Sweating in mid-August in Florida isn’t unusual. But sweating in a Snow White costume and lining up for Halloween candy, that might be unusual.
That was the scene on Friday when a sold-out crowd showed up for the first of 34 nights of Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. And yes, you read that right, a Halloween party in mid-August sold out.
Some of the staffers at the Magic Kingdom told me they guessed it was because Northern families didn’t have kids in school yet. But my theory is that Disney nerds, and there are millions of them, love to be there on the first night of anything, especially if there’s something new. And for the first time in years, Disney has added some new elements to its popular Halloween party.
New this year are live pirates popping up in the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, not just the animatronic ones. There are some swirly, even psychedelic-looking lights and smoke added to the teacup ride. And Space Mountain goes from pretty dark to totally pitch black. Here’s my take:
Pirates of the Caribbean: For all the hype, the "live pirates" on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride just wasn’t that big of a change. There were other live pirates roaming the queue warning riders to be on the lookout. But once on the ride, it was hard to tell the difference between the animatronic pirates and the one named "Gunpowder Pete" yelling at us from the bridge overhead. Blame Disney’s "Imagineers" for doing a too good a job on their fake pirates.
Mad Tea Party: As much as I love rollercoasters, I can’t stomach the spinning tea cups, so rather than ride this one, I observed, and it’s pretty darn cute. When the ride starts, the lights go down, kooky-spooky music starts and the lights flash in psychedelic swirls and there’s even a little smoke rising. It perfectly encapsulates a Not So Scary change to an already thrilling ride for little ones.
Space Mountain: I’ve ridden this coaster countless times, ever since it first opened when I was 7. But never have I ever been so rattled as I was on Friday night when I rode it in complete dark. The ride is already a pretty dark one — you never do see it in full. Like the ambiguity of a Stanley Kubrick film, the less you see, the more the tension builds. But in pitch black, even the last whooshing tunnel is a fright because you can’t see where you are going. This one gets a Oh-So-Scary rating, in a good way.
Here are the returning things that have made this such a popular night at the Magic Kingdom. It doesn’t hurt that it’s the one time of year you can get into the Magic Kingdom for under $100.
• There are treat stations all over the park so you can load up on free candy.
• A stage show hosted by the Sanderson sisters from Hocus Pocus in front of Cinderella’s Castle features Disney villains like Oogie Boogie and Maleficent.
• The parade is one of Disney’s best. The Headless Horseman makes a grand entrance, the music is a great tuba-thumping soundtrack that sets an eerie tone and the elaborate floats celebrate the best villains. The march of the grave diggers is my favorite part, with sparks flying from their scraping shovels.
• This is the one time of year you can show up in costume, and the park is overrun with princesses and pirates. But even funnier are the many adult costumes. I saw a couple dressed as Cinderella and Prince Charming, only she was the prince and he was Cinderella. One guy based his costume on the stretching portraits in the Haunted Mansion, with the striped boxer shorts and knee socks. Last year, two couples coordinated, the men as Tinkerbell and Wendy and the women as Captain Hook and Peter Pan.
• The fireworks show is not to be missed, with perfect timing of songs and dialogue with the pyrotechnics and lots of spooky ghosts projected onto the castle and trees. The very best spot for taking in the pyrotechnics is straight ahead on Main Street U.S.A. Viewing areas near Fantasyland can be a lot less crowded, however.
• The last hour of the party (11 p.m. to midnight) had shorter lines for candy and characters. It also seemed the staff was more generous in giving out candy at the night’s end.
Prices start at $85 a ticket and get more expensive as Halloween approaches. Find tickets at disneyworld.disney.go.com.