2020 has presented Walt Disney World with more than its share of difficulties, and for completely understandable reasons. Many events have had to be canceled. Some traditional offerings have had to be altered or temporarily eliminated. I do not envy Disney for having to come to the conclusion that this was not the year to have “Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party” at Magic Kingdom. Originally scheduled to start on August 13th and conclude on November 1st, MNSSHP is a special ticketed event that has featured parades, candy stops, special character meet-and-greets, themed fireworks, and one of the most popular stage shows on property. Of course, as Disney continues to work to keep its guests as safe as humanly possible, none of those features could be executed in a responsible manner in 2020, so the event was canceled for the Halloween season.
Walt Disney World never misses a chance, however, to turn lemons into pumpkin-spiced lemonade. On September 15th, Magic Kingdom unveiled some of the usual decorative touches guests have come to expect every fall, and quite a few new quirks to continue providing memories and magic. While it would be impossible to execute every needed change flawlessly, Disney has come up with great solutions to modern problems. Most notably, the company has done a great job of adapting to find best practices. This ability to adjust and learn is directly responsible for the atmosphere in Magic Kingdom over the past few weeks.
Most noticeably when you first arrive on Main Street USA, is that you will see the famous Mickey-pumpkins liberally distributed from the train station all the way to Cinderella Castle. These pumpkins lead to some of the best, and most creative pictures. The extra splash of orange on Main Street can also put you in the fall spirit, even when the temperature in Florida is hoovering around the mid-90s. Many of the windows on Main Street also have added pumpkins, and fall foliage. At least to this point, the decorations have not been as over-the-top as in past years, but I think it really works. I think they have used the decorations to create the vibe, but they want to save the inundation of Halloween for next year when MNSSHP hopefully returns.
The park, of course, isn’t the only thing that is decorated for the season. Walt Disney World has made an adjustment to its adult-costume policy, which allows adult guests to wear costumes in the parks during the day (obviously, check mydisneyexperience.com for a complete list of guidelines). This is a luxury that was reserved for guests of the party in past years. On my most recent visit, I saw a family with the father dressed as Captain Hook; the mother was Mr. Smee (that was a particularly creative costume); the son was Peter Pan; and the baby girl was Tinker Bell. I also saw a women dressed in complete Lumiere attire; an army of Annas; Madame Liotta; an Aurora who looked straight out of the feature film; and my personal favorite was a woman dressed as Doc Brown’s girlfriend from Back to the Future III.
The lax costume regulations also make for some great photographs, and Disney has you covered if you purchase PhotoPass. There are some excellent “Magic Shots.” In addition to adding the Hitchhiking Ghosts to your picture in front of Haunted Mansion, which has been around for a little while now, there are also some shots with a burning pumpkin added to the image. Disney is always adding new Magic Shots, and sometimes you don’t even discover a special one. I will continue to take-one-for-the-team and continue to get as many pictures taken as possible, so I can discover more and more special moments to throw up on your Instagram pages.
My favorite change to come to the parks since reopening has been the character cavalcades. I much prefer a few character cavalcades per-hour to one full parade each day. It is my hope that these features stay in some form or fashion in the future. This has been taken to the next level with Halloween on the horizon. In addition to the Princess cavalcade, Magic Kingdom now also includes the Cadaver Dans (the famous Dapper Dans, but in ghostly makeup while they perform on a street car up-and-down Main Street); the gang from the Hundred Ace Woods in costume for a presumed night of Trick or Treating; an abbreviated “Boo To You” Parade with Mickey, Minnie, Donald, and Daisy in costume and joined by cast members in various outfits; and everybody’s favorite, Jack, Sally, and Oogie Boogie from “The Nightmare Before Christmas.” These cavalcades do not run on a set schedule, which adds to the spontaneity. All of a sudden, you will hear the music in Frontierland, Liberty Square, or on Main Street USA change, and you know that someone special is about to come down the path.
Last, but certainly not least, we have to talk about the themed snacks. This time of the year is not complete without pumpkin-spice-everything, and Disney has never been one to buck trends when it comes to snacks. There is a donut bundle that comes in a Hitchhiking Ghost container available at Pecos Bill. I will be getting this in the future to show you, but I thought that I would focus on offerings that didn’t require me to carry anything extra for the rest of the day. If you are wondering, they were still out of the Madam Liotta sipper-cups at Sleepy Hollow in Liberty Square. Those of you who have been paying attention have seen the two-plus-hour lines to get this special cup. I have never been a huge collector of sipper-cups. My mission was to search out the treats that didn’t utilize a special packaging to fly off shelves or out of kitchens.
My first such treat came from the Confectionery on Main Street. While they had some sugar cookies with cobweb designs, and other Halloween themes on cupcakes, I wanted the truly unique item. Disney has made Pumpkin Spice Krispy Pies, and they are serving them in individual slices. Such an amazing idea to take an iconic Disney treat like the Krispy treats, and add an iconic Halloween trope to it.
As you can imagine, this was quite tasty, and the pumpkin spice flavor wasn’t too overpowering. You still tasted Krispy treat as the main flavor, while the pumpkin spice just added that special something to keep you in the mood for shorter days and ghost stories.
Onto Tomorrowland, where Auntie Gravity’s boasts two Halloween specialties. There is a Pumpkin Spice Milkshake, and a Pumpkin Spice Sundae. Because I would do anything for all of you, I will make sure to try the milkshake before October 31st. I went with the sundae on this particular day, because it was a smaller serving. I wanted to show you more treats, so I needed to leave room.
This was surprisingly good. If they didn’t include the vanilla ice cream, I think it would have been overkill on the pumpkin spice. This was balanced, creamy, and surprisingly refreshing. It was the perfect snack to eat right before taking a rotation around Carousel of Progress. It may not have been the best choice if I was about to get in line for Space Mountain.
Finally, I did go to Sleepy Hollow for the Pumpkin-Spice Mickey Waffle Sundae. Absolute perfection with this dessert. Much like the sundae in Tomorrowland, the ice cream was vanilla, and the waffles were infused with the pumpkin spice flavor. Getting a fork-full of waffle, with a little bit of ice cream and whipped cream made for the perfect taste and texture balance. Plus, getting a table right by Cinderella Castle and taking a load off your feet is the best possible way to spend a late afternoon. It even puts you in a perfect spot to hear one of those character cavalcades, and watch it pass over the bridge to the hub.
I know not everyone is lucky enough to be able to go to the parks as often as I am able to visit. This means that a lot of you are wondering if this is the right time for their family to travel to Walt Disney World. My clients and friends often ask those same questions. “Is it still magical?” “Will I miss the parades?” “Do you think it will feel like Halloween without the parties?”
Every person is different, but I have been a regular to MNSSHP the past few years. That Halloween magic is still there in the park. You can’t stop Disney from finding a way to help you escape the troubles of the outside world. When Jack Skellington comes down the path on a float, you forget that you are wearing a mask. It puts you in that place that speaks to Disney fanatics like us.