Disney Very Merriest After Hours is a new Christmas party coming to Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in November and December 2021. This preview takes a look at the entertainment lineup and dates for the hard ticket event, plus commentary, including how this compares to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, which it is replacing.
Before we dig into the details, let’s start with the basics. Disney Very Merriest After Hours will be held on select nights from November 8, 2021 through December 21, 2021. The event will be held instead of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, which is cancelled for the second straight year–albeit for a very different reason in 2021 (see commentary below)…
Disney Very Merriest After Hours will offer 4 hours of holiday festivities after Magic Kingdom closes to day guests, running from 9 pm until 1 am. Event tickets will also grant admission to Magic Kingdom park as early as 7 pm. No Park Pass reservations are necessary for After Hours attendees.
Disney Very Merriest After Hours event highlights include:
Minnie’s Wonderful Christmastime Fireworks Show
After-hours access to Magic Kingdom park and less time waiting in line for popular attractions
Holiday-themed attraction overlays
Cinderella Castle Christmas projections
Snowfall on Main Street, U.S.A.
Holiday treats, ice cream, popcorn and bottled beverages–all included with the cost of admission
Themed food and beverages available for purchase
Holiday-themed Disney PhotoPass photo opportunities (images available for purchase)
Special lighting & music
As with other Disney After Hours events, a limited number of tickets will be sold for this event. It’s held after regular park operating hours, with lower wait times and access to more than 20 select attractions. Tickets will go on sale in August 2021, with an early purchase window available to guests of select Walt Disney World Resort hotels.
Those are literally the only details that Walt Disney World has released thus far. What follows is our commentary, which is very similar to what we’ve said about Boo Bash. Some of the gaps in details are filled with assumptions based upon previous After Hours events, what has been announced for Boo Bash, and details about Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary…
Expect this “Very Merriest” event to follow the familiar formula of Disney After Hours. Which is to say, the selling point of the After Hours events is low crowds and short lines at attractions, with the entertainment being the icing on the cake. By contrast, the heart of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is the entertainment, and short lines for rides are the icing.
The aforementioned entertainment will not be main the reason to purchase Disney Very Merriest After Hours party tickets. (We don’t even know if there will be cavalcades at this point!) Without question, this lack of entertainment is going to disappoint many Walt Disney World fans. Honestly, we are two of them.
We love watching Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade (in full), the Mickey’s Most Merriest Celebration stage show, and even A Totally Tomorrowland Christmas. Beyond that, we just love the atmosphere of MVMCP. The snow on Main Street, the weird off-brand Coke bear at dance parties, the memorable background music, cheesy PhotoPass shots, fun projections, endless grocery store caliber cookies that I love.
I could go on and on. It’s partly a nostalgia thing, but we also genuinely love Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. It’s one of our favorite events of the year at Walt Disney World.
After Hours is a solid event, but it’s just not the same. Plus, as people with regular access to attractions, it does not resonate the same way. Obviously, that’s a personal thing—an us problem. If you’re an Annual Passholder, local, regular visitor, parent with small children, or taking a longer vacation, it might also be a you problem.
The After Hours events have always been tougher sells for those demographics. That’s because they’re aimed primarily at older tourists whose time is limited and arguably more valuable than their money. For infrequent or once-in-a-lifetime visitors to Walt Disney World, the After Hours events are excellent. Very Merriest should continue that trend.
With that said, there are a lot of inaccuracies or oversights that have come up repeatedly when discussing the After Hours events–at least as they compare to the Halloween and Christmas parties.
Many Walt Disney World fans will likely deride this After Hours event as a cash grab. That’s not entirely accurate. Capacity is capped at a significantly lower level for the After Hours events than for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. It’s literally less than half. There’s also the reality that there are usually more MVMCP nights.
Some quick back-of-the-envelope math should thus make clear that Disney Very Merriest After Hours will generate less revenue for Walt Disney World than would offering Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party this holiday season. Even assuming higher costs for the latter (due to labor for more entertainment), After Hours is still less profitable.
It should go without saying, but cost to the consumer is not the only relevant factor in revenue and profits. If it were, Club 33 memberships and VIP tours would be more lucrative than single day tickets for Walt Disney World. In reality, the latter is significant and the former are a drop in the bucket.
As for why Walt Disney World is holding the After Hours event this year instead of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, some might assume it’s because of lingering health safety modifications. That was the rationale last year, and for changes to earlier events this year.
Going forward, that’s not a reasonable assumption. Look at everything that has changed or been relaxed in the last two months and extrapolate what Christmas entertainment will be possible by November based upon that. The answer should be pretty much everything.
Turning to the substance of the event, one unexpected curveball with Disney Very Merriest After Hours is that Minnie’s Wonderful Christmastime Fireworks will be shown during the event. Our strong expectation is that this means there will be twice-nightly fireworks on Disney Very Merriest After Hours nights–Disney Enchantment during normal hours and Minnie’s Wonderful Christmastime Fireworks during event hours.
If that ends up not being the case and only Minnie’s Wonderful Christmastime Fireworks are shown on those nights (a highly unlikely scenario for all of the reasons discussed below, plus past precedent), it’ll render the following commentary moot.
Back when Boo Bash was announced, we speculated that a major issue would be a potentially new fireworks show coming to Magic Kingdom and the problem with putting a paywall around that for several nights per week. No need to speculate here, as the Disney Enchantment fireworks show has since been officially announced.
Imagine putting a paywall around Disney Enchantment for several nights per week. This is exactly what happens with fireworks shows on the Halloween and Christmas Party nights, when the regular park guests only see fireworks 3-4 nights per week. It is not what happens on After Hours evenings–fireworks are shown to everyone 7 nights per week before Magic Kingdom ends its regular operating hours. That’s a huge difference.
While many Walt Disney World fans are understandably upset about missing out on Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party for another year, many more people–including casual visitors who don’t pay close attention to daily schedules–would be disappointed or downright mad if the brand-new, highly-touted fireworks were not shown on their one day in Magic Kingdom.
Putting a paywall around the centerpiece 50th Anniversary entertainment for half of the week would be a recipe for disaster. How do you think that would be perceived by guests? How would you perceive it?! Equally as important, what do you think it would do to crowd patterns?
That brings to another core issue, which is the opening months of Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary Celebration. We probably don’t need to rehash this, but the last three months of the year are going to be bonkers at Walt Disney World. Hotels are already sold out and all signs point to it being incredibly busy.
Due to the anticipated crowds alone, running an After Hours event in November and December makes more sense than Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. Normal park hours will need to be much longer due to attendance forecasts during the kick-off months of Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary, it’s simply not feasible to close Magic Kingdom early so many nights of the week.
Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party requires closing Magic Kingdom at 6 pm either 3 or 4 nights per week. Even in a normal year, this creates a logistical nightmare. As you can probably imagine, most guests don’t want to spend their day in Magic Kingdom during the holiday season if they won’t be allowed in the park after sunset.
That early closing is enough to push crowds away from Magic Kingdom on those dates–and to Magic Kingdom on non-party nights. Suffice to say, that party artificially manipulates attendance patterns to an extreme and almost unmanageable degree.
In fact, this is precisely why Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party does not occur the weeks before Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Instead, the parade, fireworks, and some of the shows switch to daytime ops, and are shown to all guests without an upcharge.
That’s not because Disney is suddenly embracing the spirit of the season. It’s because those two weeks are much busier than the prior ones and it’s simply not feasible to close Magic Kingdom early those weeks and displace day guests. This is the same reason Disney Very Merriest After Hours ends on December 21, and why Disneyland has never done a hard ticket Christmas party.
One viable alternative would’ve been moving Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party to another park. That’s exactly what Disneyland did two years ago when introducing Oogie Boogie Bash. That move was motivated by the debut year of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, and the expectation that closing early several nights per week for a hard ticket event would be too much of a burden on Disneyland crowd dynamics.
With Harmonious debuting at Epcot, the only other Walt Disney World park that could conceivably host a holiday party would be Disney’s Hollywood Studios. That could work–there’s a parade route, space for a stage, plus options for projection shows and fireworks. However, it would have its own problems with crowding and congestion. It would also result in a lot of the same complaints. The crux of the issue is that nostalgic fans making a homecoming to Walt Disney World for the 50th Anniversary want Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, not something new and different. Literally anything that isn’t MVMCP is going to be greeted with an icy response.
There’s plenty to dislike about Disney Very Merriest After Hours. It’s an inadequate (indirect) replacement for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. There are ways it sets a potentially concerning precedent. I get all of that. Complaining about the event is certainly your prerogative. I’d simply advise gaming out the alternative and broader implications (including the negative ones for your own trip) before making snap judgments.
Start by looking at this from the perspective of a non-attendee, which you almost certainly would be some other day during your trip. On a Disney Very Merriest After Hours night, Magic Kingdom will have fireworks and nighttime entertainment for day guests, the park will close at 9 pm, and it won’t screw with crowd distribution over the course of the entire week. On a MVMCP night, there would be no fireworks or nighttime entertainment for day guests, the park would close at 6 pm, and crowds would be miserable on non-party nights. One of those scenarios is objectively better for Walt Disney World guests who choose not to pay upcharge prices.
Ultimately, this is why we’re neutral about Walt Disney World replacing Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party on a one-off basis for 2021. If there were actually an accompanying announcement that Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party will definitely be back in 2022, I’d be downright positive on this. I think it’s the right move from a logistics and operations perspective, I’m just personally disappointed and slightly worried about precedent-setting.
Regardless, we’ll be doing this Christmas-themed After Hours event. While it doesn’t appeal to us nearly as much as MVMCP, it still has the potential to be a fun holidayevent. It should be especially good for those willing and able to splurge, wanting to buy their way out of crowds, and not expecting Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (again, they’re nothing alike). That’ll be especially true if November and December end up being bonkers during the day and you need a respite from the crowds. In that scenario and for that type of guest, Disney Very Merriest After Hours might be a breath of fresh air that is well worth the money.
What are your thoughts about all of this? Does the added explanation here make you less apprehensive or angry about Disney Very Merriest After Hours running instead of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party this year? Pleased that, at minimum, you’ll get longer park hours on non-event nights? Will your family be buying or sitting this Christmas-themed event out? Do you agree or disagree with our perspective on this? Are you disappointed that Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party won’t be happening, or is Disney Very Merriest After Hours a superior (or at least sufficient) alternative for you? 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!