We move on to Disney’s Hollywood Studios to take a look at the 2019 version of the Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! Holiday Dessert Party. While the food and drinks offered are nearly identical to last year, and the viewing area for the projection/fireworks is exactly the same as in 2018, there are a considerable number of changes this year that may impact your decision on whether or not you want to spring for the extra cost of the Dessert Party.
The first major change from last year is the venue location. This year, the Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! Dessert Party is hosted around Echo Lake, with beautiful views of the Christmas tree and the decorations on the water and around the area. Above, table 15 looks directly out at the Tree and the water.
Over the last few years, the Dessert Party set up shop immediately in front of the Chinese Theater.
The area worked okay, but the tables were nearly on top of each other in row after row after row of small tables with four flimsy chairs around each. We’ll discuss the pros and cons of the new location as we move through the review.
First up, here’s the cost breakdown:
Pricing depends on the date that you’re planning to attend, but it will either run you $89 or $99 per adult and $53 or $59 per child ages three to nine, including tax and gratuity. That’s in line with other dessert parties; the Frozen Ever After Sparkling Dessert Party at Epcot will cost $99/person beginning December 1st, while the Fireworks Dessert Party at Magic Kingdom currently comes in at $69 or $84 for adults, depending on your desired view. Beginning February 1st, 2020, that price will go up another $10 or so per person as well. The Rivers of Light Dessert Party at Animal Kingdom currently costs $79/adult and $47 per child, but that price is going up to $89/adult and $53/child on February 1st of next year, too.
You can check availability for the Jingle BAM! Dessert Party and see Disney’s official word here.
Check-in for the event is located in Echo Lake, basically across from the entrance to 50’s Prime Time Cafe, as early as about 75 minutes before the event is scheduled to begin. Officially, check-in begins just 15 minutes before the start of the event, but like most things Disney-related, that’s not what happens in practice.
Upon check-in, you’ll receive a lanyard that will identify you as a dessert party guest and you’ll be assigned a table, which will be written on your credential. I’m rocking table 65 myself. If you’re among the first ten groups to check in, you’ll be instructed to line up on the opposite side of the seating area to be among the first guests to meet Chip & Dale. Those checking in later will be told to arrive back in the same area as where they checked in about 20 minutes before the official start of the Party, or 7:10pm with the evening’s 7:30pm start. From December 20th through December 30th, the party officially starts at 8:30pm instead of 7:30pm, so those times will likely be pushed back an hour on those dates. On December 31st, the Dessert Party begins at 5pm, before the start of the event returns to 7:30pm from January 1st through 5pm.
The moral of the story here is to double check the start time of the event and be prepared to check-in 75 minutes before the start of the Party if you’d like to meet Chip and Dale early, which I would recommend doing. You’ll be able to get your picture out of the way without wasting any eating/drinking time and also be among the first to hit the buffet lines and bar.
At the bottom of the lanyard is a tearaway ticket that you’ll exchange for this ornament with the show logo. A cast member will come by the table to collect the tickets and distribute the ornaments. Above is the ornament that you’re supposed to receive. Last year, I was happy to bring home something a little more unique than what I’ve received from other dessert parties, whether it be a “crisped rice treat” with an expiration date ten years in the future or another item that can be purchased for a few dollars elsewhere in the Park. During the first few Dessert Parties this year, the same ornament was distributed to attendees.
When we attended the Party on November 13th, 2019, we received this generic ornament instead. I doubt this will be a permanent change, but it also seems unlikely that Disney somehow temporarily ran out of the old ornaments, only to receive another shipment in short order. But there is a possibility that you’ll come away with a tree decoration that isn’t the standard metal Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM ornament that’s been distributed over the last few years.
The Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! Dessert Party is typically held outdoors on the lower level that surrounds Echo Lake. Under threat of rain or lightning, the Party is moved indoors to PizzeRizzo. Personally, I prefer a climate-controlled area, as you can never really be sure what you’re going to get. In November and December, it’s not uncommon to see 20-degree swings in temperatures from one day to the next. At your Party, it could be 45 degrees or it could be 65 degrees, with colder temperatures more likely in late December.
The outdoor seating area certainly enjoys more scenic views this year, though.
The new area also seemed to offer more privacy with a variety of bushes and greenery helping to block the view of what’s going on down below. Fewer people are also walking around over here than you’ll see crossing in front of the Chinese Theater throughout the evening. If you’re anything like me, then you’ll still stick your head through the bushes with a Gingerbread Martini in hand and just stare at the people passing by, occasionally tossing nickels and dimes at them.
The 70+ tables each seat two to four guests and parties of one, two, or three may be seated with other “elves.” Your small party can request to be seated alone when you check in, and if there’s room, they should be able to assign you a table to yourselves. On our date, at least five or six of the tables remained empty for the duration of the event, perhaps because it was a dessert party featuring Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! As a party of two, we were seated alone at a table, which was nice. We also appreciated the wide walkways to the bar and buffet areas. Last year, the lanes were much less defined and you might have to dodge eight or ten tables full of people just to grab another Yuengling. Tough times indeed.
Chip and Dale in Santa hats and holiday scarves meet in the far left corner of the courtyard throughout the event. Because we were among the first ten groups to check in, we were instructed to return to the opposite side of the seating area at 7:10pm, or 20 minutes before the event officially got underway, to get pictures before the Party started.
To minimize the line for the characters later in the evening, your table will be assigned a time to head over, but this isn’t really enforced and you can head over at your leisure. If the line is shorter before your designated time, go ahead and get in line. Our 8:10pm time is cutting it a little close to when we’d like to be on our way to the designated viewing location, so it would be prudent to head over closer to 7:45pm anyway.
We’ll begin our look at the buffet with a handful of savory items, here with Kettle Chips and Roasted Onion Dip.
While neither is anything particularly special, we appreciated seeing them on the buffet to add a little bit of a salty start in front of all of the sugary desserts that we’ll see momentarily.
A sweet Winter Spiced Trail Mix, mostly containing chocolate pieces and dried fruit, was offered.
“Smoked Sea Salt Flatbread,” or pita, was on offer. The flavor was appropriately salty and smoky this year, unlike last year, when most of the pieces tasted burned.
Even better were the plump Pretzel Rolls with their salty brown exterior and tender, chewy, doughy bite.
The Flatbread dips nicely into the creamy Spinach and Artichoke Dip.
While it might not look like much, the Cheese Fondue was deliciously rich and paired beautifully with the pretzel bread.
Moving on with a terrible picture of the dessert line, you’ll find two identical stations spaced out a bit.
This picture may or may not help, but it should show you that you won’t be more than a handful of steps from food or drink. In the center, you’ve got the single bar setup with two bartenders. Across from it is one of the dessert stations, then a bit farther down to the right you’ve got a savory station, followed by the Liquid Nitrogen Freeze-fried Chocolate Mousse. Across from there is the non-alcoholic drink station and then there’s another dessert and savory station in the distance for guests on that side of the seating area.
First up, we’ve got Cheesecake Bites with Whipped Cream in an assortment of flavors – vanilla, caramel, chocolate, and what is probably raspberry. Each is rich and satisfying with luscious cheesecake and a little dollop of sweet whipped cream.
It wouldn’t be a Disney Dessert Party without a cupcake, and we have a Chocolate Cupcake with Peppermint Frosting.
Next up is the ubiquitous chocolate Yule Log, thick and dense with an incredibly bold chocolate flavor. It’s worth trying a little slice here as a precursor to what may be a more serious yule log purchase over at Epcot for Festival of the Holidays.
Soft, chewy Gingerbread Cookie Sticks arrive with just the right amount of cinnamon and spice, topped here with a thin layer of chocolate and sprinkles along with the Prep and Landing characters infiltrating the new Disney’s Hollywood Studios logos. I liked these a lot.
The quality and variety of cookies improved over last year with four choices, mostly revolving around chocolate chips and sprinkles.
Chocolate Fondue with Fresh Strawberries, Marshmallows, and Cake Pieces was available – the chocolate was a little on the thin side, but the strawberries were ripe and sweet and the marshmallows arrived appropriately plump. The vat of chocolaty goodness is also raised up off the table high enough that kids are going to have a hard time sneezing in it, which is a big plus.
The Caramel Apple Verrine was a brand new offering this year, resembling more of a spiced apple panna cotta than anything. They arrive with a thin layer of sweet apple and cinnamon gel on top of a luscious layer of cream with a large piece of milk chocolate sticking out if the top. It’s worth grabbing one, particularly as a fruity change of pace from all of the chocolate and heavier desserts.
The Pumpkin Pie Spiced Bread Pudding with Cinnamon Scented Vanilla Anglaise was a decadent highlight, satisfying and rich with a warm, comforting quality.
The Holiday Blondie with Cream Cheese Icing added another warm, comforting dish that was sweetened up with some dried cranberries with some almond shavings mixed in. I enjoyed it a lot, but that seemed to be a minority opinion. Since it’s a buffet, you can try a little of anything to start, so it doesn’t really matter what anyone might tell you about a specific dish.
While this is your standard vanilla ice cream, we appreciated its refreshing quality when combined with some of the warm desserts like the Holiday Blondie and Pumpkin Pie Spiced Bread Pudding. You could also add some of the Chocolate Fondue and come away with a little sundae or drop a scoop on top of the Bread Pudding for a little bit of a holiday ‘Ohana situation.
There’s a separate area with the Liquid Nitrogen Freeze-fried Milk Chocolate Mousse.
I inquired as to the learning curve on working the Liquid Nitrogen and was told that the instruction manual simply says, “Don’t touch it.” That may be all you need to know.
I still prefer the Freeze-fried Nutella from the Star Wars Dessert Party or the Chocolate-Almond version available from the Chocolate Studio during Food and Wine, but this was pretty good this year, creamy and chocolaty on the inside with just a little bit of a crispy exterior. Your choice of Salted Caramel or Raspberry Glitter Sauce sweetens things up further.
On the hot non-alcoholic drinks front, we’ve got Coffee, Decaffeinated Coffee, Hot Water, and Hot Chocolate accompanied by Half and Half.
A variety of Twinings Tea is available with Marshmallows, Candy Canes, and Whipped Cream that might go better with the Hot Chocolate than Early Grey. Three DaVinci syrups are also offered, in addition to honey.
Elf Juice is the signature non-alcoholic drink with Lemonade, Granny Smith Apple Syrup, and Sprite.
Cans of Coca-Cola, Diet Coke, and Sprite were also readily available, which is something that you don’t often see at these sorts of events. You might need some caffeine to stay up through Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM.
There is a central bar station with two bartenders, which kept waits to a minimum – I don’t think I ever stood there for more than two minutes, and more often than not, it was possible to march right up for a couple of wines, beers, or cocktails.
If you liked last year’s drink lineup, then you’ll love this year’s, because it’s exactly the same:
Hogue Pinot Grigio and Cabernet Sauvignon were offered – two good budget selections. You could also go with a 12-ounce can of Bud Light or Yuengling poured into a plastic cup
The Jingle Bell Holiday Punch was Raspberry Lemonade and Bacardi Limon Rum. While there wasn’t any of the spice that’s typical in a holiday punch, the drink was refreshing and not-too-sweet. The bartender was happy to tip the bottle of rum over the non-alcoholic lemonade for another moment if you requested a stronger cocktail, which was also appreciated. The picture above is from last year, but it’s the same exact deal this year.
The Gingerbread Martini with Smirnoff Whipped Cream Vodka and Gingerbread Flavored Cream was our favorite.
That’s a lousy picture of it back there, finished with gingerbread sprinkles and a little cinnamon. Typically, I am not a fan of these sorts of heavy, creamy drinks, but this one was really tasty – lighter than you might expect with the marshmallow flavor from the vodka helping to cut a little bit of the spice and heft. Definitely try one.
We’ve got two cocoa options. The first is the “Hot Chocolate Martini,” which is a mixture of Hot Chocolate and the Smirnoff Toasted Marshmallow. This one would definitely help warm you up on a cooler night.
There’s also the Black Cherry Bourbon Hot Cocoa, which is Hot Chocolate mixed with Jim Beam Red Stag Bourbon. It’s probably a personal preference, but I’m not a big fan of Red Stag’s artificial, medicinal cherry flavor or its syrupy quality. But I also used to drink the stuff relatively frequently a few years ago and I may just be tired of it. But it’s here if you want to give it a go and if you don’t like it, you can always try something else, which is a benefit of these sorts of events.
As is typical of a Disney Dessert Party with a boozy component, those who go a little heavier on the alcohol are going to come away with more “value.” Disney serves a Hot Cocoa Flight for $13, and one of those three cocoas is the same Red Stag version that’s served here, so each one of those drinks is worth about $5, considering the pour is a bit larger at the Dessert Party. It would be easy to put seven or eight of those back, I would think, as each is just about four sips. The beer and wine would set you back about $7 each if you purchased them from a cart or quick service, and the other cocktails are worth about the same given their smaller size.
We thought the event “felt” a little short. With the 9pm Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! start time, the Dessert Party officially began at 7:30pm, but you could enter as early as 7:20pm or so. At 8:15pm, they begin actively trying to get people to head to the reserved viewing area for the show, and by 8:30pm, everybody is out. So your $89 or $99 only buys you about an hour – from about 7:20pm to about 8:20pm in our case.
Fortunately, the venue change made a big difference in how much we enjoyed our time. This is what I said about ut last year:
Granted, an hour is about as long as several of the other Dessert Parties, but having to get up and traipse across the entire courtyard to grab desserts or a drink cut into the time and there wasn’t much of an opportunity to sit back and relax at the tiny tables with the little chairs. That feeling of being rushed may have also been impacted by how close the tables were together, which seemed to create more of a chaotic feel than some of the other Parties that I’ve attended recently, like Tony’s Most Merriest Town Square Party, which lasted three hours and we basically had the restaurant to ourselves. At the Rivers of Light Dessert Party, 90% of the tables are “literally” within two dozen steps of both the bar and buffet line and with far fewer options available, it’s a lot easier to try one of everything in a short amount of time. Leave it to easywdw.com to complain about better variety.
Things definitely “feel” less chaotic this year with the wide open pathways and tables that are at most, two-deep, making it easy to head back to the various buffet areas at your leisure. Still, extending the event by a half hour would have given us much more of an opportunity to sit back and relax a bit.
The reserved viewing area immediately in front of the Chinese Theater is the same as last year.
Here’s what an $80/person view of jingle bell jingle BAM looks like pic.twitter.com/thTtcIDp3c
— josh (@easywdw) November 13, 2018
Here’s a video from last year that shows the first couple of minutes of the show from the front of the reserved section.
Last year, everyone sat during the show, which meant the shrub towards the bottom of the screen is what filled up most of our viewing.
At least at the Party we attended this year, most everyone stood, and we were able to find spots further back, which resulted in a better view. Of course, if you were planning on sitting, you might be disappointed. Whether the group sits or stands may depend on what the first guests to arrive in the seating section elect to do. Cast members never instructed anyone to stand up, which you sometimes see for the sake of safety, or to fit more people into the area.
Still, the view of the show is (arguably) better from further back in the general population, where you can take in a lot more of what’s going on. Above is right around the area where I usually see the show. I’ve got a nice panoramic view of the projections on the theater, in addition to the fireworks.
If you’re front and center in the reserved area, then you’ll see this big ‘ol hedge and garbage can right in front of your face.
If you do attend the Party, sit or stand as far back in the reserved area as possible for the best views.
With cast moving guests into the dessert party viewing area 30+ minutes before the start of Jingle Bell, Jingle Bam, you’ll also have an opportunity to watch “The Wonderful World of Animation,” the projection show that begins 25 minutes before the holiday-themed projection show.
The view of the projections themselves is good, but you’re only going to be able to take in what’s happening in the middle of the Chinese Theater without turning your head all over the place to try to take in everything else that’s going on.
Back at the Dessert Party, you’ll find what I’m sure Disney is calling holographic elf goggles on your table.
This is a lousy picture, but should you wear them, it will look like the bright points on the fireworks are shaped like gingerbread people or a variety of other shapes. Bringing a similar pair from home would run you about $1.50, so party revelers have that going for them too.
As far as the quality of the show itself, saying that it has received “mixed reviews” is probably the nicest way to put it. The storyline is largely incoherent, and it stars two relatively obscure characters from a 2009 short in Lanny and Wayne from Prep & Landing. From there, it’s a random hodgepodge of scenes from a variety of Disney movies that either have snow or took place vaguely around the holidays. On the other hand, next year’s production will probably feature only holiday originals from Disney+, so you might want to get in now.
The fact that the reserved viewing area is below average is a pretty big deterrent in my estimation, since the dessert parties are typically aimed at providing a great view of the show with much less stress than trying to see it on your own. The viewing area can also be on the cramped side, as it’s shared not only with everyone attending the dessert party, but also VIP guests and those partaking in the Star Wars tour, among others. The picture above is from 8:33pm, when just about everyone attending the Dessert Party is safely in the reserved area. Just behind it, there’s still plenty of room to fill in at the same time. It’s true that our section is raised about six inches off the ground, but being able to take in more of the show from farther back is probably an okay trade-off.
Here’s a shot straight back down Hollywood Boulevard three minutes before Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! started. Things are definitely more cramped, but you could still casually walk up and fill in the available space closer to the Theater or farther back down near Sunset Boulevard.
In other words, the Dessert Party isn’t necessarily saving us much time, since most attendees are going to head over to the reserved section around 8:15pm. At that same time, there would be plenty of available space for anyone to fill in on Hollywood Boulevard or in the courtyard in front of the Chinese Theater.
As far as the dessert party portion, the bar is the strongest component with several very good cocktails available, in addition to a couple of macro beers and decent-enough wines. You’ve got a maximum of 75 minutes at the Party, and you are welcome to take a beverage or two with you to the viewing area, along with a plate or two of food, if you’d like. Food-wise, the desserts ranged from okay to pretty good, which is par for the course at these sorts of things. We liked the Pumpkin Bread Pudding and Gingerbread Cookies quite a bit, but with so many goodies available around the Park, you could easily get your fill for about $15 per person by snacking on a few items from the various quick services and kiosks. The breads and dips were a nice touch, but from a cost perspective, the value of a couple of pretzel rolls and some cheese sauce isn’t astronomical. Meeting Chip and Dale without much of a wait was fun, but they do meet throughout the day at the front of the Park, in the same outfits, with waits that are typically in the 15 to 20 minute range.
Overall, the Jingle Bell, Jingle BAM! Holiday Dessert Party isn’t something that I would highly recommend, but it did provide a comfortable space to wait for the show, with a nice selection of drinks, and enough food options to leave us satisfied. The location change is also a smart one, providing a more relaxing time with easier access to the food and drink.
With the relative ease of seeing the show, coupled with the fact that most people come away thinking that it’s “just okay,” the Dessert Party doesn’t provide as much benefit as something like the Plaza Garden Viewing Dessert Party at Magic Kingdom, where seeing the Happily Ever After Fireworks from the Hub is otherwise a monumental hassle with the crowding and shoulder kids.
The price of the Dessert Party is also up ten dollars per adult over last year, with basically nothing changing other than the location where the food and drink are served. That change may have been necessary due to construction for Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, rather than Disney realizing that a more comfortable space was available. But like everything else Disney, the price will only go up, so you may want to lock in today’s crazy prices instead of tomorrow’s crazier prices.