Before I begin, I have to say that Mike has been doing a killer job of holding things down here while I was away. Where was I amidst this most important of seasons? I was in the Sunshine State, forking over hard earned dough hand over fist to The Mouse himself. That’s right, I’m talking about Walt Disney World.
I tend to agree with Han Solo, no mystical energy force controls my destiny, but I am a firm believer in Disney Magic. There’s plenty of that to go round in any of the WDW parks, but you’d be hard pressed to find so much of it in concentrated doses than you do within the walls of the Haunted Mansion.
It might strike some as out of place or even sacrilegious to put something so dark at the top of the heap when the Disney legacy is built on princesses and cartoon mice. However, a Disney attraction, or even a Disney park taken as a whole is a different matter. What the Imagineers did and continue to do so well is to create something both immersive and leave you wondering how they did it or how they came up with it in the first place. I find that the slow moving rides that make use of animatronics, light tricks, sound, and in some cases, darkness are what the Imagineers do best, and for that, the Haunted Mansion transcends being just a ride and is a work of art and a masterpiece at that.
I’ve been on the Haunted Mansion well over a dozen times in my life, and I don’t think I’ve gotten off of it without noticing something new. The surface level stuff like the ghostly dancers, the floating candelabra, the stretching foyer, all of that is impressive on its own, but there is so much packed into every inch of the ride that it’s impossible to take it all in on one go. That piano that you thought was playing itself? There’s actually a shadow of the pianist on the floor. Those paintings of the gentlemen about to face off in a pistol duel? Those paintings reveal a more sinister scene when the lightning flashes. I only just learned that there’s a Lon Chaney Phantom of the Opera poster in there somewhere that is visible only when the lights are on. That might be completely unnecessarily and I’ll probably never spot it, but knowing it’s there is part of what makes this rides spell so intoxicating.
The Haunted Mansion claims to house nine-hundred and ninety-nine happy haunts, and when you start to really dig deeper into the ride, you’ll find several of them have stories. Perhaps most notable is Constance Hatchaway, otherwise known as “The Bride.” Constance apparently married at least five wealthy men and murdered them all. Just on this most recent trip I learned that her engagement ring can be found embedded into the pavement by the spectral horse found outside in the queue.
Of course, some of the mysteries are so obscure that a trip to Wikipedia may be in order to unravel them all, but it’s worth the work. The biggest and most startling discovery I made on this trip is that the ride simulates your death. That’s right, you, the rider, dies. On a Disney ride, confirmed by Imagineers and Cast Members. See, at no point in the first portions of the ride do the spirits pay attention to you. You see some creepy stuff going on, but you don’t actually come face to face with any ghosts. That is, until your Doom Buggy turns backwards and you descend out the attic of the house, as if you have fallen out of it, and into the festivities going on in the graveyard below. Only then do the grim grinning ghosts come out to socialize. Morbid, sure, but undeniably imaginative.
Beware of hitchhiking ghosts! Image from Disney Wiki
I could go on and on about how incredible of an accomplishment the Haunted Mansion is, but as anyone who has been on it can tell you, no amount of words are ever going to do it justice. I’m usually a “less is more” kind of guy, but when it comes to the Haunted Mansion, that’s not the case. There’s a certain amount of thoroughness to any Disney attraction (yes, the new Pandora section in Animal Kingdom is stunning), but the Haunted Mansion is such a complete experience and even without the occasional update the ride gets, there is always more to discover.