Never a dull moment in the world of Southern California theme parks. This week, Disney's California Adventure goes back into the cocoon for another big transformation. Meanwhile, Halloween arrives TODAY at Disneyland with Ghost Galaxy and Haunted Mansion Holiday back open for business. We were able to take a little sneak peak behind the scenes at Universal Studios this week and talk their chief creative guy behind the haunt! And don't miss our hundreds of fantastic photos from Disney, Knott's, Universal and beyond. It is absolutely an update worth reading all the way through to the bottom.

Before we get going on all the theme park goodness, we want to share a contest and auction that one of our good friends is running. To celebrate the auction of his authentic Walt Disney World vintage Mr. Toad's Wild Ride car, he is holding a contest to give away a free Mr. Toad collectible

Find out how you can win this little lovely for your very own: Circarama's Toad-ally Awesome MiceChat Challenge and Ebay Auction

MiceChat was honored to go behind the construction walls on two brand new mazes for this years Halloween Horror Nights event at Universal Studios Hollywood. Creative Director of Universal Studios, John Murdy, gave us our tour and spoke with us at length about what goes into putting together such a large and detailed show every year.

We also take a unique look at the set of Desperate Housewives which has been richly decorated for the filming of an upcoming Halloween episode. Spooky. Finally, we'll take a quick look at Transformers construction.

Halloween Horror Nights:
Universal Studios Hollywood has a long history (20 years for the Florida park). No novice to horror, the studio can be credited as being the originator of the American Horror Film with such titles as The Phantom of the Opera, Dracula and Frankenstein among a myriad of titles. So, it would seem fitting that they would throw their hat into the Halloween haunt business every year with their Halloween Horror Nights event. The Halloween mega party and scare fest features 5 new mazes this year, the all new Terror Tram (a frightening twist on the studio's signature attraction, scare zones, and the Bill and Ted's excellent Halloween adventure stage show.

At the heart of it all are two men whose nightmarish dreaming and gory ruminations pump life into this amazing "R" rated event. Artistic Director Chris Williams and Creative Director John Murdy are returning for their fourth year at the helm of this wildly popular event.

Today, we take a detailed look at A Nightmare on Elm Street: Never Sleep Again, and Friday the 13th: Kill Jason Kill. Don't think of them as mazes, think of them as sequels or retellings which breathe new life into beloved old franchises. Seeing the mazes first hand we can assure you, these aren't your father's Freddy and Jason.

Let's take a look at The Nightmare on Elm Street Maze first. Like any good film, this maze unfolds chapter by chapter, building upon itself.

Entering the first room, we find ourselves in the abandoned preschool from the 2010 remake of the film. This retooled version has Freddy running the boiler room in a preschool and then, later, returning to attack the children in their dreams in high school.

Drawings on the school chalkboard have an eerie tone

John Murdy explained that when designing a maze they really try to immerse visitors in the setting, to make them feel as if they are actually IN the film. They do so, not only by replicating the film's key scenes to the slightest detail, but by going after the other senses as well. "We are here in this abandoned preschool and you will actually smell the moldy building that has been left for years.", Murdy explains. "We use a pine smell, which is kind of pleasant, in the outdoor garden scene but we also use the smell of burning wood and rotting flesh. We even have a few rooms where the temperature drops dramatically. We can't touch the guests physically so we do it in other ways"

The burnt classroom scene features the smell of burning wood

Even child murderers need a place to call home.

Universal builds all new mazes every year, but they've done both Nightmare and Friday before? The fact is that guests want and expect to see these franchises. That, coupled with the fact that both remakes did respectable business at the box office, gave Universal the motivation to explore a fresh take on these two horror icons.

Now, let's visit another dark corner of our minds Friday the 13th . . .

The entrance to the Friday the 13th: Kill Jason Kill maze

Camp Crystal lake was the setting for the 2009 Friday the 13th remake and that is exactly where the new maze begins. Passing under the forbidding arches of the campground's sign, we immediately enter one of many horrific scenes. Not one, but two murders are depicted right off the bat. You know then and there that you are in for something terrifying. The maze then takes us through Jason's shack, the Vorhees residence, and Jason's underground lair of tunnels. (Oh, so THAT is how he got around so quick without running).

The Vorhees Residence.

Jason, although a murderer, is an otherwise congenial guy

Jason doesn't use a sponge

Yes mother

Jason's house is every bit as disgusting as you'd imagine

Jason's dirty work (Only looks fake with the lights on)

John Murdy speaks about the Friday maze.

"When looking at a franchise," says Murdy, "We consider a few things. Obviously, popularity is a factor. But we like to take visitors through at least three very different environments. In Friday, we have the campgrounds, the house, the caves. In Nightmare, we have the preschool, the high school, the boiler room. One person suggested we do a new maze based on the new Universal movie, Devil. I told them, 'But it all takes place in an elevator. I can't do that.'"

There are also the more human and humane aspects to the selection process. "We try to think of how to pull off the villain. A lot of people wonder why we don't do an Alien maze. There's no good way to pull that costume off with an actor doing the same routine every 10 seconds for 8 hours. That would kill them." Murdy continues, "That's why we try to look at scary characters who can easily be pulled off with live actors in a comfortable, safe way."

When asked about the other Haunt offerings in southern California, John put things into perspective. "Look, we (Universal) fill a niche. I am a haunt junkie. I Love Knott's and all the other haunted houses. We are a crazy, deranged breed and we totally respect each other. But what we offer here at Universal is unique. This is a hardcore, R rated, horror event designed for horror fans. We try to be the scariest and the most intense and I think we do that." We certainly agree with him.

Fishbulb and John Murdy

Universal's Halloween Horror nights is a dark love letter to horror fans and to the genre that they are so passionate about. Williams and Murdy both succeed in throwing fans into their favorite movies and bringing to life their worst nightmares. If you love Halloween, and you love a good scare, Universal's Halloween Horror Nights is a must-do!

Terror Tram:
More signs of horror are cropping up along the Terror Tram route. The Chucky's Terror Tram will be a demented walk through the army of monster play things that Chucky has amassed to take his revenge out on Hollywood.

Chucky is sure to hit visitors with insults as they
exit the tram here.

Cars are used to keep visitors on the path along the motel.


The notorious White Chapel Asylum is home to the most dangerously disturbed inmates in England. Unfortunately, the lunatics have overrun the asylum and slaughtered their caretakers. Finally freed from the cruel confines of the Asylum, these blood-crazed loonies have begun a murderous rampage through the foggy streets of London. And you're there to experience it all first hand.

The London section of the upper lot has been decorated

The dental chair is ready and waiting.

The White Asylum has been overrun.

Another section of the upper lot has also been decorated. A renegade band of out-of-work sideshow performers have set up camp on the smoke-choked streets of Paris. With the Freak Shows shut down and food in short supply, the Freakz have developed a taste for human flesh! If you venture into their camp after dark, you may not make it out alive!

The sideshow of freakz

Lycans are out of their cages.

It all has a very European gypsy type feel.

The walls blocking view of the Transformers construction came down recently to afford access to the Saw maze situated behind the Mummy show building.

The view from the Starway.

The view has changed.

Scaffolding is being constructed closer to the site.

New York Backlot:
The TV show NCIS kicked How I met your Mother off the Backlot in order to make way for filming. The show, is set in Virginia and with a little set dressing, the illusion is pretty convincing.

They even made sure the license plates were accurate.

Desperate Housewives set:
The Desperate Housewives were on a filming break this past Monday and trams were allowed down Wisteria lane. They were in the process of filming their Halloween episode and the whole area was decorated in a variety of styles reflecting each characters house. This one is a lot of fun.

some of the "Housewives" are more reserved than others

Witches, vampires and flowers, OH MY!

A particularly stony cemetery.

Ghosts, Spider webs and pumpkins

This wacky pumpkin
display is a lot of fun.

The old Munster's house gets a more morbid overlay.

Studio Store Offerings:
A less exciting detour was the Studio store at the front of the park. Little can be found in the way of truly interesting merchandise. Aside from the new King Kong items, the rest seems like anything you might find in any gift store along Hollywood Blvd. Still, the prices are pretty reasonable for a theme park.

Do you Love L.A.? Buy a shirt!

This sequined T-shirt goes for about $28

They do carry Universal branded shot glasses.

Walk of fame and imitation Oscar
statues abound.

As mentioned previously, the Universal pins are actually very nice. Just look at these great Simpson fake attraction pins.

Tons of candy for the last minute sweet tooth.

This is the store to get your munchables at. Much better selection here than at the dedicated candy store further into the park.

How do Haunt monsters know how to scare? They got to Scare School of course! We'll take a look. Then we'll visit the
the Haunt construction as things begin to be completed and check out the progress on the rebuilding of Goldie's Place in Ghost Town.

For many, learning is a frightening endevor. But "frieghtening" is a good thing for the many who waited overnight to get the chance to audition for a role in this years Haunt. After auditions and casting, the actors need to learn their roles and be taught how to have that special flare for scare.

This past week, rehearsals were held for the 11 mazes and 2 haunted attractions at Knotts. About two a night. We were invited to take a look at how this whole process plays out. The efficiency is surprising.

After meeting up backstage, haunt designer Brooke Walters leads her cast of zombies to see their new home, the Virus Z Maze.

The fresh cast gets a brief walk-through tour and explanation of what the maze is all about. In Virus Z, the small town of Pleasanton is plagued with a Zombie outbreak. Chaos reigns as visitors begin in the dead center of the town. A voice over a loudspeaker urges townsfolk to make it to the school gymnasium where medical help and safety are being provided. But, will visitors survive on their search for safety?

Once familiar with the maze, the cast is asked to line up in numerical order based on a number position they were cast.

"One" at the front, "forty" at the end.

Following the lead of one of the show producers, the line is placed in their respective spots. "One" in this spot, "two" in this spot, and so on until by the end of the maze. The single file line of actors eventually vanish into their positions.

"Number 7, your spot is right here."

This guy really liked his position.

After all of the actors have been placed, Brooke leads a group of visitors through the maze, all the while encouraging and instructing the actors to give it their all.

The Movie theater scene

Some really jump right into the role

Even in broad daylight, no soundtrack, no lighting, no costumes, no make up, the brand new maze still delivered chills!

Is this a full service gas station?

Brooke (center) ran through the maze one more time and was really happy with the end result.

After a few run-throughs Brooke was satisfied with the talent and how the maze was coming together. Next week's Dress rehearsals will take place with lights, costumes, and make up. That will be the time when it all comes together in one horrifying vision. We can assure you that this maze will be one of the highlights of this years Haunt.

Halloween Haunt:

Front Gate:
The front gate has received its seasonal overlay of evil for Halloween.

In case you aren't aware, it's time for Haunt. . . the cobwebs give it away.

The Hanging:
The Hanging set is hammered out in Calico Square

A church? Gates? The Calico Mortuary?

The noose is a'watin'

Dia De Los Muertos:
Dia De Los Muertos is reaching the final stages of completion. On our recent visit, the soundtrack was being tested throughout the maze.

Soon to be filled with the dead.

LOVE the Dia De Los Muertos decor

Hello Kitty is NOT in an on stage area. But it made us smile.

Fallout Shelter:
Fallout Shelter seems to be the last of the mazes to really be taking shape. The facade is nearly complete and the walls are all up. The painting will soon begin along with props and lighting. Just a week away from opening, but somehow it'll all come together.

Nice work on the entrance.

Props have begun to appear.

Cornstalkers is also one of the last to be completed. With just a small window of time left to construct the maze, they are making that incredible last week push to get everything done. By next week this will look totally different and be crawling with crazy scarecrows.

The Labyrinth is mostly done and animatronics have been placed. Lighting will now be installed along with sound.

The beginning of Labyrinth.

The Rock Monster animatronic is always impressive

Black Widow's Cavern:
Spiders have now fully invaded the caverns of the Calico Mine Train. Arachnophobics are not safe here.

The Mine Train runs normally during the day.
. .

. . . even though spiders have been placed throughout the ride

The rainbow caverns are not safe from this red devil

The grand finale spider hangs above the glory hole scene. Freaks us out every time.

MiceChat Knott's Scary Farm Meets:

Ghost Town Renovation:
Goldie's Place is half way through its complete renovation. Let's take a look at the progress.

Wow they are even rebuilding the stairway along the side of the building.

Nice work guys. Thank you for preserving Knott's history!

Halloween festivities kick off today with the opening of two signature Holiday attractions. Let's rustle up some photos of the Happiest Place On Earth, then look at the MASSIVE amount of new construction at California Adventure.

Halloween Time:
Halloween Time returns this year with Ghost Galaxy and Haunted Mansion Holiday leading the lineup. The controversial Up-Charge event, Mickey's Halloween Party, begins on October 1st. Paying guests will be able to trick or treat through the park in costume and experience all the Halloween offerings along with the added bonus of Halloween fireworks (which were a free offering to guests last year).

It's great to see the pumpkins up again.

Goofy, Mickey, Donald and Minnie

No new flower arrangement this year, aside
from a change in color

Main Street:
Main Street is now adorned with Pumpkins, orange and yellow bunting, and all sorts of characters in honor of Main Street's Pumpkin Festival.

Yellow and orange bunting on all the buildings

Pumpkins on every available shelf.

Even the arcade has gotten into the act.

Despite still being closed, the Disney Clothiers was decorated.

The coffee shop looks great!

Fall in Frontierland:
Frontierland makes a bold showing with the stunning Halloween tree and fantabulous Dia De los Muertos decorations.

Howdy Pard'ner

Dia De Los Muertos has returned with it's happy celebration

Ghost Galaxy (updated at 1:45pm on 9/17/10):

The good news is that it's just as good as last year. The bad news is, well, it's just as good as last year. Imagineer, Kim Irvine, gave hints that there may be new surprises popping up in this year's incarnation of the popular Halloween overlay. No such luck. It appears that the money all went to Haunted Mansion Holiday. Thankfully that was money well spent.

Nothing really different in the load area aside from some green lighting

Fast Passes are available for Ghost Galaxy, but get there early. This morning the wait had skyrocketed to 55 minutes by 10:00am and fast passes had a return time around 6pm by the time I exited the ride.

Haunted Mansion Holiday (updated at 1:45pm on 9/17/10):
Jack has decked the halls of the Mansion once again. This time with some new effects to freshen things up! What a difference a little bit more of a budget can make in making an already popular overlay even better.

Yes, there are crowds. At about 10:30 this morning the line for Mansion had stretched nearly all of the way to the entrance of Pirates of the Caribbean. But the good news is that the Fast Pass machines are on and offer a pretty comparable return time. This means that you could either wait in line or get a fast pass and the wait would be about the same. Average wait time is about an hour to an hour and a half.

What changes are there? Well if you want to avoid spoilers scroll down quickly.

  • Lighting has been tweaked in the stretching room and the sound is nice and loud.

  • The loading area hasn't been changed as much as freshened up. It's bright, kinetic and there is new digital projection on the moon with a variety of things happening.

  • The Seance room is the biggest change this year with the floating Madame Leota technology being utilized. She hovers above her table while green and orange lanterns float behind her. It is a beautiful effect. Nicely done!
  • The annual Gingerbread House alteration in the ballroom.

Overall the Haunted Mansion Holiday looks amazing and the new additions are wonderful. Great job to all those involved!

Around the Kingdom:
We were so inspired by the park this week that we thought it would be fun to share some interesting shots from around the park. Thank you CoheteBoy and Fishy!

The Disneyland Rose adorns New Orleans Square.

The Temple of the Forbidden Eye

CoheteBoy takes us on a tour of new merchandise. It's a "Toy" story after all. A popular item with the kids is the vinyl Mickey Mouse figurine. It's a sturdy toy with limited articulation for not a lot of money.

Only four more months to get this one

Disney is trying to "attract" fans with these figures that use magnets. Swap out the pieces to make your own figure creation!

Mickey and Goofy

Woody and Buzz

Jack and Sally

Miss the X-Treme Sports at DCA? Well now you can get Mickey, Donald, Goofy, and Stitch with skateboards (also using magnets) in this new line of Disney Heroes.

The PVC figurine sets have been a popular and inexpensive way to get Disney toys to the masses. Now Indiana Jones and Dinosaur have also gotten into the act.

The Dinos below have made the journey all the way from Walt Disney World's Animal Kingdom where we guess they weren't selling fast enough.

While these were a hot item at the Disney Stores, these Mr. Pricklepants are now being sold in the parks.

Several big chunks of
Disney's California Adventure Park went behind construction walls this past week. Not only has nearly half of Paradise Pier vanished, but Carsland has worked its way to the Parade Route, and the Sunshine Plaza has begun the one way journey to Yesterland. All of these walls should be welcomed by fans as a necessary inconvenience as it means greater things are on their way.

Sunshine Plaza:
Walls sprung up around the Sunshine Plaza's fountain as project Buena Vista Street begins.

It was such a pretty hubcap, as far as hubcaps go.

Can't wait for real theme!

Markers were placed in the grassy hill behind the fountain area.

Hollywood Pictures Backlot:
Construction, refurbishment, and ElecTRONica installation. There's a lot going on in the Hollywood Pictures Backlot these days.

Scaffolding and lighting rigs are popping up for the ElecTRONica dance party.

We actually have high hopes for this Glowfest replacement.

As mentioned, Carsland reached the parade route last week and the walls feature teases of what is yet to come.

What a photo op.

They are actually very nice walls with some cool art.

The parade route and the future entrance to Carsland (just beyond the Pacific Wharf buildings in the lower right.

The Massive project spans an entire corner of the park

Impressive rock work

The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Undersea Adventure:

Let's see what's going on under the sea

Nearly fully enclosed now.

The outdoor queue and planters are beginning to develop.

Paradise Pier Food Court:
The entire Paradise Pier food court area is behind walls and new Restaurants are being built. Ground work continues near Mulholland Madness until it goes down Oct 12th to be re themed as Goofy's Sky School.

Get your rides in while you can.

Walls as far as the eye can see.

This WHOLE area is being redone.

Ground work near Mulholland Madness

Maliboomer rockets no more and is quickly being dismantled to create a park-like setting.

Only the vending cart remains.

They are goin' green

Scaffolding has sprung up

Catch-a-Flave has been shuttered and the sign removed.

Hyperion Theatre:
Hyperion gets bluer skies and facade work. The project is looking good.

Bluer skies ahead.

So THAT'S how clouds are formed?

No Phase two work just yet

Nice to see the work being done.

Stage 17:
In a brilliant move, they removed the strange wall in front of Stage 17 and placed palm trees in front of it. Now people will actually know what's going on in this building.

This isn't just great news for ElecTRONica but for Food and wine festival as well!

Six Flags Magic Mountain will add a new maze, a new scare zone and two new shows for Fright Fest 2010.

Highlights of Fright Fest 2010:

Haunted mazes

Scare zones


* Spooktacular Street Party (throughout the park)

Fright Fest at Six Flags Magic Mountain



In celebration of the local Native American cultures, the Aquarium of the Pacific will host its sixth annual Moompetam Festival. This weekend celebration will feature traditional cultural crafts, storytelling, educational programs, live demonstrations, music and dance celebrating the indigenous California Indian maritime cultures, including Tongva, Chumash, Ajachemen, Costanoan, Luiseno, and Kumeyaay. FREE with general admission.

San Diego

The San Diego Wild Animal Park
San Diego Zoo Safari Park FAQs

Upcoming MiceChat Events __________________________

Free Eye Spy event at California Adventure and Disneyland Gay Days Meets
Every year around this time, the MiceChatters get together to enjoy Disneyland's Gay Days (Oct 2nd & 3rd this year). We've got two days of flamboyant fun planned at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure. Plus, we'll have a FREE Eye Spy game to play on Sunday and we'll be giving away 4 Ipod Nano's as prizes! ALL are welcome. More information here.

MiceChat Weekends of Horror
Last chance to purchase your tickets for MiceChat's Knott's Berry Farm haunt events. Join us on October 1st for a night of mazes and a pre-scare dinner. Or Join us on the 9th for an amazing Behind the Screams Tour, pre-scare dinner, VIP access, and more. If you're really brave, we have a discount for doing BOTH events! More information here

MiceChat Cruise on the new Disney Dream

Los Angeles County Fair. Runs through Oct. 3. Includes carnival, entertainment, fairway, exhibitions, livestock, and horse racing.

Monterey Jazz Festival. The 53rd Annual Monterey Jazz Festival in Monterey, California, runs through September 19.

Oktoberfest. Annual celebration with contests, games, dancing and great foods, plus an Oktoberfest gift store. Location: The Convention Center at Big Bear Lake, CA.

Irvine Regional Park Pumpkin Patch. This exciting annual event for kids includes a festive train ride, pumpkin patch, games, contests, activities, and fun. Runs daily through Halloween.

Poway Days Activities
Saturday, Sept. 18

Community Park (following parade)

Sunday, Sept. 19

Wednesday, Sept. 22

Coronado Art Walk
Museum of History and Art/Coronado Historical Assoc.

Brazilian Street Carnival

Sun, Sep 19, Noon - 9 pm - The Long Beach Promenade, 205 The North Promenade, Long Beach The 13th Annual Brazilian Street Carnival & Brazilian Independence Day Celebration features a Rio-Style parade, a Trio-Electrio parade, bands, booth and food. Bring the family.

Ticket to the Twenties

Sat & Sun, Sep 18 & 19, 4 - 8 pm - Homestead Museum, 15415 East Don Julian Road, City of Industry
Celebrate the Roaring Twenties on both days of the festival as you enjoy dance demonstrations and lessons with the Hollywood Hotshots, silent film screenings with live musical accompaniment by Michael Mortilla, ukulele sing-a-longs and lessons, Mah-Jongg tutorials, historic house tours, crafts, music, games, vintage automobiles, and tasty food. Admission FREE.

Roots and Shoots

Sun, Sep 19, 11 am - 4 pm - Santa Monica Pier, 200 Santa Monica Pier, Santa Monica

Rumble & Rock on the Party Block Goes Pirate

Fri, Sep 17, 4 pm - 10 pm - Downtown Anaheim, 195 Center Street Promenade, Anaheim

We maxed out the number of photos we can put in a single update today! That's a whole lot of theme park and entertainment goodness. Where are you going this weekend?

If you happen to run across any interesting theme park or attraction news or have photos that you'd like to share with us, please consider contacting us at Still looking for photos and news from the theme parks you love? There's a world of fun information to read elsewhere on MiceChat, might we suggest:
  • Weekend Update Offers a world of Disney theme parks and other sights and landmarks!
  • Dateline Disneyland which is packed with great news and photos from the Disneyland Resort.
  • And you'll always find something interesting on the forums and on MiceAge.

Tell your friends about MiceChat and In The Parks, sharing is caring!

Today's update was brought to you by our fantastic and talented crew of photographers and news contributors Captphoebus, CoheteBoy, Fishbulb, Pratt55, SirClinksalot, and Dustysage.

And that, my friends, brings us to the end of another wonderful update . . .