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SYFY WIRE Theme Park News

Theme Park News: Forget summer — It’s holiday time

By Carlye Wisel

Welcome to Theme Park News! It’s been a busy few weeks in the world of theme parks, and if you were overwhelmed by the way time moves during a pandemic, well, just wait until we start talking about Christmas in July.

New details for Halloween and year-end holiday celebrations at Disney and Universal parks have been unveiled in the past two weeks, offering a glimpse at what kinds of good tidings and festive frights are in store for the back half of 2021.

In addition to Walt Disney World’s bonanza to mark their 50th Anniversary starting Oct. 1, Disney’s Magic Kingdom will feature ticketed after-hours events at both Halloween and Christmastime in lieu of annual "parties." Disneyland boasts a true return to form with their ticketed Halloween celebration at Disney California Adventure, as Universal parks on both coasts prepare for Halloween Horror Nights to unleash the fury that was held back in 2020. Orlando’s parks are also gearing up for the most wonderful time of the year, with newly announced dates set to bring entertainment, decor and delightful treats to both Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort.

As parkgoers plan their attendance at holiday events through the end of 2021, it’s worth noting that yesterday, Orange County — where Universal and Disney’s Florida parks are located — announced the COVID-19's rolling positivity rate had nearly reached 8 percent, clocking almost 500 new cases per day.  Reporter Lauren Seabrook of WFTV shared that all vaccinated and unvaccinated people in Orange County are now recommended to wear a mask indoors, due to its return to the “high risk” category, as per the CDC. (This chart tracks Orange County’s increase in positive daily COVID-19 cases over the past month.) At the time of publishing, mask guidance and policies had not been updated at either Walt Disney World or Universal Orlando Resort. Currently, masks are only required indoors by unvaccinated guests, as other restrictions including social distancing and mask enforcement have recently been removed.

From happy haunts materializing to a Diagon Alley Christmas, here’s what’s on deck for this year's celebrations:

Haunting of Hill House Halloween Horror Nights

Halloween Horror Nights
Sept. 9 - Oct. 31 at Universal Studios Hollywood 
Sept. 3 - Oct. 31 at Universal Studios Florida

Though this fright-filled annual event hits both coasts at different times, it's poised to be a spine-tingling spectacle in honor of HHN's 30th Anniversary. After canceling the event entirely last year — and featuring themed food and a few houses within Universal Studios Florida to tide horror fans over — excitement is at an all-time high for the forthcoming themed experiences you’d never believe were temporary creations.

Details are still under wraps — Halloween Horror Nights takes grave pleasure (heh) in announcing the themed houses and mazes in surprise unveilings — but the first major reveal confirmed Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House will terrorize parkgoers on both coasts when its haunted walls come alive this autumn. (Hollywood’s event slogan is “Never Go Alone”, so yeah, we’re already petrified.)

Universal Studios Florida will also mount the return of Beetlejuice, the long-anticipated house that was given a limited run back in 2020, with plenty more on the way. California ticket details will be announced soon, but tickets are already on sale for Orlando’s festivities. We recommend you move quickly — it’s worth planning in advance of the full line-up, which always delivers.

Goofy, Daisy and Donald in Halloween costumes

Disney After Hours Boo Bash 
Aug. 10 - Oct. 31 at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom

Filling the spot of Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, which will not return this year, this late-night offering boasts three hours in the park with low crowds, late afternoon park entry, and plenty of Hallow's Eve happenings. All guests visiting Magic Kingdom can enjoy themed treats and special decor, but Boo Bash is a standalone Halloween extravaganza offering delights and family-friendly frights.

Expect a veritable bounty of Disney characters on parade, with Mickey and the gang in themed costumes, famed Disney Villains like Gaston, Jafar, and Dr. Facilier, and characters like Oogie Boogie and Jack Skellington from The Nightmare Before Christmas making their way across the park in a delightful display. (Maleficent will also return in dragon form, lighting the night sky with her fiery breath.)

Don’t be scared to death (heh heh) when you witness Cadaver Dans put on an acapella performance or take in rare character sightings, including ones outside the Haunted Mansion as the park fills with themed music, special photo ops, and more.

Guests can even wear costumes, board over 20 attractions with lower wait times, or trick-or-treat to their heart's content, scooping up complimentary candy — along with select ice cream products, popcorn, and sodas! — included with admission. Tickets are on sale now, starting at $129 per person. 

Halloween Time at Disneyland Resort
Sept. 3 - Oct. 31

Festivities return to Disneyland Park this year — which remained closed last fall due to the COVID-19 pandemic — by way of oversized pumpkins, costumed characters, and nighttime displays with fireworks on select evenings. Haunted Mansion Holiday will showcase its beloved Nightmare Before Christmas overlay, in addition to an extra-special gingerbread house honoring the 20th anniversary of its themed overtaking. (Fingers crossed we get a Muppets Haunted Mansion nod elsewhere in the park!)

Disney California Adventure will also get into the fright-filled spirit, as two Cars Land attractions don costumes of their own by way of seasonal theming, and Guardians of the Galaxy — Mission Breakout takes passengers on a raucous adventure in its “Monsters After Dark” reincarnation

And, on select nights, Disney California Adventure will be taken over by Oogie Boogie Bash — A Disney Halloween Party, an after-hours, separately ticketed event that provides Halloween happenings parkwide

The late-night party offers music, decor, and entertainment by way of a holiday parade and Mickey’s Treat and Trick stage show, but also the delightfully creepy Villains Grove walk-through and special character appearances. The big draw beyond being inside a Disney park with lower crowds is to scoop up endless candy and snacks from the Treat Trails, which allow guests of all ages to trick-or-treat to their hearts' content with a special Disney twist. 

Oogie Boogie Bash is offered on select dates between Sept. 6 and Oct. 31. Tickets to the party, which runs from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m., start at $114 per person, and go on sale today. (It's popular among SoCal fans, so don't delay!

Cinderella Castle with a holiday overlay

Holidays at Walt Disney World
Starting Nov. 12

The Christmas spirit is back this year at Walt Disney World, where park emblems like The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror and Animal Kingdom’s Tree of Life will boast a nightly holiday projection display, overlapping with Disney’s 50th Anniversary nighttime touches. Plan on characters, entertainment, themed treats, decor, and, yes, even Santa, as part of the four parks’ seasonal festivities.

Larger-than-life gingerbread displays will once again appear at Disney resort hotels, as Epcot’s International Festival of the Holidays brings tasty treats and global delights to the theme park from Nov. 26 through Dec. 30. (Candlelight Processional is noticeably absent from recent announcements, so it’s unclear if it will return in 2021.)

Cookies served at Epcot International Festival of the Holidays

 Just like with Halloween, the dedicated evening party — formerly known as Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party — will become Disney Very Merriest After Hours, a new late-night offering. Disney World’s emblematic Magic Kingdom will transform into a veritable winter wonderland on select nights Nov. 8 through Dec. 21, kicking off the holiday season with themed fireworks, Disney character appearances, and more yet to be announced for the four-hour event. Capacity will be limited, promising lower ride wait times, and select ice cream, popcorn, and beverages are included with the price of admission as well, which will be announced prior to tickets going on sale in August. (Disneyland’s seasonal happenings have not yet been revealed, so stay tuned to SYFY WIRE’s weekly theme park news update for more.)

Holidays at Universal Orlando Resort
Nov. 13 - Jan. 2, 2022

Though dates have been announced for Universal Studios Florida and Universal's Islands of Adventure's seasonal events, details are slim. Still, plenty is on the way. With previous holiday celebrations hosting Christmastime in Wizarding World of Harry Potter, character experiences, and special holiday entertainment courtesy of the one and only Grinch, be sure to check back soon, as so much more is in store.

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