Disney’s Hollywood Studios has a new event to “compete” with Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party at Magic Kingdom. Jollywood Nights is a brand-new hard ticket nighttime party that’ll be held after hours at DHS on select evenings this holiday season. (Updated November 12, 2023.)
As discussed in our post detailing Reasons Why You Should Do Disney Hollywood Nights, we’re torn about the new Christmas party. Since it’s been announced, we’ve gone back and forth about the event and whether it’ll live up to its potential or be a total trainwreck. As the title suggests, that earlier article takes the optimistic outlook and covers the positives.
This article outlines the case against Disney Jollywood Nights–that much should be obvious from the title. Suffice to say, if you’re excited about Walt Disney World’s Christmas party, have already made the decision to attend, or are otherwise averse to negativity, this post is probably not for you. This details the potential pitfalls for Disney Jollywood Nights, meaning that it’s a bit of a downer by design…
November 12, 2023 Update: Well, the first-ever Disney Jollywood Nights is now in the books and, uh, it was something alright! It’s going to take me a few days to get a full review posted, but I just wanted to share some quick words of caution to anyone considering buying tickets based on marketing or social media or whatever.
Disney Jollywood Nights is very much taste and priority-specific; a party where the whole of the event is less than the sum of its parts. There is going to be some value here for certain visitor demographics, but by and large, we cannot recommend this event. If the operative question is whether Disney Jollywood Nights is a good Christmas party that’s worth the money, my answer is a hard no.
I’ll elaborate on that soon. For now, here’s the original post about why it might not be good. Since this was written back when Disney Jollywood Nights was announced, it’s not an exhaustive list of what went wrong–but parts of it are pretty prescient…
Shorter Mix-In – Disney Jollywood Nights runs from 8:30 pm to 12:30 am. Prior to that, ticket holders will be admitted to Disney’s Hollywood Studios as early as 7:00 pm on the date of their ticket. The event itself is longer than regular After Hours, but shorter than Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.
However, those events have three hours of mix-in time and one of those hours is technically after park closing, so it might as well be considered part of the event itself. On a per-hour basis, this makes Disney Jollywood Nights the most expensive event at Walt Disney World.
No Refreshments – Since we’re already discussing the objective value proposition, another big one is that–as of right now–no refreshments are included at Disney Jollywood Nights. This is in sharp contrast to After Hours, a major selling point of which is the unlimited bottled beverages, ice cream novelties, and popcorn from outdoor vending carts. It’s also a departure from Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, which offers cookies, hot chocolate, and more.
I know I’m in the minority of guests in thinking that refreshments don’t actually add a ton of value to these events, but I also recognize there’s the perception that they do. People absolutely love being able to walk up to a cart or counter service restaurant and being handed something “free.” Part of why After Hours is a huge hit is its all-inclusive and quasi-VIP quality, and how it contrasts with the increasingly common ‘nickel & diming’ vibe at Walt Disney World.
My initial impression is that Disney Jollywood Nights will have a ‘nickel & diming’ vibe rather an a quasi-VIP one. The extras you can purchase within the event were highlighted prominently in the press release, which is a red flag right out of the gate. With that said, this would be one of the easiest things for Walt Disney World to change if ticket sales start out slow. Unlimited refreshments have very little cost to the company, and could help move tickets should the need arise.
No Kid’s Pricing – Several families have already expressed concern that there’s no child pricing for Disney Jollywood Nights, whereas there is for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. We’ve had some ask if we think they should take their kids to this event. While we cannot speak to the personality and preferences of every child, our general sentiment is: “if you have to ask, the answer is no.”
Disney Jollywood Nights is aimed at a more adult audience. Walt Disney World is not going to tell people their kids aren’t welcome anywhere–even when they should. That’s just the nature of the beast, along with the company’s desire not to alienate families and sell as many tickets as possible. Instead, they will subtly nudge parents with small children away from this and towards Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party with things like pricing and marketing.
In short, the lack of child pricing is a feature and not a bug, and is meant to send a signal. Whether it’ll be effective is another story entirely. We’ve seen Walt Disney World’s failure to be direct about intended audiences blow up in their face–especially when sending mixed signals with things like the Muppets variety show and a singalong.
Not Enough to Do – Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party has a parade, fireworks, stage show, dance parties, and a variety of secondary entertainment. It’s also held in a much larger park with many more attractions to help absorb crowds. Even still, that event has problem-points and issues with congestion and crowd concentration.
Disney Jollywood Nights has far fewer selling points, and some of its core offerings will have exceedingly low capacity (discussed in more detail below). Unless ticket sales are limited to a far greater degree than MVMCP or even a normal After Hours at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, there are going to be issues with not enough to do…that attendees actually want to do.
Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! – This one isn’t on the wrong list. Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM is pitched as one of the selling points of Disney Jollywood Nights. And in fairness, the Christmas projection show is perfectly fine. However, it wasn’t enough of a draw that Walt Disney World felt compelled to bring it back either of the last two years. It didn’t even return when Fantasmic was still MIA and Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM could’ve been used as counterprogramming to the then-new fireworks in EPCOT and Magic Kingdom.
For anyone who hasn’t seen it, that should tell you everything you need to know about Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! No offense to those who love this projection show (everything has its fans), but it’s nothing special. There’s a reason you didn’t see outcry, petitions…or really anyone saying much of anything…when it was missing from the Christmas lineup for a few years. That it’s being brought back for Disney Jollywood Nights is another red flag to me–Walt Disney World is phoning in at least one element of the event, which should be a significant selling point.
No Star Wars Holiday Special?! – I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Imagineering and the Lucasfilm Story Group have way too tight of a grip on Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. I love the land and its ambition, but it takes itself way too seriously–prioritizing thematic integrity over whimsy, fun, and play. That’s why it took a herculean effort for the Mandalorian and Baby Yoda to come to Galaxy’s Edge–a move that was obvious to just about every normal person.
That’s also why I assume Disney Jollywood Nights thus far contains no mention of anything special in Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. That’s a tremendous shame and colossal missed opportunity–but there’s probably nothing anyone in Walt Disney World entertainment or events can do about it. Sooner or later, I hope someone in a position of power in Burbank reevaluates the successes and failures of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, its tremendous unrealized potential, and opens the ‘fun floodgates.’
“Limited-Capacity” Offerings – Raise your hand if two of the things that appeal to you most about Disney Jollywood Nights are the jazz lounge in Brown Derby or the otherworldly soirée at the Hollywood Tower Hotel. In surveying the audience, that’s a majority of you. (I’m guessing…I can’t actually see your raised hands.)
The problem with that is both of these venues having guest capacity in the hundreds. Not only that, but these offerings are going to be serving food and drinks, which means the average duration of visit will be at least 30 minutes. Even if Walt Disney World pulls an Oga’s Cantina and pushes people in and out as quickly as possible (the recipe for a relaxed and enjoyable experience!), there is going to be a big supply-demand mismatch.
It just will not be possible for Brown Derby and Hollywood Tower Hotel to accommodate everyone who wants to experience them. The capacity for Disney Jollywood Nights would need to be like 2,000 guests for that, in which case the cost of tickets would be $1,590 instead of $159. There’s no way to make the math work.
That’s precisely why Walt Disney World has added the “limited-capacity” asterisk to both. That’s code for we’re not promising that you’ll be able to experience this–in fact, you probably won’t!
As for how Walt Disney World will manage that limited capacity, it’s anyone’s guess. Some of you will groan at this, but a virtual queue is unquestionably the least-bad option. The other actual alternatives are making people wait in line–wasting valuable hours of the event–or making those lounges separately-ticketed upcharges.
Upchargeception? – One of my first thoughts when reading the press release was that someone at Walt Disney World wanted a hard ticket event aimed at free-spending guests with the potential for even more per guest spending within the event. As if the per caps number just wasn’t high enough at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party!
The press release emphasizes “sensational sweets,” “savory snacks,” and “shimmering sips.” All of which, conveniently, are “available for purchase” at the event. Although live music and entertainment will be present, there’s a reasonable chance that the Latin street fair, jazz lounge in Hollywood Brown Derby, and otherworldly soirée at the Hollywood Tower Hotel all revolve around purchasing food and beverage.
Not only that, but (again) we don’t yet know how the latter two will operate, and whether they’ll require additional spending–either as upcharge-within-upcharge or food & drink minimums–to access. Then there are also extras for D23 Members, and it’s completely unclear whether those will cost more or not. (Even if not, D23 has a paywall.)
Virtual Queue – Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance will use a virtual queue during Disney Jollywood Nights. I have a bunch of possible theories as to why, a few of which are actually innocent or innocuous explanations.
Motivations don’t really matter, as the end result is the same. Moving Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance back to a virtual queue means that attraction’s physical queue won’t be absorbing crowds. Moreover, it means attendees presumably will not be able to experience it more than once, and will instead by contributing to lines elsewhere as a result. At an event where capacity constraints are the biggest concern, that’s a curious decision.
Long Lines for Characters – The obvious outcome of Disney Jollywood Nights not offering enough to do and the event otherwise not being aimed at families is going to be long lines for characters. We’ve seen this movie before, and that is exactly how it ends.
It would be a big mistake to assume that since Phineas and Ferb haven’t been “a thing” in a while, their meet & greet won’t be that busy. Maybe you’re right and it won’t–but that would probably require Disney flooding the park with other rare characters and not advertising them in advance. Absent that, our past experience with this type of event and the confluence of circumstances say to us that Phineas and Ferb will have at least an hour-long wait. (Other waits won’t be much better if the characters have special costumes.)
Logistics – Over the course of the last decade-plus, we’ve attended many opening days and inaugural events at Walt Disney World and the other parks. From those experiences, I feel like I could work as a consultant for Disney offering advice avoiding common pitfalls. (That might sound arrogant, but based on the logistical failures that play out on a consistent and predictable basis, it seems like a role that does not currently exist at Team Disney Orlando.)
The composition of Disney Jollywood Nights immediately raises red flags on this front for me. Unless there’s a lot that has not been announced or ticket sales are anemic, this is a potential perfect storm of problems. It will be impossible for Walt Disney World to project demand dynamics, crowdflow, and the logistics of the many moving pieces.
The good news is that there are solutions for this. The first is doing a couple Cast Member preview nights to iron out any potential issues, but even that’s not foolproof because Cast Members are a different demo than paying guests. The second is to cap capacity at a far lower level for the first couple of Disney Jollywood Nights dates to assess how things operate and have a safety net. I’m skeptical either of those things will occur…because money.
Accordingly, if you do want to attend Disney Jollywood Nights but are worried about the event having hiccups, skip the first 2-3 Christmas parties and opt for one of the later nights. (Even this is a double-edged sword. If Disney Jollywood Nights ticket sales are slow to start but the event garners rave reviews, you’re risking potentially worse crowds as word gets out that it’s actually good!)
Experimental Energy – Speaking of double-edged swords, this made our list of reasons why you should attend Disney Jollywood Nights and it also makes the why you should not attend list. That’s because experiments are an inherently risk-reward proposition. On the reward side of the ledger, we presented Oogie Boogie Bash at Disneyland. However, the (very fair) point can be raised that Disneyland just does things differently, is more adept at events, and generally gives greater effort.
The counterpoint example is another quasi-Halloween event, and one held at Disney’s Hollywood Studios: Villains Unleashed. While I very much enjoyed the experimental energy of that event and managed to ‘make it work’ for me, I was an anomaly. Most guests did not realize what they were getting themselves into. Some ended up waiting multiple hours for rare characters, accomplishing very little at a then-high cost.
Others “accidentally” attended Oogie Boogie’s Freaky Funhouse Show, which Disney had repeatedly warned was “too intense for young children.” I will never forget the faces of families fleeing from that–I have never seen so many people abruptly exit a show at Walt Disney World. (Oogie Boogie’s Freaky Funhouse was actually quite good, but definitely not for small children.) Finally, the longest line of the night was at Guest Services, as people lodged complaints and requested refunds.
Ultimately, my biggest fear is that Disney Jollywood Nights is going to be Villains Unleashed: Christmas Edition. That event had 50 characters, multiple performances of the aforementioned Oogie Boogie stage show, Fantasmic, fireworks, and other entertainment. And yet, it was an unmitigated disaster and colossal disappointment for many/most attendees.
There’s no reason to believe Villains Unleashed was oversold. Crowds for fireworks and other large-scale entertainment were not bad. The main issue was that many attendees purchased tickets for the smaller-scale stuff, and there simply was not enough capacity to accommodate those guests at those offerings. It was a failure, which was obviously not the outcome that Walt Disney World wanted–the production costs of one-off events make them money losers, even when tickets are expensive.
The optimistic assumption would be that Walt Disney World learned lessons from Villains Unleashed, and would work to ensure that a similar meltdown wouldn’t occur again. But that was 9 years ago, which is the distant past by Walt Disney World standards–a lot of people have come and gone, and institutional knowledge has been lost. The structure of this and its composition do have parallels, which are cause for concern. We very much hope that these concerns and pessimism are unfounded, with Disney Jollywood Nights being a huge hit with tremendously high guest satisfaction scores!
Will you purchase party tickets for Disney Jollywood Nights at DHS? Think the potential positives outweigh the negatives, or vice-versa? What has you excited about the event? What has you concerned? If you’re planning to attend, will you do so instead of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party or in addition to it? What do you think about Disney Jollywood Nights? Do you agree or disagree with our perspective on this? 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!