A Not So Stressful Halloween Party 2017
Halloween is the absolute best time of year at Walt Disney World, and we all know why, right?
Ok, villains aren't the only reason, but for villain lovers like me? Who feel the dearth of villains throughout the rest of the year? Halloween season is when we finally feel recognized.
Regular readers already know how strongly I feel about Halloween at WDW and villains, but since I haven't shared advice about visiting the parties since our first, I thought it would be a nice time to revisit how to make the most of your party-going experience. And you want that, right? Tickets to Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party are more expensive than ever, so if you're going to pop for almost $100 for 5 hours of entertainment, you want to know what you're walking into, RIGHT?
First thing's first: there is no one right way to do a MNSSHP. The only thing I can tell you 100% for sure is that you can't do everything that's offered at a party in one night; there are not enough hours in a party. I get asked for advice on how to do the parks all the time, and my response is always to start bouncing back questions about WHAT you and your family like to do most.
Speaking of hours in the party, even if the party doesn't officially start until 7, you can still get into the parks as early as 4pm with a party ticket, or even sooner if you're an AP and then pick up your wristband after 4 at any in-park distribution spot. I highly recommend taking advantage of being in the park as early as you can, since some experiences start (exclusively for party guests) before actual party time, and WHY NOT?!
So based on what kind of park-visitor you are, here are some loose touring plans that might work for you.
Visitor #1 - HERE FOR THE RARE CHARACTER MEETS!
Even with the most carefully planned itinerary, you might not be able to pull off ALL of the rare character meeting ops at MNSSHP, BUT I'm going to try to help you out.
First, Jack and Sally- if you're going to meet them without it sucking 3 hours of party time away, you need to be in line. Very. Early. The pair usually start meeting well in advance of actual party start time to help with the demand, so if you can get in line between 3-4 pm? You'll be able to catch their first set and leave you time to squeeze in a lot more characters throughout the night. A word of caution: Jack and Sally meet in the Glen at Liberty Square this year, which means IT'S WEATHER DEPENDENT: if it rains, they will stop meeting. And their whole line is outside, so you will get wet standing in it.
Now, you've got to make a choice: get in line for Moana or Tarzan, Jane, & Terk. This is Moana's first year at the parties and her lines have been REALLY crazy. *Edit* I've been informed Moana can start meeting as early as 5:45, which means you'd need to be in line for her by 5 methinks. Personally, I would skip Moana, as I'm reasonably sure she'll be offering regular meeting ops very soon at the parks; you can only see Tarzan, Jane, and Terk together at very special occasions or this party. Both ops are in Fantasyland, and both start right at party start time, which is 7pm. Chances are you'll be waiting about an hour in the line for the party to start, but if you can catch them in their first set, you'll free up a lot of time for the rest of the evening.
While you're in Adventureland, you might want to wander over toward Pirates of the Caribbean to catch a glimpse of Captain Jack Sparrow. Or, if the line is reasonable, you can catch Jafar (his own line), or grab a spot in the line at Agrabah, where Jasmine and the Genie switch out with Aladdin and Abu for photo ops. If either of these lines is too intimidating, you can usually catch them with much lower waits later in the night, BUT check your times guides for when their time cut offs are for your party.
NEXT head to Tomorrowland for cuddles with the most adorable, strawberry-scented cuddler in the kingdom: Lotso Huggin Bear. I've found that Lotso's line usually stays at under 30 minutes throughout the night, making it a good thing to do even during peak party hours. While you're in Tomorrowland, you can stop in to the Tomorrowland Dance Party in front of the stage and see rare characters like Boo, Mr Sanderson, Sully, Mike Wazowski, and more from Monsters, Inc.
You should be right around the first Boo To You time by now, which should mean that a lot of people that were in line for characters have started making their way toward the parade route- so you might find lower lines for characters that were much worse earlier in the party. You could head toward the teacups to try to catch Alice, Mad Hatter, Queen of Hearts, and/or the Tweedles, but I'd recommend heading to Storybook Circus. Here, you can meet Minnie, Donald, Daisy, and Goofy in their Halloween finest. Or, if the classics aren't your thing, Cruella De Vil is usually found near the train station (and she had an under 15 minute wait in the past when we've caught her around this time, but check your times guide, her meeting times have been a bit wonky this year). If the 7 Dwarfs are on your list, you might get lucky and see a reasonable line around this time, but if not check out the other Storybook Circus characters first and try to time them during Hallowishes (we've got them with a 5 minute wait during that time!). Another option in this vicinity that often has a crazy wait is to meet Winnie the Pooh with Tigger, Piglet, AND Eeyore in their Halloween costumes at the Thotful Spot. None of these characters are particularly rare, so it's skippable if you're only after party-exclusive characters.
Note- during Hallowishes is one of the absolute best times to catch very short lines at attractions and characters that will otherwise have long waits throughout the night: if the characters are your priority, skip the fireworks (or watch them from wherever you are, they are visible from most areas in the park) and grab a photo op with the Dwarfs (note: the Dwarfs are also available to meet doing Christmas Parties)! I've also heard that you can get lucky later in the night with Moana and catch her with a wait closer to 30 minutes during Hallowishes. Depends on your own character priorities where you want to go.
A new photo op this year that's been proving very popular is Ariel meeting on legs with Prince Eric near her ride in New Fantasyland. If princes are your thing, you might have to make this the priority to get in line for before party start instead of Adventureland. Or, perhaps as the season goes on, the hype will die down a little, and you'll be able to catch them with a reasonable wait later in the party. Neither of them are in a Halloween costume, and you can meet the couple at the character dining at Trattoria Al Forno now, so I think this can be skippable if you're not up for the line.
By this time, you're probably getting close to time for the second Boo To You parade (or maybe you missed it since you got stuck in Ariel and Eric's line), and it's getting close to close time. Your last stop might be to see the boss mouse himself in Town Square in his Halloween finest, and maybe you'll even catch the last Boo To You as it winds its way to its finish in Town Square.
Visitor #2- Here for the entertainment, and I brought my DSLR and Telephoto Lens to capture it!
As an avid photographer, I long to be this visitor. But I'm usually here with my kid in tow, so see visitor #4 for how my night is more likely to go. When I asked instagram what I should write about for my next Disney post, MNSSHP and photography tips were both the most popular picks, so I figured I could kill two birds with one stone by talking about my best photography practices for the party here.
If you opt to get here early, pick one of the big ticket character meetings to knock out before the party starts. Jack and Sally and the 7 Dwarfs both usually start meeting guests 1-2 hours before 7pm, so either would be a pre-party option. If Tarzan/Jane/Terk, Moana, or Ariel/Eric ends up being your priority, make sure you're in their lines by about 6pm so you can see them within the first 15 minutes of the party starting.
Go to the first showing of Hocus Pocus. It's usually sometime after 8, but check what time it is and try to nail down your front row spot about an hour ahead of time. Front row is great for shooting if you're anything less than VERY tall so you don't have to try to shoot around people's heads. Do not trust your meter when shooting this show, there are tons of spots and colored lights that make your meter go wonky on your DSLR. So keep an eye on your shots as they are coming and be ready to adjust on the fly (I shoot manual, high ISO, F5.6, zoom between 100-300 and shutter speed no lower than 1/125 (you'll be happier if you keep it closer to 1/250 or faster). Shoot RAW: your photos will need a lot of post work to clean up all the different colored lights and ISO noise, and RAW is able to handle that a lot better than JPG). Get it exposed, get it in focus, the rest is Lightroom.
That first Hocus Pocus show tends to run up pretty close to the first Boo To You parade, and a lot of people will be lining the hub waiting for the parade. Boo To You is still the hardest thing to shoot (other than Fantasmic, maybe), but I feel like I'm getting better every year. This year, there are some spotlights scattered across the parade route; sometimes they are on for parade, sometimes they aren't. Still, in the name of getting lucky (and if we're honest, a good Boo to You shot is around 50% luck, 50% skill), if you can find yourself in the direct path to shoot the parade where one of those spotlights are lit? You'll be golden. Literally. Just like with Hocus Pocus, a LOT of color correction will be needed for your Boo To You shots (feel free to scroll the hashtags on instagram and check out all the very yellow IPhone pictures). Light levels for Boo To You, even with the spot, are considerably lower. And the characters are moving faster, generally across in front of you. That means you need an even faster shutter speed most of the time. Do not, under any circumstances, be that person who turns on their flash. Whether they allow you to shoot the parade with flash or not, it's super distracting for the performers and obnoxious for the people around you trying to watch the parade. A lot of people opt to shoot Boo To You on a prime with an f-stop that goes down to 1.8. This year I shot on an 85mm f1.8, and had a reasonable amount of success. You generally don't need a very long zoom unless you're trying to get close ups of characters that are up on floats. A lot of other people I've seen shoot on the 50mm or 35mm. I think if you have a wider zoom that goes down to a 2.8, you could also have reasonable success. Just keep an eye on your shutter speed!
Do you shoot fireworks? I'd go up on top of the Train Station as soon as Boo To You is over and shoot from there. While you're waiting, take a look at your shots from the first parade and make mental notes about what is and isn't working and how you could improve it. Maybe scope out other areas of the Boo To You parade path if you want some different backgrounds to shoot second parade, or opt to stand on the opposite side of the street from your first viewing so you can catch different performers. With that said, the second Boo To You usually ends very close to the start time of the last Hocus Pocus, so you'll want to be a reasonably fast walking distance from the castle stage.
Shoot the second parade and LEARN FROM YOUR MISTAKES ON FIRST PARADE. This parade is always less crowded, so make sure you're in the spot you want, with the lighting you want, using the settings that will give you the best results. Hoof it back to Cinderella's Castle stage as soon as the parade is done to get the best spot you can for the last Hocus Pocus show. Usually, that midnight-ish show is pretty not busy (at our party, since it was rained out for literally every other showing, it was not), so get as close as you can. If you ended up over to one side for your first viewing, maybe try to get a position from the other side for this second shooting opportunity. Again, hopefully you've looked through some of your first batch of photos and you've got some ideas on how to do even better with this second shooting opportunity.
Visitor #3- We chill, we don't plan, we just want a fun Halloween experience
I have TRIED to be this person, I swear I have, and sometimes I pull it off on a plain ol' AP park day. I just can't do it at a Halloween Party. With that said, I know plenty of people who do. Most of these types are also the type who don't like waiting in long lines for characters. I have good news for these visitors (and, frankly, for everyone): parties are FAR less crowded this year so far than they have been in past years.
Want to meet characters, but don't want to wait in long lines? The non-halloween-exclusive options will be VERY low wait (Princess Fairytale Hall, for example). But of the party exclusive options? Your best bet is to try to catch them near the end of the night, once lines have died down (we once caught the 7 dwarfs with a very short wait immediately following Hallowishes). Don't count on Jack and Sally, though; that won't happen without a considerable time commitment.
Want to see the parade? Go to the second viewing. The 10-11pm time slot for the Boo To You Parade is ALWAYS less crowded, and you can usually snag a great spot less then 15 minutes before step off.
Want to see Hallowishes? Hang out on Main Street rather than trying to catch it from the hub. We did this this year, and we had a perfectly decent view of both the castle projections and the fireworks. MAKE SURE you are ready to duck into a store as soon as the fireworks end to avoid the massive crowd exiting the park. Better yet if you don't care about the castle projections, you can see these incredible fireworks from LITERALLY ANYWHERE in the park, so go somewhere like fantasyland to watch and avoid that giant crowd completely.
Want to see the Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular? First, know that you only need to be close to the stage if you're planning on photographing it. You can still have a perfectly enjoyable view of the show from a bit further back in the hub. With that said, the first showing is still usually pretty packed. The last show of the night is generally the least crowded and easiest to snag a good viewing spot.
Want to trick-or-treat? Again, the best times are later in the night, although at our party the lines were all fast moving and not-terribly long.
So... wait... with all these recommendations at the end of the night, what do you do during peak party hours (7-9ish)? Well, you can enjoy walk on to very short waits on most of the rides. (Been wanting to ride mine train but can't get a FastPass or wait for 90 minutes? Now's your chance to go on it with a 30 minute or less wait!). People watch! We love hanging out in the hub and just scoping out all the fabulous costumes that come through. Take a walk! Get some party-exclusive photopass photo opportunities, or go watch the hilarious ghost at Haunted Mansion. Go to the Tomorrowland Dance Party and show off your best moves with Mike Wazowski and Boo, enjoy that spooky ambience!
Visitor #4- I want the greatest hits! Gimme some of everything! (AKA- Us)
So how do WE roll at MNSSHP? With a 5 year old. And usually her BFF and mom are with us. We might have a couple of other friends hanging out intermittently throughout the night. The kids strongly dictate what gets done, and their whims can be a bit unpredictable. With that said Hocus Pocus and Boo To You are absolute musts; my kid watches videos of them and sings the music all year round.
We kick off our party afternoon with Jack and Sally. We get in line for them at least an hour before they start meeting, and we get to meet them in 30 minutes or less from the set start. We love Jack and Sally, and while Jack is still out at Christmas parties, Sally is not. Sometimes if we get lucky enough to catch them at a training, we'll skip dealing with the lines at the party. This year we did not, so we had to go see our favorite spooky couple.
At this point, there's still well over an hour before the party is scheduled to start. It's a great chance to feed your face, if you're not looking to get in line for another character meeting (we weren't this past time, since we've met everybody else at past parties. If not, I'd have headed to Adventureland to get in line for Tarzan/Jane/Terk.) I strongly recommend BRINGING FOOD with you to the party; it doesn't just same money, it saves TIME that you could be experiencing party offerings instead of sitting in a restaurant.
Now, depending on the night, there will be 3 or 4 showings of Hocus Pocus: one near 8, one near 10, and one near midnight (later in the year, when it gets darker earlier, they will sometimes add a 4th show, usually earlier). It's not easy to get a good spot, but I'd recommend trying to catch the first show. I was dead set on being in front, so a friend and I took the strollers and parked ourselves in front of the castle to hold the space while the kids went to ride space mountain. Actually, my kid didn't want to ride space mountain, so she hung out with us and watched Descendants 2 on my phone. (How did people entertain kids during long waits before smart phones???) If you aren't as dead set on being close, you could probably get some decent viewing space 30 minutes ahead of the first show. Etiquette time: Please don't put your kid on your shoulders for Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular. If my kid can't see, I hold her in my arms so she's at my eye level, or (since she's heavy) I lock down our stroller and let her stand in it while she leans on me for stability. IF YOU DO NOT HAVE A KID OR HAVE A KID THAT CAN HANDLE LATE NIGHTS, GO TO THE MIDNIGHT SHOW INSTEAD.
Hocus Pocus will end and leave you with about 30 minutes before the first Boo To You. We are obsessed with this parade and watch both showings. This is also, traditionally, when my husband picks up a couple orders of corn dog nuggets from Casey's Corner, and we all chow down while we wait for the parade to come through Town Square.
The Boo To You Parade will end around 30 minutes before Hallowishes is scheduled to start. I love these villain-centric fireworks, but I can generally live without the castle projections. This means I feel no need to watch them with a view of the castle. (I will note that this year, with the smaller crowds, it was very easy to get a spot on Main Street to watch them right as they were starting without trying to "find a spot.") So depending on everybody's mood, this is also the time we might run around, trick-or-treat, maybe try to catch the dwarfs or Cruella with no line, etc.
I highly recommend being NOWHERE NEAR THE HUB OR MAIN STREET OR TOWN SQUARE When Hallowishes ends. There will be a MASSIVE exit from the park. I also highly recommend NOT trying to leave with them, since there will be long waits for the monorail and such. Go, walk around, explore, enjoy the less crowded night. Maybe go visit Princess Jasmine and Genie in Adventureland, dance with some Monsters in Tomorrowland, etc. Snag a spot for the last Boo To You (11:15 step off) easily 15 minutes or maybe less before step off wherever you feel like watching it.
In past years, my kid has fought through to that second Boo To You, but is generally zombie territory. Her first party, she fell asleep in my husband's lap just as the parade started. Last year, she made it through the parade and promptly conked out in the stroller before we even got to the monorail. This year? My girl went hard. I was so proud. She cheered and danced all through second parade. She hung in there for the midnight Hocus Pocus after it. She continued to insist she "wasn't tired" until she was strapped into the car seat and we were halfway out of the TTC parking lot.
So there you have it: 4 plans (or non-plans) to help you have a stress-free night that's ideal for your own park-going philosophy. For my followers that asked for photography tips, I know I barely scratched the surface here, so expect more posts to come. I do want to offer you some encouragement: if you've never shot nighttime before, MNSSHP is one of the most challenging shoots you can ever attempt, BUT you can get better the more you practice. For everyone, this is such a spectacular even to make priceless memories with your friends and families, so DO IT and enjoy.
Disclaimer: My family and I were invited by WDW to attend MNSSHP gratis this year. I was not obligated to write this article. All opinions and advice are my own.