Walt Disney World fans might tell you that crowds only go in one direction: UP! While not technically true, the sentiment sounds about right. In the past several years, this trend has included Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, which became progressively busier both in objectively measurable ways (wait times) and subjective assessments (congestion).
We’ve been discussing this trend for years, and first speculated in 2017 that Walt Disney World had started raising the capacity cap for both Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. In 2018, we noticed the company embraced price segmentation, offering aggressive Cast Member discounts even as the event felt more crowded than ever before.
Back in those days, it was less common for MNSSHP or MVMCP to sell out, aside from the peak holiday weeks and a scattering of other dates. However, that was also because Walt Disney World kept increasing the maximum attendance. Had they maintained ~2017 and earlier limits, it’s probable that many or most dates in 2018 would’ve sold out.
That was all before 2019, which was the last year of both Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party pre-closure. For the most part, this is not a history post–the short of the story is that crowds were concerningly low when Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge debuted, attendance shot up by October, and the company ended up overselling pretty much every event for the final 3 months of the year.
If you want more on how that played out and the reasons for it, see Is Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party Too Crowded? Be sure to also stick around for the 130+ comments from 2019, most of which were from disgruntled party attendees who encountered colossal crowds.
When hard ticket holiday parties returned two years ago, they were reworked as After Hours events. The why of that is beyond the scope of this post, but the key point is that low crowds are the selling point of After Hours with entertainment being the icing. By contrast, entertainment is the ‘cake’ for both MNSSHP and MVMCP, with shorter wait times being icing.
Last year, both Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party returned. Despite every single date selling out, our perception was that Walt Disney World likely decreased the number of tickets sold. We attended several MNSSHP and MVMCP dates over the course of last year, and they all seemed less busy than events from October through December 2019.
After seeing three nights worth of wait times data and experiencing the second Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party of 2023, I’m not reasonably confident that this isn’t just perception–Walt Disney World has lowered the capacity cap for MVMCP as compared to 2019.
Let’s start with the wait times, which come courtesy of thrill-data.com. Once you make an apples to apples comparison–meaning the removal of TRON Lightcycle Run and other attractions that don’t have wait times for both years–the numbers are down year-over-year.
In fact, the only attractions that have appreciable standby line wait times during Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party are Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Peter Pan’s Flight, Space Mountain, and Jingle Cruise. Those are better than last year pretty much across the board.
Other attractions don’t vary quite as much, which is due to being (more or less) walk-ons last year and this year. Admittedly, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad posting a 5-minute wait time this year as compared to a 15-minute wait time last year does skew the data, even if actual waits were pretty close to the same both years.
With that said, there’s enough in the numbers and my own firsthand observations when doing laps of Magic Kingdom to pretty confidently assert that–at least so far–average wait times are down slightly for attractions during the 2023 Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.
This is just the measurable component of crowds. My anecdotal experiences have me even more confident that attendance is lower this year than last year at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party…
For me, this was much more noticeable with entertainment. My longest character meet & greet of the entire evening was Pooh’s Posse, which was a little over 30 minutes, and was mostly due to poor luck on my part. Only one couple got in line behind me during the first 10 minutes of my wait and I was near the front of a set change. Had I showed up earlier or later, my wait time would’ve been even shorter.
I also managed to meet Stitch, Belle, Tweedle Dee and Dum, Mickey Mouse, and other characters all with reasonable lines. The longest lines that I encountered were for the Seven Dwarfs and other characters in Storybook Circus. The former line was quoted as being 50 minutes about halfway through the party and the latter was 45 minutes. Both looked shorter, but not by enough that I was willing to roll the dice. I planned on circling back towards the end of the evening, but ran out of time.
Far and away my biggest win was Jack Skellington as Sandy Claws and Sally. Already having tens of thousands of parade photos, I opted against camping out for prime spots this year, and instead taking what I could get at the last minute in Town Square. For the first performance, this meant a spot in front of Tony’s approximately 20 minutes after Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade stepped off.
As I walked up to a still sparse curb, I noticed that the posted wait time for Jack and Sally was 10 minutes. I was intrigued, so I headed inside to inquire with a Cast Member as to whether it was accurate. Upon confirming that it was, I decided to check out the line myself. While photographing the empty queue, I received a tap on the shoulder that scared the bejesus out of me. (I guess Nightmare Before Christmas really is where two holidays collide!)
It was Jack Skellington. There was literally no one else in line, and Sally had been hiding behind a pile of presents as they waited for me to wrap it up. I had a few minutes with them before anyone else showed up, at which point a “huge” crowd of a few other parties joined the line.
I followed that up with Mickey Mouse, who did have a few parties in line ahead of me, before returning to my spot along the parade route moments before Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade arrived.
It has long been the case that the wait times for Jack and Sally are lowest during the parades, as access to their queue is effectively cut-off or at least difficult. For this very reason, we’ve recommended getting a parade viewing spot in Town Square, and then racing to Jack and Sally right as or shortly before the parade ends to beat the crowd.
So it’s nothing new that they’d have a shorter line at the tail end of the parade. But I’ve never seen it as a 0 minute wait (outside of hurricane scares, I think the lowest we’ve seen is ~30 minutes) and I’ve also never encountered this before the parade actually arrives. Usually, you want to wait until the end as the characters are still working through crowds that lined up hours earlier.
Obviously, I got very lucky and this is not replicable as a strategy (at least to the same degree). However, I also talked to friends who reported similar scenarios with both Sandy Claws and Seven Dwarfs. I, personally, know about a half-dozen people who waited less than 15 minutes for these characters, which is absolutely unheard of during regular MNSSHP or MVMCP nights.
It was a similar story for me throughout Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. I caught the second parade from under the tree, and didn’t arrive until 25 minutes after it had stepped off. I actually had more trouble getting to this spot (since the parade had already started) than securing a good view upon arrival.
Pretty much my entire night after the first hour was like this. Lines for free refreshments, restaurants, and characters were all short or nonexistent. On more than one occasion, I asked a Cast Member, “has the meet & greet already been cut?” because the line was so short (or no one was in it).
This actually stands out more now with the benefit of hindsight, as it was such a sharp contrast to Disney Jollywood Nights the next night. Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party was so superior operationally, which may not seem like a surprise since Disney has been doing it for decades and it was the inaugural night of Jollywood, but it was refreshing after the aforementioned 2019 events.
With that said, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. It started with higher mix-in crowds, which was a byproduct of high holiday weekend crowds during the day at Magic Kingdom.
As measured by wait times, this was the single-worst party-shortened day for crowds in the last two years at Magic Kingdom. (Nevertheless, we stand by our list of the Least Crowded Late 2023 Days at Magic Kingdom for dates that we recommend doing MK. The adjacent non-party days were even worse, and the same will be true going forward.)
That’s another topic for another day, but the point is that the higher mix-in crowds were most attributable to daytime attendance and not Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party attendance.
Nevertheless, the trend of party attendees arriving earlier that began with MNSSHP continued with the 2023 Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. As with the prior party, my strong suspicion is that an increasing number of guests are purchasing MVMCP admission instead of day tickets, rather than in addition to regular admission.
This could be playing out in a ways big and small, from tourists buying shorter duration tickets (3 days instead of 4) to locals skipping out on Annual Passes and getting their “Disney fix” during Party Season. As previously noted, this is a trend that began at Disneyland when APs started going up in price, and now seems to be making its way to Walt Disney World.
These are higher-knowledge guests who also want to get as much value out of the party ticket as possible. This is a contrast to tourists with multi-day tickets that may include a park day prior to the start of MVMCP, who have no incentive to arrive right at 4 pm.
In any case, this happened again with Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. It was more difficult to gauge this time because Walt Disney World is using a new procedure with holding corrals (of sorts) to prevent overcrowding between security and the turnstiles, but it’s safe to surmise that the existence of this procedure is proof-positive that those 4 pm crowds are worse than in prior years.
One area where congestion was worse both before and during the event was the Central Plaza or Hub. This was really more the result of reduced capacity than anything else, though, as the already-small area further shrunk in size due to areas being blocked off for the ABC Christmas Day Parade filming over the weekend.
This took nearly half the Hub out of commission and made it almost impossible to get an unobstructed view of the Frozen Holiday Surprise or Mickey’s Most Merriest Celebration stage shows. Normally, I’d try to catch the latter twice, but due to congestion for that, I only watched the final showing. It actually wasn’t too bad, and I managed to score a back row, dead-center spot that almost gave me enough clearance over the front-row shrubs.
Parade filming is now over, so this shouldn’t be as pronounced of an issue going forward as it was for the first few parties.
However, it will still be an issue! Although we’re confident in our assessment that crowd levels are lower at the 2023 Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (thus far), this does not and will not apply across the board.
In a nutshell, the distribution of crowds is not uniform across the entirety of Magic Kingdom. That was true back at the worst parties in 2019, and will remain true at the least busy ones in 2023. This is because guests don’t naturally move to the uncrowded areas. Instead, people continue to disproportionately flock to areas of the park that are already congested.
This might sound like illogical behavior, but it’s the opposite. It’s really not much different than Frozen Ever After having a 120 minute wait while the nearby Gran Fiesta Tour has a 5-minute wait. I don’t think anyone is seriously asking why both rides don’t instead have ~60 minute wait times.
In any case, a disproportionate number of people crowd into the front of the park, and especially the Central Plaza. The result is that area being packed–directly in front of Cinderella Castle feels downright unsafe between the parade, fireworks, and stage shows–while other areas are practically empty.
Unpleasant as it is, it makes complete sense for this area to be so packed with people–you can stand in pretty much the exact same spot for 2-3 hours of the party and have a great view of the headlining entertainment. Entering or exiting this area is a totally different story, and it can also be uncomfortable trying to hold your spot as congestion increases.
Trying to draw event attendees or underutilized areas of Magic Kingdom is precisely why Walt Disney World added the Tomorrowland ride overlays a few years ago. That helped, but the problem persists. (If only there were an actual theater back in Tomorrowland. Oh wait.)
Point being, the 2023 Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party could cut its current capacity cap in half and still have congestion in front of Cinderella Castle. It’s a simple numbers game. That’s not where lower attendance will be evident in feels like crowds.
Another caveat we should add is that Walt Disney World could still quietly adjust capacity upwards after the first few nights of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. It’s possible that they limited ticket sales even lower than normal for the first few nights due to the impact of the ABC Christmas Day Parade infrastructure, and not knowing how that would impact congestion.
It’s also possible that Walt Disney World wanted slightly lower crowd levels than last year, but will see the same things we saw, realize they overshot the target, and raise attendance limits for future nights of the 2023 Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. Similar scenarios have played out in the past.
Another scenario is that Disney will increase capacity caps for MVMCP to “offset” guests opting against doing Disney Jollywood Nights. It’s safe to say that event is not going to be as popular as originally anticipated–and that Walt Disney World might want to lower the capacity caps for the party at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. To make up for the lost revenue there, they might look to MVMCP to pick up the slack.
Alternatively or additionally, Walt Disney World might have so many complaints about Jollywood Nights that they allow guests to switch from that event to MVMCP as a courtesy. In which case, more tickets might be issued for previously sold out nights of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.
I don’t think that any of the above alone would be enough to move the needle on crowds at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. However, these things may not be occurring in isolation. It would not be the least bit far-fetched for the first few parties to have had lower caps due to the ABC filming and for Disney Jollywood Nights’ problems to necessitate increasing numbers at MVMCP.
The bottom line is that the first few 2023 Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party nights have had lower crowd levels despite being sold out, and this is a refreshing development, especially as contrasted with 2019 or Disney Jollywood Nights. Despite the substance of the event starting to feel a bit stale, this year’s Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is the most pleasant of an experience as it has been since 2019. For first-timers or those who have a lot of sentimentality and nostalgia for this event, it’s been really enjoyable. The vibe is great and it’s easier than it’s been in a while to get a lot done, with minimal frustrations and wasted time.
As discussed above, there are also no guarantees that the experience stays this good and crowds remain this low for the remainder of the party season. While it’s a near certainty that we won’t be seeing 2019-levels of chaos and congestion again, the event could become busier closer to Thanksgiving and Christmas–even across sold out dates–for a variety of reasons. We’ll continue watching and will keep you posted, but for now, things are looking good with the 2023 Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party!
Have you attended the 2023 Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party? If you’ve also done the party in the past few years (2019 to present), what were your perceptions of crowds this year as compared to previously? Think crowds are noticeably lower, about the same, or worse than before? Think this will change, and the rest of the season will get busier? 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!