Disneyland Fall 2019 Trip Report (Part 3)

Welcome to our Fall 2019 Disneyland Trip Report! The primary purpose of trip reports is to supplement our existing content to let you know how our strategies are actually working at a given time! This post covers all things Disneyland, starting with rope drop!

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About This Trip Report

This trip report covers a four-night visit to Disneyland. The full introduction is available in Part 1. We don’t know exactly how we’ll be breaking up this trip for the purposes of this report, but posts will go up here as we publish them (links open in new tabs):

What’s New at Disneyland

The way this trip worked out, our two weekend days were both split between the two parks. Saturday we did rope drop at Disney California Adventure before going to Disneyland. Sunday we did rope drop at Disneyland before going to Disney California Adventure. For simplicity, I’m going to just cover each of the parks in its own post—this post covers Disneyland.

Here’s a quick rundown of what’s new at Disneyland. Some of these items will be covered in more detail in the rest of the post.

Halloween at Disneyland. The bulk of Halloween festivities are at Disney California Adventure, but there’s plenty at Disneyland as well, including the Halloween Screams nighttime show, decorations, and merchandise.

Haunted Mansion Holiday. The Haunted Mansion’s Nightmare Before Christmas overlay was the highlight of our trip. This overlay occurs from September 6 through January 6 this year.

New FASTPASS Kiosks. These were announced after we left and are scheduled to begin usage October 15. Starting that day, FASTPASS distribution for Space Mountain, Buzz Lightyear, and Star Tours will occur at a single set of digital kiosks outside the Tomorrowland Theater (near The Star Trader and Space Mountain). No paper receipts will be given for these bookings.

Times Guide & Snack Guide. Here’s a look at the times guide and snack guide from this visit (tap to expand pages):

Recommended Reading

If you’re here for Disneyland tips…you’re on the right website but maybe the wrong post. We have several posts that go into detail about planning your visit to Disneyland park:

We’ll refer to some of these throughout the post (often without linking to them again).

Rope Drop at Disneyland

We left the Four Points by Sheraton Anaheim at about 7:04AM, getting to the gates of the park at 7:16AM. There was already a sizable crowd. This was somewhat expected (it was Sunday), but we should have arrived closer to 7AM.

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One of the annoying things about rope drop at any theme park is no one knowing what turnstiles will be used. Guests typically line up in one line per two turnstiles, even though there’s no reason to think only half the turnstiles would be used.

I asked a Cast Member on the other side of the gate about this, and she said she had no idea what turnstiles would be used.

I mention this because when it became clear that all the turnstiles would be used, guests (including us) did what they naturally should do—used all the turnstiles—only to be attacked by one furious man near the front of an original line.

As with all things Disney parks, the argument between this raging guy and a lady at the front of the new line deteriorated into her saying she’s an annual passholder and thus knows best, and him calling her group? the first ten people? everyone in the new line? “horrible people.”

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I understand this guy’s frustration (honestly, I’ve been there a hundred times)…but what exactly what he looking for here? Was he mad at every other guest outside the park for not lining up behind him? Did he expect everyone to just ignore half the turnstiles?

If I’m being generous, he imagined an “express checkout line”-style scenario where groups went one by one to the next available turnstiles—but that would be a bizarre thing to expect.

It seems straightforward to me that an arriving guest can claim any unclaimed turnstile. They’ll run the risk that the turnstile goes unopened to start the day, in which case they may have to hope the adjacent line agrees to a merger situation. If no one has claimed a turnstile by the time a Cast Member opens it, I don’t see why it isn’t just up for grabs.

To be clear, I don’t think this is ideal. I would much prefer Disney just signal to people what turnstiles would be open around an hour before the park opens to avoid a shouting match of “annual passholder” vs. “horrible people.”

Anyways, we went from about position 20 to position 10 when all this was said and done. We were let into the park at about 7:40AM, and found a very small crowd on the Tomorrowland side of the hub.

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There’s some construction going on at the front of Tomorrowland. It looks imposing, but besides narrowing some pathways doesn’t have much of an impact on guest experience.

Rope drop occurred right at 8AM, and we started with Peter Pan’s Flight. Here’s how our morning went (times are when we boarded the ride):

  • 8:07AM Peter Pan’s Flight

  • (Alice in Wonderland temporarily closed)

  • 8:15AM Dumbo

  • 8:22AM Mad Tea Party

  • 8:27AM Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride

  • 8:36AM Storybook Land Canal Boats

  • 8:47AM Casey Jr. Circus Train

  • 9:04AM Autopia

  • 9:28AM Haunted Mansion Holiday (with FASTPASS)

  • 9:50AM Indiana Jones adventure (with FASTPASS)

Few things about this morning. First, we eschewed our standard FASTPASS lineup of Space Mountain and Matterhorn in favor of Haunted Mansion Holiday and Indiana Jones Adventure. This was because Haunted Mansion Holiday was a very high priority for us, and Indy seemed like the best option to pair it with.

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Alice in Wonderland was temporarily closed, a problem I’ve encountered several mornings at Disneyland. We rode Mad Tea Party hoping to catch it if it reopened, but it took longer, so we never made it on (we could have fit it later in the day had we wished).

We also missed Astro Orbiter. It had a five minute wait after we got off Autopia, but that would have pushed us close to the 9:30AM cutoff for our Haunted Mansion Holiday FASTPASS. One lesson here is that oftentimes you don’t want to grab a FASTPASS right away. We could have waited a few minutes and gotten a Haunted Mansion window that have us until, say, 10AM.

Our one day Disneyland itinerary post continues this basic rope drop through the rest of the day, if you’d like to see a more complete day. For now, we’re going to discuss some fun happenings at Disneyland.

Haunted Mansion Holiday

Before I get into this, if you’re looking for tons of photos / videos, I don’t have them (but I do have a few). I recommend google or Disney Tourist Blog (though it’s one of their older posts).

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Haunted Mansion Holiday really deserves its own post, and hopefully I give it that one day. I’d spent all season avoiding spoilers for this ride, and I was excited to finally experience it.

Like most Basic millennials, I love Haunted Mansion and I love The Nightmare Before Christmas (and I…think Pumpkin Spice Lattes are okay). Haunted Mansion is one of the best theme park attractions ever designed, and while I’m sure some people prefer Haunted Mansion Holiday I would never go so far as to call it “better.”

That said, it is beautiful and fun to see something different in the space. The overlay is thorough. This isn’t Haunted Mansion meets Nightmare, it’s a Nightmare attraction built on the infrastructure of the mansion.

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The overlay covers the entire ride experience. The outside of the building is decorated, the stretching room and antechamber are modified (heavily, in the case of the stretching room) to fit the occasion, and the entire ride is redone.

While there are a number of digital effects, it’s the practical pieces that really shine. From an animatronic Jack Skellington, to a gingerbread Haunted Mansion, to a giant man-eating wreath, to a snowy spiral hill, it’s so cool to see what Imagineering is capable of building.

My only criticism would be that it never escapes feeling like an overlay. But that’s a high bar for a dark ride. I praised Guardians of the Galaxy—Monsters After Dark for feeling like an entirely new experience, but that was achieved mostly through lighting (easy to change) and different videos for the various scenes (very easy to change).

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Little things, like the dueling ghosts, and big things, like the seance room, stick out in a way that would make you know you’re not in an original ride. While it’s challenging to avoid this, it’s not completely unavoidable.

One way, for example, would have been to make it Haunted Mansion meets Nightmare Before Christmas. This is a huge thematic challenge, though—trying to figure out how to integrate these two stories—and it runs of high risk of winding up worse than the stunning-but-rough-on-the-tiniest-edges experience we have today.

Haunted Mansion Exhibit

The Haunted Mansion exhibit in the Disney Gallery actually opened the day after my last visit to Disneyland. I was happy to finally get to see it.

If you’re a Haunted Mansion history buff, there isn’t much new here, but the models and concept art are cool to see. If you’re new to the history of the ride, this is an absolute must-do. It’s unclear how long it will be around.

Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge

As always, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge was a hot topic of conversation for us this week. The trip happened to coincide with Todd Martens’s well-written discussion of what works and what doesn’t at Galaxy’s Edge.

Our feelings are thoroughly documented throughout the site (though not well-organized). I don’t think it’s the greatest land ever, I don’t think it’s a flop, and I don’t think we can fully judge it until Rise of the Resistance opens. Here’s more Galaxy’s Edge content:

I wanted to focus on the most exciting of Galaxy’s Edge topics here—the geography. There are two points I’d like to make about the geography of the land.

First, the land is a fantastic place to escape crowds—but this has nothing to do with it being a “flop” and everything to do with its size and location in the park.

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The land is the first expansion at Disneyland park since 1993’s Toontown. As such, its a rare piece of land that is actually built to accommodate modern day crowds. Disneyland doesn’t just get crowded—it turns in a claustrophobic horror show in spots once crowds hit even moderate levels. Galaxy’s Edge, owing to a spacious design, avoids this issue.

Moreover, Galaxy’s Edge is “out of the way.” Even going from Fantasyland to Critter Country, going through Galaxy’s Edge is barely the shortest route, and it’s definitely not a route that is encouraged by the design of the park. Casual guests are likely to wander past the entrances unless they’re deliberately heading into the land.

If you’re going between any other two points—which you probably are because Critter Country isn’t that popular—you definitely won’t want to pass through Galaxy’s Edge. By contrast, Adventureland, Frontierland, and New Orleans Square are compact spaces in the middle of the action.

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The second, related, point is that Galaxy’s Edge is a fantastic escape route if you’re stranded in New Orleans Square or Critter Country during or after Fantasmic. The mass of guests still trends toward following Adventureland toward Main Street USA, but we highly recommend taking a relaxing stroll through Galaxy’s Edge.

Odds and Ends…

Here are the remaining things of note from this visit.

We didn’t ever have a great view of the Halloween Screams show, but we did watch the fireworks from Galaxy’s Edge Saturday night. Fireworks are only part of the show Friday through Sunday.

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We rode Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run with no wait via Single Rider when the posted wait was 40 minutes.

Great Moments with Mr. Lincoln is undergoing some sort of exterior construction. The attraction remains open and a must-do.

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That’s All from Disneyland! Thanks for reading!

All Your Other Disneyland Planning Questions Answered

Don't be overwhelmed by Disneyland planning! Take a second to check out our most important content and you'll not only be an expert, but you'll save big $$$ along the way.

Just starting out? Check out our Disneyland Planning Guide. If you're still picking dates, we've got everything you need to know about Disney crowd calendars.

When it comes to hotels, we’ve got reviews of all three Disney hotels: Disneyland Hotel, Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, and Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel. As for tickets, check out where to find discount Disneyland tickets.

Know what to ride with our: Disneyland Rides Guide and Disney California Adventure Rides Guide. And just as important, know how to get on the best rides without the wait with our Disneyland and Disney California Adventure FASTPASS and MaxPass Strategy! For the complete guides to a day at the park, we have a One Day Disneyland Itinerary and a One Day Disney California Adventure Itinerary.

We always recommend arriving at the parks early. If you can get access to Extra Magic Hour at Disney California Adventure or Extra Magic Hour and Magic Morning at Disneyland, you’ll have the most time in the parks. Even without those bonus hours, you’ll need to know Rope Drop Strategy at Disneyland and Rope Drop Strategy at Disney California Adventure.

Finally, before you head out, be sure to check out our to-the-point packing list, 10 essentials you forget to pack for every Disney trip. And if you're interested in saving, there's no better list than our 53 Ways to Save on your Disney trip from start to finish.