Last night was the first Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party of the 2023 holiday season and it was one of the most pleasant experiences we’ve had in recent memory. From easy-to-secure parade route viewing to lower waits than any party in 2022, the “sold-out” party was a win from a crowd management perspective.
Before we jump into the subjective part of this article, let’s take a look at the hard data from thrill-data. Overall posted wait times averaged 12.8 minutes across more than 20 attractions and experiences. To put that in perspective, that’s a lower average wait time than all of the 2022 events, and 15-20% lower than the entire 2022 event average. To caveat that, the first party of 2022 was one of the three lowest wait times, so we could be seeing smaller crowds at a “sold out” early November event versus a “sold out” mid-December event. That said, the first event of the season is typically littered with bloggers and vloggers (including this site), so elevated crowds should be expected. That’s not what we experienced.
Now for the subjective part of the report. Our night started with a choice to rope-drop the Seven Dwarfs. While we waited for the 6:30pm start of the meet-and-greet, we started to get a sense that crowds might be lighter. To be sure, the wait time for the Seven Dwarfs probably built to 45 minutes or so by the time 6:30pm rolled around, but that was noticeably shorter than our Not-So-Scary experience. We figured that the Seven Dwarfs may not have been as big of a draw due to their appearance at the Halloween Party, and guests were prioritizing other character meet and greets. To an extent, that was true.
We then thought back to the entrance experience, and while I chose an in-park wristband distribution station, crowds at the main gate were nowhere near as crushing as the opening night of Not-So-Scary where entrance Cast Members had to develop a new system of crowd management that we hadn’t seen in the past, including holding pens for guests before they could even get to the main entrance.
In terms of our crowd experience during the party, we were able to find prime viewing for the first Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade just 20 minutes or so before the official start time. If you didn’t want prime viewing along Main Street USA, there was plenty of curbside viewing in Town Square and likely other parts of the park.
The biggest crowds of the evening seemed to be in the hub in front of Cinderella Castle with the back-to-back-to-back entertainment crunch of the 8:30pm parade, 9:25pm castle stage show, and 10pm fireworks. After the fireworks, we went to meet with characters and experienced greatly reduced wait times. We saw some reports of little to no waits for the Seven Dwarfs and experienced just an 11-minute actual wait for Jack Skellington and Sally shortly before 11pm. Outside of Winnie the Pooh & friends, and some popular Storybook Circus characters, wait times for characters seemed manageable and we saw a couple of reports of greater meet-and-greet success for guests who prioritized characters throughout the evening.
In speaking with other bloggers and vloggers who are longtime attendees of the parties, it was a consensus that the “feels like” crowd levels were noticeably lower than in recent years past, and we think there may have been some capacity adjustments from Disney, but that’s only based on firsthand observation and not inside knowledge.
The presumably lower capacity crowds couldn’t have come at a better time. Yes, attendance and average wait times are lower this year at Walt Disney World compared to last year even outside of upcharge party nights. That’s a trend that looks like it will continue into 2024 and perhaps even beyond that due to economic factors and a very light lineup of new offerings in the works. That said, we were on the verge of penning an article suggesting that you skip parties in 2024 if there are no significant changes. Both the Halloween and Christmas events have become stagnant with the exception of price increases, which have been quite aggressive post-COVID. Simply put, value for frequent visitors is shrinking, but the parties remain excellent offerings for first-timers. Disney has still not introduced anything significantly new this year, and you still would be very much justified in skipping a year or two until Disney finds a new creative spark for the events, but we’re going to remove the crushing crowds from our list of complaints if subsequent events end up being like last night.
This feels like an odd sentence to write, but the event felt a bit fresher due to the lower crowds we experienced last night. We were able to do more throughout the evening without having to devote as much time to waiting in line or camping out. It almost felt more like an After Hours event than the typically packed Magic Kingdom upcharge events of recent times. It’s a good trend that needs to continue if Disney is going to break through the $200 per person barrier soon.
We’ll close by saying that this is a high-level observation. There were certainly some long lines for the most popular characters or attractions and you might have been in one of those lines wondering what you just read, but there was also a bit more breathing room during the event, which has been missing in recent years. It’s also worth noting that Disney World could’ve undersold the event to try and elicit the very article I just wrote. We’ll have to keep an eye on other “sold-out” events this season to see if that’s the case.
As always, keep checking back with us here at BlogMickey.com as we continue to bring you the latest news, photos, and info from around the Disney Parks!