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December 2001 Update
(posted 12/25/2001)
(revised on 1/5/02)

I visited the Disneyland Resort from Friday, December 14th, until Monday, December 17th.

Christmas in the Park... Again!

It was fabulously beautiful. What more can I say?

Construction in the Park

Jungle Cruise was down (and drained) and there was a wall up around Dumbo, but most everything was working as planned.

Change is Good

Here are some of the items that I perceived as changed since my February 2001 visit:

My first trip "back" to Disneyland after not going since the 70s was in December of 1995. After a few evenings there during the early Christmas season in 2000 I decided I simply must make a proper visit during the Holidays. This year I was able to do just that, but I have to admit: it was mostly for the Haunted Mansion Holiday. This is where I will begin my report.

The Haunted Mansion is my favorite Disney attraction, with Pirates of the Caribbean right behind it. I've ridden the Mansions at Disneyland and Walt Disney World hundreds of times yet I still find something new if I look hard enough. When it was announced that the Mansion would get a Nightmare Before Christmas makeover I was very skeptical. What does that have to do with Disney? I'd never seen the movie, so I rented and watched the DVD a week before my trip. It was a fun movie, and I might watch it again someday, but it certainly didn't need a ride themed after it.

I was afraid to think what they would do to the Mansion.

On the first morning there, I headed straight over to the Mansion (after buying a $199 "both parks" annual pass -- in February they were not selling passes of any kind). The ride was down. In fact, pretty much everything in the park was down due to a power problem. I stood gazing at the mansion's flickering candles and pumpkins (they went all out on the decorations) and noticed Jack's coffin sleigh on the roof (with a long tapestry hanging down which had his chalk board notes on Christmas). There was music playing from hidden speakers. I recognized it as the music box version of Grim Grinning Ghosts that plays at Disneyland Paris' Phantom Manor. The Ghost Host spoke in an effort to teach his nonexistent audience how to properly scream at the end of a musical piece.

Paul Frees, the voice behind the Ghost Host, passed away a few years back. This new Ghost Host was dead on. He sounded so much like Frees that I would not have even doubted his authenticity if I didn't know Fees was gone. Two different spiels play outside the house. Both use lines from the original spiel which makes a very nice touch. A funny gag happens when he returns to teach us where to scream (after a bit of music) and then a blast of It's a Small World plays (instrumental). "Was that the real music, or was it just your imagination?" he asks. Funny stuff. Very good.

After walking back over to DCA (since there was nothing running at Disneyland) and spending some time there, I returned to Disneyland to see the inside of the Mansion. It was spectacular. From the moment I set foot in the foyer I could tell things were very different. Holiday decorations (if you could call the skull motif a holiday decoration) were all over the foyer, and amazingly clear music played. A new sound system! The melody was spooky and features bits of famous holiday tunes. The Ghost Host spoke in rhymes -- which he would do through the entire ride.

The stretch room was drastically different. The portraits were replaced with stained glass windows which shattered (with crystal clear sound) as the lights went out. The music was powerful and it sent chills down my spine. New lighting effects were added, and the large face of Sandy Claws greeted us from the ceiling where a corpse once swung in the original version.

The portrait hallway featured more music and completely new changing portraits. A candle flickered under a "Free Sleigh Rides" sign between the two busts at the end of the hall. The Ghost Host had so much more to say. It was incredible.

The ride itself was even more stunning than the intro. Everything was different, yet familiar. Characters from Nightmare were scattered about, and some new animated "things" had been added, such as evil looking man eating plants that sang "fa la la" at you as you passed by (and under) them. Creepy. Madam Leota had gone back to front projection and was very clear as she spoke about the "13 Days of Christmas" and what her "ghoul love" gave to her. Instruments were replaced by large Tarot cards that floated around -- and you could no longer see the wires. Very good.

The ballroom had changed quite a bit. A large gingerbread house (which was made by the bakery at Disneyland) replaced a birthday cake. A large Christmas tree was being decorated by spiders as they went up and down their webbing. Presents floated in the windows. The most interesting thing was a new room -- along the balcony at the back of the ballroom was a large room opened up to display a swirling Christmas tree made out of floating books. Creepier and creepier.

The attic had changed so much, too. Evil toys and the big snake from Nightmare were scattered about. Pumpkins jumped up where ghouls once popped. The graveyard featured Jack and his floating ghost dog Zero and everything was covered with snow. Pop up ghouls whore Santa hats. The singing busts were now singing pumpkins. The audio was amazing.

Every detail was as perfect as could be. Even during the end, where the barbershop quartet once sang, was a new version of "We Wish you a Scary Christmas" sung in the same barbershop quarter style. Amazing.

I could write pages on this attraction. I can't wait for next year, and it's rumored that Walt Disney World might get their version (which means a much overdue upgrade to their sound system out there as well).

Ahem. Moving right along...

Other areas of the park were as beautiful. After the holiday fireworks it would snow in several areas of the park, just like last year. There were special holiday treats everywhere you ate -- egg nog, hot chocolate, and more. It was fun trying to find things like that scattered about the park.

More to come when I have more time...

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