If you’re looking to spend some BONUS time in the Disney World parks, you’re not alone!
Guests are constantly looking for ways to cram just a little bit more park time into their short vacations, and that prompts them to take advantage of resort perks like Early Theme Park Entry and Extended Evening Hours. But if you’re willing to pay some extra cash, there are two different options you can check out that let you stay late into the night in Disney World!
Some of Disney’s most popular hard-ticketed events are the After Hours events and the holiday parties. At each of these offerings, you can pay to stay late at select parks, and you’ll get to experience things that daytime guests typically don’t see. But even though they have some things in common, there are key differences between the two offerings that we’re going to break down!
Let’s start with the “when” of these two events. For After Hours events, you’ll typically find them taking place at the beginning of the year. In 2023, Disney After Hours fall between January-April, but before the pandemic, we did see some After Hours offerings at Typhoon Lagoon water park during the summer. On top of that, After Hours typically only happens once or twice a week, so you may have to modify your park schedule during your visit if you want to attend.
Holiday parties, on the other hand, start in August and run through December. From August-October you can visit Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party and then in November and December we’ve got Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. The two parties are distinctly different with special offerings for each holiday, but we’ll get more into that in a minute.
The other major difference with the schedule of the holiday parties is that they run multiple nights a week, usually between three and four times a week throughout the season.
One big difference between the two events is the locations where they’re held. For After Hours events, we’ve seen them take place in Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Typhoon Lagoon, and even Animal Kingdom (pre-COVID). Since the pandemic, they’ve only returned to Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios.
For the Christmas and Halloween parties, you’ll ONLY find them at Magic Kingdom. During the Halloween season, Magic Kingdom is actually the only park that gets decorated, so you’ll start to see decor for the party pop up in early August. (Which means we’re celebrating spooky season for a LONG time!)
If you’re heading to an After Hours event, the name gives away the timeframe. These hard-ticketed offerings don’t start until AFTER the park is closed for the evening. At Magic Kingdom, they’re running from 10PM-1AM currently, and in Hollywood Studios they take place from 9:30PM-12:30AM. That’s 3 hours of late-night park time. On top of that, you can enter the park early with your After Hours ticket at 7PM. So ultimately, you get just a little bit more time at Magic Kingdom.
Holiday parties have a bit more of a family-friendly schedule, with festivities starting at 7PM. On the days that the party happens, Magic Kingdom will close early at 6PM and guests of the party will be able to enter at 4PM.
You get to stay until midnight on party nights, but there’s a LOT to do, so you certainly won’t be bored!
Now, let’s get into the nitty gritty of things! One reason people really enjoy the After Hours events is that they offer the chance to see Disney World with incredibly low crowds. Tickets are extremely limited, so you’ll find short wait times for the rides and large, empty spaces. This is the perfect time to get that castle pic!
At MNSSHP and MVMCP, things are pretty different. Disney doesn’t limit the number of tickets nearly as much, so if you’re visiting on a sold-out night, you may have a hard time finding a good spot to watch the fireworks or parade. The entertainment is the main draw, however, so if you’re there to do rides, you might still be able to knock out more than you would during the daytime.
Attractions and Entertainment
What special things do these events have to offer? Well, at the After Hours events, you won’t find many special or unique things to do outside of the regular rides and character meet and greets. In fact, some of the attractions are limited during that time. We did see special performances of Wonderful World of Animation and Disney Movie Magic at Hollywood Studios during After Hours, but those were the only entertainment offerings.
However, when it comes to the holiday parties, entertainment is where it’s AT! Each holiday party has its own stage shows, parade, and fireworks that are unique to that event. You’ll also find a variety of very unique character meet and greets spread around the park. (Characters like Jack and Sally, Moana, the Disney princes, etc.)
On top of that, some rides will get holiday party overlays. We’ve seen live pirates show up on Pirates of the Caribbean at MNSSHP or an entire light show on Tomorrowland Speedway at MVMCP. You never know what you might find!
Included in Admission
Are there any “freebies” you can get at these events? We’re glad you asked! At the After Hours events, select snacks are included in your ticket price. If you visit popcorn stands around the park, you can get unlimited popcorn, ice cream novelties, and bottled drinks.
During Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, you can head to select spots around the park to trick-or-treat and fill up a bag with complimentary candy. At Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas party, they offer cookies, cocoa, eggnog, and apple cider.
You won’t get the popcorn cart snacks included at the holiday parties, but they WILL have some exclusive snacks available for purchase throughout the night.
Finally, we’ve got to talk about price! For After Hours events in 2023, prices ranged from $129-$159, depending on the night. Tickets were a little more expensive at Magic Kingdom than they were for Hollywood Studios. Keep in mind that this gets you 5.5-6 hours of park time if you enter at 7PM.
For the holiday parties, Not-So-Scary ranged in price from $109-$199 in 2022, and Very Merry ranged from $149-$199 throughout its two-month span. Typically, earlier dates on the calendar will be cheaper for these parties, while dates closer to the actual holiday will creep up toward that $199 mark.
You might find those prices to be unusually high compared to the After Hours event, but keep in mind that you’re getting 8 hours of park time if you enter Magic Kingdom at 4PM.
Which is Better?
It all depends on you! If your family is very entertainment-forward, then you’ll want to make sure you hit up those holiday parties…especially if you’re looking to do everything that the holiday season has to offer. For Halloween, there aren’t many seasonal celebrations outside of MNSSHP, so that makes it a very popular event in the fall. And while there are more things to do during the Christmas season, it’s much shorter than Disney’s Halloween season, so that makes each night of MVMCP more popular overall.
But if you’re just wanting to crank out a bunch of rides with really low wait times, you’ll want to head to those After Hours events. You can get a LOT done in a short amount of time, and you’ll see the parks emptier than you probably ever have before.
That’s our take on After Hours vs. holiday parties! If you’re planning a trip to one of these events in 2023, make sure to check out our full guides and the pages on our website to get all the details. As more dates and prices are announced, we’ll make sure to share everything.
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Have you ever been to these events in Disney World? Tell us in the comments!