Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party had one important factor playing to its favor before I even walked through the gates: The hard ticket event (from here on out referred to by its oh-so-necessary acronym of MNSSHP) is based around my all time favorite holiday. Not all Walt Disney World events are created equal though, so as a first-timer attending the party's 2018 opening night I was curious to find out if Disney’s All Hallows’ Eve bash was worth the price of admission.
My love of theme parks and my feelings toward Halloween are both built on the same foundation — a desire to lose myself in something fantastic, immerse myself in the strange and otherworldly. They both provide the sense that anything can happen just around the corner, and something exciting or mysterious is just moments away. This is why I have attended numerous Halloween Horror Nights events throughout the last two decades. While some years have been better than others, Universal has always done a great job enveloping me in the spirit of the holiday and I look forward to it every year.
Disney’s Halloween offering is vastly different than the Universal Orlando Resort’s. Where Horror Nights focuses more on inducing a bit of excitement — or heart-pounding anxiety — in its guests, MNSSHP focuses on the childlike wonderment that accompanies our earliest trick-or-treating memories. Truth be told, as a single, childless man this is the exact reason I have avoided it in the past. I always assumed it would be too family-oriented to really compete with Universal for my Halloween affections. Over the past few years though, I have learned that this same preconceived notion that the Disney Parks were only for children and families caused me to overlook some of the incredible experiences I now enjoy on a daily basis. So, I set my need for thrills and scares aside, and settled in for a night of spooky fun.
We arrived at the Magic Kingdom around 4 pm on a sweltering Friday afternoon. Due to the oppressive sun — the party premiered on August 17th this year — the entrance queue for the event seemed to take an incredibly long time to navigate. In retrospect, the wait was actually minimal. A few minutes to make it to the gate, a few more to get our wristbands, and we were inside.
I myself was dressed in jeans, a black long-sleeved shirt with the arms rolled up, and a black vest. As both a native Floridan and unabashed weirdo, I do have a tendency to overdress in spite of the heat when I’m at the parks in a work capacity. My motivation for doing so on this particular day was that I wanted to wear the Haunted Mansion tie I had purchased in Disneyland for the party. The tie never made it around my neck, and streaks of salt stains on my black attire convinced me to change into a t-shirt an hour in. I only bring this up because many people dress in costume during MNSSHP, and many of those costumes did not stress comfort. Their sacrifice is highly appreciated, as observing the vast array of guests in costume is one of the best parts of the event.
During my childhood, when my passion for my beloved Halloween was first taking root, I loved wandering the streets from dusk through night, surrounded on all sides by other children dressed in costumes; none of us knowing anything about each other, no labels about what kinds of kids we were, nerd or athlete, popular or friendless, awkward or pretty. We were all these wonderful imaginative things, people we wanted to be, creatures we were afraid of. The rest of the world slipped away for a night and everywhere we looked we saw unchecked creativity in the form of mysterious and fanciful characters.
That feeling is hard to recapture. As mentioned, I don't have children. I'm certainly not going to walk down streets to observe trick-or-treaters, as a random childless dude walking around subdivisions dressed like the Super Friends version of Aquaman would probably scare people in the wrong way. I do occasionally stroll through Downtown Orlando on Halloween night just to see the costumes though, but my partying days are over and the crowd tends to get raucous, so I don't stay long. One of the most fun parts of MNSSHP was being once again surrounded by folks young and old dressed up as their favorite characters, with creativity and passion on full display.
This ambiance was bolstered by Disney's own cast of macabre characters, whose presence in the park was a subtle yet powerful addition. I'm not speaking of your Disney Character meet-and greets either; the line to see Jack Skellington was absurdly long and the event was too finite to spend hours in the hope of a picture with even as great a character as he. No, rather than the official meets, I'm speaking of random photo ops or entertainment with Halloween-exclusive park characters like the grave diggers or Cadaver Dans in Frontierland, and attraction additions such as the spectral debutante at the Haunted Mansion or Gunpowder Pete on Pirates of the Caribbean.
The park itself was also significantly transformed to add some Halloween immersion throughout. Just like Christmas, Magic Kingdom's fall decorations are relegated to Main Street U.S.A. alone. There are valid arguments to be made both for and against decorating every land in the park which I won't get into here, but I will say that by combining well-placed fog machines, spooky lighting, characters, and candy stations, there was not a single point throughout the event when I didn't feel surrounded by the spirit of All Hallows' Eve.
I have a mixed bag of fun-sized feelings about the candy stations themselves. Part of me really enjoyed them, although I had initially planned on not participating in that aspect of the event. I don't have much of a sweet-tooth throughout the rest of the year, and I was also a bit worried it was odd for a single adult to go trick-or-treating. Actually, I didn't wonder if it was odd, I wondered if it would look odd. Disney crowds always help me get over those ridiculous hangups though — other adults taking part in the nostalgic childlike glee of getting free sweets reminded me that this is not a place where I have to pretend I'm more of a grownup than I actually am.
I decided I'd do it, but just so I could give the candy to my girlfriend's kids. Which I did, after picking through and eating my favorites — and after my girlfriend picked through and ate her favorites. (She and I disagree on the value of Skittles; it turns out we both have ridiculously strong opinions on the subject.) Anyway, I'm sure the kids got some candy, eventually.
You receive your sack as you enter the event, and are given some sugary treats to start. You can add to your unhealthy hoard at numerous locations throughout the park, and I never experienced a wait of more than a few minutes. The cast members dishing them out were mostly delightful, and with every event I attend I truly get the feeling that these occasions are actually fun for them. Honestly, nothing kills the mood quicker than grumpy cast members, so seeing them take joy in their jobs really adds something special to the experience.
For the first time ever, Walt Disney World decided to give a seasonal overlay to certain attractions. This was a huge draw for me, as I've often heard about Disneyland's overlays yet have never been there during the holidays to witness them. This aspect of the California resort has always evoked a bit of jealousy from me. While I can't speak to Disneyland, Orlando's overlays are nice but not game-changing. They certainly add something extra to the event, but I would not purchase tickets to MNSSHP just to experience them.
Pirates of the Caribbean has the addition of the aforementioned Gunpowder Pete, where cast members throughout the queue build up a backstory and ask guests to keep an eye out for him. This culminates in a single scene during the attraction where guests will spot Pete and he'll shout at passing boats. It isn't a drastic change to the ride, but it's nice to have a little something special thrown in. The cast member in the queue's jail cell wouldn't seem out of place any time of year, so it leaves you wondering why they don't have him there more often. Space Mountain's overlay is basically an even darker version of the ride with new music in the background, and given our lack of visual projections I doubt it competes with Disneyland's seasonal Space Mountain changes. Space mountain is always fun, but don't expect this experience to be mind-blowing. The Mad Tea Party also received some special lighting effects, which once again don't drastically alter the experience but certainly change the vibe a bit.
All in all, if you already wanted to catch these rides with the limited wait times that events provide, then these subtle overlays will probably make you smile. If these changes are a major factor in your purchase of tickets, I'd say you will be a bit disappointed with them.
The Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular
I caught the final performance of the Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular for the night, and I'll admit that it kept me reasonably entertained. I thought it did a great job of staying in the Halloween spirit, and focusing on Disney's villains let it present the holiday in a quaint, non-scary Disney fashion without featuring family-friendly dancing pumpkins and candy corn. It was surprisingly fun, and I think it appeals to a wide audience. In fact, I only have one complaint with the entire show. As the plot unfolds, the Sanderson Sisters are close to seeing their goals of hosting an evil Halloween party reach fruition, and they summon a full cast of Disney villains to join them. Most of these infernal friends make sense — they are magical and evil, the two primary requirements to palling around with the Sanderson Sisters. For some reason though, they also summon Cruella De Ville and Lady Tremaine.
Immediately after calling forth the powerful and terrifying Evil Queen and Hades — who, might I remind you, is the Lord of the Underworld — they summon the extremely limited powers and influence of a rich lady who has antiquated views on animal rights. Then, after rounding up an evil Arabian wizard and a legendary pirate locked in a never ending duel to the death with an ageless immortal child, they finish their roster of all-time-evil with a rich lady who has antiquated views on parental responsibility to step children. Compared to the Greek god who rules a place so hard it's named after him, what kind of malevolence are these two bringing to the table? For a real world equivalent, that's like forming a team of Earth's greatest villains using Hitler, Stalin, and Chaz, the Starbucks barista who keeps charging me for a cold brew coffee even though they ran out and he just gave me iced coffee instead. Charge me for iced coffee then, Chaz — you know there's a price difference and I'm on a budget.
Seriously, I know what you're thinking, "It's just for fun. Why must you pick this plot apart?" To that, I'd answer that Disney has on staff some absolutely amazing writers who can make even the most ridiculous plot points seem sensible, and a ton of more appropriate characters to work with. Or maybe I'm just broken, and criticizing the plot holes in Disney live shows is the only thing that brings me joy anymore. At the end of the day though, I thought this show was a lot of fun and I particularly liked the Oogie Boogie scenes.
Mickey's "Boo to You" Halloween Parade
Over the course of human development, countless discoveries and inventions have changed the way we as a species function. With each major breakthrough we are forced to ask, "But at what cost?" We've seen this throughout our own lifetimes, with debates about the ramifications of nuclear energy or gene splicing. Yet let us not forget the impact of our first innovations — chief among them, music. Music has the power to uplift, to strengthen the hearts of men and women, inspiring them to rise up and come together in pride, compassion, and understanding. Yet when music was first harnessed by early humans, there must have been at least one lone caveman twitching with trepidation who, while everyone one else was dancing and making merry, softly whispered to the night sky, "Yes, but at what cost?"
"Boo to You" is the song he was afraid of. It is the price we must pay for the wonderful sounds we have been blessed with up until this point. It may have taken millennia to gestate in the dark heart of humankind, but it is here now. It is in my head, it is in my heart, it is in my DNA. We cannot be parted.
I don't want my overly dramatic descriptions to give you the impression that I'm an unreliable narrator. Honestly, this song was stuck in my head for over a day after this event and I may be using this article as therapy. I am positive some folks absolutely love this malevolent dirge, and that's okay. Let's move on, shall we?
Unspeakable auditory horrors aside, this parade felt a bit dull. There were standouts, of course: the gravediggers sparking their shovels on the ground created a simple yet satisfying effect, and the Headless Horseman who preceded the parade was wonderful.
That might have been part of the problem, though. With a steady, powerful clop-clopping gradually making its way down the dark, vacant Main Street passageways, my anticipation began to build. The Horseman had been what I came for, and I was eagerly awaiting this Hessian ghost to lead the charge of my heart straight into the Halloween season. Disney started this affair in August, and although the weather won't change much by October, it is hot, our leaves never change, and the pumpkin spice craze has yet to begin. If anyone was going to convince me that this season was officially underway, it was this looming specter astride his infernal steed.
He rode past, confident in his ghastly glory, leaving just as quickly as he came. Then, I was left with "Boo to You"; both the underwhelming parade, and its maddening titular song. The problem here, was that following the unique atmosphere pounded into the pavement by the haunted horse's hooves was too difficult for Disney. They set one tone, then gave another. Halloween provides ample room for creativity, yet what we got (aside from the gravediggers) were unoriginal floats and standard characters in slightly different costumes. The entirety of this parade could have been The Nightmare Before Christmas and Hocus Pocus characters and I would have been ecstatic, but at least a small presence should seem obligatory. It felt like Disney phoned in the parade at its design phase, and Halloween deserves better.
It's lucky the Horseman has no head, so you can't see his single tear of disappointment.
Now, you may like this parade and enjoy it yearly. If so, please don't take offense. It's fine, and maybe it's good for the little ones. I'm not actually asking for scary though, just unique, imaginative, innovative. I think that if Disney intends to start this Halloween party earlier and earlier each year, until all the costumes are white because labor day hasn't happened yet, then they should be putting time and energy into making this signature show something amazing. Keep what's good, throw the rest in a shallow grave. I know some guys with shovels who could make one.
Is It Worth It?
Well, an important thing to remember is that the price I was charged might be significantly less than the one you'll pay. For the August 17th debut, advanced purchase prices ran $79 per adult and $74 per child. Throughout most of August and September MNSSHP prices will be around that range, some nights getting as low as $75 for grownups and $70 for kids. Late September to early October sees those rates jump to $89/$84, most October nights alternate between $99/$94 and $109/104, and Halloween night is a hefty $125/$120. Select nights do have discounts for Annual Passholders and Disney Vacation Club Members as well, which will save you around $5 per ticket on applicable dates. (For a full rundown of prices, head HERE.)
Now that pricing is out of the way, do I think the party lived up to its cost? Yes, I do. It is a highly personal decision that depends on the amount you have to spend, though. If I had to choose between MNSSHP and Halloween Horror Nights? HHN wins every time — no contest. As has been exhaustively covered though, I don't have children. As a single guy without young'uns, that's easy for me to say. If I had kids and felt socially obligated to plan around their needs instead of my own selfish desires, I wouldn't be overly upset that I had to choose Disney's party instead.
You'll notice I don't have a section on the Happy Hallowishes Fireworks. I missed my chance to see them while I was running around enjoying myself. I avoided character meets and dance parties on purpose, and only stopped for one specialty party treat — The Jack Skellington Push-Pop, which Steve Porter made me try because he secretly hates me (looks amazing, tastes awful). I didn't even take time to shop. We arrived at 4 pm, stayed until midnight, and there was still a sizable list of things I didn't do. Part of that eight hours was spent talking to people, taking photos, and riding attractions — normal, fun event stuff — but I was very active and there was still plenty of party I have yet to experience.
Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween party has a few faults, but overall I had a great time. The costumes and people-watching was fun, the atmosphere was significantly spooky, the attraction overlays were subtle but appreciated, the candy collecting was weirdly gratifying, the Hocus Pocus show was great — the parade itself was the only thing that I didn't particularly enjoy. Although the price increases the closer it gets to the actual holiday, I think the excitement will grow exponentially. While I am incredibly grateful I was fortunate enough to be there on opening night, it's a near impossible task to perfectly evoke fall feelings amidst the swampy, sweaty, sweltering Florida summer. I imagine that later in the year, maybe if I can manage to catch one of those unpredictably cool October nights, this party will truly help stir some All Hallows' Eve spirits within the cold catacombs of my heart. I'm going back — that much is certain.
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