Disney Jollywood Nights Christmas party is a new event at Hollywood Studios starting in mid-November 2023. Walt Disney World has released new details since the initial announcement, so we figured it’d be worth sharing those–while incorporating them into pros & cons about the DHS upcharge offering.
If you read our initial commentary about Disney Jollywood Nights, you might’ve noticed it was not particularly positive. If you clicked a couple hours later, the perspective was much more favorable, as reflected in the ‘update’ section. If you reviewed the replies to comments, you might’ve seen those start to sour by that very same evening.
Suffice to say, my feelings about Disney Jollywood Nights are very mixed and quite conflicted. This is a Christmas party that I really want to like. On paper, it sounds tailor-made for me. However, I have a lot of trepidations about the event, based on both past precedent and some perceived ‘red flags’ in Walt Disney World’s press release. To that end, I want to lay out the potential/preliminary pros & cons of Disney Jollywood Nights, as I see it. This post covers the positives–for the other side of the argument, see Why You Should NOT Do Jollywood Nights Christmas Party at Disney’s Hollywood Studios!
More Adult – Over the last decade or so, Walt Disney World’s audience has become increasingly adult to the point that, as of a few years ago, a slight majority of guests did not have children. With that in mind, we’ve been hoping that Walt Disney World would add things targeted at the non-family demo that did not revolve around alcohol. (New bars are fine, but not when they’re the only thing aimed at adults.)
Disney Jollywood Nights gets half of that right. It does involve alcohol, but that’s not the entire impetus of the event. Instead, Walt Disney World appears to be trying to do something more sophisticated. This Christmas party focuses more on live music, performers, and atmosphere than it does on animated properties and rides. Obviously, those latter two things will be present to round out the roster, but they are not the sole feature of Disney Jollywood Nights.
True to Theme – “The World you have entered was created by The Walt Disney Company and is dedicated to Hollywood—not a place on a map, but a state of mind that exists wherever people dream and wonder and imagine, a place where illusion and reality are fused by technological magic. We welcome you to a Hollywood that never was—and always will be.” ~Michael Eisner, Disney-MGM Studios Dedication.
That version of the park has vanished over the years, and the back half consisting of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and Toy Story Land are now the emphasis. It thus comes as a surprise that Walt Disney World is debuting a new Christmas event in 2023 that focuses not on characters and franchises, but instead on the Eisner-era version of the park.
Disney Jollywood Nights embraces the spirit of old Hollywood, from its graphic style to its substance. There’s a jazz speakeasy lounge in Hollywood Brown Derby and an otherworldly soirée at the Hollywood Tower Hotel Courtyard that brings back the Tip Top Club. Two things with atmosphere befitting Hollywood high-society, rather than cartoon characters.
Over in Echo Lake, there will be a throwback bash that promises to stir up nostalgia. On Commissary Lane, there will be a lively Latin street fair full of holiday flair. All of these offerings sound ambitious, interesting, and unlike what we’ve seen Walt Disney World do in recent years in the parks.
MUPPETS! – Since the original announcement, Walt Disney World has revealed more about the Muppets’ live holiday special in Theater of the Stars during Disney Jollywood Nights. It’ll be a musical variety show hosted by Kermit the Frog and Missy Piggy, both of whom will by physical present on stage. They will welcome guest stars, including Princesses Belle & Tiana, Minnie & Mickey Mouse, and more. There will also be a live 10-piece band on stage.
Learning this and seeing the above concept art is the exact moment my outlook on Disney Jollywood Nights shifted from sour to excited. Admittedly, I am a sucker for the Muppets and am willing to (over)pay way too much to see them in the parks. There are dozens of others just like me, and all of us loved the Merriest Nites event a couple of years ago due to the Muppets Christmas Caroling Coach.
Failing all else, I’ll just watch the Muppets’ holiday special a few times and leave Disney Jollywood Nights happy and relatively satisfied, even if the rest of the event is a trainwreck.
Trust in Tom (Vazzana) – The creative face of Disney Jollywood Nights is Tom Vazzana. For those who are unfamiliar with him (which is probably most of you), Tom Vazzana is Show Director with Walt Disney World Creative Entertainment. He has been a frequent fixture of D23 events for years, and is generally beloved by attendees of those events for his infectious enthusiasm, passion, authenticity, and–for lack of a better term–chaotic energy.
Vazzana is the real deal, a rarity at a time when other entertainment creatives are more like synergy synthesizers. (It also appears that Vazzana has taken on a bigger role at Walt Disney World with Steve Davison seemingly gone.) Vazzana has a number of productions to his credit, but his most recent success is the fantastic reimagining of Fantasmic and the upcoming (untitled) EPCOT nighttime spectacular.
Honestly, I have not loved everything that Vazzana has created–but it’s always unique, interesting, and ambitious. I’ll take big swings and misses over playing it safe with paint by numbers entertainment that is thinly-veiled Disney+ marketing. At least with a big swing, there’s the chance for a home run. These ‘dueling’ posts about Disney Jollywood Nights should pretty much sum up where I’m at: it’ll either be a strikeout or a home run, with little chance for a single or something in between.
It’s Getting Better Already – One of the reasons that Oogie Boogie Bash is a must-purchase ticket every year is because we trust in Disney(land) to enhance the event even after tickets have sold out. They’ve announced compelling new characters and entertainment at a time when tickets were no longer available, which is an interesting approach. By contrast, Walt Disney World usually only “sweetens the deal” if tickets for a party are not selling well. Otherwise, what’s revealed on day one is pretty much it for the event.
Thus far, that hasn’t been the case with Disney Jollywood Nights. Since the original press release, Walt Disney World has shared that The Nightmare Before Christmas is getting a sing-along during the Jollywood Nights Christmas party, with Jack Skellington and Oogie Boogie appearing on stage.
Walt Disney World has teased that more announcements are to come, so it’s likely that the full lineup for Disney Jollywood Nights has yet to be revealed. Hopefully that’s not just contingent upon ticket sales, but instead, is part of a concerted promotional push for the party.
Experimental Energy – Speaking of Oogie Boogie (and his bash), Disney Jollywood Nights already reminds us of the first year of Oogie Boogie Bash. Disneyland Resort ended the beloved Mickey’s Halloween Party and replacing it with Oogie Boogie Bash. The new party at the second gate was bolder and took risks in breaking the tried and true Halloween Party formula that had been used on both coasts.
That paid off. Although some diehards still complain that the event is at DCA instead of the iconic castle park, Oogie Boogie Bash is better than its predecessor. Building a new event from the ground up paid off, resulting in a fresh and fun new event.
Disney Jollywood Nights has a very similar experimental energy, as Walt Disney World eschews pretty much everything that has made Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party a fan-favorite. Obviously, experiments can be very bad and go disastrously wrong (spoiler alert: Frankenstein doesn’t have a happy ending), but this is a post about the potential upside of Disney Jollywood Nights. Attending the inaugural event of a potential new-classic and envelope-pushing party that itself becomes a Walt Disney World institution is (potentially) one of them!
Lots of Rare & Christmas Characters – Walt Disney World has revealed that a number of rare characters will be present, as will (presumably unique) Christmas costumes for meet & greet mainstays. In Animation Courtyard, you’ll be able to find Minnie and Mickey Mouse, Daisy and Donald Duck, Pluto, Goofy. Over at Echo Lake, Max Goof as Powerline, Chip ‘n’ Dale as the Rescue Rangers, and Phineas and Ferb will appear in front of the Christmas tree. In the recently-reopened Pixar Place, Edna Mode and Frozone will meet guests.
All of this is just what we know about so far. Characters are one of the easiest things to add to increase the marketability and enthusiasm around an event, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see more announced on that front.
Short Lines for Rides – In all likelihood, guests who purchase tickets to Disney Jollywood Nights are going to be there for all of the aforementioned reasons–not rides. Although the event page has a line advertising “Attractions with Lower Wait Times,” that’s not one of the main selling points. This is not being branded as an After Hours event, and it’s likely that most guests aren’t expecting it to be one.
Given all of that and the likelihood that few families attend, our expectation is that wait times are relatively low for most attractions during Disney Jollywood Nights. Even the virtual queue for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance is a potential red herring, possibly a hedge so they don’t have to offer refunds if it breaks down and guests get “stuck” in line or even as a way to manufacture demand for that ride (a page from the old “Bonus FastPass” playbook).
The biggest risk with betting on short lines for rides is if everything else is a disaster. If lines are prohibitively long for characters, entertainment, and there isn’t enough to do…people are going to make lemonade out of lemons and do rides, even if that’s not why they bought tickets in the first place.
Impact on Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party – This one is arguably a bit of a stretch. It’s a reason why you should attend Disney Jollywood Nights in the same way you should see an independent film from a director you like in theaters: as a show of support.
If Disney Jollywood Nights outperforms internal expectations and guest response is positive, it could prove beneficial to other events at Walt Disney World. Arguably, Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party have both become a bit tired. The company probably doesn’t want to mess with a good thing–and has no financial incentive to do so, since sales are strong.
To an extent, this is understandable. Nostalgia sells and every time Disney does change something–anything–there’s backlash. However, people are also open to change once they experience it and it’s good. Fans and the company seeing that a different approach can yield favorable results might be what’s needed to kickstart changes and investment in older events and offerings.
We’re not saying you should drop ~$750 on tickets for your family to attend Disney Jollywood Nights solely so you can “show support” to the mom & pop media empire. Rather, this might be an ancillary positive outcome should you already have decided to attend and want to feel better about that decision. Oh, and attendees will likely be helping to reduce crowds at MVMCP, which will be another positive “impact” of this, albeit in a different way.
Ultimately, that last one cuts to the chase and really reinforces a notion tiptoed around by previous points: Disney Jollywood Night needs the support of fans. Many of us bemoan how everything revolves around intellectual property, is thematically lacking, isn’t ambitious or is tired. But in a sense, we also get what we deserve by continuing to buy or do those things.
Disney Jollywood Nights probably is not going to be perfect. I have a lot of concerns about it being an incomplete event and a logistical nightmare. However, this is precisely the type of thing that I want Walt Disney World doing, and I think it’s important to “reward” good decisions so more are made in the future. If fans don’t support unique and interesting offerings like this, but a new Toy Story meal in a warehouse has sky-high demand, we’re going to get more of the latter and less of the former.
Admittedly, this is a tough needle to thread. In fact, it reminds me a bit of Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser, albeit on a smaller scale. We warned prior to opening that Walt Disney World would learn the wrong lessons from that crashing and burning. Others cheered for it to fail, some with a sense of schadenfreude, others with more valid concerns about it setting a precedent for more prohibitively-expensive, paywalled experiences.
Those same concerns exist here. Disney Jollywood Nights is expensive, and arguably offers insufficient value for the ticket cost. The event selling out quickly may not send the message to Walt Disney World that they should invest more energy, effort, and money to make this bigger and better next year. Instead, we may get more unambitious and expensive paywalled events that erode hours for day guests. That’s definitely a risk of this being a success.
Personally, I think hard ticket events are here to stay. It’s a question of either events like this or vanilla After Hours–it’s not this or nothing. I’d rather have Disney Jollywood Nights or Villains After Hours than the actual alternative. (This being a success also might get Walt Disney World one step closer to offering my dream of a 90s Nostalgia Nite with Wishes, Disney Afternoon, and SpectroMagic 2.0!)
The company’s only takeaway in Disney Jollywood Nights crashing and burning will be that Walt Disney World should stick to the tried and true formula and not take risks in the future. While Galactic Starcruiser is one cautionary tale, there’s also a recent success story: EPCOT’s International Festival of the Arts.
The EPCOT International Festival of the Arts is another offering many fans wanted to see fail, complaining that ‘festival season’ had taken over the entire calendar and it would be another thinly-veiled excuse to sell overpriced food & drinks. Now, it’s a fan-favorite and, in our opinion, the best EPCOT event of the year by a wide margin. What if the outcome here is somehow similar? What would you rather have–a total failure or a holiday event that manages to compete with or surpass Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party?!
To each their own, but I want Walt Disney World to push the envelope, offering entertainment and events that are unique and unprecedented. To swing for the fences, even if they’re a miss. Not one of us flew in love with Walt Disney World for its ability to safely single. Here’s hoping that Disney Jollywood Nights is a massive success and is bigger and better 5 years from now.
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Will you attend the Disney Jollywood Nights Christmas party at Hollywood Studios? Think the pros outweigh the cons, or vice-versa? What has you excited about the event? What has you concerned? If you’re planning to attend, will you do so instead of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party or in addition to it? What do you think about Disney Jollywood Nights? 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!