Five things that make after-hours parties a great deal at theme parks
Published: October 6, 2010 at 11:43 AM
Cinderella's Castle, during the Very Merry Christmas Party at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom
But what makes an after-hours theme park party a good buy? Let's break it down:
A lower price than a daily ticket
After-hours parties typically run from around dinner time to midnight or so - giving you around six hours in the park, give or take an hour or two. Given that many fans stay eight hours or more on a daily theme park visit, you want to see a lower price for the party than you would for a typical one-day park ticket.
That was the case at Disneyland's Halloween Party, where I could buy tickets for $49 each, as opposed to the typical one-day, one-park ticket price of $76.
Better and unique entertainment
This is supposed to be a party - something different than the usual theme park experience. So you should expect the park to be providing entertainment that you wouldn't find in the park as a day guest.
The ultimate in unique entertainment is Universal's Halloween Horror Nights, with dozens of mazes, live shows and scareactor-filled scare zones transforming the Universal Studios theme parks into substantially different destinations.
The Disneyland and Magic Kingdom parties offer unique experiences, as well. At Mickey's Halloween Party this year, Disneyland offered a parade and fireworks show that were running only during the party, as well as two dance parties and a few Halloween characters. But the biggest unique offering was the trick-or-treat zones, with unlimited candy. How often do people hand you free stuff at a theme park?
While you want to see unique entertainment at an after-hours party, I think that you still should be able to experience the park's signature attractions, as well. I can't imagine visiting Disneyland without riding Pirates of the Caribbean, so I was happy to see that ride was open during the Halloween party.
Typically parks close many of their attractions during after-hours parties. It's a practical decision: With the extra entertainment and limited time frame, demand would be low for the park's less popular rides and shows. And the park needs those attractions personnel to staff the extra entertainment, as well. But while most visitors won't miss minor attractions, I wouldn't like an event where the top attractions in the park were closed, as well.
Ideally, not only should the park's top attractions be open, they should offer something special, themed to the park or season, as well. After the candy, the longest lines at this month's Disneyland party were for its Halloween-overlay attractions, Haunted Mansion Holiday and Space Mountain Ghost Galaxy. I love hitting up Revenge of the Mummy during Halloween Horror Nights, as well. When parks have attractions that fit the party's theme so well, it should take advantage of those opportunities by incorporating them into the event.
With extra entertainment available, the lines should be shorter for those top attractions, even with the park's minor attractions closed. That requires the park to limit the number of party tickets that it offers for sale.
Most days, theme parks don't limit the number of people they admit through the front gate. Only when parks approach the physical capacity of the park - such as Disneyland during Christmas week - will you see parks close the turnstiles. By the time that happens, though, visitors are facing multi-hour waits throughout the park.
With a hard cap on ticket sales, visitors to after-hour parties can experience a different park experience - one where they have the time to enjoy more of what the park offers, even with the reduced operating hours. Of course, if a park sets the cap too high, this element of extra value for after-hours parties is lost.
Dinner before the show
This is where Disney falls down, by the way. With most after-hours parties starting in the late afternoon or early evening, it's natural that visitors will want to enjoy dinner as part of their evening out for the party.
So why not offer a dinner option that's themed to the party? Knott's does a great job with this, offering a "Pre-scare Boo-fet" option for Halloween Haunt ticket-holders, which gets them a buffet-style dinner (with the park's Mrs. Knott's fried chicken) along with early entry into Halloween Haunt. It's an extra charge - $21 in advance and $26 walk-up - but you're gonna have to buy dinner somewhere.
It's frustrating trying to scramble to eat dinner at one of a park's restaurants before they close for the party. And it's even more frustrating when all the park offers during the event is snack-bar fare. Make food part of the event and give folks the opportunity to spend more in exchange for real value a special, uniquely themed meal that they can't find anywhere else.
When parks deliver all five of these elements with their after-hours parties, those events make for great deals that fans ought to consider and support. And even when parks come up short and deliver only some of these, events still can provide unique experiences that are worth a look from fans wanting something different than a typical theme park visit.