Photos & Review: Is Disney Very Merriest After Hours Worth It?

We attended Disney Very Merriest After Hours at Magic Kingdom, the new Walt Disney World special event for the holiday season offering lower crowds & shorter ride wait times, plus Christmas fireworks, stage show, and partial parade. This review shares party photos, whether it’s worth the money, or is a worthwhile replacement to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.

If you’re looking for info and advice about the event, ticket prices, dates, and all of the other basics, consult our Guide to Disney Very Merriest After Hours. We’ll be updating that with more photos and strategy based upon our experience, plus whatever common questions might arise from this review.

For those who are new to this event, Disney Very Merriest After Hours is the successor to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party–hopefully just for this year. Disney Very Merriest After Hours tries to replicate that atmosphere, while offering an entertainment lineup that’s similar to that beloved hard ticket event. In a lot of ways, this is basically a “Taste of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party.”

This is a significant departure from Disney After Hours Boo Bash. When it came to that upcharge event, we repeatedly reiterated that it was unlike Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and was a fundamentally different event. The heart of that After Hours event was low crowds and short lines at attractions, with the entertainment being the icing on the cake.

By contrast, the reverse was true with Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. The heart of that event is the entertainment, and short lines for rides are the icing. In fact, Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party has been anything but a “low crowds” event in recent years–despite wait times that were still mostly short for attractions.

It’s harder to pinpoint what, exactly, Disney Very Merriest After Hours is attempting to be. The name states it’s an After Hours event, but the lineup suggests it’s a Christmas party.

As we’ve said before, Very Merriest strikes us as an internal compromise between competing factions in Walt Disney World management. The end result is a combination of the two events and the cost of the two added together for one outrageously priced evening.

It’s thus likely that Walt Disney World views this “combined event” as sufficient to justify a significantly higher price point than After Hours or Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. That’s true on paper, but due to time constraints, guests must choose what this is to them.

For attendees, Very Merriest is either an entertainment-centric Christmas party or a limited-capacity After Hours event with low wait times. While it’s promising both, it cannot deliver both simultaneously to guests. They have to pick one type of event due to the practical realities of physics, the space-time continuum, or whatever.

We chose to experience Disney Very Merriest After Hours as a Christmas party for pretty simple reasons. First, we absolutely adore the holiday season and it had been two years to the day since we had last enjoyed that event. It used to be something we did at least once per year, often twice.

Second, basic economics. Now that Genie+ and Lightning Lanes have debuted, it’s pretty easy to quantify the value of bypassing lines on popular Magic Kingdom attractions, and it’s nowhere near the astronomical prices being charged for the After Hours events.

Even assuming the After Hours event is somehow fundamentally different since it’s no-hassle and doesn’t require booking Lightning Lane return times via Genie+ (that feels like a stretch to me, but I’ll humor it), there’s still another replacement: Extended Evening Hours.

As you can read in Photo Report: Extended Evening Hours at Magic Kingdom, we had a blast at that and enjoyed lower crowds than during Boo Bash (or this).

If having a pleasant night in Magic Kingdom were our aim, we’d either rent Disney Vacation Club points or use the opaque booking sites to score a cheap rate at the Swan or Dolphin. Either of those options would be cheaper than what we paid for these Disney Very Merriest After Hours tickets and they would include a hotel stay.

The point with all of this is that I don’t see how Disney Very Merriest After Hours makes sense as anything other than a seasonal entertainment-centric event. Then again, I don’t see why people pay $100+ primarily for trick or treating when a bag of candy costs a few dollars at CVS. I understand that not everyone approaches these parties from the same perspective.

However, that’s the double-edged sword of Walt Disney World’s insatiable thirst to upcharge everything. When you ascribe a dollar value to each individual component of the experience, comparison shopping becomes easier because each facet of the vacation is quantifiable.

Personally, I don’t enjoy putting a price tag on what should be a carefree vacation, but I’m not the one who made the decision ‘monetize the magic’ to this degree. I’m simply following the company’s lead.

If you were to choose doing Disney Very Merriest After Hours as a substitute for Genie+ and Lightning Lanes, you would encounter minimal wait times for pretty much everything. Above is a look at wait times as of 10:25 pm. This more or less reflects waits throughout the upcharge event.

At past After Hours events, we’ve been able to accomplish about 4-5 attractions per hour. However, that number really depends on ride duration and what you do in between–if you just looped Peter Pan’s Flight all night, you could rack up way more rides per hour than that.

Officially, Very Merriest lasts 4 hours and costs roughly $200 per ticket, making that $50 per hour or about $10 per ride. The per attraction cost decreases if you factor in the pre-party mix-in, which is a good time to knock out some attractions regardless of your intentions during the event.

The pricing for Disney Very Merriest After Hours actually is “fair” if you’re comparing to Individual Lightning Lanes for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, but decidedly less so if you’d otherwise do a mix of Genie+, standby, and Individual Lightning Lanes. We’ve already become incredibly adept at using Genie+ at Magic Kingdom, so I’d rather just spend the $16 on that as opposed to the $200 on this. Your mileage may vary.

As for what we did, let’s start with the new stage show. “Mickey & Minnie’s Very Merry Memories” on the Cinderella Castle Forecourt Stage plays like a greatest hits of classic Magic Kingdom holiday stage shows, including “Mickey’s Twas the Night Before Christmas,” “Celebrate the Season,” and “Mickey’s Most Merriest Celebration.”

We loved Mickey & Minnie’s Very Merry Memories. It has great performances, cute costuming, and endearing Walt Disney World goofiness. Rather than simply being a greatest hits medley, it’s a fairly smooth montage show. It doesn’t include all of our favorites from that past trio, but it’s well done–perhaps the highlight of Disney Very Merriest After Hours.

With that said, I don’t think Mickey & Minnie’s Very Merry Memories reaches the heights of any of its predecessors. Like the event itself, this stage show strikes me as a compromise–probably out of necessity due to ongoing logistical constraints. (Given the circumstances, we can give this one a pass.)

It’s sort of like when television shows used to do flashback episodes weaved together with a few minutes of new footage to save on salaries. If that’s the baseline, Mickey & Minnie’s Very Merry Memories easily surpasses expectations. If you’re expecting the personality, polish, and production value of Mickey’s Most Merriest Celebration, perhaps this would be mildly disappointing.

Continuing on a positive note, let’s turn to Minnie’s Wonderful Christmastime Fireworks. This debuted two years ago, so is still relatively new. We had only seen it twice previously, and the first time doesn’t really count since it was a mess of haze and terrible weather.

Minnie’s Wonderful Christmastime Fireworks is another instance of reviews being colored by perspective (and nostalgia). If you just watched Disney Enchantment earlier in the night and that’s your only exposure to Magic Kingdom fireworks, this is a home run. It’s unquestionably better than that.

If you last visited a couple of years ago and you fondly recollect Holiday Wishes, perhaps not so much. That’s us. Holiday Wishes is an all-timer, and “Spirit of the Season” is one of my favorite Christmas songs—not just Disney Christmas songs, any of them.

While it needed updates in this era of projection mapping everything, Holiday Wishes had an excellent soundtrack, sentimentality, and flow. It was a 10/10 fireworks show.

To be sure, Minnie’s Wonderful Christmastime Fireworks is no slouch. Setting aside nostalgia to the greatest extent possible, I’d say this is a mostly-worthy replacement.

There are some excellent projection effects, and most of the song choices are solid. There are a couple of perplexing picks, but nothing on par with Enchantment, Harmonious, or the new-ish Halloween fireworks show.

I know Paul McCartney’s “Wonderful Christmastime” is one of those songs that it’s cool to hate, but I love it. (Again, sentimentality and nostalgia.) I like the way this was weaved through the show in a way that’s both catchy and original.

While I’d prefer Holiday Wishes 2.0, Minnie’s Wonderful Christmastime Fireworks is a winner–and that was my take two years ago. Now that the normal comparison is to Enchantment rather than Happily Ever After, the new holiday fireworks show is like a hall of famer.

The final piece of major entertainment at Disney Very Merriest After Hours is the parade. This party marks the triumphant return of Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade, and is being billed as a full parade. It’s definitely much more than a cavalcade, but it’s also very far from a full parade.

We’d call this a partial parade–a significantly truncated version of Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade.

Several floats were cut out of the show entirely, including the Goofy’s Gumball Machine, Anna & Elsa’s Sleigh, Cinderella’s Coach, and Santa’s Workshop.

Ground level performers were significantly reduced, with a few groups absent entirely–the ballroom dancers wearing their holiday finery, Santa’s elves, and more.

The most shocking scaleback came in the the toy soldiers unit. If Walt Disney World were to solicit my advice about one thing that should not be cut, it would be these guys. Heck, I’d get rid of Santa Claus (sorry, dude!) before I’d mess with the toy soldiers.

The toy soldiers were the showstopping scene of Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade, and the ‘wow moment’ of that came thanks to there being a veritable army marching and playing their instruments in unison. The cut here is the equivalent of halving the number of gravediggers in Boo to You. Total nonsense.

Nevertheless, Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade was fine and probably quite enjoyable for first-timers who have nothing against which to compare it.

As long-time fans, we’ve been so starved for an actual parade that it was great just to see something. And that’s probably the point–target first-timers who don’t know any better and fans who have had nothing for so long that we’ll accept whatever.

Perhaps that will work out for Walt Disney World and will prove a viable strategy going forward. It’ll certainly work out in the short-term, but it seems unsustainable in the long-term.

To that point, I only watched both performances of Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade to take more photos–and for lack of better options. Sarah loves Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade and she wandered around Magic Kingdom rather than watching it again. She has never done that before.

In terms of other entertainment, Disney Very Merriest After Hours is a disappointment.

This event is missing A Totally Tomorrowland Christmas, various musical acts, pre-parade performers, most attraction overlays, a couple of dance parties, and most meet & greets. Even if you don’t stop for these things, it all added a lot to the festive energy and atmosphere of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. The cumulative absences are very noticeable.

Disney Very Merriest After Hours does offer a handful of character “sightings,” almost all of which were considerably distanced or not conducive to selfies. To my knowledge, only Santa Claus had a PhotoPass photographer present.

This would’ve been forgivable last year at this time, but we’re well past the point where outdoor selfie stations should be a feature of the event. Disneyland has been doing this for months during normal operations, and took it to the next level for Oogie Boogie Bash. Aside from adding a few new indoor spots, Walt Disney World’s approach is virtually unchanged since last July. The contrast between the California and Florida parks underscores the laziness of the latter.

Then there are the PhotoPass Magic Shots. One of our big complaints about Disney After Hours Boo Bash is that there were not nearly enough PhotoPass photographers to accommodate demand for the Magic Shots.

Well, it would seem that Walt Disney World’s solution to this issue was not to increase the number of photographers, but to reduce the number of Magic Shots…and not tell anyone what they are. This didn’t really solve anything. PhotoPass lines are still longer than ride lines, but now with more confusion and without the payoff. Ours haven’t shown up in My Disney Experience yet, but I believe we have several of us holding Tinker Bell. Hopefully she’s wearing a festive scarf.

I don’t want this to read overly negatively, as there were some aspects of the event we thought improved upon Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. While I’m a total sucker for peppermint bark cookies at MVMCP, this event featuring Cheryl’s Cookies is an unequivocal upgrade.

Also, the weather for this event was much nicer than the last Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party we attended.

Speaking of which, this event is atmospherically is comparable to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. Same beloved background music loops, projections throughout various areas of the park, and snow on Main Street. (The snoap machines were dialed up to 11, and I’m not complaining about that–hopefully that solution isn’t too bad for my lenses!)

I’m an absolute sucker for the ambiance of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, and this hit those same sweet sentimental notes. Whereas past experience with MVMCP undoubtedly hurt my impression of the parade, it lifts my view of the vibes. Hearing this music still gives me flashbacks to our first MVMCP together in 2007 after getting engaged, and I very much enjoy that stroll down memory lane.

One big head-scratcher on the atmospheric front is the lack of holiday projections on Cinderella Castle. For reasons beyond me, the underwhelming Beacons of Magic glow remained on Cinderella Castle throughout the night (aside from during the fireworks and stage show), including during Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade.

This might seem like a minor nitpick, but this was disappointing. I also talked to several others who were likewise letdown by this, so I know it’s not just me.

In addition to impacting parade photos, this also means no festive background for the PhotoPass shots you wait ~20 minutes to get, and nothing during the parade, either.

This seems like an oversight, as Disney did reanimate the fireworks projections to account for the 50th Anniversary decor, so they did the work…it’s like they forgot to flip a switch or something. (Hopefully this is remedied for subsequent parties–it’s such an easy change that would measurably improve the experience.)

As for whether Disney Very Merriest After Hours is worth the money? No.

You probably surmised that would be the inevitable conclusion based on the 2,000+ words that preceded it, so I doubt it’s necessary to fixate on this.

To be brutally honest, there is absolutely no way to justify this price from anything but an emotional or sentimental perspective. And that’s fine–if you want to splurge for some holiday fun, that’s your prerogative.

That’s exactly what we did, so I’m certainly not one to judge. Just go in recognizing that this doesn’t offer commensurate value for money as compared to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party or even the upcharge line-skipping alternatives.

This is the first year that’s an unequivocal “no” when weighing whether Magic Kingdom’s holiday event is worth the money. Assessing Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party over the years amidst its price increases, we’ve always said it’s a high price to stomach and hard to rationalize…but an event that we’d continue to attend every year because we’re suckers for MVMCP and the event puts a smile on our faces. It’s hard to put a price on that joy, at the end of the day.

Disney Very Merriest After Hours is different. It does not hit the same emotional notes, and the significantly higher price weighs heavier. If we were doing this only for fun and not for the sake of research, I would feel no such compulsion to attend another Disney Very Merriest After Hours. It would be a simple one and done.

Ultimately, this is because Disney Very Merriest After Hours amounts to a “Taste of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party,” but at “Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party: Platinum Edition” pricing. In addition to the significantly higher cost, it’s shorter, the entertainment is scaled back, and Magic Kingdom simply lacks the same holiday energy and cheer without all of the characters and performers that would be offered at the full event.

Like Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, this is still festive fun. However, it does not ooze holiday spirit or have the same je ne sais quoi quality as MVMCP that kept us returning year after year–even if we couldn’t justify it from any logical perspective. Consequently, we have a hard time recommending this event to most consumers, save for first-timers who won’t know what they’re missing, fans who really love Christmas or wanting to do something special, or those for whom money is no issue–or can at least justify a big splurge. For everyone else, there are better ways to allocate the money while visiting Walt Disney World.

Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!

YOUR THOUGHTS

Have you attended Disney Very Merriest After Hours? What did you think of the event? Disappointed that it’s not on par with Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party? Did you focus on rides or entertainment? How many attractions were you able to experience? What was your average and/or highest wait time? What’d you think of the atmosphere and entertainment? Would you attend, or is it too pricey? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? 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!

69 Responses to “Photos & Review: Is Disney Very Merriest After Hours Worth It?”
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