Since the day the original opened to the public in 1969, The Haunted Mansion has been one of Disney’s most popular attractions.
The first two versions of the attraction, at Disneyland and Walt Disney World respectively remain the most iconic to this day. So the question is, which is the definitive version of the Mansion? Well, that really depends on what tickles your frightful fancy.
Before we delve into the differences between the east and west coast versions of the Haunted Mansion, it behooves us to point out that their ride experiences are quite similar. This is due to the fact that unlike many other attractions located at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World — we’re looking at you Pirates of the Caribbean — both U.S. versions of the Mansion were developed and built simultaneously.
All of the props, sets, animatronics, and etc. that were built for the 1969 Anaheim version were also duplicated and installed for the Magic Kingdom’s version, which would open with that park in 1971. This meant that nearly every scene and the general layout of both mansions were pretty identical. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some massive differences between the two versions. These begin outside the attraction.
The most apparent difference between the Disneyland and Walt Disney World versions are the facades. The Disneyland original, situated in the New Orlean’s Square area of the park, is based on white-painted Southern Antebellum mansions such as the the Shipley-Lydecker House, which was located near Baltimore, Maryland. Adhering to Walt Disney’s edict that “We’ll take care of the outside and let the ghosts take care of the inside”, the Disneyland version is kept up well.
Since there is no New Orleans Square in the Magic Kingdom, the Walt Disney World version has a completely different facade. Set in the colonial era Liberty Square, Florida’s Haunted Mansion is red brick Dutch Colonial style mansion similar to those seen in the Northeastern United States, particularly along New York’s Hudson River. Of note, this version of the facade — which was designed after Walt’s passing — has a more sinister appearance, with many thinking it bears resemblance to a bat.
The Walt Disney World version of the Haunted Mansion features a large interactive queue section featuring a crypt and mausoleum devoted to numerous characters including a family that’s all killed each other, and a sea captain, among others. This queue and its story is currently unique to the Magic Kingdom, with no counterpart in Disneyland.
The Haunted Mansion’s iconic stretching room was initially designed to solve a very practical problem. See, there was not enough room within Disneyland’s railroad tracks to construct The Haunted Mansion’s massive show building, so Imagineers designed a massive elevator to lower guests underground, and then bring them underneath the railroad tracks to access a show building outside the park’s berm. The Magic Kingdom had no such place issues, and therefore the Florida version of the stretching room isn’t an elevator at all, and is simply there for thematic purposes.
Some of the Haunted Mansion’s most iconic images are the portraits that change in-tune with lightning bolts that strike outside the mansion’s “windows.” In the Disneyland original, these portraits are part of the queue line, while on the Magic Kingdom version they’re actually part of the ride, and in fact are one of the first things guests see after boarding their Doom Buggies.
In addition to the portrait hallway being part of the ride, the Walt Disney World version of the attraction also features a library, music room, conservatory, and room of endless staircases near the beginning of the ride that are not present in the Disneyland version. This section of the Magic Kingdom’s Mansion also features on-ride photo not present in the original.
The Hatbox Ghost… For Now
For decades, the Hatbox Ghost was one of the most mysterious elements of Disney history. The figure had been present in the Mansion when it opened, but had been removed quickly when its effect proved less than convincing. However, due to rumors of its existence, plus its presence on some early merchandise, the Hatbox Ghost became something of an urban legend. Finally, in 2015 a version of the figure returned to Disneyland to great fanfare. For nearly a decade, the character remained exclusive to the West Coast park. However, in 2022 it was announced that the Hatbox Ghost would be added to the Magic Kingdom version of the Mansion by the end of the 2023.
The Hitchhiking Ghosts are arguably The Haunted Mansion’s best-known characters thanks to the iconic moment when guests see one of the three “riding home with them.” The Disneyland version still features the original animatronic versions of the characters, while the Walt Disney World version now features more technologically advanced animated versions of the characters that “interact” with guests as the ride ends.
Little Leota’s Location
The small animatronic figure who urges guests to “Hurry Back”, known colloquially as Little Leota, is located in different locations on each coast. On the West Coast original, guests encounter her after the ride has ended and they’ve disembarked from their Doom Buggy. On the East Coast, Little Leota is featured at the end of the ride, just before guests leave their vehicle.
Exit through the Gift Shop
For years, Walt Disney World Memento Mori — located at the attraction’s exit — has been the only Haunted Mansion-themed gift shop in the U.S. However, much like the Hatbox Ghost was announced as coming to Florida, in 2023 it was announced that the grounds of Disneyland’s Haunted Mansion would be expanding in 2024, including the addition of a gift shop themed to Madame Leota.
So, which version of The Haunted Mansion do you prefer? Disneyland’s New Orleans Antebellum manor, or the Magic Kingdom’s colonial castle? Let us know in the comments below.