ORLANDO — Walking past the Mickey-faced jack-o’-lanterns adorning Main Street U.S.A, it feels like the night before Halloween, not a 95-degree evening. At Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, ghoulish tunes thump from strategically placed speakers as costumed guests pop into trick-or-treat stations to collect free candy. It’s only September, but for a few hours, it may as well be Oct. 31.
Disney World’s annual gentle spookfest started earlier than ever this year on Aug. 12, running for 37 nights compared to 23 party evenings last year for the pared-down Boo Bash. This is the first year the event has returned in full since the pandemic began.
Everything is more expensive these days, and that includes a ticket to Disney: This year, admission to Mickey’s Not-So-Scary is $109-$199, up from $79-$135 in 2019. If you’re going to fork over $100 for Disney admission, though, special events like this one can be a better buy. The evening comes with some perks, like smaller crowd sizes, themed rides, food you won’t see every day at Disney World and, in this case, unlimited candy. For locals who have had their fair share of the parks, this can be a more pleasant way to spend time at Disney’s most magical and crowded kingdom — if you come with a plan.
My husband and I checked out the event for the first time recently, and brought along our 18-month-old twins. We gathered some tips for making the most of the event, which turned out to be a great place for first-time trick-or-treaters.
Arrive, and leave, at strategic times
The event starts at 7 p.m., but those with a ticket can get in as early as 4. Do not show up at either of these times. That’s when lines to get in are the most jam-packed. We arrived around 5:30, and while we did wait in a small line (this is Disney, after all), it was manageable. Crowds swelled noticeably the darker it got, and by 8 the whole park felt more congested.
Grab a (Halloween-themed!) map on your way in, and take note of when the parades, shows and fireworks are happening. There’s the Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular, shown several times per night at Cinderella’s Castle. The fireworks show, Disney’s Not-So-Spooky Spectacular, happens once a night, usually at 10:15. And the Boo-To-You Halloween Parade happens twice, usually at 9:15 and 11:15 p.m. The best time to leave the park is about 15 minutes before these things happen, when parkgoers are concerned with finding the best viewing angle and not crowding the exits. Both the parade and the fireworks are specially themed for this event, so if you’ve never seen them, they’re worth sticking around for. But keep in mind you don’t need to be on Main Street to see the fireworks: You can also see them from one of the boats that shuttle guests across the Seven Seas Lagoon back to the parking lot, and from the three resorts surrounding Magic Kingdom — they even beam the show’s music through the speakers at those resorts.
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Don’t try to do everything
This is an all-time Disney rule. Do some plotting before you go and figure out what you really want to see, taste or try. There are at least a dozen treat stations set up throughout the park, and we hit up maybe half. We still got four almost-full bags of candy. (The candy is legit: Snickers and Skittles and Starburst, oh my!) This is a great chance to ride what you want: Most lines were significantly shorter when we were there. And some, like the Mad Tea Party and Space Mountain, are themed for the occasion.
Bring your kids!
While the party is designed for kids of all ages, seeing it through the eyes of our toddler twins was especially charming. We weren’t sure about bringing them to a party that technically starts at 7 p.m., but they had a blast. Early in the evening, when the crowds were relatively mild, they loved frolicking around more empty spaces of the park. This is not a scary party, as the name implies, but there are plenty of spooky-adjacent things for younger kids to look at, like the crooning Cadaver Dans Barbershop Quartet or the statues of Disney characters dressed in Halloween costumes. And it turned out to be a great way to give them their first taste of trick-or-treating: They got a treat bag just like the adults, and even though they are still slightly too young to really get the concept, they were mesmerized by the Disney employee who placed that first piece of candy in the reusable tote. How sweet is that?
Figure out food before you get there
This was our big mistake the night we went. Caught up in all the excitement, I forgot to plot our food journey (more important than ever when you have toddlers). Not everything is open during these special ticketed events, and I learned that the hard way as I was racing through Tomorrowland desperate for a place to order chicken fingers. We started off strong with some plates offered only at this event, like the Pain and Panic Hot Dog from Casey’s Corner, topped with sweet and spicy onion relish, sriracha mustard and spicy cheese-flavored snacks. I grabbed a Spellbinding Fried Pie from the Golden Oak Outpost, basically a pocket of dough filled with buffalo chicken, mozzarella and blue cheese. That’s right next to Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Cafe, where we got an Almond Corn Cake: almond vanilla cake dipped in white, orange and yellow chocolate and topped with candy corn. But we spent too much time walking and eating at various locations, and by the time we went to Fantasyland for our final meal, some restaurants were closed. And, keep in mind, some are closed the entire event because they act as trick-or-treat outposts, like Pinocchio Village Haus. When in doubt, load up at the front of the park, then make your way to the other attractions. And bring snacks.
If you go
Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party: The separate-ticket event runs select nights through Oct. 31 from 7 p.m.-midnight at Magic Kingdom, 1180 Seven Seas Drive, Lake Buena Vista. While the actual festivities begin at 7, event guests are allowed into the park as early as 4. Tickets are $129-$169 at disneyworld.disney.go.com.