Event Review: Disney Jollywood Nights – A Naughty and Nice List

It has been years since a new holiday party has been added to Walt Disney World, much less to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. That was until this past Saturday when Disney Jollywood Nights made its debut.

Before I dive into the good and the bad or the “naughty and nice” to keep with the theme, let it be known that this was the first night of something brand new so a lot (hopefully) will be adjusted as the event goes on. Also, we were invited media, which can always change the outlook of any party, but these are my impressions of the first night..

Naughty List (The Bad)

  • The Food and Drinks – Although I never heard anything but good reviews of the event’s culinary offerings, the lines for almost every location were very long. Without mobile order options, lines for some of the more popular locations were said to be over an hour wait — which, for a 4.5  hour event, doesn't give a lot of time to enjoy everything else. Even as someone that had seating for the big shows, I never was able to try any of the quick service options because of the long queues.

  • Characters – This event tried to make up for some challenges of the past by offering a good number of characters from the Fab 5 in their new outfits to some more rarer characters like Phineas and Ferb, Powerline Max, and Chip and Dale Rescue Ranger.  These were all great but, as with past events, long lines cause problems. With the more rare characters around Echo Lake and the Fab 5 in Animation Courtyard, guests were overwhelmed with queues and, in some cases, were given very little direction. Disney fans will always gravitate towards the character meet and greet, but it really stood out here — even more than with the food and drink lines —  that this event sold more tickets than things to do.

  • Jazzy Holidays at The Hollywood Brown Derby – Out of all the special offerings, this was one I was looking forward to the most. Sadly, it was one of the biggest let downs of the night. This location required guests to join a walk-up list on the My Disney Experience app, which at 8:30 had guests frantically trying to figure out what they needed to do. This gave flashbacks to trying to get a Virtual Wait for Rise of the Resistance back in the day. This then led to a lot of confused party goers due to a problem with the system. We were lucky enough to get a table and, while the small plates were good, the entertainment left something to be desired. This location was hyped as “This iconic eatery transforms into a smooth jazz joint where you can indulge in light bites and elegant sips” but the addition of the one piano player mostly playing Disney tunes didn’t add a lot. Plus, when he had to take a break, guests in the dining room were left without anything going on.

  • Themed Areas – One of the big ideas for the event was to transform areas of the park into their own themed areas “Commissary Lane for a street fair filled with lively Latin music or drop by the courtyard of The Hollywood Tower Hotel for a swingin’ soiree complete with a live band and fancy cocktails.” As far as the setup goes, they did a great job. But, the execution left a lot of confusion. The Twilight Soriée in the Tower of Terror courtyard had a small area for the amazing band and a long long line for the bar. Just as with the piano player in the Brown Derby, when the band had to take a break, there was nothing to take its place.

The Holiday Fiesta En La Calle celebration in Commissary Lane definitely had the most thought go into it, with two different musical acts and a lot of offerings at the ABC Commissary. For me, this was the biggest swing they were trying for this event. By the time I made it over to this area, there were more Cast Members enjoying the music than guests. However, others had a very different experience earlier in the night with large crowds trying to get in to try the new offering (as well as guests giving up on the event bars to just go to Baseline Tap House), making this area almost impassable.

  • Crowds – Pretty much everything listed above comes down to overcrowding. For a sell out night, it felt very much like a busy Saturday at times. As invited media, we had reserved spots for both the big shows, which means we weren't in a rush to get from one to the other. Yet, even with that benefit, I wasn’t able to try any of the offerings due to the long lines everywhere. Now, let me restate this was opening night and, as a famous pilot once said, “they are still getting used to their programing” — but, multiple times throughout the night, I would end up losing people I was walking with due to the amount of people trying to get to one of the shows or confusing queues for food, characters, or the all important Gertie Cookie.

Nice List (The Good)

I was always taught to make sure you add the good to the bad and while this event had a lot of challenges it had two MAJOR hits!

  • Disney Holidays in Hollywood – This show was a homerun! With great musical numbers, Characters, choreography that seemed like it should have been on Dancing With The Stars, and just lots of fun this show as they say “is worth the price of admission!” With the premise of being a “holiday television special” we are treated to some magical musical numbers including a brand new song from Princess Tiana and some great comedy thanks to Kermit and Miss Piggy that really harken back to those television shows of the past. But you can read more about it here.

  • What’s This? Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas Sing-Along – Now if the “Holidays in Hollywood” was a home run, this show was the GRAND SLAM! I came into this show with high expectations, Nightmare is one of my longtime favorites, and was just blown away by every bit of it. For those of you who have seen the Frozen sing-along this is something very different, our two hosts never say a word instead pantomime as the connective tissue for the entire show. This is the show that would drive me back to the event because from the amazing sets to the spectacular Jack puppet this show has to be seen in person to be believed, but that isn’t to say you shouldn’t watch our video below.

Letter to Santa (Wish List for Next Year)

  • Merchandise – With only one shirt this year, they can only go up. I would love to see some upper scale items like glass ornaments, drink wear, and most of all copies of the beautiful posters that were created for the Twilight Soriée and Jazzy Holidays at The Hollywood Brown Derby.
  • More Characters – It is hard to ask for more when there was a good number already this year, but having more would have helped with the lines. It is always better to have too many that people can’t get all of because there are so man than to have  too few that people can’t get all of because they have waited an hour for one.
  • Expansion Into Other Areas of the Park – Toy Story Land, Muppet Courtyard, and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge were open for guests to enjoy but nothing was going on. I would have loved to have seen each of these areas adding something from their respective Holiday specials, Chewbacca in his Life Day robe would have been worth an hour wait for me!
  • Hollywood Christmas Parade – I know that a parade in Disney’s Hollywood Studios is one of the most challenging, but the park already tries to have a 50s retro feel for the most part. So, throw out a small parade two times a night with a couple of the classic cars and stars feel and have the jolly man himself bring up the rear. It would just add a little more heart to the event.

Overall, for me, Disney Jollywood Nights was a letdown. I think everyone I spoke with felt the same way where there were some excellent parts, but it was just missing things. I will be going back later in the run, so maybe by that time some of the bumps in the road will have been fixed. I hope that they are because, on paper, this event sounded like a new holiday tradition. Of course, don’t let my review sour you on giving it a try on your own — but I will say the price vs overall experience should be a factor when you are planning for your Walt Disney World vacation.

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Jeremiah Good
Our main correspondent for Walt Disney World and the Orlando area and a heck of a paleontologist if he does say so himself.