie Boogie Bash fills Disney California Adventure Park with — to steal a phrase from the Haunted Mansion attraction — "hot and cold running chills" that include a real(ish) headless horseman, candy-and-character-filled treat trails and a Villains Grove area unlike any other Disney attraction.
At the ticketed events on both coasts, guests can see a Halloween parade and special entertainment, try Halloween treats, interact with rarely-seen characters and experience creepy surprises. But, the two events have distinct vibes. If you can only pick one, it's going to be hard to choose.
Magic Kingdom goes all-in on Halloween decorations, starting in August, which include a giant Mickey jack-o-lantern on Main Street U.S.A. and glowing pumpkins anywhere and everywhere they fit. At Disneyland Resort (DLR), Disneyland gets those same decorations closer to September, but with an extra kick: Disneyland's Haunted Mansion attraction becomes the Nightmare Before Christmas-themed Haunted Mansion Holiday.
DLR's other park, Disney California Adventure, also joins in, especially in Cars Land, which installs zombie "pumpkin" patches made of oil cans and hoses, uses tires and traffic cones to make huge creepy monster faces to hang over the street and has Lightning McQueen and Mater dressed up in costume. Just from Cars Land alone, Disneyland would win, but the decorations across both parks make California the clear winner.
As its name might indicate, Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party is focused on being age-inclusive. This year's event has Zom-Beatz Bash and Disney Junior Jam kids' dance parties, and characters primarily focused on dressing up in Halloween costumes, not being scary.
The opposite is true at Oogie Boogie Bash. While I would never say the event is too scary for young kids, there's a decidedly darker vibe. The special characters are all villains, the lighting and music are eerie and, since DCA serves alcohol, there are boos and booze.
One of the best things about Disney's Halloween events is they're the only times when adults are allowed to wear costumes in the parks. Half the crowd opts for Halloween shirts and half gets fully decked out in mostly Disney-inspired costumes. This year, the Oogie Boogie crowd seemed to have a lot of Marvel and Hocus Pocus-inspired costumes.
At Walt Disney World, people go in getups that embrace not just a love of characters, but a love of Disney Parks. My favorite I've ever seen were a pair dressed as a Dole whip and a Mickey Mouse pretzel. The winner for this one is Walt Disney World, if only because Magic Kingdom inspires such excellent sartorial deep dives. At Oogie Boogie, while I loved the first Mayor Loki and Crocodile Loki couples' costume I saw, by the 20th, it wasn't as novel.
Not-So-Scary has a lot of entertainment. There's the Boo to You Parade, the Not-So-Spooky fireworks show — featuring Jack Skellington as the master of ceremonies — and the Hocus Pocus Villain Spectacular featuring the Sanderson sisters and big bads like Maleficent. Even the iconic Dapper Dans barbershop quartet become the "Cadaver Dans." The fireworks are excellent and the shows are fun, but the parade is mostly characters like Rapunzel and the Incredibles.
In the parade, hitchhiking ghosts and Constance, the murderous bride, from Haunted Mansion roll by, followed by Dr. Facilier and his "friends on the other side" from The Princess and the Frog and classic villains like the Evil Queen from Snow White. The parade is shorter, but better, if only for purely concentrated spooky vibes.
Walt Disney World gets some amped-up rides, like Space Mountain, which becomes Deep Space Mountain, where you ride in pitch black to a creepy soundtrack. Pirates of the Caribbean features live actors, and Haunted Mansion has them in the ride queue.
California Adventure only gets a Guardians of the Galaxy makeover into Monsters After Dark, a Halloween take on the adventurous ride. The other unique attraction at Oogie Boogie is Villains Grove, a gorgeous walkthrough with macabre lighting and fog, candelabras with hundreds of flickering candles and some Alice in Wonderland-inspired magic featuring the Red Queen and the Cheshire Cat.
While many would say Orlando, I'm going with Anaheim. For me, the scarier the better.
Bottom line: there are better, more menacing characters at Oogie Boogie Bash and you get more time with them. Most of the characters are set up on "treat trails," so the queue is a quickly-moving line where you hit several trick-or-treat stations while you wait to see villains like Cruella de Vil, Sid from Toy Story and Agatha Harkness from Wandavision. Oogie Boogie gets his own room, and it's an experience.
New characters this year included Mad Madam Mim from The Sword in the Stone and Ernesto de la Cruz from Coco. This is in addition to photo ops with Minnie, Daisy and Clarabelle dressed as the Sanderson sisters and Bruno from Encanto. Villains like Lady Tremaine and evil stepsisters Anastasia and Drizella post up at the entrance to the park for quick photo ops, too.
While there are great characters at Walt Disney World, the treat stations and character queues are separate, and the lines are long. Every time I've gone to Not-So-Scary, I've skipped characters because there is so much to see. On characters, Disneyland wins, hands down.
Here's where Walt Disney World really shines. The menu for Not-So-Scary this year includes a Spellbinding Fried Pie filled with buffalo chicken that looks like Winifred Sanderson's spell book, a Not-So-Poison Apple Pie Milkshake with cinnamon donuts, a spicy Hades Hot Dog with violet mustard and a Sweet Almond Corn Cake that looks like an ear of corn, but is actually cake. Those (and more) are only at the party, but there's another Halloween menu available all day.
The same goes with Disneyland. There are party-exclusive foods at DCA and all-the-time Halloween foods at both parks, but not as many. At Oogie Boogie this year, I tried a spicy black Hot-Link Corn Dog, Loaded Buffalo Chicken Fries and a ghost pepper churro that were all delicious. But, for this one, Not-So-Scary definitely wins.
The final verdict
The biggest deciding factor in this debate may be how easy it is to get tickets to the parties. Disneyland's Halloween event sold out at the end of June, when tickets quietly went on sale and were gone in four days. Walt Disney World's event had tickets available for more than a month, and didn't sell out until September.
While I love Disneyland's party more, I think the correct answer to Which is better? is Both of them. It all depends on where you'd prefer to travel and what kind of spooky fun you'd like to have while you're there.
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