If fall is a transitional time, perhaps here in Southern California where the temperature stays relatively consistent, we can most clearly mark the season of change through our theme parks.
Be it mazes of horror or giant Mickey-eared pumpkins, our cultural institutions are transformed for multi-month, multi-holiday extravaganzas that don’t slow down until January.
Disneyland in particular has had a rather busy few weeks, with a host of additions, tweaks and announcements, at least one of which may dictate when you choose to visit the park.
And there’s more to come, with the reopening of the “Swiss Family Robinson”-inspired Adventureland Treehouse also due this season. Of course, Disneyland gives and also takes away, as ending Oct. 15, with no announced return date, is the popular Magic Happens parade, a contemporary, dance-focused spin on Disney’s recent animated history.
To help navigate the changes and ease your planning, we’ve compiled some of what’s new and what’s coming to Disneyland this fall.
Set your alarms: A major ticket deal is coming soon
Beginning Oct. 24, Disneyland has said it will start offering $50 tickets for children between the ages of 3 and 9.
The “Kids’ Special Ticket Offer” will allow guests to buy advance admission to visit the resort in early 2024, with dates available from Jan. 8 through March 10. There are no blackout days, but the tickets are subject to reservation availability. (After the parks reopened in 2021 from a 13-month pandemic closure, Disneyland and California Adventure Park adopted a crowd-control system that required visitors to secure reservations before entering the parks. This means, essentially, that both a ticket and a reservation are required to enter a park.)
Guests will be able to add on a park-hopper option, which is typically a $65 upgrade. There is a 10-ticket limit per day for those who may be interested in wrangling a group of little ones.
Disney has stated that the number of tickets offered at $50 is limited, so those interested are advised to do some advance planning and be prepared to wait in what will undoubtedly be an online queue to purchase tickets on Oct. 24. Guests can purchase up to a three-day park ticket under the offer.
The deal is a welcome one, as fans have long decried what has been seen as an aggressive pricing strategy for Disneyland tickets. Park-hopper passes, which allow access to Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, crossed the $200 threshold in 2020, and last year’s price hike saw single-day, single-park tickets soar to as high as $179 on some days.
Disneyland has striven recently to make amends. The resort this year increased the number of days that it offers its lowest entry tier of $104, which includes some midweek tickets prior to the Thanksgiving holiday. But families looking to save on a Disneyland visit may want to take part in what is one of Disneyland’s friendliest promotions in recent memory, especially if they’re willing to wait to visit the resort until early 2024.
The French Market Cafe transforms into Tiana’s Palace
The colorfully muted tones of Disneyland’s New Orleans Square recently received an injection of animation-ready flamboyance, as the long-standing French Market Cafe was remade into “The Princess and the Frog”-themed Tiana’s Palace. It’s an eye-catching makeover with vibrant shades of gold and green leading up to an almost pink-infused brick rooftop adorned with steamboat-like smokestacks. While brighter than the rest of New Orleans Square, it feels hand-drawn, with colors pulled from an animator’s palate.
“Whenever we change anything at Disneyland, whether it’s a shop or a restaurant, we try to repaint the exterior, so our repeat demographic can tell right away that something is new here,” said Kim Irvine, longtime Disneyland art director with Walt Disney Imagineering, which is the company’s arm devoted to its theme parks. “We went from the soft pink that the French Market has always been to a gold and yellow with green awnings instead of rose awnings, which are definitely Tiana’s colors. Adding the smokestacks and the wheelhouse to the top was no easy feat as old as these buildings are, but we knew that was going to be the signature.”
While the restaurant is filled with references to the 2009 animated film, including ornate lily pad light fixtures and instruments from the Louis-fronted jazz band, the ultimate goal was to bring more authentic New Orleans-inspired food to the park.
Tiana’s Palace is largely storytelling told through cuisine, as the menu offers two types of gumbo (tip: opt for the okra and yam-infused seven greens gumbo over the more traditional offering), shrimp and grits and a muffuletta sandwich with bread driven in from New Orleans. While Disney has not stated which bakery provides the goods on the latter, it’s a detail that’s indicative of a restaurant that strives to up the quality of theme park quick-service eateries.
“We make great sourdough,” Michele Gendreau, a food and beverage director at the Disneyland Resort, said of California bakeries. “Let’s keep in mind that there are places that make really great styles of bread, but we’re bringing that bread in specifically from New Orleans.”
Staying at the Disneyland Resort? You now have more options
The Disneyland Resort received some much-needed new rooms with the addition of the Villas at the Disneyland Hotel. The 12-story tower boasts 344 rooms, each lightly themed to various animation properties — think murals that reference “Moana,” “Frozen” or “The Jungle Book.” The tower is officially part of the Disney Vacation Club timeshare-like program but is currently bookable by non-members as well. The rooms range from studios for two and four to larger villas, including multi-story rooms that can sleep up to 12. Studios typically start at about $500, with prices accelerating from there.
Expect modern furnishings with a slight retro feel, and while the rooms are adorned with Disney art and understated references to the Walt Disney Co., the theming is on the restrained side. The tower also adds a pool to the hotel grounds, one that is complete with a Steamboat Willy-themed splash pad for kids. Opening soon is a poolside bar, the Palm Breeze. which will feature snacks and adult beverages. Think of it as a slightly smaller version of the Craftsman Bar over at the Grand Californian, but with an influx of new guests it should take some pressure off the always in-demand Disneyland Hotel tiki bar Trader Sam’s.
Also new: The Disneyland Hotel recently reopened the bar that sat outside the former Steakhouse 55 restaurant. Now dubbed the Lounge, the bar — just outside of Goofy’s Kitchen and near the hotel’s convention center — has a small menu with the likes of chicken wings, a cheeseburger, a turkey club and more, with most offerings, including cocktails, in the $20-vicinity. The space opened on the relatively down-low, but should be operational most nights at 5 p.m., serving as a low-key way to escape the parks and add a welcome elevated bar space to the resort.
Don’t miss this limited-time water projection show
Disneyland has been getting creative while its signature nighttime show “Fantasmic!” is down for refurbishment after a recent fire took out the show’s larger-than-life Maleficent dragon figure. A return for “Fantasmic!” is a ways away — Disney has targeted spring 2024, but the Rivers of America haven’t gone quiet. Most nights bring the spirited jazz of Queenie and the Jambalaya Jazz Band to the riverfront, and the lively brass-heavy show is refreshing and spirited.
More recently, Queenie has been joined by a short but charming water projection show dubbed “The Heartbeat of New Orleans — A Living Mural.” The tale centers around an once-shy frog who gains confidence with the help of some firefly pals and ultimately finds strength in the power of music, specifically a hopping, trumpet-focused tune. “The Heartbreak of New Orleans” springs to life with twilight-hued colors that aim to capture the fervor of a neon-blurred night on the town scored by a triumphant but swinging band.
Disney labels it an “art installation,” and here’s hoping for more of these one-offs, which can showcase the artistry present at the company outside of big-name intellectual property. The five-minute “Heartbeat” is the vision of Marcella “Marci” Swett, whose chalk art has appeared in Downtown Disney. It has that chalk art feel, with big, looping lines of multiple colors, all of them swirling around one another in time to music.
San Fransokyo comes to life — and embraces Japanese culture
When Disney California Adventure first opened it was graced with a replica of the Golden Gate Bridge at its entrance. Now, a Golden Gate Bridge-inspired design has returned to the park, this one a mash-up of the San Francisco icon with traditional flourishes reminiscent of a Japanese Torii gate. The new park monument — a photo-ready sight at night — marks the main entryway into a dining-focused area of the park now themed to San Fransokyo Square from the animated film “Big Hero 6,” which brings a lighthearted makeover to the area once known as Pacific Wharf. The latter took its inspiration from Monterey’s Cannery Row, but lacked a connection to a Disney property, which marked it as an endangered species in the modern, marketing-focused theme park era in which intellectual property reigns supreme.
San Fansoyko Square is unique in that there are no rides, but there is a meet-and-greet with “Big Hero 6” stars Baymax, an artificially intelligent healthcare companion, and his human boy pal Hiro. As far as huggable Disney characters go, Baymax is a winner, as the over-sized squishy-yet-firm costume lends the character a robotic feel. But like Tiana’s Palace, food does the heavy lifting here.
What’s particularly noteworthy about San Fransokyo is the way it lovingly embraces Japanese culture, which is present in the J-Pop soundtrack, the dual language signage and, most notably, in the food. While far from an authentic cultural experience, the quick-service restaurants have been refocused. Think of it as a dining center with light cultural mash-ups such as a shrimp katsu sandwich or beef birria ramen. Split the “Japanese-style” fluffy cheesecake at Aunt Cass Café.
Finally, a few more details emerge on Adventureland Treehouse
At the time of publication, Disney hasn’t announced an official reopening date for the Adventureland Treehouse, most recently themed to “Tarzan” but a Disneyland staple since 1962. Disney has said the revamp will take inspiration from the original “Swiss Family Robinson”-styled walk-through attraction, with multiple rooms and environments designed to inspire curiosity — a music room, for instance, or an astronomer’s loft.
The house of oddities, which one enters next to a working waterwheel, is expected to nod to Disney’s Society of Explorers and Adventurers, a sort of theme park universe that connects Adventureland attractions around the globe. We’ll have more on the Adventureland Treehouse as it gets closer to launch.