Full disclosure, this article was going to be an in-depth look at all the Halloween happenings at Hong Kong Disneyland as last Saturday I was scheduled to attend a Magic Access Passholder’s exclusive event. Then Super Typhoon Mangkhut came to Hong Kong and changed everyone’s plans. Luckily, the area of Hong Kong where I live only suffered minor damage. There are other areas and homes in Hong Kong that weren’t so lucky, and my thoughts and well wishes go out to them.
Before the storm came to town, I was fortunate enough to be able to experience Hong Kong Disneyland’s main attraction this Halloween: Journey to Halloween Town. Today’s article will detail this attraction in-depth, and I hope to write a full article about HKDL’s complete Halloween offerings before the season is out. Until then… this…is…Halloween (kind of).
History and Backstory
For those of you who aren’t aware, as part of the Halloween festivities, Hong Kong Disneyland has a haunted house-like scare attraction each year. Obviously these houses aren’t as scary as ones you’d find in your local amusement park, but they’re not exactly your typical Disney attraction either. This has caused the last two of these attractions (Maze of Madness: The Nightmare Experiment and Maze of Madness: The Nightmare Experiment Continues) to be criticized for being either “too scary” or “not Disney enough.”
This year’s offering is titled Journey to Halloween Town”. Unfortunately, this isn’t an attraction based on the Disney Channel classic (one year, one year), but it is an attraction based on one of Disney’s most popular intellectual properties The Nightmare Before Christmas.
Journey to Halloween Town is literally that. As Guests, you have been invited by Jack Skellington himself to visit him and all of his friends in Halloween Town.
One of my favorite things in Hong Kong Disneyland is The Pavilion. What is ‘The Pavilion?’ I hear you ask. Well, The Pavilion happens to be anything Hong Kong Disneyland wants it to be. Since I have been coming to Hong Kong Disneyland, I’ve seen The Pavilion turn into a convention center for pin events, a performance venue for a stage show, the winter wonderland home of Anna and Elsa and the headquarters for S.H.I.E.L.D in Dimensions of Danger, which happens to be my favorite temporary attraction in any park.
Now, The Pavilion has changed again to resemble Halloween Town. The exterior typically stays the same with a brief lick of paint and props littering the front of the attraction building. It is the interior’s magical transformation that normally needs to be seen to be believed. Journey to Halloween Town is no different. The exterior of the attraction building is nothing spectacular. The whole area has been designed to look like a crypt with stone facades and gargoyles attached to the side. Nothing spectacular, but enough to set the tone.
What’s really good about the location of The Pavilion is the fact that it’s situated away from any other area of the park. This provides a great space to really set the scene, and this is the case for Journey to Halloween Town with the whole walk up to The Pavilion covered in grave stones.
Queue and Preshow
The queue is normally the only negative for attractions in The Pavilion. As it is normally outdoors. This is the case for Journey to Halloween Town, as there isn’t much pageantry in the queue. It is just several over-and-backs situated in front of the entrance. The soundtrack of The Nightmare Before Christmas is being played, but the spookiness is negated by the blistering sun, as it’s still pretty hot here in Hong Kong (or it was just before Typhoon Mangkhut).
There is also not much in terms of an official ‘preshow’, as your group nears the entrance, you are greeted by a Cast Member, who goes through the safety procedures in both Cantonese and English before you set off on your ‘journey.’ However, what the attraction does have in this area is a litany of gravediggers and groundskeepers that patrol the front of the attraction and the queue. These characters act as their own little ‘preshow’ in terms of providing story and entertainment for Guests waiting to begin their journey.
One of the cool things about this type of attraction is that you are the ride vehicle. This was Walt’s original intention for attractions like the Haunted Mansion, and I believe it really adds an immersive element to an attraction. You get to experience the attraction fully, and break the fourth-wall continuously.
As we went on one of the first days that the attraction was open, the Cast Members were very stringent on photo taking (I tried several times); thus, I have no photos of the attraction itself right now, something I’m hoping to change a little further on in the season.
Once you have had your safety speech, the doors of the crypt open and you and the rest of the travelers in your group enter Halloween Town… and enter Halloween Town you do. You end up smack bang in the middle of the town square where the Zombie Band welcomes your presence with some music.
The door of one of the buildings opens and the Mayor of Halloween Town enters in his car. He speaks to the group in Cantonese and then bids you farewell while another resident of Halloween Town ushers you into another building.
It is here where we meet Sally. Sally greets everyone in English and tells us that she is preparing a sleeping potion for Dr. Finklestein, so she can go see Jack Skellington. She asks for some help making her potion and then is interrupted by the shadow of Dr. Finklestein.
Quickly, you are ushered out to the other half of Halloween Town and are told to find Jack in town hall. Don’t go too quickly though because if you do, you’ll miss the Vampire Brothers taking a quick nap.
Next, you’ll meet Jack in the town hall building; he outlines (in Cantonese) that there’s been some trouble with Oogie Boogie and to be careful before sending you on your way. Next, you’ll find yourself on the outskirts of Halloween Town and near the Holiday Doors. This is where the story goes into a second gear, as a civilian is trapped in a cage while Lock, Shock and Barrel look on amused. The civilian will ask you to try and help her and that Oogie’s lair is up ahead.
She’s not wrong as the florescent (and impressive) Oogie’s lair is waiting for you. As is the ‘Boogeyman.’ Furthermore, he has the civilian we just met in a torture device handing over some ominous looking liquid. He laughs and gets ready to pull the level, but just in the nick of time Jack arrives to stop Oogie and save the day.
First, I will get the negative out of the way. With Sally being the only person who speaks English, there is a lot of Cantonese used in this attraction, meaning that younger English-speaking Guests might struggle to follow along. I went on this attraction with my fiance, and she disclosed that the amount of Cantonese used did affect her enjoyment. But for me, the story was simple and universal enough that the characters speaking in Cantonese wasn’t much of a problem.
Apart from that, I thought this attraction was excellent. It was a fully immersive experience that takes you deep inside one of Disney’s most-loved worlds. For a fan of The Nightmare Before Christmas, this is a must-do, as you’ve not seen the characters in such an immersive experience. Haunted Mansion Holiday is great, but this is a different opportunity entirely with a mixture of animatronics and live characters throughout the attraction.
As mentioned at the top of the article, one of the main complaints about this type of attraction is that “it is too scary” or “not Disney” enough. I really don’t think this is the case for Journey to Halloween Town. Yes, it’s a little creepy in parts, but I wouldn’t class it as “scary,” even for younger Guests, as there were many experiencing this attraction at the weekend and the vast majority of them were fine.
Journey to Halloween Town felt more similar in tone to Dimensions of Danger than it did to last year’s Nightmare Experiment Continues. Yes, it’s spooky, but it’s a spooky adventure that you have been tasked to go on where you meet your favorite The Nightmare Before Christmas characters more than it is anyone trying to scare you.
Unlike previous years, I think this year’s Halloween attraction would be able to work in Disney parks across the globe, and it really is a fully immersive special attraction that brings a well-loved property to life. I would consider it something really special.
What’s your opinion? Have you heard much about Journey to Halloween Town? Would you like to experience it? Let’s continue the discussion in the WDW Box People Facebook group.
(All photos are from the personal collection of Daniel Morris).
To learn more about Daniel and read his recent posts for the WDW Radio Blog, visit his author page by clicking the link on his name at the top of this post.