Disney Jollywood Nights is the new hard ticket Christmas event with special holiday entertainment, food & beverage, and adult atmosphere at Walt Disney World. This reviews our experience with the party, covering bright spots and what went wrong during the opening night meltdown. We’ll also address whether it’s worth the money, how much you can accomplish, and my step-by-step experience. (Updated November 21, 2023.)
Before we get down to brass tacks with the review and what went wrong (and right!), let’s start with basic background. Disney Jollywood Nights is the brand-new separately ticketed, limited-capacity Christmas party from 8:30 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. on 10 select nights from November 11 to December 20, 2023. Ticket prices range from $159 to $179 per person, depending upon the date.
Jollywood Nights is billed by Walt Disney World as being a “glam holiday party” and a “swanky Hollywood bash filled with merriment, music and spirited good times.” The adult-focused event promised a more refined holiday vibe, sights of sparkling décor, sounds of modern beats over classic holiday songs, tastes of craft cocktails and decadent dishes. Disney Jollywood Nights is nostalgic and it’s glitz and glam galore. These are all ways that Walt Disney World itself marketed the event.
In so doing, they corrected the biggest logistical issues. Guests who attended subsequent nights did not report the same issues with lines, crowds, or other operational problems. As a whole, their experience sounds like it was significantly smoother and those reviews are much more positive as a result.
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 such, portions of this review are now obsolete. While we’d encourage any prospective party-goer to read this before purchasing tickets to Disney Jollywood Nights (DJN), we’d also encourage you to disregard to sections about logistics, lines and operations. (I’ve moved those to the end so they’re easier to ignore.)
Based on reports from the second and third parties, there have been zero issues whatsoever with all of that. Basically, the substantive sections (stage shows, lounges, etc.) of this review are still accurate as are the portions about atmosphere, but the ‘meltdown’ 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 upon your priorities.
In the interest of full disclosure, I was invited by Walt Disney World to attend the first night of Disney Jollywood Nights. However, I had already purchased my own ticket when I received the invite, so I paid for admission.
I had some free food as part of a preview, attended a creative Q&A panel, and had access to reserved seating for the shows. Materially, my experience was the same as any paying guest. I did not have special access to characters, food, or anything aside from those two shows. (And in those cases, I wasn’t able to use the seats for one show due to arriving too late and had seats 5 rows back from my non-media friends in the other.)
I think this review pretty much speaks for itself, but thought I’d mention all of that for the sake of transparency. With that out of the way, let’s dig into the substance of our Disney Jollywood Nights review…
Twilight Soirée at the Tip Top Club – Walt Disney World advertises this as a swingin’ celebration in the courtyard of The Hollywood Tower Hotel. Here, you can sip cocktails and unwind in style while a live band swoons and croons holiday tunes.
The first of two expectations versus reality misses, this is like marketing a swingin’ soiree with swoonin’ and classy croonin’ only to have the Driving Crooner be the entertainment. Yes, it would be objectively awesome to see the Driving Crooner, but is that really what was promised. You sure about that?
In this case, the band was great and gave a captivating performances. If all you wanted to do was watch them, and that was the case for me, what Walt Disney World offered was arguably good enough. As an active experience, this was a bit lifeless, which I guess is somewhat fitting for an otherworldly soiree.
With that said, I think it would be a tough task to actually turn this into a swinging soiree–how many Walt Disney World guests are actually going to dress the part and dance? I don’t know, but I’m guessing the answer is “not enough to give this the right vibe.” The thing is, we don’t know because the setup didn’t facilitate anything but standing around in a cramped viewing area.
This doesn’t even begin to address the bar situation here, which was a basic drinks served from a glorified outdoor vending cart that had a 30+ minute estimated wait. (I say estimated because the line moved at a glacial pace–one of our friends was in it, but bailed after making zero progress after 15 minutes.) The good news, I guess, is that it should be pretty easy to effectively double capacity by bringing a second ODV back here before the second party.
Jazzy Holidays at The Hollywood Brown Derby – This iconic restaurant transforms into a limited-capacity smooth jazz joint where you can enjoy holiday music, craft cocktails and an exclusive menu of light bites in a sophisticated setting.
Disney also previously described Jazzy Holidays at the Brown Derby as being inspired by New York City piano bars. The Hollywood Brown Derby restaurant was to be turned into a sing-along piano bar with a piano and accompanying singer, performing songs from the ’20s, ‘30s, ‘40s, and ‘50s. The space was to be transformed into “a swinging speakeasy party like you’ve never seen, something you could only find in a big city.” Normally a table service restaurant, the space was to be set up differently and include multiple bars.
Almost none of that happened. Jazzy Holidays did have a pianist, that part is true. And his piano did have garland on it, so check the box for decoration (singular) in the Brown Derby! That was literally it. Although nitpicky, another odd choice was to play Disney music in equal amounts as holiday songs.
If you happened to time Jazzy Holidays poorly and be seated right after a set ended, you might not even realize anything special was happening, as no Christmas music–not even a background loop–was playing during the downtime.
Although the competition is fierce, this probably is the biggest disappointment of Jollywood Nights simply by virtue of the time commitment, difficulty in accessing the space, and expectations vs. reality. No offense to the musician, who was talented and gave great performances, but one man does not make a speakeasy party unless that fella’s name is Jay Gatsby.
The only silver lining here is that I did purchase food (not wanting to be rude) and the sliders were fantastic. But that’s not enough to justify doing Jazzy Holidays. Save yourself the stress and time, and skip this.
Atmosphere – Beyond the two limited-capacity offerings underwhelming, the biggest misfire of Disney Jollywood Nights for me was the vibe. One of the things we routinely talk up about Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is the exceptional ambiance–our favorite thing about the event is simply being there.
Seeing the snow fall on Main Street, hearing Jolly Old Saint Nicholas in Fantasyland, enjoying the moody lighting and special projections, free-roaming characters having fun–it all just puts a smile on my face. And that’s not just nostalgia talking. Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party has mastered its mood, and that’s a big reason why so many people love that party.
By contrast, several areas of Disney’s Hollywood Studios felt like complete ghost towns. And not in a good way. Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge was so desolate that Cast Members were practically begging guests to enter Oga’s Cantina. Toy Story Land had virtually nothing going on for Disney Jollywood Nights. The two most popular parts of the park offered nothing.
Even lands that ostensibly were participating in Disney Jollywood Nights were pretty sad. We don’t normally spend much time in Animation Courtyard–because why would we?!–and this event was a good reminder of that. It felt like a dead mall trying to reinvent itself by adding a Spirit Halloween Christmas. The Commissary Lane “party” was not quite as sad, but also nothing special and very low-energy. Ditto Pixar Place.
Echo Lake was a bright spot, but not because of Disney Jollywood Nights–it’s always a sleeper during the holiday season. Same goes for Sunset Boulevard, but that’s because virtually all of the substantive offerings were in this area of the park.
Only small pockets of Disney’s Hollywood Studios felt like they were open for business, much less actively celebrating Christmas. Again, this is a regular ole DHS problem, but it’s amplified when you reduce the park capacity and pretend there’s a party happening. It just didn’t have the energy.
Ride Wait Times – With the exception of Slinky Dog Dash and Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, every attraction appeared to be a near walk-on. Slinky Dog Dash did have a line (maybe ~10-15 minute actual wait until the last hour) and Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance used a virtual queue before breaking down for a bit.
I didn’t do any rides due to the short duration of the event, but this was definitely a bright spot of Disney Jollywood Nights. Due to differences in demographics and people steering clear of some of the underwhelming offerings, I’d expect attraction waits to increase during subsequent events. They still should be manageable and far better than a normal day, though.
Disney Holidays in Hollywood – This is an all-new stage show inspired by the glitz and glamour of vintage Hollywood TV specials—with a contemporary twist and some holiday magic—at Theater of the Stars, Disney’s own Hollywood Bowl-inspired venue.
According to the company, Holidays in Hollywood is a chance to see the holidays through a fresh lens in this star-studded series of jolly vignettes. Holidays in Hollywood features appearances from special guest stars, including Kermit the Frog, Miss Piggy, Tiana, Belle, Minnie Mouse and Mickey Mouse—accompanied by a talented cast of singers, dancers and jazz musicians.
I absolutely loved Holidays in Hollywood! So much so that I wish I could’ve seen it more than once. The performances were fantastic, and although I would’ve loved more Muppets, everyone else was fantastic. In particular, dancing Minnie and Mickey Mouse did a superb job. All around fantastic choreography, music, staging–everything.
I do wish Disney gave more room for the vintage Hollywood TV special framing device room to “breathe.” This was a fantastic idea, and a great nod to the old school style of the Disney MGM Studios, but it didn’t quite fully click. (So perhaps perfectly in line with the OG park’s approach!) I also understand that Disney only wants stage shows to be so long, and this was already really meaty.
I’d put Holidays in Hollywood in the same tier as the Hocus Pocus or Very Merriest stage shows at the Halloween and Christmas parties in Magic Kingdom. It would probably be #3 on that list, but it’s a close call. Regardless, being in the same league as those is a win.
What’s This? Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas Sing-Along – According to the company, this is a chance to join Jack Skellington at Hyperion Theater for a dreamlike adventure inspired by Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas.
Sing along with the Pumpkin King to beloved songs from the film as you follow 2 friends on a larger-than-life journey. You’ll discover the peculiar magic of wonder in unlikely places, conquer the Oogie Boogie man himself and stay curious when things are not quite as they seem.
Given that I’m a very cool (allegedly) adult man over the age of 12 years old, I have zero use for sing-alongs. I don’t get the decision to make a really high quality show…and then turn it into a sing-along. It would be like if Cirque du Soleil, for some reason, called on the audience to perform the acrobatics.
Some of you might love sing-alongs for whatever reason–fine, that’s your prerogative–but judging by the near silence of the audience during my showing, my viewpoint is seemingly the prevailing one.
With that caveat, What’s This? was way better than it had any right to be. The silent performers were fantastic, seeing the Jack Skellington puppet in a theater setting is awesome, and Oogie Boogie stole the show. What’s This? ended up being the pleasant surprise of the event for me. It wasn’t as good as Holidays in Hollywood, but I expected to love that. As someone who hates sing-alongs and is indifferent to all things Tim Burton, I was surprised to enjoy this so much.
What’s This? also underscores that there is easily as much at Disney Jollywood Nights for kids as for adults. Of the worthwhile offerings, the argument could be made that this event was actually more kid-friendly than adult-oriented.
Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! – This nighttime spectacular returns to Hollywood Studios only during Disney Jollywood Nights. According to the company, it features heartwarming holiday moments from favorite Disney films are brought to life on the façade of the park’s iconic Chinese Theater. It’s a stunning display of fireworks, lasers, lights, projections and merry music.
I’m not the world’s biggest Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM fan. I don’t love it or hate it, but I do think it’s incredibly lame that: 1) this show wasn’t brought back for regular daily operations the last couple of years, and; 2) a new nighttime spectacular wasn’t created that better fit the event. Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM feels like an afterthought. It’s as if Disney knew the above offerings weren’t enough, so they recycled an old show and tacked it on.
As noted above, I was able to sample some of the items served at Disney Jollywood Nights. Most of it didn’t wow me, especially not the Dinosaur Gertie cookie (I cannot believe people stood in line ~30 minutes for that). With that said, I also wasn’t there for the food–it was an already short event and I figured that would eat up too much time.
Too Much Friction – It might be possible to read the above and say that it sounds a lot like After Hours at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. And perhaps that’s a fair point. Having done After Hours at DHS, I think even that has a better energy than Disney Jollywood Nights, with the park feeling mostly alive thanks to a mix of guests, characters, and free refreshment spots better distributed throughout the park.
Regardless, the key difference between the respective events is friction. We’ve recommended Disney After Hours in the past because it’s a quasi-VIP event that removes all friction from the regular experience and gives guests the run of the park. Short of doing a VIP tour, it makes people feel special.
During After Hours, you don’t have to bother with booking Lightning Lanes, Mobile Order, or any of the barriers that normally get in the way of a great day at DHS. Walk up to an ODV and you’re handed free* soft drinks, ice cream, popcorn, and so forth. (*Included with admission.) That’s not true at Jollywood Nights.
No Contingency Plans (Obsolete?)– Disney Jollywood Nights is held in Florida, a place known for its famously dry climate. Oh wait. Obviously, Walt Disney World cannot be blamed for the weather. There was a lot of rain in the last hour of night one, and that impacts certain things. That’s unavoidable, and it also happens in daily operations.
Less excusable is having no plan for rain and just, I guess, hoping for the best. There were a bunch of meet & greets with rare characters, all of which were held outdoors in open air. When the rain came down, they left and were done for the rest of the night. Character meet & greets are already low capacity and several had hour-plus waits, but that was worsened by them being unavailable for the last hour. Same goes for the entertainment that was also outdoors and also not relocated.
Disney Jollywood Nights was already too short to accomplish a reasonable amount of its substantive offerings, and it certainly didn’t help that one-quarter of the party’s unique offerings did not happen for the most part. What would the plan have been if rain started in the first hour of the event? Imagine how packed the few things that were indoors would’ve been then!
Long Lines & Logistics (Obsolete) – From an operational perspective, just about everything that could’ve gone wrong during the first night of Disney Jollywood Nights did go wrong. It was a complete meltdown–chaos, crowds, and confusion. Cast Members didn’t know how certain venues would operate or gave incorrect information, long lines formed for pretty much anything exclusive to the event, and a too-high percentage of paying guests left upset and underwhelmed, spending more time waiting than doing.
What’s most frustrating about this is that it was easily foreseeable. If you haven’t already, I’d encourage you to revisit Why You Should NOT Do Disney Jollywood Nights Christmas Party. Aside from three paragraphs written in the immediate aftermath of the event, that post was penned back in June. It reads as pretty prescient now, but honestly, it really isn’t that remarkable.
In particular, it discussed how logistical failures play out on a consistent and predictable at Walt Disney World, immediate red flags I saw with this event, and how it was a potential perfect storm of problems. That it would be impossible for Walt Disney World to project demand dynamics, crowdflow, and the logistics of the many moving pieces.
It irritates me to no end that, from the outside looking in, I can identify this stuff within days of an event being announced–without the benefit of inside information. Yet Walt Disney World cannot do the same with months of meetings and planning and whatever it is that they do.
I’m just one dude on the internet. They have hundreds of people working on this. The difference is that I’ve been attending Walt Disney World events for over a decade, and have learned a lot from the good, bad and ugly of those. (I honestly wonder how many times Villains Unleashed came up in their internal meetings, or if no one is still at Walt Disney World who worked on that debacle.)
My Night in a Nutshell
My crew was laser-focused on joining the virtual queue for Jazzy Holidays at Brown Derby to start the event. Having been around the block with Walt Disney World, we knew this was going to be a serious issue. And it was. Regardless, speed strategy worked and we scored spots in the virtual queue for this intimate lounge.
We also knew that the 10 minute estimated wait sent out to everyone in the virtual queue was complete nonsense and 100% the result of a system simultaneously servicing so many simultaneous requests. Not my first rodeo with Disney IT, either. Accordingly, we made an immediate beeline to Twilight Soiree at the Tip Top Club rather than waiting for Jazzy Holidays to sort itself out.
We were among the first guests outside the Tower of Terror gift shop, and had a front row spot for the first set of the band that performed on stage. After watching their full set, we went to the Theater of the Stars for the Holidays in Hollywood show. Right as seating for this began, we were called back to Brown Derby presenting the dilemma of whether to bounce or hope they’d seat us late for Jazzy Holidays.
Our calculation was that many other guests would be in the same boat as us and, if this were a regular virtual queue, late arrivals would be accommodated. If we were wrong, oh well, we’d miss Jazzy Holidays. We returned to Brown Derby immediately after the show, and were correct–we were seated after a short wait.
At Brown Derby, we ordered almost immediately and also requested our checks when the food arrived. We managed to see most of the pianist’s full set, but our experience with Jazzy Holidays at Brown Derby was most definitely rushed. It’s pretty rare to have a counter service meal that quickly, let alone Signature Restaurant!
Following that, I did a quick lap of the park to check out everything else that I hadn’t seen. Me being me, I got distracted taking photos, and had to (literally) run to the last showing of What’s This? Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas Sing-Along. I arrived 2 minutes before showtime, and the line was cut like a dozen guests after me. Phew.
As I exited the sing-along, it started sprinkling. I headed over to Animation Courtyard to catch the last set of the characters there. By the time I arrived, it had turned into a torrential downpour. The final ~45 minutes of the night were more or less washed out, as there were no contingency plans for the party-specific entertainment offerings. I went from racing around for first few hours to pretty much just standing around to end the event.
Honestly, I didn’t have a terrible experience at Disney Jollywood Nights. Too much of it was a letdown for me, personally, but my night went way better than the average guests with whom I spoke on the bus ride back to the resort and during the days that followed. I also recognize that I knew what to expect (and fear!), and that greatly informed my choices to minimize problems. This review is from the perspective of an average attendee, who wouldn’t have known to make the same choices as me. (If everyone did what I did, my approach would not have worked!)
Where Disney Jollywood Nights Goes From Here
Finally, we want to quickly discuss where Disney Jollywood Nights goes from here for those attending the event this year. The good news is that Walt Disney World knows there’s a problem, and that this event didn’t go as planned.
But that doesn’t mean they have a solution. Again, all of this was easy to foresee, which is precisely why we wrote an article pointing to potential pitfalls back in June. That Walt Disney World was caught flat-footed demonstrates a disappointing lack of institutional knowledge and memory, as well as a failure of imagination.
Thankfully, there are some low-hanging fruit fixes—more bartenders, fully staffing the event, having contingency plans for rain. However, there’s a lot that it’s difficult to imagine gets addressed until 2024. The vibe of Disney Jollywood Nights isn’t suddenly going to change, empty lands won’t suddenly have entertainment, and they aren’t going to flesh out the substance of anything.
Ultimately, it’s difficult for us to recommend Disney Jollywood Nights as-is to the average guest looking for a Christmas time special event. There are niche circumstances where it might have appeal, but even those are a bit far fetched given all of the waiting and timing. Our view is that this event is not worth the money, and if you know us, you know we’re huge suckers for Walt Disney World special events.
Ending this review on a positive note, Disney Jollywood Nights does have potential and I’m actually optimistic about its future. As silly as that might sound after the bulk of this review, hear me out. The bones of this event–the things that cost a lot of money to develop and are the biggest draws–are fantastic. Bits and pieces are really good, and there are kernels of great ideas that are just incomplete and need more time (and money) to incubate.
The creative side of Disney Jollywood Nights (well, minus Ollie…not sure what they were thinking there) is largely fantastic. The two stage shows were very good, and could be excellent with minor tweaks. The animating ideas behind both of the lounges are good, they just need to be fleshed out and given healthier budgets.
For the most part, it was the operational side that fell apart, and all of that is fixable. I’m incredibly confident that there is a worthwhile event buried in Jollywood Nights, and I truly hope the good ideas and entertainment live on to a new iteration of a Christmas party at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. But it’s almost certainly not going to happen in 2023. At best, the most obvious problem points will be addressed.
Regardless, I’d expect Disney Jollywood Nights to return in 2024. Possibly with a different name if the current ‘brand’ is deemed too toxic, and hopefully in expanded form or even rebranded as an After Hours event (with free refreshments!). Walt Disney World clearly invested a lot of money in developing and marketing Jollywood Nights, and I cannot imagine it’ll break even after a single year. Here’s hoping they fix the problem points and the new or reworked event is better for Christmas 2024!
Have you attended Disney Jollywood Nights? If so, what was your experience? For those who already have tickets to the event, what do you plan to focus on during the event? After reading reviews, will you purchase party tickets for Disney Jollywood Nights? 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? 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!