Why You Should Experience Disney After Hours at Least Once In Your Life
Our wedding anniversary falls during the first week of January, a time of year when many people re-assess their life choices and their barren bank accounts. We are typically left wondering how to celebrate the occasion with dwindling resources. This year we planned ahead and did something radical. After thirteen years of marriage and three children, we took a trip to the Magic Kingdom and left the kids behind. As luck would have it, Walt Disney World also announced the return of Disney After Hours, a special event that allows a limited number of guests to remain in the Magic Kingdom until midnight, a full three hours after the park closes. We took the opportunity to attend this amazing event, and here’s what we experienced.
First Things First
I have tried to be a “morning person” it hasn’t gone well. The nice thing about this particular excursion is that sleeping in is actually an option! Don’t worry about rope drop, it’s okay if you want to hit the snooze button. All kidding aside for a moment, it’s going to be a long day, so start off slow. Okay, now you are up and ready for some fun, here’s what we suggest. Disney Springs is now open and it has a couple of essential stops. First, there is a nice new Customer Relations building in the center of Disney Springs. You can pick up your Disney After Dark tickets ahead of time at this location. Skip will call and another line later when you arrive at the park.
While you are at Disney Springs, you’ll want to grab a bite to eat. Make sure you get some real food in you before heading into the Magic Kingdom. There will be plenty of snacks later, so eating something substantial will help ensure you have enough energy to play later. We chose Jock Lindsey’s because we wanted something good but not too substantial. Admission to the park begins at 7PM so plan to arrive at the parking lot at 6:30PM, and yes we had to pay for parking even that late in the day. The $20 fee stinks especially when you know you will only be there for a short time compared to other park-goers. So just plan ahead for that jolt, and pray Disney figures out a way to do prorated parking for these special events in the future. Just sayin’.
Fireworks Welcome You
There’s nothing like ending a day at Walt Disney World with a bang! The fireworks on display at the Magic Kingdom are some of the best you’ll ever see, and this is usually how a day at the theme parks ends, but when Disney After Hours is on your itinerary you begin your fun with the fireworks show. On this particular day our Disney After Hours ticket allowed us admission to the park at 7PM, the park closes at 9PM, so the crowds were still there and are getting situated for the big finale. While the masses were huddled centrally in the park, my wife and I took advantage of the one Fast Pass we were able to nab at 7:30, the Haunted Mansion, then we made our way to Peter Pan. If fireworks are what you enjoy, then you can be there early enough to see them before hitting all of your favorite rides.
If you don’t like elbowing your way through hundreds of sweaty vacationers while shielding yourself from the hot Florida sun, then the Disney After Hours event was made for you. The Magic Kingdom stops admitting guests at around 65,000 people, and since Disney limits the number of tickets they sell to Disney After Hours (estimated at around 5,000), the park that can accommodate tens of thousands of people is virtually empty!
Unlimited Snacks & Drinks
The price of admission includes all you can eat snacks and drinks, notably: Popcorn, Mickey ice cream bars, bottled water, a variety of sodas, and many other options not listed on the official website or the back of the card they issue you. Not all the snack booths were equally stocked either. It seemed to come down to whatever a particular location had managed to get into place before the event got underway. One booth had apples… like anyone would opt for that when eating one’s own body weight in Mickey Bars is an option. Kidding of course, I’m glad they had healthy options too. Another booth had no popcorn when we wanted something salty, and the last booth we stopped at had a variety of Italian Ice.
Did I mention how few people are in the park during this event? Seriously, if you are a photographer looking to capture amazing people-less images of iconic Disney attractions and other nooks, this event has your name all over it! It’s a bit of a shock actually, to find yourself alone in the middle of Adventureland for example with only your imagination… it’s strange for a moment, and then you realize it’s true and wonderful! My wife and I now have a collection of photos and videos that literally have only us in them, in the Magic Kingdom. My romantic-introverted side is cheering deep inside me, I think that’s good… one thing is certain, you won’t forget the experience.
Have a Plan, Be Flexible
If you are planning to attend Disney After Hours you are probably already aware that not all your favorite attractions, restaurants, and shops will be open. Disney advertises that many of the most popular rides are open, and let’s face it, that’s primarily the main draw here. But just in case you didn’t know before, you are warned now. Be flexible when it comes to what is actually open because Murphy’s Law can always creep in and break a ride, this happened to us atop the Astro Orbiter® so we had to move on to something else quickly because those three extra magical hours go by fast when you are having fun!
The Park at Night
I cannot say enough about how wonderful Walt Disney World is at night. To start, you don’t have to contend with the blazing sun and the soaring Florida temperatures… that alone makes it worth it, but there is something extra magical about the theme parks when the cover of night rests upon the vista. Whether it’s the popcorn lights that line Main Street, the bright hues that illuminate Cinderella’s castle, or the mysterious glow of flame from Adventureland, you can bask in the atmosphere and imagination that prevails after the sun has gone down.
Magic is Possible
At the end of the night we realized that we had lost our Photo Pass card. This major frown quickly turned up-side-down when we walked into the Town Square Theater en route to the Photo Pass counter to see if we could recoup our loss and were greeted by jovial cast members inquiring if we wanted to meet Mickey Mouse. We of course accepted the offer and could not have asked for a better meet-and-greet opportunity. This was the “talking” Mickey, and a first for the both of us! Afterward we were able to talk with the Photo Pass folks and get everything back in order.
Of Course Hidden Mickey’s
We’d be remiss if we didn’t point out at least one Hidden Mickey during this amazing night at the Magic Kingdom, and we did see several. At the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction several cast members offered differing opinions about one controversial Hidden Mickey that resides in the gift shop area. [See it here] and let us know if you think it’s legitimate! We took the ferryboat on our way out of the park and snapped one last Hidden Mickey on the pier.
Disney After Hours has been, without a doubt, one of our favorite Walt Disney World experiences to date! We’re so glad that they decided to bring it back this year, and at a lower price to boot! Since we didn’t cover that earlier, let’s mention it here. During the pilot in 2016 the cost per person was $150, this year the price dropped to $130 per person and it is a standalone ticket. This means it’s different from other special events like the Halloween and Christmas parties at Disney World that require a base ticket first. We’ll definitely be attending Disney After Dark again, maybe we’ll be nice and bring the kids with us… perhaps when they are a little older.
Have you attended Disney After Dark? If not, does this sound like something you’d like to do? Let us know in the comments section below, we’d love to hear your stories!