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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.

These musicians 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 free.

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 bars.

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 park.

Our pile of candy, photographed literally as dumped on the floor (no hiding
of 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 subconsciously.

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 early.

Special balloons for the special event.

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 Haunted Mansion.

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 dress up.

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.

Kevin Yee may be e-mailed at [email protected] - Please keep in mind he may not be able to respond to each note personally.

2009 Kevin Yee

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Kevin's Disney Books

Kevin is the author of many books on Disney theme parks, including:

  • Mouse Trap: Memoir of a Disneyland Cast Member provides the first authentic glimpse of what it's like to work at Disneyland.
  • The Walt Disney World Menu Book lists restaurants, their menus, and prices for entrees, all in one handy pocket-sized guide.
  • Tokyo Disney Made Easy is a travel guide to Tokyo Disneyland and Tokyo DisneySeas, written to make the entire trip stress-free for non-speakers of Japanese.
  • Magic Quizdom offers an exhaustive trivia quiz on Disneyland park, with expansive paragraph-length answers that flesh out the fuller story on this place rich with details.
  • 101 Things You Never Knew About Disneyland is a list-oriented book that covers ground left intentionally unexposed in the trivia book, namely the tributes and homages around Disneyland, especially to past rides and attractions.
  • 101 Things You Never Knew About Walt Disney World follows the example of the Disneyland book, detailing tributes and homages in the four Disney World parks.

More information on the above titles, along with ordering options are at this link. Kevin is currently working on other theme park related books, and expects the next one to be published soon.