Of all the attractions created by Disney’s Imagineers, I put the Haunted Mansion near – or even at – the top of list. Rise of the Resistance and Guardians of the Galaxy are remarkable, but the Haunted Mansion is the archetype of a Disney World ride. It opened with the Magic Kingdom in 1971; after all these years it proves that special effects don’t need 21st-century technology to delight and impress.
The attention to detail is amazing and the whole experience is boo-tifully done. Even if you’ve been, there’s a ghost of a chance you may not know everything that follows. There’s so much to say about the Haunted Mansion, it’s tough to narrow it all down to just five things. But since that’s why my editor told me to stick to … here is the list! (If you’re in a hurry and just want details like where it is and how long it will take, click here to jump straight to the Nuts and Bolts section.)
1. Building the mansion was a grave matter.
The history of Disney World’s Haunted Mansion starts at Disneyland, where the idea for a haunted house attraction originated with Walt Disney himself. While it was clear that he wanted one, his vision was less clear. As a result, the exterior of Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion was finished in 1963, but the attraction wasn’t completed until 1969, which meant that, sadly, Walt never got to see it.
Legendary Imagineers including Yale Gracey and Rolly Crump worked on illusions and effects for the attraction while Claude Coates and Marc Davis worked on the design. Coates gravitated towards the strange and scary while Marc Davis preferred gags. The mansion’s famous song “Grim Grinning Ghosts” (composed by Buddy Baker, lyrics by X Atencio) was arranged and presented in such a way as to tie both the scary aspects and the humorous experiences together.
When the attraction debuted in August of 1969, it was an instant hit with guests. The Magic Kingdom was already under construction at that time, and it was unanimous that a version of the Haunted Mansion had to be included. While the two ride experiences are similar, they aren’t identical. And to the credit of the Imagineers, both versions are still considered among the greatest Disney attractions ever created.
2. Get in the “spirit” of things.
Disney World’s mansion is modeled after the gothic 18th-century homes of the Hudson River Valley. (In contrast, the Disneyland version is inspired by the Greek revival movement). Adjacent is the gift shop Memento Mori (which means “remember death” – a sobering thought for a park ride, no?).
Guests enter the queue through the carriage house – take note of the ghost horse pulling the hearse. You’ll see the foreboding mansion itself rising up in the distance. It’s built in such a way that it conceals the actual building your ride travels through (you can see it for yourself on Google maps).
In 2011, Imagineers created an interactive queue to help polter-guests pass time in line. The busts and crypts you pass serve as punny tributes to the attraction’s original Imagineers. Tombstone epithets read things like, “Here lies good ol’ Fred. A great big rock fell on his head,” and “Dear departed Brother Dave. He chased a bear into a cave.”
3. What can you “ex-spectre” from your ride?
When you enter the mansion, you’ll be taken into the stretching room for a brief introduction/preshow by the Ghost Host. The Disneyland version employs an elevator to create the effect that the room stretches; in Disney World, the ceiling goes up instead. The room goes dark and a lightning flash reveals your Ghost Host hanging overhead.
You then move to the loading area to board “Doom Buggies” that travel through different parts of the mansion. This Omnimover (the word is a portmanteau of “OmniRange” and “PeopleMover”) allows the “Ghost Host” to turn your ride so you can see all of the ghostly antics. It truly helps put the rider in the spirit of the action! Haunted Mansion was only the second ride to utilize this technology (the first was the now-defunct Adventure Thru Inner Space at Disneyland). The piano parlor, the séance room, the ballroom, and the attic are all visited. Your tour ends with a ride through the graveyard.
The ride’s signature theme “Grim Grinning Ghosts” is heard throughout the ride. But its tempo and tonality change to underscore the mood of the scene you’re passing through.
FWIW, you may want to consider whether or not to bring very young children on the ride. The stretching room may be the most frightening part for littles. If they aren’t tugging on your hand at this point, they’ll likely be ok on the remainder of your mansion tour. Our 6-year-old granddaughter did just fine, sitting between two grandparents. Your results may vary.
If they need to leave (or if you do!), there are two chicken exits. The first is for those who want out of the stretching room before the doors close; a Cast Member can help you leave if you speak up before they shut. The second is after the door opens to the loading area. If youngsters have had their fill of spooky shenanigans, they can exit without boarding a Doom Buggy.
4. Spook-tacular details abound.
I’ll be honest with you: as many times as I’ve ridden the Haunted Mansion, I find something new every single time. Keep your eyes open, because Easter Eggs abound!! The attention to detail is just that remarkable, starting even before you enter the mansion. The Dread family busts that greet you outside present a murder mystery you can try to solve. The eyes of Madame Leota blink periodically from her headstone. You might notice that the name on the stone organ is Ravenscroft, in honor of Thurl Ravenscroft who lends his voice talents to the singing busts indoors.
Indoors, the ballroom scene always impresses me. If you want to learn more about the magic used to create this effect, it’s called Pepper’s ghost.
As you leave the Mansion, look for headstone in the Pet Cemetery marking Mr. J. Thaddeus Toad’s final resting place. It was put there after Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride was shut down in the Magic Kingdom to be reworked into Winnie the Pooh.
Confession: for years I thought the voice of the Ghost Host was Orson Welles, not Paul Frees. (Mr. Frees was also the voice of Boris Badenov in Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons among others.) I learn something new every time I do research for these posts.
Much has been written about every character in the mansion and there’s simply not enough space here to do them all justice. And if you want to totally geek out about the Haunted Mansion with more facts and trivia, here’s the spot for you.
5. The nuts and bolts
The Haunted Mansion is located in Liberty Square along the Rivers of America. You’ll see the entrance when passing between Liberty Square and Fantasyland. Not counting the time you’ll spend in the queue, the stretching room preshow lasts about three minutes; the rest of your mansion tour is about seven or eight minutes.
As we’ve mentioned, you’ll ride through the mansion aboard “Doom Buggies” which move along a track. The seat is a hard bench with a high back, and there’s one row per buggy which can accommodate two to three riders. If all three riders are adult-sized, they’ll need to be friendly unless they’re on the smaller side. There is a single pull-down lap bar for all riders that’s automatically lowered by your Ghost Host.
You must take a small step up (less than 12″) from a moving walkway onto a moving vehicle; there is also a moving walkway at the exit area when you leave your Doom Buggy. Guests Must Transfer From Wheelchair/ECV to experience this attraction. The ride is often slowed or stopped to facilitate boarding for guests with mobility issues; the good news is that if you’re in mid-tour when this occurs, you have the opportunity to spot more Easter Eggs and observe even more of the amazing details Imagineers have created!
There are no health or safety advisories for the Haunted Mansion, nor any height requirement. Handheld captioning and Audio Description Devices are available from Guest Services (these require a deposit, refunded when returned on the same day). The ride does have a section between the mansion and graveyard where your vehicle will be slowly lowered backward down a small incline.
Since the Haunted Mansion is an indoor attraction, inclement weather doesn’t affect its operation. Part of the queue is covered, but guests in the queue may be exposed to the elements.
To avoid long waits and crowds, try to visit the Haunted Mansion before 11:30 a.m. or after 8 p.m. You can also use Genie+ to enter the Mansion via the Lightning Lane. Lastly, the ride is open for Extended Evening Park Hours, but not Early Entry.
The bottom line.
We think it “ghost” without saying that the Haunted Mansion is a “not to be missed” attraction. The special effects, attention to detail, and atmosphere in the Mansion combine to create a faboolous experience for first-time riders and devoted fans alike! And you’re always welcome, because – as the Ghost Host says – “we have 999 happy haunts here, but there’s room for one thousand. Any volunteers??”
Let us know your favorite Easter Eggs and what you think about the Haunted Mansion in the comments below!