When I first moved to the East Coast, I resented the existence of
hard-ticketed special events at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom. Why should the Christmas
activities be separated, I thought. They ought to be included with the cost of
regular admission, as they are at Disneyland. Indeed, between Christmas and New
Year's, they are included at Orlando's Magic Kingdom too. And my thoughts as far
as that go haven't changed; I still feel that way about the holiday party.
Illuminated pumpkins adorn the
Floral Mickey lawn at the Halloween Party.
I found the Pirate and Princess party to be fun, especially the fireworks,
but it was overpriced. I did like the offerings better at Mickey's Not So Scary
Halloween Party (MNSSHP), and the fact that you leave with candy is a bonus. So
of the parties, MNSSHP always seemed like the best bargain to me. We'd been to
MNSSHP before, but have skipped a year or two before our return in 2009.
This was "new to me." A table at the TTC trying to sell products which might appeal to party-goers.
There are pumpkins along many
second-story window ledges on Main Street,
but the most visible ones are on
these Town Square scarecrows.
serenaded us with Grim Grinning Ghosts.
This feeling of value has only intensified over time. Mostly, I think this is
because familiarity has endeared me to the parade and fireworks more and more. I
do not think that my intensified positive feelings exist due to Disney adding
and "plussing" the event, because I don't think that has happened. If anything,
they have removed perks in drips and dribbles – the familiar "declining by
degrees." Several years ago at MNSSHP, we took a family picture with a character
and were given the souvenir photo as a memento of the event, with its cost
already included in the tickets we had bought. Now, there is no free photo. We
were cheerfully told this year that all PhotoPass pictures were 40% off for the
night, which sounds nice until you remember that one photo used to be completely
The "Adventure Friends
Encounter" in the former home of the Adventureland
Veranda lets you take
PhotoPass pictures with Terk, Baloo, or Rafiki.
There are other Declines. Unless my memory is playing tricks on me, they used
to offer a broad range of candies in the trick or treating: gummies, hard candy,
and brand-name chocolates. Now, you are hard-pressed indeed to find brand-name
chocolates. We got a lot of candy on our visit; as a wild guess, I'd say 300
pieces of candy? And in that pile, there were four of the miniature-sized
100,000 Grand chocolate bars, three mini Nestle Crunch bars, and one mini
Butterfinger (there were twelve boxes of raisins). That's it for the chocolate
Everything else was non-chocolate, with most of it being hard or chewy
candy, and some taffy and the occasional box of raisins thrown in. It kind of
felt like they opted to purchase and distribute the cheapest candy they could.
That would be excusable if they were giving away candy for free on a regular
day, but we paid quite a bit of money for these tickets. And is it my faulty
memory, or didn't they used to give away full-sized chocolate bars at the Main
Entrance, as you exit? This year, they had just the same candy as inside the
Our pile of candy,
photographed literally as dumped on the floor (no hiding
recognizable brands). This is, by and large, what you can expect.
What other Declines by Degrees might exist are pretty minimal. The Ghost
Mickey balloon (is it a balloon? I'm not sure) that towers over a photo location
each year used to be illuminated from within. This year, it was lit up by
external lights. It's a small thing, I know. But that's exactly the point (and
the problem) with the Declining by Degrees. Those small things add up, even if
Ghost Mickey is no longer
illuminated from within. It makes
a bigger difference in person than
can be discerned in photos.
I was greatly bothered by the malfunctioning of the lights along Tomorrowland
on our visit on September 18. They erect special bright white lights just for
this event that race and pulse down the TTA walkway and add a visual dynamic to
Tomorrowland that I simply adore. On our visit, 80% of both sides of the lights
were turned off. Only the last 20% or so were turned on. My first thought was
annoyance, and my second thought was a rationalization that perhaps something
happened to go wrong tonight and customer forbearance is called for. But then I
realized that I had paid extra to be in the MK tonight, and "paying extra" is
supposed to translate into "extra" experiences – the lights are part of that. If
they'd issued a partial refund for the event only being partially as magical as
it's supposed, that would be different. Absent the refund though, it really is a
Decline, even if a small one.
One of the best alterations
via lighting. It's just a completely different mood!
This one, at least, is not
a Decline just yet.
The cost of the event keeps going up, in fact. It's now essentially $50 for
kids and $60 for adults. This would possibly not be worthwhile if you showed up
at 7pm (when the regular guests are escorted out) and left after the parade and
fireworks at 9:30. Some people with young kids might in fact opt to leave that
Special balloons for the
Fortunately, the hard-ticket allows entry much earlier than this, so you can
squeeze in a few hours with the "regular" day guests before the party proper
kicks in. And the event goes all the way until midnight, so we're talking
potentially eight hours of theme park activities and rides – that's less than $8
per hour, based on an adult's ticket price.
Seen in that light, yes, it's still
certainly worthwhile. Where else are you going to find entertainment at that
price point per hour, let alone at this level of quality? (By the way, if you have an annual pass, be
sure you arrive early. By 7:00, parking attendants will charge you for parking.
If you arrive before the official start of the party, your usual benefit of free
parking will apply.)
If you've ever wondered what
the always-crowded Minnie's House looks like without people, the time to find
out is late at night at a private party. Attendance in general seemed light – is it the recession?
And despite the lighting problems mentioned above, much was still done right
by the lighting gurus at this event. I remain in awe of the designers, artisans,
and technicians who conceive and erect this event. The park looks sufficiently
transformed to generate excitement in the most jaded of frequent visitors; I
could imagine buying a ticket every so often after my kids are fully grown just
so I can come here and photograph the park in its illuminated glory.
Special lighting at the
The whole area looks festive.
Which brings me back to my original point that the event still delivers
value, in spite of the drops in quality. The HalloWishes fireworks may continue
to irk me with the attempt to be hip and edgy (sorry: I will just never cotton
to the "modernized" version of Poor Unfortunate Souls… is it meant to be urban?)
and this fireworks display is still not the equal of other private events
(possibly not even the equal of Disneyland's Remember used-to-be nightly
fireworks), but it's still a good display. And it culminates with fireworks in
the round. Nothing puts a smile on everyone's face more assuredly than 360
degrees of shells exploding. It's just hard to imagine experiencing that in
person and feeling anything other than giddy.
It's the "Scream Along!"
The fireworks are not the only game in town. There's so much to do, in fact,
we routinely don't get to spend time at the Dance Parties. Last time I enjoyed
the intimacy (and lack of onlookers) at the Scuttle dance floor in Fantasyland,
where my then-four year old had a grand old time whirling around and pretending
to dance. Since there were few people present at the time (just another child or
two), this worked out just fine.
This year, the only dance floor we looked at
was at the new Stitch stage, and it was dominated by adults, not children.
That's OK, too, I guess. They were doing things like the Cha-Cha and Electric
Slide and goodness knows what else. I got out quickly, unwilling to subject
myself to the sight of the Macarena and Chicken Dances I felt sure were just
around the corner.
We still manage to not find time for the Villains stage show. I did creep
over for a full two minutes during one performance, but it looked like a lot of
pointless dancing rather than actual plot development, and something about the
brief glimpse I saw screamed "campy" at me, so I didn't feel too bad as we edged
away to go trick or treating instead. We also didn't realize until late in the
evening that face painting was free. Maybe next year.
The Headless Horseman
The big event, of course, is the Boo to You parade. It's repeated twice, and
I just love it more every year. Famously, the parade is preceded by the Headless
Horseman, who trots down the parade route on a real horse to the soaring strains
of "Ride of the Valkyries" by Wagner. His presence here is a touch of
brilliance, even if most guests today probably don't realize Disney made an
animated version of this story.
The parade itself is just the right flavor of "fun" Halloween activity. It
doesn't follow the scare element of Halloween, just the more wholesome
dressing-up, costuming, role-playing nature of a child's view of the holiday.
The comes across in everything: the float design, the characters chosen, the
outfits, and even the music.
Even the Disney characters
Best of all, this parade highlights a park favorite, the Haunted Mansion. The
ghostly ballroom dancers are here, as are the black-light illuminated
Hitchhiking Ghosts. But make no mistake: the highlight for me is the segment
with the scared caretaker with his lantern and his (live) dog, leading a group
of gravediggers in the usual HM costume. Those gravediggers tote shovels, and
they use them to scrape on the ground in choreographed dances that shower sparks
all over the parade route. It's so deliciously "forbidden" somehow to see the
road get torn up like this. For whatever reason, it just really works.
Caretaker, dog, and
gravediggers making sparks.
The other thing that really works is the music. The title song is repeated
throughout the parade (with some variations), but it doesn't get boring. It
will, however, echo in your head all night long. The lyrics are childish
(child-like?) and simplistic, but they convey nothing about the catchy and
infectious nature of the melody. You'll hear the music not just at the parade,
but indeed throughout the evening, piped in to the lands as background music and
sprinkled in with other Disney songs.
Speaking of music, that's another component done just right. As part of the
transformation of the place for the evening, we are treated not only to exciting
light displays, but also new soundtracks. As you wander through Fantasyland, you
might hear Les Poissons, We Are Siamese If You Please, or Kidnap the Sandy Claws
booming out of the speakers around you. Probably other visitors picked up on
this long ago, but I'm dense enough to only notice it this year for the first
time: all the songs have to do with villains. This has the subtle effect of
turning the whole party into not just "dressing up", but dressing up
specifically like the bad guys. In fact, you could go so far as to say Disney
kind of already has a "Villains" theme park in the form of this private party.
Projections in Tomorrowland.
As noted early on, there have been mild Declines in the event over time, but
our family will still continue to come for now. I'm aware that the two
statements seem incompatible. If we're still willing to pay for the service as
delivered, doesn't that mean Disney has a free hand to never bring back what's
been removed? I suppose on the one hand it does mean that.
But on the other hand, I'd like to think Disney became the industry
leader by exceeding expectations, not by figuring out the minimal amount a
visitor will tolerate while paying premium prices. Surely, somewhere down
the road in that latter scenario, some customers will decide it's no longer
worthwhile, and then no one wins.