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Thursday, February 22, 2024
Feb. 22, 2024

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NerdWallet: How Disney turned Halloween into a money-making machine

For Disney fans, Halloween is among the most desirable (and expensive) times to visit its theme parks

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For devoted Disney fans, there’s often no better treat than spending Halloween at its theme parks — and more specifically, at its after-hours parties, where visitors can trick-or-treat through Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room and watch a Halloween-exclusive parade, among other experiences.

But tickets are neither cheap nor easy to acquire. The parties are held on multiple nights throughout the season, and the version at Disney’s California resort, the “Oogie Boogie Bash,” is so popular that the 2023 event sold out the first day tickets went on sale. Fans reported trouble with virtual queues and website crashes.

Florida’s version is Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, and it’s so in demand that the first night of the 38-night 2023 party was held on Aug. 11. That date is closer to July Fourth than to Halloween.

Tickets to Disneyland’s California party went for as much as $189, while tickets to the Florida version at Walt Disney World can cost about $210 on some nights.

Holding a party ticket doesn’t even gain access to the parks in the morning. Since party tickets only allow entry as early as mid-afternoon, a separate theme park ticket (which typically costs over $100) is necessary for those who want to spend the whole day inside the parks.

For cost-conscious Disney visitors, the real fright is how prices have crept up every year since these parties began.

DISNEY’S HALLOWEEN PARTY HISTORY

Disney started with small-scale Halloween festivities. In 1959, Disneyland had a pumpkin-carving contest. In 1979, Walt Disney World hosted a party featuring musical performances by popular artists, which was ticketed separately from traditional theme park entry.

But things didn’t take off until 1995, when Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom theme park hosted a Halloween night party, which has since morphed into the annual tradition that today is a sold-out, multimonth palooza.

Tickets for 1995’s after-hours event were $16.95 (about $34 in today’s dollars), according to historian Jim Hill. By 2005, the event’s run had grown to 15 nights, with ticket prices doubling to $37, according to Disney fan site AllEars — but that’s still just $57 in today’s dollars.

When adjusted for inflation, tickets for today’s Halloween party at Disney World are 469% more expensive than 2005’s prices.

HALLOWEEN IS A HUGE HOLIDAY FOR DISNEY

Halloween likely is a big revenue generator for Disney, according to outside calculations. Len Testa, president of Disney vacation planning website TouringPlans, estimates that Disney’s Halloween party in Florida alone generates about $3.3 million in revenue for the company per night (and about $125 million across the season). And because the parties are held after-hours, Disney also is able to sell theme park entry tickets.

“This after-hours party is Disney’s way of selling admission to the same park, on the same day, twice,” he says.

Even if travelers don’t pay extra for the after-hours party, Disney makes additional revenue on themed merchandise and food in the parks during the day. There’s a paid pumpkin scavenger hunt at California’s Downtown Disney District and limited-time food, like Mickey-shaped pumpkin cheesecake and ghost pepper nachos.

Disney’s ornate Halloween popcorn buckets are so popular that Disney limits sales for certain designs to two per person. Plus, fans clamoring for Halloween merchandise might even pick them up on the resale market. Popcorn buckets that retail for about $30 (including popcorn) in the parks can sometimes sell for more than $100 on resale websites — and that’s not including the popcorn.

COMPETITORS FOLLOW SUIT

Nearby tourist attractions have carved out their own opportunities to cash in on Halloween. For example, Pirates Dinner Adventure runs a “Vampirates” show in Orlando, Florida. Both SeaWorld in Orlando and San Diego host two Halloween-themed events: the family-friendly SeaWorld Spooktacular and the intentionally terrifying Howl-O-Scream nighttime event. Orlando even brands itself the “Halloween Vacation Capital.”

But competitors generally don’t charge as much as Disney — nor do their tickets sell out as quickly. Halloween Horror Nights at Universal Studios Hollywood operates similarly to Disney, where visitors purchase a separate party ticket to the event, and it still has plenty of tickets available. Universal tickets cost far less, with peak nights commanding $114, which is about 40% cheaper than Disneyland’s priciest ticket. Tickets run as low as $74 on some nights.

WHY HALLOWEEN HITS DISNEY’S SWEET SPOT

For fans of Disney’s after-hours Halloween parties, the main draw isn’t usually the rides (though shorter wait times can be alluring).Instead, many visitors come for trick-or-treating, party-exclusive parades and unique photo-ops.

The costumed characters are wildly popular, too. That includes meeting Mickey Mouse dressed up in Halloween garb, plus rare or new characters. The Oogie Boogie Bash has an entire section devoted to rarely-seen villains, including Madam Mim from “The Sword in the Stone.” According to TouringPlans.com, wait times to meet Jack and Sally from “The Nightmare Before Christmas” have exceeded four hours.

For trick-or-treating, Testa says there’s no better spot than Disney. Visitors are given trick-or-treat bags that he says can hold four pounds of candy.

“They hand out candy with garden trowels,” he says. “You’re getting fistfuls of chocolate at each stop.”

The fact that the parties run during shoulder season is also potentially advantageous, offering travelers lower hotel and flight prices, plus cooler weather versus the summer.

“There are low crowds this time of year,” Testa says. “You get the special Halloween party one night, and shorter waits for rides during the day. It’s a compelling value proposition.”


RELATED LINK:

NerdWallet: 5 reasons why ‘shoulder season’ is the best time to travel https://bit.ly/nerdwallet-shoulder-season


Sally French is a writer at NerdWallet. Email: sfrench@nerdwallet.com.

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