I have experienced the realistic balance between magic and madness that is a Walt Disney World trip with kids. But Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party was an entirely different experience.
It was bound to happen. As an avid Disney Parks goer, I anticipated a visit where the magic wouldn’t feel as strong, when I was tired, when my kids were agitated, when some external (or internal) force detracted from my usual zest for all-things-Walt Disney World. What I didn’t anticipate was it happening at an after hours event—Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, to be exact. Am I upset over the experience? Absolutely not. But, my eyes are now fully open about the realities of after hours events—with kids in tow—and I want to give you my opinion on whether you should attend such an event. So, should you go to Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party with small kids?
Short Answer? No. It pains me to think, much less write those words, when it comes to something about Walt Disney World. But, I have to be honest about my recent experience, and I feel that other potential guests, especially parents, may want to know before they go.
Let’s Be Clear. My experience is inherently based on the fact that I attended Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party (MNSSHP for short) with my small children, ages 2 and-a-half, and 14 months—not necessarily the easiest age groups to travel with, much less take to a Disney Park after hours.
That being said, I recognize the limitations imposed by traveling with small kids, I do. But I also welcome them, and challenge myself to be up to the task. My wife and I take our kids everywhere with us: for personal reasons we don’t have a sitter or a nanny and we don’t have family members available to assist with care at any time. So, we are the definition of The Family Special in that if you ask for one, you get all of us.
We have traveled by plane multiple times (including one move across the country during the pandemic when both kids were even younger). We have traveled by car to multiple cities, across state lines, and we have visited Walt Disney World multiple times a year since our first child was born. What I am trying to convey is that I am used to the work it takes to make a trip with small children magical. I expect tantrums. I Rope Drop to avoid crowds, prioritize midday naps to make sure the kids (and the adults) remain energized, I miss the fireworks to make sure they are in bed early, and I plan our meals and Disney Resort stays with an eye towards making our trip run as smoothly as possible.
I have missed dining reservations, left parks early when a kid was sick, missed riding my favorite rides, including missing virtual queue slots I fought to obtain. I have watched others hop from booth to booth at EPCOT’s International Food and Wine Festival, trying all of the drinks and treats much they way I used to, while I stroll (with a double stroller) out of the park to make sure the kids aren’t overheated in the Florida sun.
Suffice it to say, I have experienced the realistic balance between magic and madness that is a Walt Disney World trip with kids.
But, believe it or not, none of that compares to the utter chaos that was MNSSHP. Now, I had done my research, and looked to other bloggers and locals that of course went the very first evening before moving on to the next piece of Walt Disney World news. Based on what I had seen, the park looked packed and the lines to meet characters seemed long. Some warned that there would be no way to see and do everything, and to get there as early as possible. Which, I understood: in the social media age, every experience at Disney can feel like a bit of a race to make sure you maximize the experience.
Yet, I was still surprised just how…chaotic the experience became as soon as we stepped off the monorail. Let’s walk through the experience shall we?
Entering the Park. Entry to the park was fairly similar to a regular park day, except for slightly noticeable crowds around Cast Members handing out wristbands for the event. As a reminder, if you have a ticket to MNSSHP you can enter as early as 4:00PM, though the event doesn’t officially begin until 7:00PM. You do not need a regular day ticket nor a park pass reservation for entry; your MNSSHP ticket grants you entrance.
Of course, people were crowding around a few Cast Members and entry lines. A quick survey of my surroundings showed many other Cast Members happy to help and dispense the coveted wristbands. Crisis averted. Until we entered the actual park, where a large double decker bus located to the right just before Main Street welcomed us to the party, and directed us towards a walkway behind Main Street. And this is where things first started to feel a little disorganized.
The walkway was filled with people rushing in seemingly every direction. There were several Halloween statues of the Fab Five flanking both sides of the walkway, and people were crossing back and forth for pictures with them, which interfered with the current of arriving guests. This felt the most Mardi Gras of the entire night.
Bag Pick-Up: Towards the end of the walkway is the entrance to Tomorrowland Terrace where we were directed to pick up our admittedly small bags for trick or treating. Again, the crowd heading into the area was heavy, the echos of voices going into the terrace bouncing off the walls towards me. The crowd was so heavy that we were forced to wait in the walkway area, leading to congestion. We decided it was better to skip the line and see whether we could snag a bag elsewhere (we just asked Cast Members stationed at a trick-or-treat line in Fantasyland, and they were more than helpful).
Character Meet and Greets: Perhaps the biggest letdown involved characters, which were stationed around the park, yes, but on the other end of lines that winded around the nearby attractions. Most of the lines weren’t moving much, and after encountering lines in multiple lands, we decided that the waits weren’t worth it, whether they were shorter than they appeared.
Trick-or-Treating: The treat stations around the park were easily noticeable, but again, filled with people. The lines winded outside the various entrances but they did move very quickly. No real complaints here, besides the obvious: it would be nice to have characters stationed at treat stops like they do at Oogie-Boogie Bash at Disneyland.
Cadaver Dans Barbershop Quartet. The spooky variation of the Dapper Dans, the fan-favorite singing troupe, performs at designated periods throughout the evening in Frontierland. This was my first time seeing the Cadaver Dans, and they were definitely THE moment when they appeared. Like much of the offerings of MNSSHP, they are immensely popular, and the crowd surrounding their performance was one of the worst of the evening. Because was had the kids, we didn’t feel the need to battle the crowds for a closer view, and we were able to hear just fine form far away. The large crowd didn’t detract from the performance, but it did lead to pinch points and traffic jams, especially for the stroller crowd.
Food Experiences. I can’t review the spooky treats I very much looked forward to because I didn’t have any. Why not, you ask? You guessed it: there was a long line for every single food or beverage served during the party. The lines may have moved quickly—I didn’t stick around to find out. With a line in every direction, I didn’t feel encouraged to try anything, truthfully. Not even the strangely delicious-looking corn cake. Maybe next year?
Ride Wait Times. If you ask me, a person who prioritizes attractions above all, the party is good for one thing. And that is riding rides! I was surprised to find how low the wait times were for every single ride. It was as if everyone prioritized every other MNSSHP experience, even treats, above riding the attractions. And I am not complaining about that! Every ride was a walk-on, and we knocked out many of our favorites—including The Barnstormer, my eldest’s first roller coaster ever! So, if rides are your main thing, MNSSHP is a great option do ride a bunch at night!
Parades & Shows. I also can’t give my thoughts on the stage show or the parade, the latter of which I was really looking forward to for months. Other guests were staking out there spots in front of Cinderella Castle and down Main Street, USA respectively, for over an hour before they began. Any parent knows that waiting with kids for even a few minutes is near impossible, and after battling crowds around the entire park—except for in lines for attractions—I didn’t feel like doing the same for the shows and parades. And I also didn’t want to risk being forced to stand behind people where my kids couldn’t even fully see the parade. So, we didn’t do either, and we decided not to watch the parade.
The Verdict. And so we left, feeling a mixture of defeat and victory. We managed to attend an after hours event—a popular one, at that— with two toddlers, my daughter rode her first roller coaster, we trick-or-treated, we basked in Halloween decor at the Magic Kingdom. I’m proud that we managed to do all of that! But, we didn’t really get to fully partake in the event, which was a bitter pill to swallow. Sure, we could’ve pushed harder. But, at a certain point, we just didn’t feel like waiting in lines for the entire night. Whether the line be for food, a character, or staking a spot for the parade or the fireworks. Maybe I had too high expectations for an after hours event, but, to me, the extra money spent on such a ticket should at least pay for an experience where you aren’t forced sacrifice one thing for another; an experience less constrained by overcrowding.
With that being said, I am sure many enjoyed the event, and I am even more sure that others with small kids will say they went in knowing it would be busy and/or that their kids just fell asleep in their stroller and it was a breeze after that. I also went in fully aware of the crowd levels, of the ever-growing popularity of MNSSHP, of the fact that every night was sold out, and of the impact social media has had on The Walt Disney World Experience. Taking all of that into consideration, the entire evening still felt more turbulent than it should have. And walking around a packed park with such disorder, alone or with sleeping children in tow, isn’t my idea of time well spent at Walt Disney World.
Of course, my experience — like everyone else’s — is entirely personal. Throughout the evening I caught myself contemplating whether a solo trip, or a trip with only me and my wife, would’ve made the night more enjoyable. I also caught myself comparing it to Very Merriest, last year’s Christmas party, which was much less stressful. But looking back at my photos and videos from MNSSHP, I don’t think that would necessarily be the case, because the packed, energetic feel of the park would have been the same. The crowds would remain. And I don’t know if the hard ticket price is worth what essentially was a very busy park experience with extra candy and Halloween decor.
Fatherhood has taught me much about my limitations and bandwidth, and this Disney Dad prefers lower crowds and experiences where my kids can partake in the fun. Unless Disney starts offering more event dates and/or guaranteed attendance limitations, I will likely wait until my kids are much older for another after hours experience.