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Disneyland Article
Not Every After Hours Event Is Worth It This One Is
Julie Tremaine
Regardless of my romantic situation on any given year, I’ve never cared much about Valentine’s Day. The whole thing — elaborate gifts, overpriced roses, fancy dinners — always felt so constructed to me. It just never seemed like the outsized expectations that come with a holiday largely manufactured by commercialism could possibly match up to the reality of the night.

Which is a long way of saying, I didn’t have much interest in Disneyland’s Sweethearts’ Nite. But I gave it a shot this year, and despite my Valentine misgivings, I loved it.

After-hours events at the parks, the ones that close the parks down to anyone without a special ticket for the evening, can be a mixed bag. Some, like Disneyland’s Halloweentime Oogie Boogie Bash, are consistently excellent year after year; even not knowing what the offerings will be for the coming year’s party when the tickets go on in the summer, I never hesitate to grab them. But some, especially when they’re new or don’t happen all that often, can feel a little bit lacking in vibe or execution, which is what happened at opening night of the first-ever Jollywood Nights holiday party at Disney’s Hollywood Studios park at Walt Disney World this past November.

When I saw tickets go on sale in late 2022 for last year’s Sweethearts’ Nite, it was an easy skip for me. Even if I wasn’t single, I probably wouldn’t have bought them, given how little interest I have in the holiday. But being on my own, I couldn’t see how a night filled with overflowing hearts and Mickey and Minnie meet-cutes would be a good time.

Then the photos started coming in. So many photos of friends in cute pink and red outfits. So many sweet decorations and otherwise-unavailable experiences. So many people, single and coupled, raving about the night. When tickets went on sale in December 2023 for this season, I called in my friends. This year, even if we rolled our eyes while we did it, we were going to be galentines at Sweethearts’ Nite.

Disneyland doesn’t give the full details for after-hours events in advance, so beyond the basics of specialty foods, unique characters and not-usually-offered entertainment, I didn’t have much info on what we were going to get. But as soon as we walked through the gates and into Disneyland’s Town Square, I knew the night was going to be special.

Main Street was illuminated up and down with glowing pink projections, hearts floating up and down the buildings, and bathed Sleeping Beauty Castle in a luminous, dynamic show. (I’d later find the same on “it’s a small world” and, of all places, the Matterhorn.) Mickey and Minnie, and Donald and Daisy, were in their Valentine’s Day finest and posing with guests. Harry Styles’ “Adore You” gave the street a whole new energy. Off to one side, people were lined up at an “Up” photo opportunity, where they could pose for pictures in front of Carl and Ellie’s house, their names and handprints sweetly painted onto the mailbox. Photo pass is included in the ticket price, which was $139 for that night.

One of the best parts about an after-hours event is that lines for rides are almost nonexistent. We waited five minutes for Indiana Jones Adventure, a ride with a consistently long queue, and Indy and Marion themselves appeared in person above Jungle Navigation Co. in Adventureland. “You look lost,” he called down to us as we took photos from below. “You’re in the jungle. There are a LOT of snakes.”

Even our skipper on Jungle Cruise got in on the romance theme. “You know the difference between in-laws and outlaws?” he asked as he navigated our boat through darkened waters. “Outlaws are wanted.” A man on our boat laughed so, so hard at that joke. He had clearly been through some things.

Pirates of the Caribbean, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway were all walk-ons, and what did have a wait was 15 or 20 minutes at the most. That’s because almost everyone was waiting to meet characters or pose in photo areas. The line to take a photo with Belle and Beast extended from Fantasyland into the entry to Galaxy’s Edge, and it was similar with Ariel and Prince Eric from the animated “The Little Mermaid” and Princess Tiana and Prince Naveen from “The Princess and the Frog,” who were wearing special, blinged-out costumes for the night. One of the cutest things I saw all night was a photo op area of the boat scene from “Tangled” where all the lanterns float above Rapunzel and Flynn Rider. It was so popular that there were two separate boats for people to recreate the scene, and they both had long lines.

That was fine with me, because my valentine was waiting for me in Critter Country. Big Al from Country Bear Jamboree was appearing there, and he put his hands over his heart as I walked up to take a photo with him. Later, I took a photo with Gaston, and he only stopped fixing his hair to say “How are you tonight?” and before I could answer, “Better now, OBVIOUSLY.” You know what they say about the most handsome guy in town.

One thing to know about the specialty foods for an after-hours event is that you can mobile order them to skip the inevitably long lines. I got mine in as soon as I scanned into the park, and got reasonable pickup times. Shortly afterward, every window until after midnight was spoken for. I tried a heart-shaped funnel cake topped with raspberry cream and fresh berries from Stage Door Cafe, and a strawberry shortcake Dole Whip topped with strawberry sauce and crumbled pound cake from Tropical Hideaway, and enjoyed them both.

I would have loved to try the heart-shaped fried ravioli and fresh strawberry doughnuts from Cafe Daisy but the system glitched, and said I had clicked the “I’m here, prepare my order” button as soon as my mobile order window hit. Because I didn’t see it within the five minute window you’re required to pick up your food in, I didn’t get my order and still had to pay for it. When I went to try to sort it out, the line was so long that I decided to sacrifice the money rather than wait.

There were too many other things I wanted to see and do — like the Royal Ball Cavalcade, a parade of royals like Aurora and Prince Phillip from “Sleeping Beauty” in carriages promenading through the park, followed by royal wannabes Lady Tremaine and the evil stepsisters from “Cinderella.” It turns out the quest for the glass slipper didn’t end at the end of the movie, after all.

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