July 24, 2024

Is a Christmas Party Coming to Disney’s Hollywood Studios in 2023?


As part of Halfway to the Holidays, Walt Disney World released an announcement teaser image featuring Hollywood Studios. In addition to that, there's a rumor that DHS is getting a paid Christmas party that revives

As part of Halfway to the Holidays, Walt Disney World released an announcement teaser image featuring Hollywood Studios. In addition to that, there’s a rumor that DHS is getting a paid Christmas party that revives extinct entertainment and offers counterprogramming to MVMCP at Magic Kingdom. This post breaks down the details and offers our updated prediction on what’ll be announced.

The above promotional image released by Disney during Halfway to the Holidays features the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror as the representation for Walt Disney World (far right). Although Sunset Seasons Greetings is a lovely little production, DHS is not normally the park that people associate with Walt Disney World at Christmas. Cinderella’s Castle would be the natural choice, so there’s likely a reason for using the less-than-obvious icon.

Hyping up the holidays at Hollywood Studios and strengthening its seasonal lineup would make perfect sense. As we’ve mentioned repeatedly, evenings are still comparatively quiet at DHS, even after the return of Fantasmic. That was true last Christmas even after the nighttime spectacular had just returned, and will likely be even more pronounced this year with Magic Kingdom being the ‘heart’ of the holiday season and EPCOT having Candlelight Processional plus a brand-new nighttime spectacular for Disney100.

Given that, counterprogramming at Disney’s Hollywood Studios to prevent overcrowding at those two parks in the evenings makes perfect sense. We’ve even seen precisely this approach in the past. Back in 2019, a big emphasis was put on Animal Kingdom, with festive new entertainment and holiday décor in every land for the first time in the park’s history. With that came the Tree of Life Winter Awakenings and Merry Menagerie, one of the best Christmas offerings in all of Walt Disney World.

Decorations there have since been scaled back, and the Tree of Life Winter Awakenings and Merry Menagerie aren’t promoted by Walt Disney World nearly as much as they were back in 2019. Between that and our on-the-ground observations of evenings in the park, those offerings didn’t move the needle much on getting guests to stay late at Animal Kingdom during the busy holiday season. So perhaps now we’re getting take-two at Disney’s Hollywood Studios…

Enter the rumor that Disney’s Hollywood Studios is getting a paid Christmas Party. This comes via WDWMagic (the main site, not the forum), which has a strong track record. While we cannot corroborate any of the specifics or even the high-level rumor itself, we have zero reason to doubt Steve. If he’s reporting it, the odds of it happening are pretty high.

According to the rumor, Disney’s Hollywood Studios will debut an all-new separately ticketed holiday event in 2023. This will be presented as an alternative option alongside Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party at Magic Kingdom, with the Disney’s Hollywood Studios event similarly featuring special entertainment and access to the park’s attractions.

One piece of special entertainment is rumored to be Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM!, which has not been presented since 2019. For those who never saw Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! during its initial run, it’s somewhere between a projections show and nighttime spectacular. More than what they’ve been presenting, but lighter on pyro than a fully-fledged nighttime spectacular or fireworks show.

Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! features Lanny and Wayne from Prep & Landing in search of Santa, and that quest provides an opportunity to show scenes from Disney animated classics and Christmas specials. Those represented include Mickey’s Christmas Carol, Pluto’s Christmas Tree, Bambi, Beauty and the Beast, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Frozen, and virtually every princess and prince in a brief romance montage.

That’s where the rumor ends, and here is where my speculation about a Christmas Party at Disney’s Hollywood Studios begins…

First, I want to start by addressing the elephant in the room. There’s one thing that every longtime Walt Disney World fan wants to see return for the holiday season: The Osborne Family Spectacle of Dancing Lights. This rumor and the subsequent announcement, if it happens but is light on specifics, is going to fan the flames of wishful thinking that those will return.

The Osborne Lights are not coming back. For one thing, there’s nowhere to put them. They worked in the backlot because it was a large and underutilized space with no attractions that drew crowds in the evenings. I can’t think of anywhere like that at Walt Disney World right now…maybe Dino-Rama? Even then, the display would have to be smaller scale than the original Osborne Lights.

In any case, the Osborne Lights are almost assuredly not one of the pieces of special entertainment for a hard ticket Christmas party at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Even assuming that Walt Disney World did bring back the Osborne Lights (highly unlikely on its own), they probably would not do so for a hard-ticketed event.

Although locking them behind a paywall does seem like a typical Walt Disney World move, I don’t think that would be their approach if bringing back the Osborne Lights. While doing so would certainly cause tickets to sell out, there would also be an opportunity cost. Letting anyone in the parks see them would have benefits of scale–selling regular park tickets and moving more merchandise, food & beverage, novelty items, PhotoPass, etc.

I’m also somewhat skeptical of the part of the rumor that Walt Disney World would bring back Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! just for a special party. For one thing, I don’t think it has the drawing power to sell tickets. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! I’d carve out some time this holiday season to see it if it does return, but it’s not something I’d pay extra to see.

If Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! is coming back, it would make sense to show it to everyone for “free” on a nightly basis as a way to keep people in Disney’s Hollywood Studios in the evenings. Not only that, but Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! was directly monetized via dessert parties, which were fairly popular among guests. It just makes more sense to me to show this on a nightly basis or not at all.

However, I could see a scenario where someone at Team Disney Orlando had the idea for a Christmas party at Disney’s Hollywood Studios but wanted to put minimal effort into coming up with new ideas and not invest in new entertainment. That’s how you’d end up with Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! returning, but only for a separately-ticketed event. (Still, I’m hoping that portion of the rumor is wrong and the projection show is simply coming back for all nights.)

As for what I think a Christmas party at Disney’s Hollywood Studios could and should look like, I’d direct you to two different events from the past few years. The first is Villains After Hours at Magic Kingdom, which itself was a mashup of a regular After Hours event and Villains Unleashed, a one-off special event at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

My expectation is that whatever is announced for Disney’s Hollywood Studios has the “After Hours” branding and follows that formula. I’d put the chances of that at well over 75%, as that’s the most logical option for a second hard ticket holiday event at Walt Disney World. (We’ll circle back to this in a bit.)

Villains After Hours introduced a stage show, Maleficent from Festival of Fantasy, and a few ride overlays to the familiar After Hours formula. It was a fantastic “plussing” of that event, and something similar could be done in Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Ideally, I’d want the ‘stage show’ to happen in front of Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, but an ‘Enchanted Christmas’ version of Beauty and the Beast Live on Stage could also make sense. (I’m skeptical they’d invest money in that aging show, but stranger things have happened.)

The other event is Disney Merriest Nites at Disneyland. That was another one-off special event, albeit in California. Another example would be Disney Very Merriest After Hours at Magic Kingdom from that same year, but that incorporated a lot of entertainment from Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. Obviously, that will not happen with the DHS event.

The selling point of Merriest Nites at Disneyland was 6 uniquely themed parties in one, typically accomplished via dance parties and live entertainment. The highlight of these was the Victorian party on Main Street, which featured character costumes from Mickey’s Christmas Carol and the Muppets Christmas Caroling Coach. There were also a bunch of Christmas card photo backdrops around the park. Merriest Nites was a good event that could’ve grown into a great event had it been given another year to find its footing.

All of the above offerings from Merriest Nites could be ported over to Disney’s Hollywood Studios and work really well. They’d want to modify the themes of the parties since Disney’s Hollywood Studios (obviously) has different lands than Disneyland. But the idea itself would work, and unique dance parties would have tremendous appeal. Just imagine Muppets, Toy Story, and Star Wars Holiday Special-themed parties, or 50’s Holiday Traditions in Tinseltown. There are a lot of great possibilities.

While unique characters could appear at the dance parties, I wouldn’t expect to see them in meet & greet form. Hopefully enough people in TDO management are still around from the Villains Unleashed disaster to understand why that would be a bad idea–unless they flood the event with a ton of unique characters to dilute demand. I don’t see that happening for several reasons, though.

Basically, the goal with all of this would be creating a holiday party at DHS that is distinct from Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. Walt Disney World likely wants this to be counterprogramming and not cannibalizing attendance from the iconic Magic Kingdom party. That would mean looking at every selling point of MVMCP, and not doing those things during the holiday event at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

That would mean no Christmas parade (not like they’re gonna build a second from scratch anyway) or special fireworks. It would probably also mean no stage show featuring Mickey and friends, and no character meet & greets. The DHS event would need to be differentiated from MVMCP in every way possible.

That’s precisely why something like “Disney’s Holidays in Hollywood After Hours” makes complete sense. Rather than being a party that revolves around entertainment, it would be a predominantly ‘low crowds’ event focused on a quasi VIP experience with short waits at popular attractions and refreshments included.

With an event like Disney’s Holidays in Hollywood After Hours, the Christmas-themed elements would be icing on the cake. The cake itself would be short waits for Slinky Dog Dash, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, Millennium Falcon Smugglers Run, Toy Story Mania, etc. The entertainment would be an enhancement (and, from Walt Disney World’s perspective, a way to add capacity to the event and sell more tickets).

Equally as significant, After Hours events are held, as the name suggests, after the park closes for the day to regular guests. Christmas is an incredibly busy time of year at Walt Disney World, and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party already screws with crowds and attendance dynamics. As we covered ad nauseum last year, this can be leveraged to the strategic advantage of savvy guests…but most guests are not savvy. For the overwhelming majority, the scheduling of MVMCP and resulting crowds create headaches.

Walt Disney World understands this, so it would take an act of extreme irresponsibility and greed to add a ‘big’ Christmas party at Disney’s Hollywood Studios that also runs multiple nights per week from 6 pm until midnight. I know that I’m more optimistic and charitable than most, but I do not see Disney doing that. They know better, and are still trying to dig themselves out of a hole when it comes to guest satisfaction.

Disney’s Holidays in Hollywood After Hours (or whatever they end up calling it) would likely be held from 9:30 pm until 12:30 am or 10 pm until 1 am, with a mix-in starting at 7 or 8 pm. This would mean Fantasmic would still be shown to day guests, which is important–especially with the new nighttime spectacular debuting at EPCOT for Disney100.

Although I don’t think it’ll happen, I do wonder the extent to which a second big Christmas party focused on entertainment would actually cannibalize ticket sales for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. Keep in mind that ticket sales were very strong last year with all dates selling out. Has Walt Disney World discovered there’s enough unsatisfied demand to sell ~50% more tickets to MVMCP?

In that case, cannibalization wouldn’t really matter too much. Sure, some Walt Disney World regulars would choose to do the DHS event instead of MVMCP for the dozenth time, but there would be a sufficient number of first-timers who otherwise would’ve been shut out of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party who are able to attend.

There’s also the reality that Walt Disney World has a higher capacity cap for the non-After Hours parties. If Disney’s Holidays in Hollywood After Hours is priced at $169 per person, but Goofy’s Holiday Lights & Delights at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (an entertainment-centric event that also offered rides but no promises about shorter lines) were priced at $129 per person, there’s a good chance the latter would be more lucrative for Walt Disney World by virtue of the higher attendance limit. Again, scale matters. But we’re getting very in the weeds for something that’s only rumored at this point.

Ultimately, I’m very curious about what Walt Disney World will do with a potential new Christmas party at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. My strong suspicion is that it’ll actually be a holiday-themed After Hours event, as that would be positioned differently and distinct from Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. Many guests will still be confused by competing Christmas parties, but that’s the nature of the beast, and this has the lowest likelihood of confusion and cannibalization.

Assuming this is something like Disney’s Holidays in Hollywood After Hours, I think it could be a winner with elements pulled from Merriest Nites and Villains After Hours. As discussed in our Guide to 2023 After Hours at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (and reiterated in our recent After Hours at EPCOT Review: Walt Disney World’s Newest Paid Party Disappoints), After Hours at DHS is our favorite ‘vanilla’ version of that event.

Adding some holiday magic would only improve that offering, and make it even better. While I really wish they’d revive Villains After Hours at Magic Kingdom, this would be a good consolation prize. It’s also a paid event that would not be disruptive to normal park guests or contribute to additional crowding during the busy holiday season. So long as Walt Disney World opts for an After Hours event and not an (earlier) Christmas party, we’re on board with a separately-ticketed event during the holiday season at Disney’s Hollywood Studios!

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Would you attend a Christmas event at Disney’s Hollywood Studios? If so, would you do it instead of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party or in addition to it? Would you prefer Disney’s Holidays in Hollywood After Hours (low wait times focus) or Goofy’s Holiday Lights & Delights at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (an entertainment-centric event)? What are your thoughts on ticket prices? Will your family be buying or sitting out the Christmas festivities? Are you excited for Christmas 2023 at Walt Disney World? 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!

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