Waiting until the end of October to trick-or-treat is for amateurs. Disney (NYSE:DIS) is kicking off Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party tonight, an after-hours event where guests pay as much as $125 a head to enjoy a few hours of candy stations, exclusive shows and character meet and greets, and a relatively short wait for most of the Magic Kingdom's major rides.
Disney World's flagship park -- the world's busiest theme park, attracting more than 20 million guests annually -- closes early on the select nights that Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween takes place. The kid-friendly event kicks off at 7 p.m., and despite the seemingly high ransoms sellouts are common as we get closer to Halloween.
Disney raised some eyebrows last year when it rolled out Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween in late August after kicking things off in September in previous years. One can only imagine what's running through Disney fan blogosphere now that the event is launching nearly two weeks earlier on the calendar than the year before.
The reason for the extended season
This isn't the only Disney World event getting an earlier start this month, but you won't see a lot of bellyaching about the Epcot International Food and Wine Festival rolling out a day earlier than it did last year. Disney's been stretching that festival's run for a couple of years, and this year it will end a day earlier to stay at a 75-day run.
Other theme parks and amusement park operators aren't chasing Disney into August. They're sticking to September starts for their family and not-so-family-friendly haunt fest events. Disney is obviously bumping this hard-ticket holiday soiree earlier in the calendar because it thinks it can smoke out enough well-heeled families angling to hit the park in costume this summer, but there could be something else at play here.
Disney World theme park attendance rose a combined 4% last year according to industry tracker Themed Entertainment Association, but that was largely the result of a 15% spike at Disney's Animal Kingdom offsetting ho-hum results at its three other theme parks. A well-received Avatar-themed expansion fueled the uptick in popularity at Disney's Animal Kingdom. The same scenario could be playing out this year with Disney World traffic gravitating to Disney's Hollywood Studios, as the late June opening of Toy Story Land is likely juicing up turnstile clicks there for the current quarter at the expense of Disney's three other gated attractions. Getting an early jump on Halloween at the Magic Kingdom could help provide at least a marginal boost to Disney's fiscal fourth quarter that ends next month.
If Mother Nature complies -- Disney World had a couple of rare full-day closures last September including one of the Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween nights -- the current fiscal quarter should improve on last year's showing. Breaking out its jack-o-lanterns earlier this year is just the pumpkin spice icing on the cake.