This Week in Theme Park News: Disney and Universal’s Holiday Plans, and Fear Factor No MorePhoto courtesy of Disney Travel Features theme parks
Halloween’s over, and America’s theme parks are about to switch gears to another holiday season. Get ready for Christmas cheer popping up all over Disney, Universal, and elsewhere, making your trip to the theme park even more special than usual. Here’s what you can expect from some of the biggest parks in the biz.
First up, Disney’s holiday makeover will be completed by Nov. 12, at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World. Festivities start that day and run to Jan. 9, 2022, at both resorts. Expect unique seasonal treats, festive music, and elaborate holiday decorations across all six of the parks at Disney World and Disneyland, and both Downtown Disney and Disney Springs. You’ll also get to see some of your favorite Disney characters dressed up in their holiday finest.
You can also expect a variety of special events and attractions during the holiday season. At Disney California Adventure at Disneyland, you can see—and hear—how different cultures celebrate their major winter holidays, including Hanukkah, Diwali, Christmas, Three Kings’ Day and Kwanzaa, at the music and dance-heavy celebrations Disney Festival of Holidays and Disney ¡Viva Navidad!. Also at California Adventure, the Festival Foods Marketplace will offer a variety of holiday meals and drinks, while Santa Claus and his elves will preside over seasonally themed games and activities at Redwood Creek Challenge Trail up through Christmas Eve.
The original Disneyland, which sits across the esplanade from California Adventure, becomes the best possible version of itself at Christmas time. The whole park is transformed into a beautifully decorated holiday treat, with Sleeping Beauty’s Castle and It’s a Small World looking especially gorgeous. And for the first time, Disneyland will be hosting its own special after hours Christmas event; the separately-ticketed Disney Merriest Nites event will run for five nights in November and December, and sadly all dates are already sold out. If you weren’t lucky enough to get tickets, and still hope to make it to Disneyland before Christmas, know that you’ll have to leave the park by 6 p.m. on these dates: Nov. 11, 16, and 30, and Dec. 7 and 9. Those are the dates for Merriest Nites, which runs from 6 to 11 p.m. and features six exclusive holiday parties throughout the park. Mickey will be overseeing a traditional Victorian Christmas party on Main Street, U.S.A., while Buzz Lightyear and a DJ lead the way at the Tomorrowland Party. Fantasyland will be home to a Frozen party starring Elsa, and Adventureland’s Tropical Party is hosted by Lilo and Stitch. Finally, Miguel from Coco will lead you through the Feliz Navidad Party at Frontierland, and Tiana from The Princess and the Frog is in charge of the jazzy New Orleans Holiday at New Orleans Square. Sadly, you won’t be able to celebrate Life Day at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge; it’ll be closed during the party, along with Mickey’s Toontown and Critter Country. Additionally, the special Christmas Fantasy Parade and “Believe…. In Holiday Magic” fireworks show will happen every day, both during the Merriest Nites events and during regular guest hours the rest of the season.
Walt Disney World, meanwhile, has its own parties planned. Expect all four theme parks to be decked out in splendid holiday attire, with special seasonal food and drink available throughout. The Magic Kingdom will be home to its own special after hours event, Disney’s Very Merriest After Hours. It runs on select nights throughout November and December, and tickets are still on sale. Its first night is Monday, Nov. 8, and then it happens almost every Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday from then through Dec. 21. It’s a shorter event than Disneyland’s, running for four hours and starting at 9 p.m., which means it’ll be a late night for the kids. Over at EPCOT, you can enjoy the EPCOT International Festival of the Holidays from Nov. 26 to Dec. 30, learning about how the different countries of the World Showcase celebrate the season through decorations, music, and special treats. EPCOT is also Disney World’s home to the Candlelight Processional, a celebrity-hosted recitation of the story of Christmas, with musical accompaniment by an orchestra and choir. Disney’s Hollywood Studios will be home to a festive projection show and the Santa Claus Motorcade, while Animal Kingdom will see the return of the bewitching animal puppets of the Merry Menagerie, which somehow seem to have a life of their own even with their puppeteers standing there in plain sight.
Universal, of course, has its own special holiday events brewing up, too, both at Universal Orlando Resort and Universal Studios Hollywood. Universal Studios Florida is home to a daily parade inspired by Macy’s Thanksgiving tradition, with elaborate floats and giant balloons featuring some of your favorite characters. The park also unveils another one of its intricately designed tribute stores, themed to Santa’s Workshop and the Grinch’s Lair. The holidays come to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, with The Magic of Christmas at Hogwarts Castle nighttime show, hot butterbeer, and Christmas decorations and merchandise throughout Diagon Alley and Hogsmeade. At Universal’s Islands of Adventure, The Grinchmas Who-liday Spectacular is a music-filled live show based on Dr. Seuss’ classic, and the Grinch himself is available for a meet-and-greet. If you want to guarantee the best spots for all of these holiday events, you can even splurge for Universal’s Holiday Tour, which is available for select dates between Nov. 21 and Jan. 2. Universal Studios Florida’s Christmas events run from Nov. 13 through Jan. 2. Universal Studios Hollywood, meanwhile, will also feature the Hogsmeade Christmas celebration, with the Hogwarts light show, as well as the photo opp-filled Who-tacular Grinchmas party; Hollywood’s events run from Nov. 26 through Jan. 2.
Before moving on from Christmas, I want to put in a good word for two other great theme parks that do the holidays right. Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas features all the great holiday music and downhome treats you’d expect, alongside the park’s collection of world-class roller coasters and the nightly Merry & Bright fireworks show. If you haven’t been, Dollywood’s worth the trip to Pigeon Forge, Tenn., and there’s no better time to go than Christmas. Out in California, Knott’s Berry Farm makes its annual conversion to Knott’s Merry Farm on Nov. 19, running through Jan. 2; expect seasonal decorations, an ice-skating show starring Snoopy and friends, another show full of traditional Christmas songs, and a variety of other holiday surprises.
I know that’s a lot of information, but hey, the holidays only come once a year. And if you ever get into the holiday spirit—or need help getting there—few things are better than theme parks at Christmastime.
The latest star attraction at Disney’s Animal Kingdom is a baby zebra. A Hartmann’s mountain zebra was born on Oct. 13, and can be regularly seen following its mother around. Meanwhile, Disney’s announced a digital pin trading event for Dec. 4; the Disney Heroes vs. Villains Digital Pin Experience is a ticketed online event with art lessons, trivia contests, and a host of villain and hero-themed pins available for purchase. Certain packages are sold out, but others are still available. In our final Disney note this week, everybody knows that price increases are a constant at Disney parks; Carlye Wisel has a closer look at recent Disneyland price increases in her weekly Syfy column, and how they encompass not just park admission or food but also parking at the parks and hotels. Disney’s price escalation just keeps getting faster and faster, and yet somehow it hasn’t seemed to impact demand—yet.
And finally, one last Universal note: Fear Factor Live, the long-running stage show at Universal Studios Florida that outlived the TV show it’s based on by a good 15 years or so, has finally ended for good. It during Halloween Horror Nights, as it usually does, but won’t be reopening. Every attraction is somebody’s favorite, and I feel for whoever will miss this one, but it was clearly well past time to swap this idea out with something else. No word on what’ll be coming here next, but some rumors speculate it could be the site of another Wizarding World expansion.
And that’s it for another week. If you work at a theme or amusement park and want to keep me and our readers updated on your latest news, feel free to reach out to me via email or on Twitter. And if you’re headed to any amusement parks this week, stay safe and have fun!
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s also on Twitter @grmartin.