Disney Makes Jollywood Nights Changes & Adds Rare Characters After Opening Night Meltdown

After an operational meltdown on the inaugural night of the Jollywood Nights hard ticket event, Walt Disney World made a ton of improvements and additions for the second Christmas party. This covers all of the changes, how they enhanced the guest experience, and our commentary about where the hard ticket offering goes from here.

For starters, we want to acknowledge that our Disney Jollywood Nights Christmas Party Review: Good, Bad & Ugly is already becoming somewhat obsolete. While we’d encourage any prospective party-goer to read that before purchasing tickets to Disney Jollywood Nights (DJN), we’d also encourage you to disregard to sections about logistics, lines and operations. Basically, the substantive sections (stage shows, lounges, etc.) are still accurate, but other elements are unique to night one.

To that point, we’ve received a lot of questions from those who have tickets to Disney Jollywood Nights wondering whether they should try to cancel or change to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. Honestly, it’s impossible for us to answer that for you. If the event looks underwhelming to you even assuming operational improvements, you might not want to attend. Everyone else on the fence about DJN, especially in December 2023, we’d encourage a ‘wait and see’ approach. As negative as our review was, the party is clearly already getting considerably better. Enough to justify dropping all that money? Well, it’s going to depend…

The first big change was to the reservation process for Jazzy Holidays at the Hollywood Brown Derby. According to Walt Disney World, tables will now be available on a first-come, first-served basis until Jazzy Holidays at The Hollywood Brown Derby reaches capacity for the first seating of the night, at which point Disney will open up additional capacity via walk-up waitlist in the My Disney Experience app throughout the evening.

The queue for the first-come, first-served seating will open close to the beginning of Disney Jollywood Nights. Seating is limited and Walt Disney World anticipates filling that seating quickly. Once seating has reached capacity, check availability to join the mobile walk-up list for this experience throughout Disney Jollywood Nights.

That alone is an improvement. If Jazzy Holidays is really important to you, our tentative advice would be to get in the standby line before the party even starts. For everyone else, we’d recommend simply rolling the dice and hoping the walk-up waitlist pays off. Jazzy Holidays is not that good, and it’ll eat up a lot of time during DJN.

Another big upgrade comes before the party even starts. At the first DJN, there was a single in-park wristband distribution point at the Mickey Shorts Theater, leading to very long lines for guests to check-in to the event–starting the party off on the wrong foot.

At the second Disney Jollywood Nights, there were more wristband distribution points throughout Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Going forward, guests can pick up their DJN wristbands and credentials in Grand Avenue near MuppetVision 3D or the Star Wars Launch Bay. Using two locations on opposite sides of the park should lead to a smoother check-in process going forward.

Finally, a bunch of rare characters were added to the second Disney Jollywood Nights. Here’s a list of new characters and their locations:

  • Mary Poppins & Penguin Waiter (Grand Avenue)
  • Snow White & Dopey  (Grand Avenue)
  • Jiminy Cricket (Front of Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway)
  • Pinocchio (Front of Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway)
  • Santa Stitch (Echo Lake)
  • Santa Duffy (Mickey Shorts Theater)

The first thing to note here is that these were unpublished appearances, meaning both that they’re subject to change and also that demand for at least some of these characters was artificially low at night two.

Obviously, the goal with more rare characters is to dilute demand among character hunters. Instead of 1-2 hour lines for Phineas and Ferb and 30-45 minutes for Powerline Max and other characters, those numbers might go down a bit.

With that said, party attendees who went specifically to meet Phineas and Ferb aren’t going to suddenly want to meet Santa Stitch instead. He’s not a substitute for diehard fans of a specific (different) character. Moreover, more characters could increase interest in the event among character hunters, inducing more demand over the course of the DJN season.

In other words, it’s too early to say what the precise impact of even more characters will be at Disney Jollywood Nights. Again, we look back to Villains Unleashed, which had way more characters and still melted down. Meet & greets are so low capacity that it doesn’t take many guests to overwhelm them. The real ‘win’ would be more event attendees doing attractions, which have hourly capacities that dwarf meet & greets.

In terms of commentary, we have a lot of thoughts about all of this. Let’s start with the big picture, which is that it’s great to see Walt Disney World listen to guest feedback and add more offerings to Disney Jollywood Nights. This is a company that is almost incapable of doing anything quickly, so it’s surprising and heartening to see so many changes in the span of a single week.

My guess would be that this was motivated not just by guest feedback and complaints, but from a week of negative ticket sales for Disney Jollywood Nights. Meaning that the number of people attempting to cancel or have their tickets changed to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (which sold out a ton more dates this week–probably no coincidence!) exceeded the number of new tickets sold for Jollywood Nights. Something like that would certainly light a fire under Disney to act fast!

Regardless, kudos to Walt Disney World for being responsive to guest feedback and complaints, and making major changes in relatively short order. While we’re envious of night two attendees (especially a couple characters they got to meet) and wish this would’ve happened from the outset, we’re also happy to see changes. It’s definitely better late than never!

As for how much this will move the needle, it’s really difficult–and probably still too early–to say. We’ve already heard several reports from attendees at night two of Disney Jollywood Nights, and they were all much more favorable than the inaugural party. Some were downright effusively positive, saying they preferred it to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.

While we were not at night two of Disney Jollywood Nights and will not be attending again until Christmas 2024, I’m inclined to believe some of the positive sentiment. Operations and logistics are no doubt better thanks to all of the changes, meaning there’s far less friction–a trend that’ll continue going forward.

The demographics have also changed, meaning that guests are probably better distributed throughout the event. That coupled with smoother operations should result in a very positive change to the flow of the event. Add more rare characters to the event, and it’s likely that Disney Jollywood Nights feels like it has more to offer guests. So all of those are wins.

With that said, there’s a ceiling on all of this. There are ways that the substance and atmosphere of the event are unlikely to change, as major offerings aren’t going to be added to Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, Toy Story Land, or other areas of the park that feel ignored.

It’s also unlikely that Walt Disney World has the time or resources to retool the Tip Top Club at Tower of Terror or Jazzy Holidays at Brown Derby. But maybe those will become “better” by virtue of fewer guests being interested, making them less competitive and lower stakes.

On the plus side, no retooling of the two main stage shows is necessary. Those were good to great from the jump, and should continue to be so as the season goes on. If anything, they’ll get better as the performers find their groove. (They were already top-notch night one.)

The potential flip side to this is that Walt Disney World guests will start to see more positive reports. Again, our guess is that the last week saw more cancellations than new ticket sales. Our guess would be that the coming week sees a major reversal of this, with people purchasing tickets instead of cancelling.

In other words, the coming parties could be busier than the second party–meaning that lines and wait times start creeping up. With that said, Walt Disney World will undoubtedly continue to tweak the event as the holiday season continues.

As we noted in our review, it appears that a ton of money was invested in developing and marketing this event, to the point that it likely won’t break-even from the first year. Disney has a vested interest in seeing this succeed and come back for 2024. They’re going to do everything possible to ensure that happens.

The next Disney Jollywood Nights is only in a couple days–it’ll be interesting to see whether that’s enough time to make any other changes. But the party following that is a full week later–our guess is that there will be even more adjustments before that.

Finally, we want to take (too much) time to fixate on that last character: Santa Duffy. For many (most?) of you, this might seem like an insignificant addition. For mainstream Walt Disney World guests, Duffy is probably the least-recognizable character on that list.

For a small faction of diehard Disney fans, Duffy is like the white whale. If you’re unfamiliar with the character, the history of Duffy the Disney Bear in the United States is a weird one. He was originally developed as an ancillary toy, Mickey’s teddy bear, rather than as a standalone character.

To make a long story short, Duffy was then reimagined slightly and thrust into the limelight. Consumer products tried to make him a merchandising powerhouse, with tons of Duffy bears and changeable outfits on store shelves, as well as a Duffy meet & greet and other appearances.

At one point, he met in this Santa Duffy costume at EPCOT (where Asha from Wish meets currently) and was on the lead Minnie & Mickey float in Once Upon a Christmastime Parade during Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (see above). All of this failed spectacularly. If you asked a lot of Walt Disney World fans (us included), Duffy felt forced.

The character led with merchandise, making it feel less like the organic introduction of a new original theme park character (the first since Figment?) and more like a crass cash grab. Duffy had his loyal fans, to be sure, but the overwhelming majority of guests rejected him. I remember seeing the Duffy character meet & greet with no line whatsoever…and we still didn’t jump into it.

They say time heals all wounds, but that’s not really what this is about. Rather, it’s an outgrowth of The Duffy Phenomenon at Tokyo DisneySea. (That article is well worth a read if you’re curious to know more.) There, Duffy and friends have been immensely popular, and it’s mostly organic. Sure, Duffy is an absolute beast when it comes to moving merchandise, but his crew also exist in the park in meaningful ways.

The bottom line is that we hated Duffy at Walt Disney World, and love him at Tokyo DisneySea. Maybe that’s a matter of bias, but we think there’s a meaningful difference. And we are not alone.

As social media has broken down barriers and international travel has become more accessible, there are a ton of other Disney fans just like us who have “rediscovered” Duffy and now love the character. Suffice to say, if I saw Santa Duffy at the first Jollywood Nights with an hour-long wait…I would’ve jumped into it.

What’s most surprising about Santa Duffy being added to the character lineup at Disney Jollywood Nights is that the decision to add him was made in the span of a week. Even though they likely had the costume still sitting in storage, this is basically Walt Disney World breaking the ‘in case of emergency‘ glass and bringing out a heavy hitter.

Disney has been flirting with the idea of bringing Duffy and friends back to Walt Disney World and Disneyland for a while now, and it has felt like an inevitability. However, I also expected that it would be very deliberate and methodical, with careful marketing to build up to the momentous occasion to maximize hype and interest. Instead…they just randomly put Santa Duffy out there.

Of course, this could mean absolutely nothing and Santa Duffy could disappear after the Disney Jollywood Nights season is over and the character could have a ‘proper’ rollout in 2024 or whenever it’s going to happen down the road. I’m nevertheless surprised that they went this route.

When it comes to Duffy, one thing I would add is that you shouldn’t put any stock in his debut night wait times. Santa Duffy was in an out-of-the-way location, and party attendees aren’t spending their nights glued to social media. That’ll change to some degree by the next party, and even more so by the ones after that.

Not only will word get out, but some Duffy diehards will actually purchase tickets just to meet the character. (I’m not even kidding.) By the end of the Disney Jollywood Nights season, I would expect his line to die down a bit, but it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

That’s kind of our expectation for Disney Jollywood Nights as a whole–the growing pains will continue, but the event will hopefully hit its stride by mid-December 2023. It’s good to see Walt Disney World making major changes after the first party meltdown, but there’s only so much that can be addressed in-season. Here’s hoping that they’re able to make it ‘good enough’ this year and increase guest satisfaction to a sufficient degree that the event is brought back for Christmas 2024. Between now and then is when the major adjustments and improvements can really happen.

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Did you attend the second night of Disney Jollywood Nights? If so, what was your experience? Better or about the same as night one reports? For those who already have tickets to the event, are you taking a ‘wait and see’ approach to improvements? After reading reports from night two, will you purchase party tickets for Disney Jollywood Nights? Do you agree or disagree with our review? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!

18 Responses to “Disney Makes Jollywood Nights Changes & Adds Rare Characters After Opening Night Meltdown”
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