Holidays at Magic Kingdom Park
More info i
Credit: Disney

Theme Park News: Disney Christmas will cost you & Florida continues its COVID struggles

Contributed by
Aug 17, 2021, 1:50 PM EDT

There’s been a whirlwind of Disney updates in the past seven days, so if you feel like you may have missed some, most, or even all of them, never fear! I am here to catch you up on everything that’s gone down, from space eats to waterfront shows and all that comes in between in this week's Theme Park News.

DISNEY REVEALS DETAILS (AND PRICING) FOR TICKETED HOLIDAY CELEBRATION

Disney shared updates about its annual Christmas party and, well, it's going to take more than being on Santa's "nice" list to join the festivities. Just like with Boo Bash replacing the long-running Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, this year’s Magic Kingdom holiday celebration will be shifted to more of a late-night event. Formatted as one of Walt Disney World’s “After Hours” events — which tout low wait times, smaller crowds, and a complimentary assortment of mostly popcorn-y, ice cream-y snacks and drinks available at food carts — Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party has also been reimagined as the stand-alone Disney Very Merriest After Hours event on select nights in November and December.

Previously, Halloween and Christmas “parties” would begin at 7 p.m. and last until midnight, allowing guests to "mix in" at 4 p.m. and experience the park for eight hours total, with three hours overlapping with day guests before the five-hour celebration. Now operating as late-night events, they start at 9 or 9:30 p.m. and run for three hours (Boo Bash) or four hours (Very Merriest), with entry allowed as early as 7 p.m. (Note: both events were canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic, and this amended version marks their first return.)

Credit: Disney

Though it provides less time in the park — five hours for Boo Bash and six hours for Very Merriest, if you can make it 'til 1 a.m., that is — the wintertime celebration still provides the holiday magic most ticketholders crave. Not only are there seasonal overlays on select attractions, shorter lines to ride popular rides, Christmastime character costumes, and Minnie's Wonderful Christmastime Fireworks, but there's also the first major return of a full parade since the parks reopened in March 2020. Yes, Mickey's Once Upon a Christmastime Parade, long considered the highlight of any Magic Kingdom Christmas event, will bring familiar faces, like Santa himself and the beloved Toy Soldiers, marching down Main Street, USA — which is often worth the cost of a ticket alone.

Following the jubilation, however, is the shock of its price. A single ticket, before tax, costs over $200 on two-thirds of available nights, topping out at $249 per person before tax on the event's final nights, Dec. 19 and 21. Disney Vacation Club members and Annual Passholders can knock $10 off the price on select evenings, but still, the cost was somewhat of a shocker for frequent attendees, since you could normally visit Disney's Magic Kingdom for two full days for the price of this four-hour event.

That said, it is magical, which is why the price is so high. These events are, by default, less populated and do include snacks, but even as a popcorn binge-eater who adores Disney's soapy fake snow, $200 is a hefty price for a party so jam-packed with entertainment that I'm not likely to even get on that many rides or grab enough refills. You better be craving that Christmastime magic hard — or at least be sure there's enough sugar in those Mickey Bars to keep your kids, if you have 'em, up 'til 1 a.m. — if you choose to partake.

Seeing toy soldiers in real life after the past year and change, though? An argument can be made for that being priceless.

NEW NIGHTTIME ENTERTAINMENT OFFERINGS ARE BEGINNING TO SHAPE UP

We're starting to get a taste of what Walt Disney World's 50th anniversary will be like. Sadly there's no news yet on Epcot's new Ratatouille ride-adjacent creperie, which we desperately await details on. But in terms of what glimmering displays will go up once the sun goes down, we've got some ideas. As our earlier fireworks obituary stated, Happily Ever After is meeting its maker once Magic Kingdom's new show debuts on Oct. 1, and while I speak for myself and many others when I say I am crushed about the fate of that perfect nighttime show, I remain flexible in the hopes that its replacement, Disney Enchantment, wows me and wins me over anew.

Disney fans often find themselves horrified by closures... and later elated with what rises in its place — a roller coaster, in and of itself! — and Epcot's nighttime entertainment is proving to fit that mold perfectly. The closure of Illuminations: Reflections of Earth's two-decade run was tough for the fans who loved it, but early fan reaction to Harmonious, its permanent replacement, has been overwhelmingly positive, especially following new details revealed last week. Watch this space for my full review when it officially debuts on Oct. 1.

Credit: Disney

SPACE 220 RESTAURANT OPENS NEXT MONTH

The restaurant, first announced back at D23 Expo 2019, will seemingly take guests 220 miles above Walt Disney World with intergalactic views by way of its massive window panels when it opens at Epcot this September. It will also serve a secondary purpose: to give us looky-loos a glimpse at what Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser’s space port windows may look like, since they share a similar concept.

We were given a first look into the restaurant last week, and dare I say, I love it!? The 2000s were not kind to us when it came to building new and vaguely weird themed restaurants, and as a massive fan of over-the-top dining, this place is right up my alley. Will the prix-fixe menu of space food be good? Who knows! (All signs point to yes, though, as its run by Patina Restaurant Group who outfits some of the better restaurants throughout Walt Disney World.) See y'all among the cosmos! 

YOUR FINAL PRIMER FOR HALLOWEEN HORROR NIGHTS

Behold! Your latest details and final lineup for the bi-coastal scream-filled event.

Halloween Horror Nights kicks off in less than three weeks at Universal Orlando Resort, where the full lineup of terrifying offerings has at long last been unveiled. Halloween Horror Nights Icons: Captured, featuring a bevy of horrifying characters who’ve made a name for themselves at previous events, joins a lineup of houses themed to Beetlejuice, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and The Haunting of Hill House, among others. They’ll join five additional original haunted houses, including “Revenge of the Tooth Fairy” and the gory growth of “The Wicked Growth: Realm of the Pumpkin," and two live shows, Marathon of Mayhem: Carnage Factory lagoon show and Halloween Nightmare Fuel, an all-new stage show packed with stunts and sights. Five scare zones, including ones themed to HHN past with “30 Years, 30 Fears” will round out the colossal frights.

Credit: Universal Orlando

Over at Universal Studios Hollywood, the nightmarish sights arrive Sept. 9 with a lineup of haunted houses — here called mazes —  as exciting as Florida’s with some of the same (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, The Haunting of Hill House) alongside originals like "Curse of Pandora’s Box." More importantly? HHN fan-favorite Terror Tram Tour, which takes guests wandering through terrifying scenes on the studio backlot, was officially confirmed to return this past weekend.

THE STATE OF THINGS IN FLORIDA

Like a bout of 2020 déjà vu, COVID-19 is still running rampant throughout Florida, including in Orange County, where theme parks such as Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World resorts are located.

It’s hard to keep track of Florida's recurring caseload records as they're consistently broken, but Orange County set one of its own this week among children. According to the Orlando Sentinel, "more than 380 Orange County Public School students also have had to quarantine” since school began last week, a terrifying new record thought to be spurred by Governor Ron DeSantis’ urge for schools to not require masks.

Meanwhile, Orange County wastewater continues to signal that rising COVID-19 cases in the region aren’t going anywhere, as DeSantis touts Regeneron treatments as a saving grace while downplaying the effectiveness of the vaccine, according to the Orlando Sentinel, telling reporters “our entire vulnerable population has basically been vaccinated.” (For the record: DeSantis himself is indeed vaccinated.)

Take a look at the theme parks, though, and you'd assume it was mid-pandemic business as usual. Florida tourism is up 200 percent from last year as Disney CEO Bob Chapek shared the company is eyeing "aggressive but measured" capacity increases despite those terms being antithetical and buffets having just returned, with the announcement that Boma will be reopening later this week. 

Currently, masks are required by all guests and employees while indoors or on transportation at Walt Disney World Resort. Following The Walt Disney Company's recent announcement, many employees will also soon be required to be fully vaccinated. Universal Orlando Resort's mask guidelines continue to operate independently of threats from the Delta Variant, allowing guests to choose whether or not to wear masks throughout the entirety of the resort.

LINKS! LINKS! LINKS!

- With this much Disneyland merch, I beg of you, please don't buy this wearable Rocket Racoon tail.

- At long last, we can put the spa back in Disney's Grand Californian Resort Hotel and Spa.

- I am not ready for it to be Halloween, but stores say otherwise.

- NBA Experience, the two-year-old attraction that replaced DisneyQuest at Disney Springs, will not reopen.

- ... but NBA veteran Robin Lopez has some replacement suggestions.

Universal Parks and SYFY WIRE are properties of NBCUniversal, a subsidiary of Comcast Corporation.