"Welcome foolish mortals..." to Disneyland's Happiest Haunts tour. They've been... dying... to have you join them for 2-and-a-half hours of Halloween fun at the Happiest Place on Earth. Make final arrangements... before you arrive at the park because these tours can sell out. If you've done this tour in the past, hurry baaaaack... hurry baaaaack... because they've made quite a few changes.

I first experienced the Happiest Haunts tour several years ago. Back then, the tour started in Disney California Adventure with a ride on Tower of Terror. Then you park-hopped over to Disneyland to experience Haunted Mansion Holiday and Space Mountain: Ghost Galaxy. Two "ghost hosts" lead the tour with corny humor and it was a fun experience, but not one I was yearning to relive.

This year, the tour has changed quite a bit. The tour now takes place exclusively within Disneyland park. Guests check in by 5:30 at Tour Guide Gardens, where you receive a name badge and radio while you wait for your guide. Our guide was Hillary and she was everything you expect a Disneyland guide to be - polished, poised and full of Disneyland history. Background music accompanies the tour, which was mostly different versions of "Grimm Grinning Ghosts" and score from The Nightmare Before Christmas. Our first stop was outside of The Mad Hatter shop on Main Street. The significance of the shop was X. Attencio's window as she gave some history about The Haunted Mansion and the Halloween decor found on main Street. The next stop was the Main Street Cinema, where she shared that in the early days of the park, they played Lon Chaney's The Phantom of the Opera and a Cast Member was paid to dress as the character and jump out to scare guests as they watched the film.


Next came our first dose of trick-or-treating in the park. Our entire group was adults, except for a couple with an infant, so we felt a little foolish walking into the Candy Palace and yelling "TRICK-OR-TREAT!!!" A Cast Member appeared from around the corner to treat us to white chocolate covered marshmallows that had been rolled in orange sugar and made to look like pumpkins. Most people ate theirs delicately in two-to-three bites, but like a true chocoholic I took it down in one. It was so cute, and so tasty too!


Hillary then lead us through Adventureland with a stop near the entrance of the "world famous" Jungle Cruise to tell us about familiars and the presence of the goddess Ganesh in the attraction who follows similar folklore. We then followed her through New Orleans Square to the Haunted Mansion. She explained one of the possible scenarios for the attraction's plot. In Hillary's version, a sea captain married a beautiful bride, but when his beloved discovered his treasures in the attic and realized her husband was really a pirate, she took her life. Obsessed with bringing her back, he called on Madame Leota to summon her. Something went wrong and her seance accidentally opened up the house for other spirits to move in. Grief stricken, the captain took his own life in the rafters above the portrait gallery where he can sometimes be seen today by visitors.


We were then escorted onto Haunted Mansion Holiday, skipping the line and causing a sour look on the faces of those who thought they were next to enter (mwahahahahaha). I love this version of the attraction and the lines are usually long, so getting to walk right on is a great perk of the tour. Our group enjoyed one extra ghost in the attraction that can't be seen outside of the tour. No, I'm not talking about the Hat Box Ghost, so don't get your hopes up. But I am talking about Master Gracey... or at least, a Disneyland tour guide playing Master Gracey for the night. He was spotted shortly after entering our Doom Buggy.

After the ride, we rejoined Hillary outside where she asked if we noticed anything different. That's when our Ghost Host, Master Gracey himself, joined up with the tour and couldn't help but hitchhike behind us to add some more insight into the Halloween festivities.


Our next stop was the Halloween Tree in Frontierland, a tradition that has been going on since the late 90's. Based on the book The Halloween Tree by Ray Bradbury, Hilary explained that the novel follows three children on a quest to save their friend while time traveling through the roots of our modern Halloween tradition. Master Gracey shared insight on these ancient customs as if he had somehow been around for all of them.


Next we walked to Big Thunder Mountain and were treated to the tale of this once prosperous mining town. Legends were told about an evil trapped deep within, but the greedy miners didn't take heed and as the gold ran dry, they proceeded to dig further with dynamite. Master Gracey pointed out that the superstitious miners hung horseshoes over the entrance to each mine for luck. However, they accidentally hung a horseshoe upside-down over the last mine. "Your luck has run out," he exclaimed with glee as Hillary lead us through the exit of the attraction. Once again, we watched the happy faces of those next to board drop as they realized the train that just pulled in was not for them(mwahahahaha). We walked right on and got a trip on the "wildest ride in the Wilderness," complete with recently enhanced effects.

Our next stop was the entrance to Big Thunder Ranch. Due to the late time of the tour, the ranch was closed and not included, which makes the stop all the more peculiar (if you want to experience it, you have to come back another day or plan ahead and enjoy it before the tour). Then they lead us into Fantasyland where we had a brief break for guests to use the restrooms or get a beverage. It was a typical Fall day in Anaheim... 100 degrees, so I used this opportunity to buy a bottle of water. Next we went close to Toad Hall as Hillary explained Disney's desire to make a feature film based on Washington Irving's Halloween classic, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. She went on about how it ended up becoming a short, where it was paired with the story of The Wind in the Willows in the 1949 film The Adventures of Ichabod and Mr. Toad. And since an attraction based on that short happened to be right there, we took a jolly motor car ride to nowhere in particular on Mr. Toad's Wild Ride.


Our next brief stop was near the exit to the Sleeping Beauty Casle Walk-Through attraction, where Hillary and Master Gracey gave some insight into the dark origins of the classic fairy tales that inspired many of Walt Disney's greatest animated classics. Gracey insisted that it is really the villains that are the stars of these stories. Then they lead us to Tomorrowland where we were informed that a galactic ghoul has begun terrorizing guests at Space Mountain: Ghost Galaxy. Once again, we snuck through the back of an attraction and commandeered rocket ships that others throught were destined for them (mwahahaha). I'm a big fan of Space Mountain, but have never enjoyed the Halloween overlay. Once again, it left me wishing Disneyland could make this version more fun and less... I don't know... stupid.

As the tour began to wind down, the treats wound up. We went back to Main Street where another tour guide named Jordan was waiting for us with a trey of cookies. Not just any cookies, pumpkin shaped cookies. And not just any pumpkin shaped cookies, but pumpkin flavored pumpkin shaped cookies. Oh... Em.. Gee! Anyone who knows me knows that I live for Fall because I love anything pumpkin flavored. No lie. Coffee, pie, M&M's, Oreo's, bread, butter, juice, raviolis.... There's no limit to my obsession with pumpkin flavors and scents. To put it mildly, this cookie was the true highlight of the tour. I must find out where they sell them. I must! If you know where they can be found, you MUST contact me! I'll pay top dollar for these cookies!!! Mmm... cookies... aaaagghhhhhhhlllllll...


While we gobbled our cookies, and while I disturbed the rest of the group with noises like "yummm!" and "mmmm!" and "Ohhhhhhh! Yes! Oh yes! Oh, don't stop!" and "Can I have another cookie?", Hilary and Gracey stopped in front of the Palm Parlor to talk about Rolly Crump's window and his contributions to The Haunted Mansion. Next we went down Center Street to a back alley behind the Market House where we were given the option of a caffeinated iced pumpkin spice latte or a decaffeinated iced salted caramel latte. Did you know Starbucks makes shot glass sized cups? They do, and I hope they call this size piccolo. I chose the pumpkin one. PUMPKIN!


After nearly two-and-a-half hours, our final stop was where it all began in Tour Guide Gardens. Master Gracey announced that he was needed back at the Mansion, but offered a rare chance for photos with him before he dearly departed from the group.


Our final gift was a pin exclusive to guests who attend the tour. It features a photo of The Haunted Mansion inside of a key, which has the tour's name and year embossed in the side. I'm willing to trade this rare collectible for five pumpkin flavored pumpkin shaped cookies, okay pumpkin?


The Happiest Haunts Tour was a lot of fun, thanks in large part to Hillary. The tour will be a different experience depending on who your hosts are, but I doubt anyone is more capable than she is. The tour comes at a price of $80, but Disney offers opportunities to save 20% on that price if you have a Disneyland annual pass, Disney Vacation Club membership, Disney Visa Card or a AAA membership. I'm guessing most people interested fall into at least one of those categories, so it must be a rarity when a guest pays full price for the tour.

That being said, there's still room for improvement. It would be easy to decrease the length of the tour by only including the truly Halloween specific rides, Haunted Mansion Holiday and Space Mountain: Ghost Galaxy. Starting the tour a little earlier would also allow Big Thunder Ranch to become part of the experience. But this version of the tour is definitely an improvement over the previous dual-park experience and one that I would recommend to Disney fans looking to make their HalloweenTime visit to Disneyland a little more spooky.