Club Villain at Hollywood Studios
Prologue (skip to The Big Night if you don't want background)
Disney does a lot of things right, but meeting the demand of rabid villains fans for more villainous activities in the parks? It's been sort of a wash. From the underwhelming and over-attended Villains Unleashed! Event, to reduced villain interaction opportunity at Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party this past year (allegedly for budgeting reasons due to the Epic Hocus Pocus stage show), getting time with your favorite villain has become an ever-more-challenging task. Now with the announced replacement of the Dream Along With Mickey castle stage show and recent entertainment budget cuts, Maleficent and Lady Tremaine have been effectively evicted from Magic Kingdom. This leaves Gaston and the Stepsisters as the only regularly-greeting villains in any park (save the Fantasmic! show, or Captain Hook & Maleficent dragon in Festival of Fantasy, but you get my point).
Rumors started circulating last year when Disney posted a casting ad seeking a Dr. Facilier look-alike and dancers for a "show" at Hollywood Studios. Could it be??? A semi-permanent villain installation at WDW? I've been saying for ages that, as a slightly more adult park, HS would be a great location for more villain interactions on a permanent basis. I crossed my fingers and waited for an announcement. Near the end of the year it came: Club Villain dining experience at Hollywood Studios. And it came with a very heft price tag: $99. For your money you would get a floor show, food, alcohol, and 4 villain interactions. That may seem pretty decent, until you consider that price doesn't include park admission, and a ticket for MNSSHP is considerably lower for HOURS of entertainment (but no meal/alcohol, unless you make a go of eating yourself sick on the complimentary Trick-Or-Treat candy). My villain-loving soul demanded I give it a shot, so I snagged a reservation for the husband and I on Valentine's Weekend for a date night. At the time my kid was still iffy on villain interactions, and the event starts so late (7:45 pm!), I didn't want to shell out that kind of dough when she might not be into it.
Speaking of kids and cost, there is no child dining price like you might see at other character dining. That's right; unless your kid is under 3 ,you are shelling out the full price tag for the event. Given all that I assumed this would be a mostly adult event I was attending. I was VERY wrong. The event debuted in January, and reviews were very promising. A friend went with her small child and said there were LOTS of other kids as well. The biggest and most exciting piece of information to come out of the debut, however, was that the Queen of Hearts would be appearing as a face character for the first time. YES. My kid started peeking at Instagram over my shoulder, declaring that she, too, wanted to go see the Queen and the other villains. Of course she did. Not this time, kid, sorry.
The Big Night
We arrived Saturday at Hollywood Studios about an hour before our reservation time. We walked over to see if the check-in at the Sunset Showcase was open; it was not, gate was still closed. We wandered around the park a little before returning around 15 minutes before that 7:45 reservation time. Not only were the gates open, but people were already being ushered inside. There were a bunch of cocktail tables with abandoned champagne flutes outside. Wait... was there a champagne reception and I missed it?? We checked in at the welcome desk: the event is prepay Prix Fixe and all-inclusive, so all they did was ask my name and hand us our programs. The program (which I inexplicably did not photograph) is a charming trifold which includes detailed menu options, autographs from all the villains, and a little welcome message from Dr. Facilier. The smallest tables were 4-tops, so we would be seated with another couple. Our program had our table number on it as well as appointment times for villain interactions on the back. Our table was very close to the Evil Queen and food, but about as far as you can get from the floor show. Note to self if I return: request a table near the dance floor if possible (this is also why you won't see a lot of photos of the floor show here; it's hard to shoot through people's heads).
We were told to help ourselves to the food and beverages, all of which would remain available for the duration of the event. Our first appointment window was just 10 minutes after the official start of the event, so I opted to explore the room a bit before committing to food.
First note: the design is really spectacular. The tables themselves aren't much to look at, but the attention to detail in all of the meeting areas, the stage, the bars, even the food tables is off the charts. Disney did NOT skimp in this department.
All the meeting areas are left open and available even when the villains aren't in attendance, so you can have your own photo ops on the thrones and such. The Evil Queen's mirror is animated and the face comes up to talk now and then. I cannot say the same for Diablo. Though I said many adoring things to Maleficent's bird, I got no response.
All meeting areas also have designated photopass photographers. As always they are happy to also take photos with your own cameras if you ask them to, although usually the character attendants are the ones to do this if they are present. The welcome floor show was about to start so I scurried back to my table. The video screens surrounding the room display voodoo masks that sing along with Dr. Facilier and host Kanzo, both of whom perform live with two costumed dancers.
Kanzo and Dr. Facilier introduce each of the four lady villains, whom take up spots on each side of the dance floor for the opening number. I saw Cruella trying to steal one of her signature drinks from a guest.
The whole presentation is less than 10 minutes, then the ladies retire to their respective meeting areas and the DJ cranks out tunes for the dance floor. Most of the dancing done that night seemed to be by the kids in attendance. As for the playlist? It's basically house remixes of pop songs that you'll find familiar from the radio. Still, it could be worse. Our first meeting appointment window opened as soon as the opening number was over. Queen of Hearts and Evil Queen Grimhilde. These appointment windows were fantastic and led to only waiting MAYBE 5 minutes for anybody. I couldn't contain myself any longer and HAD to meet the Queen of Hearts first.
Villains LOVE to pose by themselves for portraits. In fact I suspect they prefer it. Villain interactions are very different from princesses or fur characters. They don't have to be sweet or affectionate. You are, however, quite likely to have an abundance of wit and humor, particularly from someone as MAD as the Queen of Hearts.
After posing for our portraits, the Queen let me know I was free to shower her with compliments. I told her I loved her earrings. "Yeesssss aren't they fabulous? They're imported.... From Taiwan."
Yeah, that broke me a bit. Headed over to meet the Evil Queen Grimhilde (whom we've managed to catch at a few pop up meets at Hollywood Studios). They've definitely jazzed up her wardrobe for Club Villain, and she gets to hold that amazing sparkly apple.
I opted to rock my princess poses with the Evil Queen.
All this accomplished in under half an hour. Had well over an hour until our appointment to meet the other two ladies, so I finally checked out the food and beverage situation. Don't worry, you will not see extensive pictures of my food here. I'll just give you a breakdown of the options and TWO pictures, ok? First: drinks. There are 2 bars, one on either side of the stage. Each bar has the "signature cocktails" of the villains positioned to that side of the room. There's a sangria for the Queen of Hearts (my favorite), a cinnamon apple cocktail involving fireball whiskey for the Evil Queen Grimhilde (this is the only one I didn't try since I'm not an apple flavor fan), an ultra sweet creamy concoction with polka dot boba for Cruella (my boba was too al denté), and a purple vodka drink for Maleficent that was my second favorite of the evening. Each bar also had beer and wine, and all beverages are included in your prix fixe. There was a coffee/tea/water option hidden off to the side.
Back to the table: Disney did me right and sat us with a very fun villain-loving couple who'd attended many previous Disney villain events. They said the cinnamon apply drink was very good, by the way. For what it's worth if you're going to this event for a stiff drink, you're not going to get it. I think I had one full Maleficent drink and at least two glasses of sangria and I don't think I had much more than the barest of buzzes. This should come as no surprise to anyone, but I thought I'd go on the record for you guys. I suppose if you really wanted to get your drunk Disney on, you could commit to just drinking wine?
Food: Each queen has two signature small-bite desserts to try. Savory entree options are the same with buffet and small plate options, with matching distribution tables on either side of the room. All food is available for the duration of the evening, so you can graze as your please. Savory options included a creole/cajun style shrimp and creamy polenta (very good), a fork-tender roast beef with a chilled haricot vert salad (also very good), gumbo and "pig wings" (my husband's favorites), vegetarian dirty rice and beans, and a very tasty collard salad of which I'm pretty sure I had 3 servings. Of the desserts my favorites were the QoH's macarons and Cruella's little chocolate cookie things that looked like dog treats. There were also panna cottas and cupcakes, all in one or two bite offerings so as long as you don't totally gorge yourself on the savory options, you can sample most of them.
Between bites, Kanzo, Dr Facilier, and the dancing girls came back out to do a few musical numbers. Talent and production value are HIGH. I caught the queen having a chat with her mirror between guests.
In case you haven't noticed, Maleficent is pretty much my all time favorite Disney character. I've managed to have the good luck to catch her at Epcot character training twice this past year. Disney has completely redone her costume for Club Villain, including the headwear. It is, without a doubt, the best Maleficent has ever looked at the parks.
Also THANK YOU, Disney, for not making her skin electric green. I've been on this rant before, but she is NOT green. She's a pale greyish-greenish-purple and the color of her skin in the film changes based on the reflected light in her environment.
Maleficent is not one of those over-the-top madcap villains like Cruella or Queen of Hearts, so the interaction has the potential to be more... subdued? This was not the case with our interaction. Yes, she is austere and regal, commanding, but NEVER stiff or dull. The first thing she said to me? "Where's Daphne?" My kid got to meet Maleficent at one of the aforementioned Epcot sessions. Apparently she made an impression. "I'm so sorry, your magnificence, she stayed home tonight. BUT I'll be bringing her back to see you next month, I promise." "Very well." She showed us how to pose with our arms across our chest, but somehow I don't think we commanded the same level of elegance.
She marched over to the attendant after and demanded to see the pictures so she could approve them. Love her. Honestly I just can't control myself around her, so she should have known it was coming.
Bless her, for she tolerates me. Approach slowly, be apologetic, swear you aren't a disgrace to the forces of evil and she might just put up with your cuddle, too.
Our last stop for the evening and, if I'm honest, the best interaction we had all night was with Cruella DeVil. The fascinating thing I've noticed about Cruella meets, as opposed to most other villains, is that she is the most approachable and least intimidating. My kid had a BLAST with her last Halloween. She somehow manages to be friendly and fun while still being a villain. Our moment started with me asking if I could take a few pictures of her, to which she enthusiastically exclaimed "YESSSS PICTURES BY MYSELF ARE MY FAAAAAVORITE!" She then proceeded to throw herself on her chaise and holler out encouraging comments like her own personal cheerleader.
This was the first time I noticed how fantastic Cruella's shoes are, too. She stood up and joined us for a few photos.
Then she started bouncing her shoulders, as if dancing to the house music the DJ was playing was completely beyond her control. Perhaps it was, because suddenly we were bouncing along with her, too.
This somehow evolved into a Tony Robbins-esque self esteem session as she encouraged my husband to embrace his "one move" and take it to the dance floor.
Cruella seemed content to just hang out with us and do our little shoulder dance for the rest of the evening. Eventually we said our goodbyes, and she went back to dramatically draping herself on her chaise. It was the hardest I've laughed in a long time. LOVE HER.
At that point we'd done all we'd come to do, but the party was still going and nobody was getting kicked out. It was around 2 hours since we'd arrived. We didn't have to wait for a waiter to arrive with a check, everything was prepaid, so we opted to leave since we had an early morning the next day.
I've gotten the same question ad nauseum since we went to Club Villain.
Was it worth the money?
I would love to sit here and tell you definitively one way or the other, but I just can't. Particularly with the price hike for the newly announced March dining nights ($129, a whopping 30% increase!), it is a LOT of money to shell out for just a couple of hours of an event, on top of park entry. I can say that this is, without a doubt, one of the best organized events I've ever attended at a theme park. All the cast members and performers are exceptional. It's a WONDERFUL time. The food is very good (for a Disney park, I'm not going to claim it's earning a Michelin star anytime soon). There's unlimited food and beverage with your admission. Lots of photo ops.
But it is a LOT of money. I can only truly recommend shelling out for something like this if you are both DIE HARD for villains and don't mind parting with some hard-earned disposable income. I'm saying all this, and yet I'm going again next month with my kid (what can I say? Maleficent requested her presence.). For me it WAS worth going, and it was one of the more memorable nights of my Disney-Passholder existence.