The challenge: Twenty-four hours in the Magic Kingdom. I will admit it, I cheated. I took a nap. But, when it was all said and done, I saw the park open and I saw it close. YAAAS.
For the fourth year in a row, Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom in Florida opened its gates for a full 24 hours. This year the park’s hours were 6 a.m. May 22 to 6 a.m. May 23. That’s right, a full, complete day of attractions, shows, food, characters, and everything in between. And this was all sprinkled with some extra magic exclusive for one day only. This year’s event theme was Frozen to kick off WDW’s “Coolest Summer Ever.”
Frozen is Rotoscopers’ middle name (our last name is Magellan, just so you know), so naturally I was excited to see all the snazzy happenings Disney would roll out with this theme. To start things off, the Welcome Show was an altered version of its usual performance. It featured Anna, Elsa, Kristoff, and Olaf as they lead a crew of Disney characters to open the park. While one can meet Anna and Elsa every day, right now Kristoff is only in shows and it is even rarer to see Olaf (he is exclusive to special events). That being said, seeing the latter two was a fun treat, even if they surprisingly didn’t hold ‘meet & greets’ during the event.
If you had a hankering for Olaf’s face, you were in luck. Olaf cupcakes sold during the party at two locations, as did special souvenir Olaf cups at almost every restaurant. At the Emporium, an event t-shirt featuring Olaf was kept well in stock with a giant table pacifying all merchandise needs. It was staffed well throughout the day, with sizes and quantity aplenty. This was an improvement upon shirt scarcity of past 24-hour days.
During the nighttime hours, the Frozen fun amplified with A Frozen Fantasy Pre-Parade, which was basically a fancy name for a one-float introduction to the park’s performance of the Main Street Electrical Parade. Once again, Anna, Elsa, Kristoff, and Olaf were on hand, as were a fleet of dancing snowgirls. The float used was the park’s signature castle vehicle, which has been recycled countlessly in many Magic Kingdom parades since the ’80s (although arguably it has never been more appropriately used than for this). It certainly resembles Elsa’s icy palace. A cheap banner covered the “Happy Holidays” sign at the top of the float (since it was last used for the Christmas parade), but everything else about it shimmered with beauty. Special gold spotlighting and twinkling blue lights gave a magical feel to the float. A chorus version of “Let It Go” played continuously as the float glided down the street, which I’m sure the performers just loved. (Bless them.)
Video of A Frozen Fantasy Pre-Parade. Forgive the shakiness of some parts. This Rotowriter was mighty happy to wave to Kristoff and Anna. (Also, please enjoy my friends’ commentary and singing.)
Over in Tomorrowland, sing-along screenings of Frozen played throughout the night at the Rockettower Plaza Stage. I didn’t attend this part of the event, but I imagine it was either a nice opportunity for some rest or the farthest thing from it.
Overall, the Frozen theme seemed underutilized, but only in comparison to the standards Disney itself placed with previous years’ 24-hour parties. In 2013, party guests were the first people ever to meet Mike and Sulley in their college gear from Monsters University. In 2014, guests could meet a huge selection of Disney villains, who also appeared in multiple parades throughout the day. However, the majority of those entertainment-based offerings always drew colossal crowds and led to frustrated, dissatisfied guests who waited in lines lasting several hours. Many thought that Olaf and Kristoff would have a ‘meet & greet’ at this year’s party. They didn’t, and that’s why. It’s another instance of a big adjustment made on Disney’s part. It meant an easier experience if you were trying to see and do all of the day’s Frozen activities (like I was), but it also meant the selection of activities wasn’t very large. Maybe it’s because Frozen is already so much a part of a regular day at the Magic Kingdom that the add-ons for this year’s event didn’t seem to add much value. While what was there was nice, there could have been more.
However, this is not to say other things didn’t go on. In fact, there was a greater focus on one-day activities not related to Frozen than there were Frozen things. Numerous photo ops appeared throughout the park, including a giant clock background and a very neat chance to pose with Cinderella’s coach. An impressively considerable amount of Disney Channel and Disney XD stars served as the grand marshals for the afternoon parade, much to the delight of squealing teens along the parade route. “Club Chill” held court in Tomorrowland as a dance party featuring appearances by some of those same stars. Once night fell, dance parties took place in the Hub and Frontierland and featured classic Disney characters in their pajamas. These made for great photo ops. Since the characters didn’t have structured lines and simply moved around, this made for a much shorter wait to get a picture with them than a (outrageously long-lined) formal greeting would have. However, this admittedly also meant one had to maneuver oneself around dancing people to get a half decent photo and the full character interaction experience was absent. But, hey, I got a selfie with Daisy and Donald in their PJs so it’s all good.
As an unannounced surprise, semi-rare sidekick characters joined the main stars at their usual character greetings throughout the day. These included Bert and Mr. Penguin (who joined Mary Poppins on Main Street), Dopey and Snow White in Town Square, Genie, Aladdin, and Jasmine in Adventureland, and Naveen and Tiana in Liberty Square. At the event’s conclusion, Mickey and the gang (without the Frozen cast), all still pajama-clad, gathered at the train station for a finale moment which featured sing-alongs of “When You Wish Upon a Star” and “Mickey Mouse Club Alma Mater.”
When one reads through that exhaustive list, he or she might wonder how anyone could possibly claim that Disney didn’t do enough. For a special event that lasted a grand total of one day, that’s a lot. (The surprise sidekicks were an especially nice touch.) The disconnect, then, comes in the form of the Frozen tie-in. Disney pulled out all the stops for this even, but less than half of the special activities incorporated what was supposed to be the theme of the party. This raises the question of whether these 24-hour days really need themes at all. If you’re in the Magic Kingdom at 3:30 a.m. dancing with Goofy in his pajamas, is there a need for anything extra in the atmosphere besides the thrill of being in the park late? I don’t necessarily think there is. While I commend Disney for trying to have a different theme each year, I think it may be hurting the cause if it’s implemented minimally (although ultimately what was there relating to Frozen was fun).
I attended the event in 2013, and I must say this one felt more crowded. It’s not too surprising, as naturally people see posts and ads for past events and want to make sure they’re there for the next time they happen. What is surprising, though, is Disney’s repeated choice to place the party on the Friday before Memorial Day each year. The holiday alone already attracts large crowds to WDW, not to mention the Star Wars Weekends that also happen at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. That’s two major pulls for more travelers. And once the 24-hour party is thrown into the mix, these circumstances make for predictably large crowds.
As expected the morning hours were blissfully pleasant, but were followed by increased traffic throughout the day. Although, I didn’t anticipate that guests would stay as long as they did. Wait times for almost everything were consistently 30-60 minutes through the late hours of the night.
Despite the crowds, though, there is a certain feel to these events that, for some, counterbalances the high attendance. It takes a certain kind of person to brave the Magic Kingdom for 24 hours. It’s only the tried and true you’ll find here, and that is reflected in the pumped-up and cheerful vibe of most guests in attendance. It really did feel like one big party and you knew almost everyone in attendance loved Disney as much as you did. There is certain Comic-Con-ish comfort in that quality. This was most evident at the fan favorite Festival of Fantasy Parade, during which many bystanders sang along with the theme song and waved enthusiastically to the characters. Guests were also encouraged to come dressed in costume as a favorite Disney character. I went for a more reserved Peter Pan look, with a dark green flatbill hat and a green t-shirt. It was Disney, but subtly so.
Not to be forgotten about the 24-hour day is that it was, well, 24 hours. It’s tiring enough to be in a theme park on any regular day, while the sun beats down and feet walk who knows how many miles. For 24 hours, it’s downright exhausting. However, if you are intentional about what you plan, you can make it. Watch what you eat (make sure you get protein and plenty of water) and don’t be afraid to nap. My travel crew took a 90-minute nap at our hotel at midday. While I didn’t anticipate this nap to make a huge difference, it most certainly did. On one hand I see the appeal of being able to say you stayed awake the entire day, but I don’t think I would have made it without a break. Afterward, I was alert, rested, and ready to take on the rest of the night.
Granted, I still got tired. Around 3 a.m., my three friends and I entered the stage of delirium where everything is incredibly funny no matter what it is. (Talking Mickey was an interesting encounter, I will say that much.) But, we kept it together and made it all the way until 6.
Is It Worth It?
As these events become more habitual, they continue to be learning experiences for Disney and for guests. Disney is able to tweak the day’s activities to optimize appeal while also balancing crowd flow and guests adjust their itinerary based on mistakes made in the past (whether from their own experience or from reading about others’).
When one looks at it economically, the 24-hour day costs no more than a regular day of park admission, which means you basically get two days’ worth of time in the parks for the price of one. That’s a great deal, especially if it’s a quick trip and the event is the primary reason for you travels. If the event is one part of a much longer Disney vacation, I’m not sure if it’s worth the fuss. The days before and after the event would have to be planned specifically to accommodate it, and one might just be better off crowd-wise if he or she visited the Magic Kingdom another day. However, there is still a certain excitement of knowing you’re in such a special place so late at night. And the rarity of being able to do this has appeal in itself. A non-negotiable for me was to stay at a Disney hotel. This meant free transportation to and from the park and meant that I didn’t have to worry about anyone falling asleep at the wheel like I would have if we had had to drive to an off-property hotel. You can’t wing it. You must be prepared, especially when it comes to concern about the upkeep of your mental and physical stamina. With this advice in mind, though, I would gladly do another 24-hour day.
Disneyland held a similar event on the same day out west, but it unfortunately dug its own grave when the event was paired with the kickoff of Disneyland’s 60th Anniversary Diamond Celebration. Unfathomable crowd control issues resulted, which you can read more about over at Mice Chat.
At the conclusion of the event just after the “Mickey Mouse Club Alma Mater” theme song, the emcee bid everyone farewell and said something to the effect of “We’ll see you next time for next year’s 24-hour party!” Whether that was meant to be a casual goodbye or a formal announcement for a 2016 event, I’m not sure. However, if it was meant to signal the latter, it represents a huge milestone for this event, as it means it is officially part of WDW’s annual lineup (just as much as something like the Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party or the Epcot Flower and Garden Festival). Until now, each year has been a guessing game. It was likely that Disney would do another 24-hour day, but we couldn’t be sure. Now it seems it’s a permanent staple, set for the Friday before Memorial Day.
Have you been to a 24-hour party at Walt Disney World or Disneyland? What would you do with 24 hours in a Disney park?
Blake is a scriptwriter at Elevation Church, where he develops documentary shorts and creative elements as part of the film team. He graduated Appalachian State University studying Electronic Media Production and is an alumni of the Disney College Program. Blake’s favorite films are Mary Poppins, The Lion King, and Toy Story 3. You can find him on Twitter (@blake_242) and visit his blog at blakeonline.com.