Jollywood Nights vs. Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party: Which to Do at Disney World?

There are two huge holiday season hard ticket events at Walt Disney World: Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party in Magic Kingdom and Jollywood Nights in Hollywood Studios. This compares and contrasts MVMCP and DJN to see which is better for characters, fireworks, entertainment, crowds, and more.

Now that tickets to both Christmas parties at Walt Disney World are on sale for 2024, we thought it would be a good time to make this comparison so you can determine which might be right for you. With that said, it does come with a couple of asterisks. First, Jollywood Nights evolved and improved last year over the course of the season. We’re thus judging it based on the end of its run last year rather than the beginning.

Second, Jollywood Nights is making even more changes and additions for Christmas 2024. We’re assuming it’ll be better as a result, but that really doesn’t factor into the categories that each party “wins” or even the ultimate verdict. Nevertheless, it’s an incomplete or imperfect comparison, which is as good as you’re going to get if you want something practical to help you decide which tickets to purchase. If you wait for our actual reviews of the 2024 Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party and Jollywood Nights, there’s a chance your dates will already be sold out.

One final thing we want to warn against is baked in biases of Walt Disney World diehards. This cuts both ways. On the one hand, a lot of fans hold tremendous nostalgia for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, having experienced it over the course of decades. This includes us–it’s been annual tradition since 2007. We’ve made so many great memories at the event and hold so much sentimentality towards it that I cannot imagine not doing MVMCP…even as ticket prices explode and not much changes.

On the other hand, there are those who are, essentially, the exact opposite. They’ve been around the block with Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, and are ready for something new. Disney Jollywood Nights is new. It is very, very different from MVMCP. As a result, a lot of longtime fans who feel that Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is tired or stale might be predisposed to preferring Jollywood Nights on the basis of it being fresh and new-to-them.

But that’s the point of view of a blogger, vlogger, or Walt Disney World diehard fan. It’s not representative of the average attendee or even the more casual fan who visits infrequently. While everyone obviously has biases, that’s our viewpoint when making this attempt at an objective comparison between Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party and Disney Jollywood Nights: which should an infrequent or first-time Walt Disney World guest attend?

Time: Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party – Walt Disney World is moving in the right direction with Disney Jollywood Nights, making it a 5-hour holiday party from 7:30 pm to 12:30 am in 2024, with the mix-in allowing event ticket holders to enter Disney’s Hollywood Studios as early as 6:00 pm.

That’s still not as good as Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. The event duration is identical at 5 hours, albeit from 7:00 pm to midnight. The difference is the mix-in, which allows MVMCP ticket holders to enter Magic Kingdom as early as 4:00 pm. That extra 90 minutes gives guests time to knock out favorite attractions with short waits, grab a meal, or otherwise explore the park at Walt Disney World with the most things to do.

Food: Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party – No refreshments are included with the price of your event ticket to 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 “free” unlimited Christmas cookies, hot chocolate, and other holiday refreshments. MVMCP also offers special menus at various counter service restaurants and snack stands, although this is hardly one of the main features of the event.

Oddly enough, one of the main selling points of Disney Jollywood Nights is “shimmering sips and sensational sweets.” The problem is that this is a selling point, quite literally, for Disney. They want to sell you more food once you’re at the event. We found some of that food to be fine, but honestly, we’re not paying over $100 or using our limited party time to spend even more money on food. We doubt many guests are. The free cookies and hot cocoa at MVMCP are the way to go–and what Disney Jollywood Nights should be doing, too.

Parade: Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party – This is an easy one since only Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party has a parade in the first place, so it wins by default. If you love parades, MVMCP is the Christmas party you should choose.

But let’s pretend, for whatever reason, that you’re on the fence about the ‘importance’ of this category. Maybe you’re not necessarily a parade person, but are open to watching one if it’s really good.

Mickey’s Once Upon A Christmastime Parade (MOUACP) is really good. It has marching toy soldiers, dancing reindeer and gingerbread men, and ever the big man himself, Ole Saint Nick! Calling MOUACP really good is an understatement. It has iconic floats, characters, moments and music.

It’s lengthy and satisfying, with no filler–every unit is excellent, making for a parade that never overstays its welcome and actually leaves you wanting more. About the only “weakness” of Mickey’s Once Upon A Christmastime Parade is that 90% of it existed a decade or two ago. So for some Walt Disney World fans, it feels tired and overdue for a replacement. To that, I say don’t fix what isn’t broken. How many Walt Disney World fans believe the replacement for Holiday Wishes is an actual upgrade? In short, be careful what you wish for.

Mickey’s Once Upon A Christmastime Parade is one of the best pieces of entertainment at Walt Disney World, and is an absolute must-see. From the toy soldiers marching in formation to the delightful character costumes to reindeer dancing in front of Santa–and so much more. Mickey’s Once Upon A Christmastime Parade is cozy and charming, a fun and memorable parade that’s bursting with holiday spirit.

Fireworks: Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party – This is a closer call than it should be. Nine times out of 10, fireworks at Magic Kingdom will win over those at Hollywood Studios because the simple reality is that explosions over Cinderella Castle have baseline appeal.

Fireworks above Cinderella Castle is one of the definitive experiences at Walt Disney World, and so long as the music is good enough, the majority of guests will enjoy it. That’s how Disney Enchantment managed decent guest satisfaction scores overall despite being very low relative to past Magic Kingdom fireworks shows.

Similar story here. Minnie’s Wonderful Christmastime Fireworks are a recent addition, and showcase pyro plus projections. While longtime fans might argue that this show is inferior to Holiday Wishes in some ways, it’s good enough. Like the song “Wonderful Christmastime,” it’s schmaltzy and silly. (My unpopular opinion about both the fireworks and the song is that they’re good, actually. But I know there are plenty of haters out there.)

It’s a similar story with the Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! fireworks at Disney Jollywood Nights. This nighttime spectacular based on “Prep & Landing” has its moments and is polarizing among fans. Personally, I like Minnie’s Wonderful Christmastime Fireworks a lot more–but never say no to either of these shows.

It also helps that Minnie’s Wonderful Christmastime Fireworks has a lot more pyro–including perimeter bursts that surround Cinderella Castle. On balance, not only is Minnie’s Wonderful Christmastime Fireworks the superior show, but in a contest between two nighttime spectaculars that garner mixed reviews, the Magic Kingdom fireworks will always beat the Disney’s Hollywood Studios fireworks.

Stage Shows: Disney Jollywood Nights – Now we turn to the easy win for Disney Jollywood Nights, which has three stage shows to the one at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. When it comes to DJN, the third of these stage shows is described by Walt Disney World as a dazzling new skating spectacular set to holiday tunes, featuring grace and skill of international champion skaters in an awe-inspiring twist on the traditional ice show.

This is a wild card, with its quality, scale and scope all being unknowns. But it doesn’t matter. Disney Jollywood Nights wins even if we pretend the ice skating show doesn’t exist, as its other two stage shows are both very good to great.

The highlight of the stage shows during DJN is Holidays in Hollywood, a vignette variety showing featuring 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. Holidays in Hollywood is fantastic. Great choreography, music, staging–everything. It’s one of the top 3 seasonal stage shows in all of Walt Disney World.

The other stage show at Disney Jollywood Nights is “What’s This? Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas Sing-Along.” This is admittedly a weird one, as it’s what amounts to a high concept sing-along plus puppetry. An odd mix, if I’ve ever seen one. Despite that, What’s This? is way better than you might expect. The silent performers are superb, seeing the Jack Skellington puppet in a theater setting is awesome, and Oogie Boogie steals the show. As someone who hates sing-alongs and is indifferent to all things Tim Burton (so I’m hardly objective), I was surprised to enjoy this so much.

Over at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, the lone stage show is now Mickey’s Most Merriest Celebration. This is the tried and true Cinderella Castle musical medley stage show, the premise of which doesn’t much matter. Mickey’s Most Merriest Celebration is the best stage show on this list (and #2 overall after Hocus Pocus Villains Spelltacular) and it rises to that spot thanks to a brilliant mixture of sentimentality and tradition plus pop culture and excellent song selections. It’s at once exactly what you’d expect and delightfully unexpected with something for everyone, from kids to adults.

Even though Mickey’s Most Merriest Celebration is #1 overall, the fact that Disney Jollywood Nights has (at least) two very good to great stage shows to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party’s lone show cements it with the win here.

Atmospheric Entertainment: Disney Jollywood Nights – Disney Jollywood Nights features a variety of dance parties, swinging soirees, and intimate lounges–with the highlights being Holiday Fiesta en la Calle, Twilight Soirée at the Tip Top Club, and Jazzy Holidays at The Hollywood Brown Derby. These three things, specifically, are a lot of what gives DJN its more sophisticated and refined holiday vibe. I could imagine spending an entire evening dressed up, dancing the night away and enjoying these adult experiences. There’s absolutely nothing like any of that at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.

By contrast, MVMCP does have character dance parties like Club Tinsel and Disney Junior Jingle Jam. Then there are other atmospheric acts, such as the Reindeer Wranglers in Frontierland. Personally, I don’t think any of these offerings are as good as Twilight Soirée at the Tip Top Club, but the audiences are totally different. I’d give the edge, objectively, to Disney Jollywood Nights, but I could see plenty of families preferring the atmospheric entertainment at MVMCP.

Characters: It Depends – This is a tough one. Even as a longtime Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party attendee with a lot of fond memories of the event, I feel the character lineup is stale–and has been for the last decade. It’s downright sad that Walt Disney World hasn’t refreshed–or fully overhauled–it. But, again, I’m trying to be objective.

Even that is difficult, though. Objectively speaking, there are way more characters at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. There are roughly two-dozen distinct meet & greets, with about three-dozen characters total. By contrast, Disney Jollywood Nights is advertising a dozen distinct meet & greets for a total of “more than 20 character experiences.” So it seems pretty open and closed, right?

I’m not so sure. A lot of the characters at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party are also available during a regular day at Magic Kingdom (sometimes they are simply “enhanced” with the addition of scarves). MVMCP has about a dozen rare characters–meaning characters who seldom appear during the day or have distinct costumes (for example, we’d count Belle in her winter dress) for the party.

That’s roughly the same number as at Disney Jollywood Nights. And while it’s almost impossible for me to be objective about this, I’m personally more excited about the rare character lineup at DJN. There’s Santa Duffy, Phineas and Ferb, Three Caballeros, Toy Story pals who don’t normally appear, Disney Afternoon characters, Mickey & Friends in unique outfits, and more. Most first-timers might not care about this eclectic lineup of deep cuts, though, and thus might favor Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. It’s a really tough call.

Atmosphere: Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party – Simply by virtue of being in the castle park instead of the studios park, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party has the immediate edge to win this. There’s just something about seeing Main Street transformed for the holidays, with an extra layer of lighting and music on top of the tree, lights, and daily decor.

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.

None of that is 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. Even the lands that aren’t very Christmassy–like Adventureland and Tomorrowland–get into the mood via projections, music and more.

The biggest misfire of Disney Jollywood Nights for me last year was the vibe. Several areas of Disney’s Hollywood Studios felt like complete ghost towns. Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge felt like a barren planet. 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.

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. Hollywood Boulevard was also perfectly pleasant, but nothing like Main Street.

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. Some of this appears it’ll be fixed for the 2024 Disney Jollywood Nights, but it’s hard to fathom it’ll be enough to tip the scales.

Crowds: Disney Jollywood Nights – It’s exceeding difficult for the average attendee of either of these parties to do everything in a single night. Chances are, you won’t be able to meet every single character, see the stage shows, fireworks, other entertainment–never mind doing rides in addition to the party-specific stuff. But which is more challenging? Where are crowds worse?

There’s a version of this where the answer is “it depends.” Someone out there might have very specific priorities that make Disney Jollywood Nights the worse of the two events for crowds. This will likely be the case if drinking or special foods are your top priority, as the worst lines last year during DJN were for the bars. I don’t think that’s the average first-timer, though. (Especially the average first-timer debating between the two, since MVMCP doesn’t really have a drinking component.)

For the vast majority of attendees, Disney Jollywood Nights is going to be the less crowded and laid back experience. On average, there’s less congestion, it’s easier to see the entertainment, ride wait times are minimal, and there are no areas of the park that have anywhere near the level of congestion as Main Street at Magic Kingdom between the first and last parade.

Even MVMCP isn’t as bad as its perception, which is based on 2018-2019 when parties were arguably oversold (see last year’s post, Is Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party Less Crowded?!). Regardless, Disney Jollywood Nights is generally lower stress and lower stakes, more like an After Hours event with a Christmas twist.

Overall: Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party – Ultimately, our ‘verdict’ would be that Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is the superior event for first-timers or Disney fans who get to the parks on an infrequent basis. It’s honestly not even a remotely close call. Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is the quintessential holiday time experience at Walt Disney World.

So much about the event is iconic, and the basis for marketing materials for Christmas at WDW. There’s a reason the party hasn’t changed all that much in the last decade–because you don’t mess with perfection. Sure, this has resulted in some WDW diehards who have gone repeatedly to become burnt out and want something fresh–but if you’re reading this and are on the fence about which to attend, that probably doesn’t describe you!

To be sure, Disney Jollywood Nights has its selling points. It’s a more refined and sophisticated party, in some ways, that may appeal to certain segments of parkgoers, even infrequent ones. If you’re looking for an Old Hollywood event with the glitz and glamor of Tinseltown during the holidays–complete with more adult offerings and drinking, then a strong case could be made for Disney Jollywood Nights. There’s also something to be said for its upstart nature, and the possibility that it’ll be markedly improved in 2024 as Disney looks to improve perceptions (and ticket sales). There’s no resting on its laurels when it comes to Disney Jollywood Nights, that’s for sure!

It’s not just potentially higher upside, though. As we learned last year, there’s also more downside risk to Disney Jollywood Nights. There’s a lot about it that’s taste-specific that may sound great on paper, but may not resonate with you in person. Not only that, but in only its sophomore season, there are also a ton of unknowns. Among those are actual attendance, potential good & bad changes, lines for the characters and stage shows, and probably more I haven’t even considered.

Maybe Disney Jollywood Nights is worth it to you from a risk-reward perspective. It certainly is to us, and we’re really looking forward to trying this Christmas party again in its second year. In fact, we’re both more excited about Disney Jollywood Nights than we are MVMCP. But I also know that I were a Walt Disney World first-timer and had thus never attended either event, the one that would be right for us would, without a doubt, be Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. It’s not even a remotely close call. MVMCP is so obviously the safe and correct choice for first-timers that this entire post seems superfluous. Then again, not everyone has our preferences and priorities, so the point-by-point breakdown will hopefully be helpful in helping others make their decision about which to attend.

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Have you attended Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party or Disney Jollywood Nights? Which did you think had the better atmosphere, characters, fireworks, food, entertainment, etc? Would you rather spend the evening doing an event in Magic Kingdom or Hollywood Studios during the holiday season at Walt Disney World? Do you disagree with any of our advice and assessments? Any questions? 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!

13 Responses to “Jollywood Nights vs. Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party: Which to Do at Disney World?”
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