By Jaimz Dillman
On a chilly night, just before December, we got all dolled up to spend the evening at Disney’s Hollywood Studios for the inaugural Jollywood Nights. This new offering is billed as geared to adults as attendees are encouraged to dress in their best glitz and glam for a night of holiday food and cocktails, music, and access to select attractions after hours.
Having been to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party at Magic Kingdom for years- both as a kid myself and then bringing my own several times- I was excited to do something that may be more for those of us not wanting to stand in lines for characters but see something new.
For 10 select dates before Christmas, ticket holders are let into the park 8:30 pm-12:30 am, yes only 4 hours, but I think early surveys from disgruntled guests of the first night had the powers that be tweak some things allowing early admission at about 7pm. Once wristbands and lanyards were handed out we were on our merry way!
It was fun seeing people arriving in the best duds as we're fans of Dapper Day already. Our trio opted to put a Disney Bound spin on our looks giving a nod to Ratatouille. You can tell cast members enjoyed seeing everyone come in as compliments came from everyone throughout the night on our looks. There is something magical about being dressed in the era of the old Hollywood setting in the front of the park. Not so much as you wander through Star Wars and Toy Story though, haha.
Two festive shows are offered, Hollywood Holidays and a Nightmare Before Christmas sing-along. As we strolled down Hollywood Blvd, we hit everything offered in that area which meant a fuel up at Starbucks! I know, not really holiday related but we got hot chocolate and the Mickey gingerbread cookie to start the night. The first event food offerings we found were across from the Beauty and the Beast theater. Since it was still early there weren’t a lot of lines and we split up to get snacks and the other 2 went on Tower of Terror. How can you resist a 13-minute wait time?
Taking a nod from the much-loved Food and Wine Festival at Epcot, all the bites seemed to be small plate-sized. We grabbed the turkey popover, all the sides popover, and the Kermit frozen drink. The first two were yum! Especially the popover part, really nice flavor and crunchy on the outside. Turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy, and cranberry- how can you go wrong? The sides were mac 'n cheese and greens with ham in the same bread holder. You can tell they’d been plated for a while but still ok, nonetheless.
The teen wanted the Kermit drink as she’s in her Muppets phase (I’m so proud) and it was one of the only non-alcoholic drinks that stood out from the menus. While it's a yellow banana base for Fozzy and green matcha whipped cream topped for Kermie, this one did not hit for us. Too sweet and odd flavor combo. But, so are the Muppets!
The first show was already queuing up early for a radio-broadcast type celebration of the season and, even though it looked like a ton of people outside, that amphitheater holds a lot of revealers and we got great seats!
Again, another Muppet offering with Missy Piggy and her beau acting and hosts? Co-hosts? of this special touted as a broadcast... but loads of dancers for those of us watching. The storyline was a little lost on us but it was still beautifully done. Seeing Tianna and Belle in festive gear singing songs not so well-known was a nice change from the usual. The not-so-nice parts were the dancer's costumes (seriously white spandex pants on all the women and sleeveless gold lame tux jackets on the men had us wondering who made those choices), and as soon as Kermit started talking, the general consensus around us was, um no.
I don’t know who did the voiceover but they didn’t hit it. Definitely not the frog of our childhood and kinda off-putting. Also, the switch of well-known carol lyric “Don we now our gay apparel” to “Don we now our holiday sweaters” was jarring. We all know it means glad rags… why the change? While the overall production was a feast for the eyes, we were left a little deflated by those things that just didn’t work for us.
A swanky outdoor bar was set up in the Tower of Terror courtyard complete with a gorgeous band serenading the crowd. Again, a bar was available for those wanting to imbibe but it was a little too packed for us so we enjoyed a couple of songs and headed to our next stop.
We dipped into The Brown Derby to get info on the waiting list. With the idea to use the app to get a table later, we continued on. A DJ was playing high-energy mixes of holiday classics and modern-day music in front of the Chinese theater (RIP Mickey's hat). A mash-up of Thriller and Rudolph was… interesting. The park is of course decorated to the hilt. Disney doesn’t do subtle. Strolling from area to area gave the best view of everything covered in lights and changes from one theme to another.
Sugar cookie tree stacks were found at the stand on Echo Lake and the ABC Commissary had the largest offering of savory foods including empanadas, biRria tacos, and Mexican street corn. Again, tasting portions and smaller prices had us get a couple things and share.
Further down, live musicians added a Latin flair to the night and spectators were enjoying the dancing beats. Towards the back of the park, there really isn’t anything particular offered for the event. Some rides are open and, with the smaller crowd, were all practically walk ons. Rise of the Resistance at a 20 minute wait? Slinky Dog Dash and Toy Story Mania straight to the front? Yep- that was definitely appreciated. We’ve gone to Disney for years and never got to do some of these attractions as they’re always packed. And it’s hot. But I think this was one of the top benefits of Jollywood- of course, our night wasn’t sold out, so I can’t speak for the remaining events. Rare holiday characters made appearances for photos throughout the evening including Santa Stitch and Duffy. Phineas and Ferb were also listed for meet and greets. Lines for these guys weren’t long either and the cast members looked like they were enjoying the spirit of the night dancing as they took pictures.
The second show offered is a sing-along in the theater that usually houses the Frozen experience. For this though, Jack, Sally, Oogie, and his boys have taken up residence and we all got to experience a nightmare before Christmas.
A two-man cast pantomimes on a small set through the most popular songs from the movie which is projected on the screen with lyrics added for those not familiar. I won’t ruin the surprises but if you have NBC in your heart (and tattooed all over your back) like me, this will be the highlight of your experience. We were giddy being able to sing at the top of our lungs among the lights and effects. Probably to the dismay of others but hey, it’s called a sing-along for a reason!
With the main goals of what we wanted to see checked off, we indulged in our final snacks at the Brown Derby. Again, a place I've always wanted to visit but hadn’t ever had the chance. Using the app to book a table got us right in when we were alerted it was time to go to the restaurant. More live entertainment was inside with rotating piano-playing singers in the center of the dining room. A smaller menu had food and drink options just for the event and again, we shared a few small plates and drinks and were thoroughly full when done.
The bao buns were a big hit and I’m not usually a fan of pork belly but these were crispy in delicate soft buns with just the right amount of pickled veggies. The sliders were so flavorful! Topped with a fig jam, they definitely hit the spot. We shared a martini flight- one vodka, one gin, one pomegranate- and they packed a powerful punch. The teen had a blueberry smash served with a sprig of rosemary and it was just the right amount of sweet and refreshing needed by that time of the evening.
We still had a little over an hour to wander and take in some things we put on the back burner. Shopping was unfortunately the one downside. Only 2 event specific items were available - from what we saw- which were a t-shirt and sweatshirt. Really? No ornaments or Mickey and Minnie plushies in their Hollywood holiday attire? And a lot of the stores had doors closed so even if you wanted other merch, it didn’t seem too available unless you hit the main stores at the entrance/exit.
Overall, we really liked Jollywood Nights. It’s a time to see and be seen in your holiday best and a fun family/date night. We’re not huge character or ride people so that was all bonus to us. We did miss having a parade like Mickey’s Very Merry offers and, for the price of the ticket, I’m sure they could afford to have a few hot chocolate and cookie stations scattered around like Magic Kingdom. We did get cute branded coasters on the way out but meh, I can only imagine collectors will have them on eBay up for sale. I'll be interested to see how the event grows and adjusts to the ever-long list of wants and demands of theme park goers. Even with the complaints about ticket prices, limited offerings, and lost magic, it doesn't seem like the crowds are slowing down anytime soon.