Trip Reports

Disneyland Days: A Lightning Filled Night

Living close to Disneyland has taken away the need (chance? reason?) for trip reports when going to the parks. Hard to call it a trip report when you’re not on a trip, yah know? I still plan to write these when we head to WDW, Tokyo and any other Disney destination but you won’t see many coming from Disneyland. Since we enjoy the loose format of the trip report and telling stories, we’ve decided to start a series called Disneyland Days where we recount particularly memorable moments that we’re in the parks for. Or maybe there will just simply be a photo that we really want to share. Either way, welcome to the first installment of Disneyland Days!

Seasons screamings Haunted Mansion Holiday DL

A few weeks ago, I was in the parks for the evening. It’s become a regular occurrence that once we’re done with work, we’ll walk over to Disneyland to enjoy dinner and a few attractions. I typically stay late into the evening to take photos before making the walk back home. This night was no different, as we started out at Napolini Pizzeria in Downtown Disney before entering Disneyland for the night. I’d checked out the weather earlier in the day on my app (and by using the trusty eye test out the window) and it looked like most days in Anaheim – mid-80’s and dry.

We headed into Disneyland after dinner for a few hours. The Halloween decorations had only been up for a few days so the novelty was still fresh, as was Haunted Mansion Holiday. That attraction was the priority for the night and, after stopping off to see Michaela working for a minute, we got in line. Disneyland wait times these days are almost always 10-15 minutes shorter than the posted wait and that was the case on that night. We were on the attraction in under half an hour and, as always, enjoyed the ride through.

Dog Bones Haunted Mansion Holiday DL
Haunted Mansion Holiday candles DL

Haunted Mansion Holiday is a treasure. Ride overlays are fun and a nice change for a few months but never much more than that. Cars Land has very cute Halloween overlays with new songs and decorations to celebrate but they’re just that, cute. Guardians of the Galaxy – Monsters After Dark has some fun moments and a more cohesive plot than the regular attraction (this is not saying much) but also has some misses in that there’s only one monster and the song is pretty bad. Jingle Cruise is likewise fun but nothing outside the ride’s norm. It feels like the Jungle Cruise but with a few Christmas jokes thrown in which is obviously delightful.

Hatbox Ghost Haunted Mansion Holiday DL
Jack Skellington santa Haunted Mansion Holiday DL

Haunted Mansion Holiday is like an entirely different attraction than the source material. Sure, a few of the characters remain like the Hatbox Ghost and many of the graveyard scene ghosts but it’s like all the inhabitants left for a while and rented out the Mansion on Airbnb to the characters from Nightmare Before Christmas. Honestly, it’s a blast.

Haunted Mansion Holiday band DL

Cult classics and Disney are a sort of juxtaposition. Any Disney animated film is too big to fit into the actual definition of cult classic but Nightmare Before Christmas is maybe the closest thing. The film, all these years later, seems to be growing in popularity with each passing Halloween. I’m not sure if that’s due to actual film adoration or because of the slightly weird, cute characters. For a while, it seemed to be a Hot Topic sort of style where it wasn’t goth but it was there for kids who wanted to be sort of goth. I think it’s moved past that point and I’m sure the attraction overlay is a big reason for the popularity amongst theme park fans. Whatever helps me see more of Oogie Boogie. That’s what I’m in favor of.

Jack o lantern Haunted Mansion Holiday DL

After our ride through, we spent a few hours doing some random attractions including Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run, Star Tours and Buzz. Apparently, outer space was on the brain that day. Eventually, Melissa headed out for the night as I stuck around. I made my way over to the Mansion again for some photos and to talk to Michaela as she worked, and before long we saw a bright flash. Not thinking much of it since an hour or two earlier there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, we both assumed it came from a ride or cell phone. We carried on with our evening until it happened a few more times.

Snackin Place bird DL

Michaela eventually went backstage inside the Haunted Mansion (lucky) to clean when the biggest lightning strike yet came. It was practically right over New Orleans Square and lit up the entire sky. From there, the night turned a little frantic as those who stuck around were trying to film the next great flash while others were making a break for the exit. Two Cast Members who were there to help the guest experience asked if it was lightning (their view was blocked by a wall) and I told them it was. They asked how close it was and if they should close. The whole experience was very novel compared to the daily thunderstorms in Disney World.

Jack o lantern Haunted Mansion Holiday DL

The park closed shortly after the lightning really got going (because the time hit 11 pm) but the rain had still held off so I moved down by the river and took out my tripod. I’ve never tried to take photos of lightning and, to be honest, still don’t know if my technique was right. I eventually settled on just continuously snapping long exposure photos, a little darker than I usually would expose them, in hopes that a strike would come. It worked eventually and I was able to get some shots by the river. The park was very empty that night and I only saw one other person (more on him later) with a tripod instead of the usual ten or so. Anyway, here’s a few river photos with the last one being the best of the bunch!

Lightning River DL
Lightning over the river wide DL
Lightning over Rivers of America DL

Security did let us linger a little longer than usual that night and really that night was a little stranger than most there. After spending about half an hour by the river, I made my way over to Main Street. The park had cleared out quite a bit by then and the lightning had slowed to where you weren’t sure if you had seen the last strike of the night or not. I set down my tripod on Main Street next to two other guys taking photos on their phones. I kept my wide angle lens on and started snapping away. Unfortunately, this is when we hit the driest lightning spell of the night. One of the guys with a phone was very excited about some of the photos he’d taken so he showed me. He was right, they were really good! I sputtered around, trying to talk about how phones take nearly as good of photos as the big camera that I was lugging around. Both of the guys were really friendly and we made small talk for a while waiting for the lightning near the castle. After a while they decided to move on as it had been a few minutes since lightning had struck. Then…

Lightning above castle DL

Every strike was just another enticement in waiting for another one. In this case, it was rewarded by one of the coolest views of the night.

Lightning over Matterhorn DL

The lightning above the Matterhorn was one of my favorite views I’ve ever seen in Disneyland. It was as if Thor himself had joined Harold inside of the mountain and summoned the lightning. Knowing that it wasn’t going to get much better than that, and since it was getting pretty late, I moved back to the train station for one more view of the storm. There was still no rain.

Once at the train station, I met the other guy with a tripod. His name was Erik (2centdisney on Instagram) and we talked for a bit about Disney and photography. I know the pandemic isn’t over by any means, but I’m still refreshed by talking with strangers for a few minutes over a mutual hobby. Over the last few months I’ve met a few people late night at Disneyland and them being genuinely friendly has been refreshing after the last year and a half. As we stood and talked I continued to snap away, finally coming up with a shot that I enjoyed. The flag pole always blocks this shot and I always feel like editing the whole thing out is too much cheating for me.

Lightning by castle DL

The experience was unique and completely satisfying. I only felt 3 raindrops the entire night. Getting back home around 1 AM, I had another night that I’ll never forget at Disneyland feeling completely lucky that I live so close by that dropping by for an evening was an option.

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