Holiday Fantasies Come to Life presents Thanksgiving 2018

Burbank, CA

We’re catching up after my vacation with another update that would have been published earlier if hadn’t fled the country in search of mosques and blue cities and camels and azulejos (translation: I went to Morocco and Portugal, and if I ever get some time to re-engage our travel section, you’ll see them in future guides). Today’s update features a holiday yard display of immense extravagance. But surprisingly, it’s not a Halloween haunted attraction nor is it a Christmas yard display. Instead, it’s somewhere in between…

The entry door into the house is just about the only element recognizable from a residence in this amazing yard display.

The entry door into the house is just about the only element recognizable from a residence in this amazing yard display.

I’ll start with a confession: I’m not exactly sure how to best categorize this update. You see, last month, during Knott’s Merry Farm media night, I was chatting with Shawn and Carmelle from Parks and Cons (having never properly interacted with them before, despite having attended many of the same media events and haunt visits). And during the course of our conversation, Shawn mentioned a “Pirates of the Caribbean haunt” located in Burbank that was truly spectacular, despite being on absolutely no one’s haunt list. I rattled off a few pirate-themed haunts I was aware of, but this was none of those. Instead, this technically unnamed haunt was its own production by a couple who just loved decorating for the holidays and had taken that hobby to a whole and thoroughly impressive extreme. And the best part? The haunt would be open through Thanksgiving!

What an opportunity to extend Halloween season. I decided to stop by the following evening to claim another haunt credit, but to my surprise upon arrival, I found the Pirates of the Caribbean theme removed—taken inside a week+ earlier to bring a close to the Halloween season. There were still decorations, however. And instead of being something dark or spooky or at least recognized as a wildly popular franchise based on the beloved Disney attraction, it was an autumn-themed presentation with clear remnants of the Pirates decorations previously in place.

The treasure from the Halloween Pirates of the Caribbean overlay is still present, but pumpkins and other autumn elements have been incorporated into the setup.

The treasure from the Halloween Pirates of the Caribbean overlay is still present, but pumpkins and other autumn elements have been incorporated into the setup.

Now, I’ve seen Halloween yard displays, and of course, Christmas home displays are wildly popular throughout the country. But I’ve never really seen Thanksgiving exhibited in such an extravagant manner. Granted, the base of the production was the Pirates of the Caribbean Halloween season scenery, but the little touches to give more of a general fall touch were charming and pretty cute. Pumpkins, turkeys, strawmen, and various foodstuffs imparted the notion of a Thanksgiving feast. But the essence of various scenes from the iconic Disneyland attraction were still there, from the swamp to the grotto to the siege and even the iconic jail scene. Rather than feature elaborate and realistic models of the pirates or their undead selves, however, family-friendly plush figures and personified gourds stood in their place.

Instead of pirates in jail, it’s straw stuff figures.

Instead of pirates in jail, it’s straw stuff figures.

Come to learn that this residence has been decorating for various holidays for decades. The owners, Tina and Ernie, are both big fans of holidays in general and of all things Disney, and while their property theming ambitions have grown this spectacular over only the past couple of years, they’ve always had something thematic for the various major holidays throughout the year. But things really started taking off a couple of years ago, when they won the Burbank Halloween Decorating Contest with a solid but generic haunted house offering. Convinced they could do better, though, they came back the following year with an incredibly elaborate Wizard of Oz themed entry that won the community contest again. They parlayed that theme into a general Disney Castle Royalty overlay during Christmas.

This year, their Pirates of the Caribbean yard display unbelievably placed second—unbelievably because while the winning entry was solid, it came nowhere close to the detail that Tina and Ernie poured into their Pirates haunt. Then again, the Burbank Halloween Decorating Contest has never awarded a second place finish before this year, so something tells me that the decision was more political than anything—selected so to avoid claims of favoritism if the same house started winning year after year.

Through the living room window, guests can glimpse a bit of what the Pirates of the Caribbean set looked like, with this scene from early on in the ride.

Through the living room window, guests can glimpse a bit of what the Pirates of the Caribbean set looked like, with this scene from early on in the ride.

The level of detail and effort involved in Ernie and Tina’s displays has become almost intimidating. Planning starts at the beginning of the year, and the creation of various props follows soon after. Tina works on the living room picture box window display during the summer, but when it is done, a curtain conceals the surprise until the fall. From there, the outward transformation of the house begins, with Ernie doing most of the heavy lifting on construction elements, lights, wiring, and programming, while Tina follows through with the detailed theming and staging, utilizing every inch of their driveway and front yard available!

There’s also a swampy bayou area, reminiscent of the beginning of the attraction as guests sail by the Blue Bayou Restaurant.

There’s also a swampy bayou area, reminiscent of the beginning of the attraction as guests sail by the Blue Bayou Restaurant.

All of this has been borne out of a simple and pure joy for the holidays and commitment to one heck of a hobby. The couple had no public presence until only recently, when their daughter started a Facebook page for them and gave their yard display the title of Holiday Fantasies Come to Life. Neither Tina nor Ernie are active on any social media, though when one sees the fruits of their endeavors from a decoration standpoint, one certainly understands why! All of this is done on their spare time, outside of their regular day jobs. But there’s no denying how incredibly stunning and awe-inspiring the end result is!

Although Tina and Ernie’s residence is the only overt Halloween display on the block, the neighbors have been supportive, reacting with curiosity and interest more than annoyance. During the Halloween season, they were even able to have a couple of concerts on their front yard near and at Halloween to commemorate the holiday. In an age when neighbor complaints can shut down the most elaborate of holiday displays (see Boney Island a couple of years ago), it’s refreshing to see support for a passion that is designed just to bring joy to the community.

Details like the ship cannons and mast are pretty impressive!

Details like the ship cannons and mast are pretty impressive!

Since my visit last month, Tina and Ernie have been working to transform their yard display into a Christmas presentation, using Peter Pan as a base theme. That’s smart, given the pirate commonalities. Guests who want to see the winter holiday version of Holiday Fantasies Come to Life this season can head over to 1505 N. Valley St, Burbank, California 91505 now through the end of the month to see a combination Peter Pan/Christmas setup utilizing the pirate ship domicile as a spectacular backdrop. After the new year, it will be onto planning the next big feature!

Architect. Photographer. Disney nerd. Haunt enthusiast. Travel bugged. Concert fiend. Asian.