Retro Orlando: Conquering young fears at Disney’s Haunted Mansion

My mom, brother and I getting a picture taken at the start of the day.

By Joe Moody

I was in fifth grade, which would have made me about 10 or 11, and for some reason, at that time I lived in a constant state of fear. I think it was a product of an overactive imagination, but anything remotely scary would freak me out for days. My brother talked me into watching Alien on TV – the “edited for content” version mind you – and that night I was positive that there was a face hugger under my bed. These types of feelings put me on high alert for anything that might be scary, but as a proud fifth grader I suffered in silence not wanting anyone to know that everything scared me. My secret was about to be exposed at the happiest place on earth.

See, I was having fun on most of the rides.

My family took a trip to Walt Disney World that summer. It was my first trip where I was old enough to understand what it was, and as an 11-year-old, I could hardly contain myself. The worst part was swimming at Fort Wilderness and seeing the Magic Kingdom across the lake and knowing we weren’t going until tomorrow. I was so excited for what the next day held for me. Little did I know it would be a day of suppressed terror.

The day started out great. Tomorrowland was all I ever wanted it to be and more. Dreamflight made me laugh, I loved the Rocket Jets, and singing along with Carousel of Progress was fun – for some reason the song was a staple at my house. Mission to Mars is where things started to go sour. It wasn’t bad, just something about the anticipation of the show put me on edge. As we left the ride I felt fine so I thought nothing of it. We headed to Fantasyland and fear was there again on every dark ride, but I had fun on these rides and afterwards felt fine.

This continued to happen through the other lands and at rides like the Jungle Cruise and Pirates of the Caribbean. I didn’t think much of it at that time, but looking back now, I realize these little moments of fear were leading me to my ultimate downfall. I was at Defcon 1 and heading to the worst possible thing, the Haunted Mansion.

Look how on edge I am before Mr. Toad - barely a smile on my face and look how close I am sitting to my dad.
At this point, from a day of slight fear, my calm exterior had broken and the idea of going to a place that is made to scare people was too much.  If I got the creeps when I went to hell in Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, there was no way I could handle the Haunted Mansion. I put all fronts aside and looked at my mom and said, “I’m not riding that – I am too scared.” This put a look of complete shock on her face, which, like a good mother, she quickly hid. She and my dad went on to explain as we walked to the ride that it’s “Disney” scary and that I would be fine and have nothing to worry about. As I heard this, it made sense! Why would the company that made Mickey Mouse make something that would really be frightening? I also remembered what had been happening all day – that I would get worked up, go on a ride and be fine afterward. This wouldn’t be different. So we got in the queue and headed inside, ready to have some spooky fun.

We entered the stretching room and I laughed and pointed at the pictures, all the time thinking, “My parents are right. I can do this, it will be fun.” Then lighting struck and I saw the skeleton hanging in the attic and I am done. I told my mom, “I am not riding.”  She talked me into a Doombuggie and I immediately buried my face in her lap. I was convinced I made the right choice. I heard terrible things going on outside the car. You should try riding it sometime without looking – that audio is pretty creepy and your mind makes everything worse.  My mom took me out and she said she was sorry and she wouldn’t make me ride it again. We all headed to It’s a Small World as a palate cleanser. For our next five days at the Disney Parks I never again set foot in the Haunted Mansion ride.

I rode it for the first time with my eyes open on our family’s next trip to Disney World. I was a junior in high school and I fell in love with it. I went on the ride countless times during that trip and have grown to love it very much. I just think it’s interesting how something that was so traumatic to the 11-year-old me has grown to be such a joy. I haven’t been to the park since that high school trip and now I have a family of my own. I can’t wait to take them to Walt Disney World, and if my son looks at me and says “I am too scared,” you bet I will drag him onto the Haunted Mansion because even though I didn’t experience it fully that first time, I know the fear I felt was what started my love for that ride.

Near the end of the trip, I can smile because I know I won't be going back to the Haunted Mansion.

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  1. On my first trip inside the haunted mansion I similarly had my head buried in my mothers lap…but I was two…that ride was then avoided until around the age of nine where we went with another family and they wanted to try it out….my worst nightmare….the ride stopped while we were inside the corridor of knocking doors. I was petrified and was horrified my family took me on at all!! Finally at the age of around 20 I started riding through choice, and similarly to you, its now my favourite ride. BUT because of that fear I had as a child, I would steer clear until around my children are aged around 13. I think this ride should come with an age warning, like a movie lol. But I see what your saying about the love of it coming from that initial fear….it makes me reconsider. But I just couldnt drag my kids on if they said it was a no go. Maybe i worry too much lol

  2. The first time I went to Disney world I was 3 years old, & I was in love with two rides, pirates of the Caribbean & the haunted mansion! & I remember wanting to go on HM over & over & over. There was somthing about it that was so entrancing!