Are Disney World Extra Magic Hours Worth It? A Strategic Guide

by josh on January 5, 2012

Updated January 27, 2012 with an updated list of open attractions.

Updated January 4, 2012 with a clearer discussion of how to make the most of Extra Magic Hours and new information on current crowd tendencies.

What Are Extra Magic Hours?

Extra Magic Hours are a perk that guests staying at select resorts on Disney property receive.  Everyone staying at a Disney owned resort in the Value, Moderate, Deluxe, Deluxe Villa, and Disney Vacation Club levels receive access to Extra Magic Hours and all guests staying at the Swan, Dolphin, Shades of Green, and Hilton at Downtown Disney are also Extra Magic Hours eligible.  There is no additional charge for Extra Magic Hours – the program is included in the cost of the resort room.

Extra Magic Hours are scheduled at one, two, or three theme parks each day.  Other than the summer months (June, July August) and the weeks around holidays, Extra Magic Hours are generally scheduled at just one Park each day, other than one day each week when they are scheduled at one Park in the morning and a different Park in the evening.  Most often, we see a morning Extra Magic Hour at Animal Kingdom and evening Extra Magic Hours at Hollywood Studios on Mondays, but the schedule changes throughout the year.

There are two types of Extra Magic Hours – morning Extra Magic Hour and evening Extra Magic Hours.  Morning Extra Magic Hour is one hour long and occurs before the Park opens to the general public.  In most cases, morning Extra Magic Hour is from 8:00am to 9:00am.  If the theme park is opening at 8am to the general public, the morning Extra Magic Hour will be scheduled for 7am to 8am.  Evening Extra Magic Hours are three hours long and start immediately after the Park closes to the general public.  For example, Epcot usually closes at 9:00pm.  When it has evening Extra Magic Hours, it will be open from 9:00pm to 12:00am for those with access to Extra Magic Hours.

In order to gain admittance to the Park during morning Extra Magic Hour, each person will need to show their resort identification card, also known as the “Key to the World,” along with a valid theme park ticket (whether it be an Annual Pass, Magic Your Way Ticket, tickets linked to the Key to the World Card, or other valid entry).

In order to stay in the Park once evening Extra Magic Hours begin, you will need to present your Key to the World resort identification card throughout the extra time.  A cast member will be at the entrance to most attractions and will ask you to show your Key to the World card before you can enter the queue.  You may also be asked to present the card when making a purchase at a shop or quick service eatery.  Guests that are not eligible for evening Extra Magic Hours may stay in Park, but there is little for them to do other than meander around and take in the various sights.

Disney does not close the Park prior to the start of evening Extra Magic Hours.  Since Disney has done away with the bracelet system, it is impossible to identify people who are not Disney resort guests unless they try to enter an attraction or make a purchase.  For morning Extra Magic Hour, you will not be admitted into the Park if you do not have valid resort identification.

Extra Magic Hours do not take the place of a Park Hopper ticket.  If you do not have an Annual Pass or the Park Hopper upgrade, you will only be allowed to enter one Park each day.  In other words, if evening Extra Magic Hours is at Epcot, but you decide to visit Magic Kingdom during the day, you won’t be allowed to enter Epcot for evening Extra Magic Hours unless you have the Park Hopper upgrade or an Annual Pass.  More information about this is available in my, “Is the Park Hopper Upgrade Worth It?” article.

What Rides, Attractions, Restaurants, and Shows are Open for Disney World’s Extra Magic Hours?

Not all of the rides, attractions, restaurants, and counter services are open during Extra Magic Hours.  The following is a list of what you can expect to be open.  This list differs slightly from the list available at DisneyWorld.com because they only list the bare minimum rides that will be open.  After all, people are a lot more likely to be pleasantly surprised by additional rides available rather than have Disney list rides that are unavailable during certain weeks.  In practice, more rides than what Disney lists are usually open, especially at the Magic Kingdom.  For Disney’s list, see http://disneyworld.disney.go.com/plan/calendar/extramagichours/.

I have italicized the rides that may be open, but are not on Disney’s list so you can easily compare.  My recommendation would be to plan to ride what Disney has listed and alter your itinerary if additional rides are open.  It shouldn’t cause you to drastically change your plans because the major rides are listed already.  Additional ride availability usually depends on the time of year.  If your vacation is during or near days that are rated a 7 or above as the overall crowd level, you’re more likely to find additional rides open.  However, even in Value season with low crowds, you can expect additional ride availability.

Magic Kingdom

Magic Kingdom Morning Extra Magic Hour Rides

Astro Orbiter

Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin

Dumbo the Flying Elephant

“it’s a small world”

Mad Tea Party

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

Mickey’s PhilharMagic

Peter Pan’s Flight

Prince Charming Regal Carrousel

Snow White’s Scary Adventure

Space Mountain

Stitch’s Great Escape!

Tomorrowland Speedway

Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover

Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress

Magic Kingdom Morning Extra Magic Hour Restaurants and Counter Services

Auntie Gravity’s Galactic Goodies

Cheshire Cafe

Cinderella’s Royal Table

Crystal Palace

Main Street Bakery

Magic Kingdom Evening Extra Magic Hours Rides

Astro Orbiter

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad

Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin

Country Bear Jamboree

Dumbo the Flying Elephant

Haunted Mansion

“it’s a small world”

Magic Carpets of Aladdin

The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh

Mickey’s PhilharMagic

Monster’s Inc Laughing Floor (check schedule for last show; it’s usually earlier than the Park closes)

Peter Pan’s Flight

Pirates of the Caribbean

Prince Charming Regal Carrousel

Snow White’s Scary Adventure

Space Mountain

Splash Mountain

Stitch’s Great Escape!

Tomorrowland Speedway

Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover

Magic Kingdom Evening Extra Magic Hours Restaurants and Counter Services

Casey’s Corner

Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe

Pecos Bill Tall Tale Inn and Cafe

Epcot

Epcot Morning Extra Magic Hour Rides

Living with the Land

Mission: SPACE

Soarin’

Spaceship Earth

Test Track

Epcot Morning Extra Magic Hour Restaurants and Counter Services

Akershus Royal Banquet Hall

Sunshine Seasons

Epcot Evening Extra Magic Hour Rides

The American Adventure (USA World Showcase Pavilion) – Shows usually at 9:45pm, 10:30pm, 11:15pm.

Captain EO

Circle of Life

Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros (Mexico World Showcase Pavilion)

Journey Into Imagination With Figment

Living with the Land

Maelstrom (Norway World Showcase Pavilion)

Mission: SPACE

O’ CanadaLast show usually starts 20 minutes before Evening Extra Magic Hours ends

Seas With Nemo and Friends

Soarin’

Spaceship Earth

Test Track

Turtle Talk with Crush – Last show usually starts 20 minutes before Evening Extra Magic Hours ends

Epcot Evening Extra Magic Hours Restaurants and Counter Services

Most of the World Showcase Quick Services will be open until 10pm and some stay open all night. Most table service restaurants take reservations until 10pm.  See the list here for hours and availability.

Hollywood Studios

Hollywood Studios Morning Extra Magic Hour Rides

Honey I Shrunk the Kids Movie Set Adventure

Muppet*Vision 3-D

Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith

Star Tours

Toy Story Midway Mania!

Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

Walt Disney One Man’s Dream

Hollywood Studios Morning Extra Magic Hour Restaurants and Counter Services

Fairfax Fare

Hollywood & Vine

Starring Rolls Café

Hollywood Studios Evening Extra Magic Hours Rides

The Great Movie Ride

Muppet Vision 3-D

Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith

Star Tours

Toy Story Midway Mania!

The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror

Voyage of The Little Mermaid

Hollywood Studios Evening Extra Magic Hours Restaurants and Counter Services

50′s Prime Time Cafe (usually accepts reservations through one hour after Extra Magic Hours start).

Catalina Eddie’s

Rosie’s All-American Cafe

Sci-Fi Dine-In Theater Restaurant (usually accepts reservations through one hour after Extra Magic Hours start).

Toluca Legs Turkey Co.

Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom Morning Extra Magic Hour Rides

Dinosaur

Expedition Everest

It’s Tough to be a Bug!

Kilimanjaro Safaris

Pangani Forest Exploration Trail

Primeval Whirl

TriceraTop Spin

Animal Kingdom Morning Extra Magic Hour Restaurants and Counter Services

Pizzafari

Rainforest Café

Tusker House Restaurant

Animal Kingdom Evening Extra Magic Hours Rides

Disney has not scheduled evening Extra Magic Hours at Animal Kingdom in 2012.

Animal Kingdom Evening Extra Magic Hours Restaurants and Counter Services

Disney has not scheduled evening Extra Magic Hours at Animal Kingdom in 2012.

Extra Magic Hours at the Water Parks

During the months of July and August, Blizzard Beach and Typhoon Lagoon have Extra Magic Hours on select days.  This past year, they only had morning Extra Magic Hour from 8am-9am on select Wednesdays and Thursdays.  All slides and attractions are operational during Extra Magic Hours.

FASTPASS Availability During Extra Magic Hours

FASTPASSes should be available during morning Extra Magic Hour at attractions that are operating.  The first return time is usually 8:40am to 9:40am.

The FASTPASS system may or may not be available during evening Extra Magic Hours.  Availability depends on the crowd level and wait time at each ride.  Since 2009, Hollywood Studios has not offered FASTPASS at any of its attractions during Extra Magic Hours due to the limited number of open attractions.  FASTPASSes are more likely to be available in the first hour of evening Extra Magic Hours at the most popular rides at Magic Kingdom and Epcot.  If FASTPASSes have “sold out” during the day, like they almost always do at rides like Soarin’ and Peter Pan’s Flight, then the FASTPASS system will become operational again when Extra Magic Hours start and will give a return time during evening Extra Magic Hours.  Disney does not distribute FASTPASSes during “regular” hours with return times during evening Extra Magic Hours.  A FASTPASS picked up during regular hours will always have a return time during regular hours.  Finally, I recommend using any FASTPASSes collected during the day before evening Extra Magic Hours start.  If you try to use a FASTPASS during evening Extra Magic Hours that was collected during the regular day, you run the risk that the FASTPASS entrance will not be operating.

What is the Effect of Extra Magic Hours Have on the Parks?

A lot of people go to Disney World with very little knowledge about how to tour efficiently or what to expect from the various attractions, rides, restaurants, and such.  However, one thing just about every person staying on Disney property knows about is Extra Magic Hours.  It’s one of the biggest selling points of staying on Disney property and just about every travel agent uses Extra Magic Hours to convince people that a Disney vacation package is right for them.  On the surface it makes a lot of sense.  You’ll hear promises of “zero waits,” “private access” and “exclusive time in the Parks.”  The truth of the matter is that there are about 25,000 rooms on Disney property under the ownership of the Walt Disney Company, plus the Swan, Dolphin, and Hilton hotels, which add another 3,000 rooms or so.  In total, about 28,000 rooms have access to Extra Magic Hours on any given day.  If we assume there’s an average of three people per room, that’s at least 85,000 people with the same “private access” to the attractions during Extra Magic Hours.  While not every Disney resort guest goes to the Park with Extra Magic Hours each day, a lot of them do because they think that it’s Disney’s way of telling them where they belong.  The additional crowds lengthen the wait times at the rides and attractions throughout the day and actually make the Park with Extra Magic Hours more crowded than it would be on a day without Extra Magic Hours.

Disney is very good about keeping the occupancy rate at its resorts high.  Over the last four quarters, Disney resort occupancy has hovered between 80% and 82%.  If occupancy is down, Disney offers discounts to fill the rooms.  In other words, when the crowd calendar lists a 7 or higher as the overall crowd level, the crowds are coming from outside of Disney World.  On-site occupancy is relatively stable throughout the year.  Since only people staying at Disney-owned resorts, Swan, Dolphin, Shades of Green, and the Downtown Disney Hilton can take advantage of Extra Magic Hours, there are always about 68,000 people (assuming three people per room and 80% occupancy) that can take “take advantage” of them, even if the overall crowd level is rated at just a two or three.

The fact that the Disney resort crowd level is similar throughout the year causes Extra Magic Hours’ crowds to be substantial during the entire year.  Because the Park hours are usually shorter during slower times of the year, Extra Magic Hours remain popular because Disney resort guests will feel like going to the Park with the longest hours is the “best bang for their buck.”  It seems like going to Hollywood Studios when it’s open from 9am to 11pm (8pm to 11pm with Extra Magic Hours) makes a lot more sense than going when it closes at 8pm to everyone.  However, as I will explain below, the additional crowds often lead to longer lines and a less ideal touring experience.

The Park Hopper Effect and the Late Arriver and Early Leaver Phenomenon

There are two major reasons why the Park with Extra Magic Hours is more crowded during the entire day than it would be on a day without Extra Magic Hours.  First, many people either don’t purchase the Park Hopper upgrade or don’t use it once they’ve purchased it.  At more than $55 for most tickets, adding Park Hopper is expensive.  Park Hopping can also be time consuming and a hassle that people don’t want to deal with once they actually arrive at Walt Disney World and realize how much time it takes to transfer between Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios or Epcot and Animal Kingdom.  Most Disney visitors prefer to visit just one Park each day and stay there until they’re ready to head back to their resort.  For that reason, many people who want to “take advantage” of Extra Magic Hours have to visit the Park with Extra Magic Hours for the entire day.  For example, if the Magic Kingdom has evening Extra Magic Hours from 10pm to 1am, Disney resort guests without Park Hopper would have to spend at least part of their day at the Magic Kingdom in order to potentially be there for Extra Magic Hours.  This causes the theme park with Extra Magic Hours to be busier for most of the day than it would be on a day without the additional Disney resort guests.

Many Disney resort guests also look at Extra Magic Hours like it’s Disney telling them where to go.  They feel like they belong where Extra Magic Hours are scheduled because they’re staying on Disney resort property and Disney resort guests are supposed to go where they’re “scheduled” each day.  Many of the Disney resort guests who think like this have no intention of actually arriving in time to take advantage of morning Extra Magic Hour or staying in the evening for an extended period of time. This leads to Disney resort guests trickling in to the Park with morning Extra Magic throughout the morning and afternoon, long after morning Extra Magic Hour has ended.

Many people also get tired and leave the Park with evening Extra Magic Hours long before the end of the night because they weren’t prepared for the amount of effort it would take to tour the Park or were planning to leave early because their kids need to be in bed by a certain time.  Nonetheless, all of these people who are not actually taking advantage of Extra Magic Hours were in the Park for most the day, clogging up walkways and increasing wait times at the attractions.  These phenomenon cause Parks with Extra Magic Hours to be busier than they would be on a day without Extra Magic Hours scheduled in most cases.

Extra Magic Hours for Those Not Eligible for Extra Magic Hours

If you are staying off-property or at a resort that makes you ineligible for Extra Magic Hours, you want to avoid the Park with Extra Magic Hours in almost all instances.  The crowds will be larger than on a day without Extra Magic Hours due to the 85,000 or so Disney resort guests who will be strongly considering going where they’re “scheduled.”  On days with a morning Extra Magic Hour, there will already be people inside the Park before you’re even allowed to enter.  On days with evening Extra Magic Hours, many Disney resort guests will stay in the Park for the entire day and even more will begin arriving around dinner time.  Unless you can’t avoid it, there is simply no benefit to going where Extra Magic Hours are scheduled if you can’t attend them.

There are really only two exceptions to this rule.  The first would be if you can’t get to a Park on another day with rare evening entertainment scheduled and Extra Magic Hours happen to also be scheduled.  For example, if you’re staying four nights and the only opportunity to see Magic Kingdom’s Nighttime Parade is also a day with a morning Extra Magic Hour, you’ll have to decide if visiting Magic Kingdom when it’s busier is worth it.  You also have more options with the Park Hopper upgrade.  Disney resort guests tend to sleep in and head out in the late morning  on days with evening Extra Magic Hours.  This makes the morning of a day with evening Extra Magic Hours an excellent time to tour, but only if you’re able and willing to Park Hop elsewhere around 1pm if the crowds begin to increase substantially.  Otherwise, you’ll be caught in larger than necessary crowds for the rest of the day.

How to Make Morning Extra Magic Hour Work For You

First of all, morning Extra Magic Hour is hands down the best single hour to visit any Disney theme park.  Crowds will be the lowest of the day and you’ll likely be able to accomplish more between 8am and 9am than you would in three or more hours in the afternoon or evening because of longer wait times and heavier crowds.  Unfortunately, there are two major problems with morning Extra Magic Hour.  The first, and most obvious, is that it’s difficult for most people to make it to the Parks by 8am, which is why so few people are there in the first place.

People generally overestimate their ability to get ready in the morning, especially while on vacation with only one shower, one or two sinks, one toilet, etc.  Second, if you’re relying on Disney transportation, you’ll need to allot up to 30 minutes for the bus to pick you up and additional time for pickups at other bus stops or resorts (depending on your resort).  If driving, you’ll need to account for time to park and walk to the entrance.  Disney Parks are generally farther away than many people realize.  Disney’s Animal Kingdom is about 20 minutes away from the Magic Kingdom area resorts by car or bus.  Realistically, your group will probably need to be awake by 6am and out the door by 7am in order to make it to the Park by 7:45am.  The exception would be if you’re near one of the Parks and transit times are shorter.  For example, if you’re staying at the Contemporary, you’re within a ten minute walk of the Magic Kingdom and wouldn’t need to leave until around 7:30am.  With a morning Extra Magic Hour that begins at 7am, you would have to be ready and out the door one hour earlier.

If you’re certain that you’ll arrive at the theme park with morning Extra Magic Hour at least 15 minutes before it starts, then you may want to consider attending, especially if you’re “morning people” anyway.  If you don’t think that you’ll be able to realistically and happily wake up and arrive at the theme parks in time for a 7am or 8am open, then you probably want to put morning Extra Magic Hour out of mind.

Successful Morning Extra Magic Hour Touring at Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom is probably the simplest theme park to tour during morning Extra Magic Hour.  In most scenarios, I recommend spending the first 50 minutes of morning Extra Magic Hour at attractions other than Kilimanjaro Safaris, due to the ride’s 15 to 20 minute length.  The morning Extra Magic Hour is the absolute best time of day to ride Expedition Everest.  With the attraction’s short length and high capacity, you can easily ride Everest five or six times in the first 50 minutes.  Your total wait/ride time won’t be much longer than it takes to walk through the queue and line up, line up at the loading bay, ride, and repeat.  Because wait times for DINOSAUR and the other attractions won’t take off until after 10am, there’s no reason to rush to them during the morning Extra Magic Hour.  You’re certainly welcome to head to other open attractions if you’d like, but there’s no need in most scenarios.  At 8:50am, I like to head over to Kilimanjaro Safaris to get in line before 9am when the off-site visitors are let into the Park.  Because of the high capacity there, you won’t run into much of a line and the early morning is considered to be the best time of day to ride because the animals are more active.  By the time you disembark around 9:15am, you should be able to get right in line for a second ride with a minimal wait.  Don’t forget to grab FASTPASS for Everest and/or Kilimanjaro Safaris for use later in the day.

Successful Morning Extra Magic Hour Touring at Epcot

For Epcot, most people will want to take care of the “big three” during the morning Extra Magic Hour.  Soarin’ is your first priority, followed by Test Track and then Mission: Space.  Most people will want to skip Spaceship Earth and Living with the Land due to the length of the attractions and short waits later in the day.  You don’t want to spend precious Extra Magic Hour time sitting on a 15-minute ride that will have a five minute wait at 3pm.  Mission: Space is also relatively easy to ride most days later in the day, either with FASTPASS or in the standby line, so it isn’t necessarily a “must do” during morning Extra Magic Hour.

I recommend collecting FASTPASSes for Soarin’, riding Soarin’, and then heading over to Test Track to ride a couple of times.  With its decent capacity, you should be able to ride two or three times before 9am.  Once 8:55am hits, collect FASTPASSes for Test Track and head over to Mission: Space.  If you’re interested in visiting the characters at the Character Spot, check your Times Guide to make sure it isn’t operating during morning Extra Magic Hour.  If it is, consider heading there first thing due to its limited capacity and lack of FASTPASS.  If it isn’t, plan to get in line by 8:50am.  This will minimize your wait for the characters and get you in line before the off-site visitors are allowed into the Park.

Successful Morning Extra Magic Hour Touring at Hollywood Studios

Touring Hollywood Studios during the morning Extra Magic Hour sounds simpler than it is due to the craziness surrounding Toy Story Midway Mania.  Most everyone present for morning Extra Magic Hour will be headed directly to Toy Story Mania to ride and/or collect FASTPASSes.  That usually means about a thousand people will be headed in one direction.  This is due to the fact that FASTPASSes routinely run out before noon and standby waits in the afternoon often top 100+ minutes.  If you’re planning to attend morning Extra Magic Hour, or really any other “rope drop,” you have two options – join the craziness or avoid it.  If you’d like to join, you’ll want to arrive by 7:30am to be near the front of the line to one of the turnstiles and then in front of the group headed to Toy Story Mania.  If you’d like to avoid it, you’ll want to head down Sunset Boulevard to Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and Tower of Terror.  After that, you can head to Toy Story Mania to collect FASTPASSes with a return time later in the morning or afternoon.  There will still be people around, but it won’t be anything like the stampede in the morning.

If you’re headed to Toy Story Mania first, you have three options once you arrive.  The most common is to wait in the FASTPASS line first, collect FASTPASSes, and then head to the standby line to ride.  The second option is to head straight for the standby line and collect FASTPASSes after you ride.  If you’re not among the first 50 or so people to Toy Story Mania and the FASTPASS line is already long, I recommend heading straight for the standby line.  This way, you “cut” in front of all the people waiting in the FASTPASS line and anyone headed to the standby line while you’re waiting.  Your FASTPASS return time will be later in the morning, but you’ve saved yourself 15+ minutes waiting in line and another few minutes waiting in the FASTPASS line.

If the FASTPASS line is short when you arrive, I recommend collecting FASTPASSes first and then riding in the standby line.  Your FASTPASS return time will be sooner and the standby line won’t be much longer after you join it.  The third choice would be to collect FASTPASSes for Toy Story Mania and then head straight to another attraction.  If you’re happy riding Toy Story Mania once (or possibly twice with a second FASTPASS), then this might be the best plan.  However, the standby line isn’t going to be shorter later in the day, other than perhaps right before the Studios closes.  If the posted wait is 30 minutes by the time you arrive, it’s only going to get longer.  Theoretically, you could also ride in the standby line and not collect FASTPASSes.  That doesn’t make a lot of sense unless you have limited time in the Studios and want to collect FASTPASSes for Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster instead.  FASTPASSes for the other attractions are more plentiful and you’ll easily be able to collect them for any other attraction, even if you have to wait until 10:30am or 11am to do so.

After Toy Story Mania, head to Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, Tower of Terror, and Star Tours.  Tower of Terror and Star Tours are less of a concern because FASTPASSes are more plentiful and standby waits should be short through at least 10am.  Once you get through Toy Story Mania, there isn’t much to worry about for the rest of the morning.

Successful Morning Extra Magic Hour Touring at Magic Kingdom

Morning Extra Magic Hour at Magic Kingdom is more variable because there are more open attractions.  If you’re interested in the Fantasyland attractions, namely Dumbo, Peter Pan’s Flight, Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Snow White’s Scary Adventures, etc. you’ll want to head straight there.  Each of these rides is only two or three minutes long, but standby waits will be 30+ minutes in the afternoon.  Peter Pan’s Flight often has the longest wait in Magic Kingdom due to its limited capacity.  During morning Extra Magic Hour, lines will be mostly nonexistent in Fantasyland and you should be able to ride every open attraction in 30 or 40 minutes total.  Skip Mickey’s PhilharMagic, it’s a small world, and possibly Mad Tea Party and return to them later.  PhilharMagic and it’s a small world in particular are lengthy attractions that won’t have appreciable wait times later in the morning.   After Fantasyland, head to Tomorrowland for Tomorrowland Indy Speedway, Space Mountain, and Buzz Lightyear (in that order).  Also plan to hit Astro Orbiter if it’s open or immediately after it opens.   Don’t forget to collect a FASTPASS or two for an attraction that you’d like to return to later in the day – Peter Pan’s Flight is your best choice.

If Fantasyland is of no interest whatsoever, most people will want to head to Tomorrowland for Space Mountain and Buzz Lightyear.  After riding those (multiple times if you like), visit any open attractions that are of interest.

How to Make Evening Extra Magic Hours Work For You

Evening Extra Magic Hours are much more popular than morning Extra Magic Hour, at least during the first 60 to 120 minutes (and possibly the full 180 minutes).  Unlike morning Extra Magic Hour, which is only an hour long, evening Extra Magic Hours are three hours long.  This causes many people to think that it will be a better opportunity to see more attractions than morning Extra Magic Hour.  This isn’t usually the case because so many more people will be in the Park during evening Extra Magic Hours and lines will be longer throughout the evening.  Evening Extra Magic Hours are also more popular because they are much easier to attend.  Few people can get themselves out of bed at 6am on vacation, but most people have no trouble staying up for at least part of evening Extra Magic Hours.

Generally speaking, the later Extra Magic Hours end, the less attended they will be.  For example, during the off-season, Magic Kingdom’s evening Extra Magic Hours often run from 8pm to 11pm or 9pm to 12am.  Most people can stay up until 9pm or 10pm, even with young children.  In the summer and during busier weeks, Magic Kingdom’s evening Extra Magic Hours often run from 11pm to 2am or 12am to 3am.  Families with young kids are less likely to be able to stay up until the 3am close, which will make the Park much less busy in the final 60 to 90 minutes.  People get tired and leave, especially if they’ve been in the Park for the entire day.

Evening Extra Magic Hours are the most beneficial when they start after the other Parks have closed and you Park Hop over to the Park with Extra Magic Hours after spending the majority of your day at a recommended Park without Extra Magic Hours, special events, or rare evening entertainment.  This way, most of your day is spent in low crowds and short lines and you can still take advantage of your resort perk.  You also won’t be missing out on another Park with low crowds because the other Parks have already closed.  This is common at Epcot and the Magic Kingdom in particular, but can also happen at Hollywood Studios.

Without Park Hopper, your best chance to take advantage of evening Extra Magic Hours is by arriving at the Park before it opens in the morning, touring until around lunch time, taking an afternoon break, and returning to the Park at night to have dinner, see the nighttime entertainment, and enjoy evening Extra Magic Hours.  The majority of Disney resort guests sleep in and arrive 11am in anticipation of staying put for the rest of the day.  This frees up the Park in the morning for relatively easy touring.  You may be able to get away with not taking a break if the weather isn’t too hot and you don’t have young children, but it will make it more difficult to tour efficiently at the very end of evening Extra Magic Hours, which is always your best opportunity to visit the headlining rides with the shortest possible wait.  In the ride reviews category to your right, I outline which attractions are best to see in the afternoon or whenever you need a break from walking.  If you aren’t taking a break, consider stringing together several of the more relaxing shows and rides along with a relaxing table service lunch.

Evening Extra Magic Hours at Animal Kingdom

Animal Kingdom no longer offers evening Extra Magic Hours.  With the animals put to bed and few attractions open, Disney decided to offer two morning Extra Magic Hours each week instead of one morning and one evening Extra Magic Hours.

Evening Extra Magic Hours at Epcot

Epcot’s evening Extra Magic Hours are from 9pm to 12am during most of the year and 9:30pm to 12:30am during Holidays Around the World in November and December.  Historically, the lines to Epcot’s attractions are the longest on days with evening Extra Magic Hours scheduled for the reasons outlined above.  While you won’t be wasting Park time visiting Epcot at night if no other Parks are open, the morning after evening Extra Magic Hours at Epcot is almost always a better time to tour than evening Extra Magic Hours the night before.  Nonetheless, Epcot is fun to tour in the dark and if you know you won’t be able to make it to the Park by 9am anyway, evening Extra Magic Hours are a viable alternative.  I would still only recommend it if you can Park Hop over in the evening or if you can stay until the very end of the night.  Otherwise, you’ll be battling heavier crowds during most of the afternoon and evening.

The trick to a night with short waits is to spend the first two hours of evening Extra Magic Hours at The American Adventure, Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros, Captain EO, Journey Into Imagination With Figment, Maelstrom, the Seas with Nemo and Friends, and Spaceship Earth.   Because thousands of people will be headed to Soarin’ and Test Track after IllumiNations, lines are routinely 60+ minutes until after 11pm when people begin to give up and depart.  Save Test Track and Soarin’ for the last hour and you’ll find waits that are shorter than any other part of evening Extra Magic Hours.  You may also be able to sneak into Test Track and Soarin’ from 8:30pm – 9:15pm while the great majority of people are in World Showcase, intent on seeing IllumiNations.  Actual wait times are often shorter than what’s posted outside the attraction.  If you’re willing to forgo seeing IllumiNations and don’t think you’ll make it to 12am or 12:30am, you may want to consider this approach.

Evening Extra Magic Hours at Hollywood Studios

Evening Extra Magic Hours at Hollywood Studios are worse than Epcot or Magic Kingdom in terms of wait times and perceived crowds.  There are really only three headlining rides at Hollywood Studios – Toy Story Mania, Rock ‘N’ Roller Coaster, and Tower of Terror.  Star Tours is also popular, though its high capacity leads to short wait times.  With so few attractions available, the lines at the headliners will likely be as long, if not longer, than during the day and usually longer than during a day without evening Extra Magic Hours scheduled.  That means 40+ minute waits at Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster, 60+ minute waits at Toy Story Mania, and 30+ minute waits at Tower of Terror for the first two hours of evening Extra Magic Hours.

The trick is to find something to do for the first two hours while lines are still long at the major attractions.  If you have young children, you may want to look into the Dance Party at Disney Jr. Live on Stage.  It usually isn’t crowded and kids often have a great opportunity to interact with the characters.  You may also be able to spend time at Muppet Vision 3D, Great Movie Ride, Voyage of the Little Mermaid, Star Tours, and possibly Tower of Terror.  When crowds die down in the last hour, make your way over to Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster and finally, Toy Story Mania.

Evening Extra Magic Hours at Magic Kingdom

The Magic Kingdom’s evening Extra Magic Hours usually occur after the other Parks are closed, at least for the majority of the year.  Occasionally the Magic Kingdom will have Extra Magic Hours from 8pm to 11pm and Epcot will be open until 9pm.  This makes the Magic Kingdom’s Extra Magic Hours an ideal opportunity to Park Hop over in the evening after spending the day at a Park with lower crowds because you aren’t missing out on a potentially less crowded Park.

Without Park Hopper, you could spend the morning in the Magic Kingdom from 9am-1pm riding the headlining rides, take a break until dinner, and return for dinner, the nighttime entertainment, and Extra Magic Hours.  Most Disney resort guests will sleep in and arrive in the late morning, freeing the Park up for those who arrive first thing in the morning even more than usual.  The period from 1pm to 6pm is always the most crowded part of the day because you still have most of the morning crowd in the Park and the late arrivers are in full force as well.  Like the other Parks, your best opportunity to ride the headlining and Fantasyland rides is in the final hour, especially when Extra Magic Hours end at 1am or later.  Most families with kids will be long gone by that time and many of the rides designed with young kids in mind will be mostly deserted.

If you can stay for the entirety of Extra Magic Hours and you have no plans to arrive at the Park prior to 9am, evening Extra Magic Hours can be an excellent time to tour the Magic Kingdom, especially considering you’re not usually missing out on lower crowds at another Park.  Generally speaking, you’re better off arriving prior to 9am on a day without Extra Magic Hours or the Electrical Parade scheduled, but not everyone is able to get to the Park by 8:30am.

At the start of evening Extra Magic Hours, most people will be headed to Fantasyland and Tomorrowland.  The best plan is to avoid these areas until the final 60 to 90 minutes of the night.  Ideally, start in Adventureland with Aladdin’s Magical Carpets, Pirates of the Caribbean, and any other attractions that remain open.  It’s also a good time to get off your feet and have a snack.  Next, move up through Frontierland with Big Thunder Mountain and Splash Mountain (and Country Bear Jamboree if you have interest and won’t have another opportunity).  Because of their capacities, they usually have shorter waits in the late evening.  If the wait is still 25+ minutes, plan to return later.  Continue on to Liberty Square and then back out to The Hub area and over to Tomorrowland.  Visit Monsters Inc Laugh Floor, Stitch’s Great Escape, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, and other open attractions before Space Mountain.  After that, head up to Fantasyland in the final hour.  If waits are still longer than you’d like at Winnie the Pooh, Peter Pan’s Flight, and Dumbo, visit it’s a small world and Mickey’s PhilharMagic first.

The trick is to bide your time for the first hour or two while you visit attractions with short waits.  Once most people find the exit, it’s time to move on to the attractions that had longer waits earlier in the evening.  When Magic Kingdom is open until 3am, you may find that the Park is empty enough that it’s safe to visit Fantasyland and the headlining attractions earlier.

Conclusion

Extra Magic Hours can be worthwhile if you take full advantage of them, but many people actually end up spending more time in line and getting less done than they would if they avoided Extra Magic Hours altogether.  Because Extra Magic Hours seem like such a good idea in theory, most Disney resort guests go wherever Extra Magic Hours are scheduled for the entire day.  The additional crowds increase wait times at the attractions, make it more difficult to find a table at the counter and table service restaurants, and make the overall touring experience less pleasant.  If you take into consideration the preceding advice, you may be able to take advantage of your extra time at certain Parks.  Even so, be aware that in almost all cases the Parks are less busy when they don’t have Extra Magic Hours or special entertainment scheduled.

You will get the most out of Extra Magic Hours if you spend the majority of your day at a Park without special evening entertainment or Extra Magic Hours and Park Hop over to the Park with evening Extra Magic Hours in the evening.  This way, you spend the majority of your time in a Park with short lines and relatively low crowds and you can still take advantage of staying on Disney property.  Without Park Hopper, you can find success at Epcot and Magic Kingdom by spending the morning in the Park, taking a long break, and returning in the evening.  Always stay until the end of the night if possible, because the final hour is always the least crowded and your best chance to ride the headlining rides.

For morning Extra Magic Hour, it is imperative that you arrive at the gate by 7:45am.  If you don’t, you’ll find yourself in larger than usual crowds for the rest of the day.  You may also want to Park Hop to a recommended Park in the afternoon because of all the Disney resort guests who will trickle in throughout the morning.  Taking a break in the afternoon and returning to the same theme park in the evening is a viable alternative without Park Hopping abilities.

It is sometimes difficult to convince people that Extra Magic Hours are not generally in their best interest.  You may have read through all of this and still not be convinced.  That’s okay.  If you’ve used Extra Magic Hours in the past and have been completely happy with the results, feel free to do what works best for you.  On the other hand, if you’ve run into large crowds and long lines chasing Extra Magic Hours, this approach will work better.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Alan August 30, 2010 at 9:41 am

Wow! An amazingly detailed dissertation on the benefits of Extra Magic hours, thank you. Leaving next week for our annual vacation at the Yacht Club and many of your insights are exactly what we’ve experienced. Generally we find the park without morning/evening extra magic and start the day there! We’ve already printed off your quick reference sheet for September and the explanations for 9/5-9/11. Thanks for that too! Looking forward to getting into Via Napoli for pizza!

Steve November 12, 2010 at 1:15 pm

At Hollywood Studios during EMH, the Playhouse Disney attractions turns into a dance party with the characters (at least is did this week). Our kids had a blast dancing with Mickey, Minnie, Goofy, Handy Manny and two Little Einsteins. The place was crowded but not jammed and the characters rotated so three were out at any one time. They also had two people making balloon animals for the kids. We really enjoyed it and were there a good hour.

Billy September 11, 2011 at 5:55 am

What about FP availability for both EMH’s…how does it work? also what about shops? what if i want to spend some of that time doing some shopping?….just thought you may want to touch a little bit on those topics…

great report….great site…

Emily November 13, 2011 at 8:25 pm

My fav disney site, great breakdown of EMH, but
I have a quick question – my family is headed to the world at the end of the month. I’ve taken your recommendations under advisement and revised my scheduling. However, what I can’t get around is the day to see the Magic Kingdom. It’s either go on the EMH day or be there when the place shuts down at seven thanks to Mickey’s Party (we won’t be attending). Any suggestions?

buzz lightyear January 6, 2012 at 3:40 pm

Great in depth information as usual . I just would add that going to WDW at less crowded times of year is still by far the best option if you can do it to avoid long lines/waits and if you do taking advantage of EMH in the morning and or evening only enhances your trip . EMH is great perk that was lost for a short time (2002?) and I believe should be used with good planning and smart touring especially at the Magic Kingdom .

Dawn February 5, 2012 at 5:13 pm

hi Josh, me again, wondering if there are any transportation woes for a morning EMH at MK, EMH (mornings) are scheduled every day the wks Im there, Im using your most recommended park and going 4/4 for a 7AM! ..ughh.. heard horror stories that there are no monorails / boats running from the TTC??? any truth to that?

Brian May 18, 2012 at 2:24 pm

Now with fastpass enforcement, I’d probably ride Toy Story Mania before collecting FPs to insure the return time is further enough out to allow you to go elsewhere…

Chris September 21, 2012 at 11:11 am

I believe the rides at MK have recently been updated to NOT include Splash. This has been replaced by Tiki Room.

Chris September 21, 2012 at 11:12 am

…sorry, to clarify my above comment this is during MK evening EMH.

Christina February 23, 2013 at 4:17 am

Any chance of getting an update? MK has AM EMH almost every day during my trip (spring break), so I can’t really avoid them as I normally would. The Disney link doesn’t have rides listed anymore, and with Snow White closed, I’m wondering if they’ve replaced it with another ride. Also curious whether Splash is or isn’t open in the morning, although I’m not certain I’ll want to ride at 7am in March. Thanks for all you do!

mike March 31, 2013 at 5:14 am

Go to mk during the party dates much less crowded thanx josh

Emily July 28, 2013 at 8:35 pm

Helpful article!

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Jennifer Ozment January 31, 2014 at 6:45 am

I have noticed the last 2 or 3 times at disney that during magic hours they cut staff about 50%. Actually had one of the ride attendants admit that to us. For instance if you have a ride that usually operates with 4 lines they take it down to 2. Two lines down to one. It’s taken me several trips to realize magic hours are just not worth it and actually worth staying away from. Now if they kept the park at 100% maybe. They also close down food and drink areas. We had magic hours at night at MK and there was not one place to get a drink.

Chiya April 22, 2014 at 8:28 pm

Was at Magic Kingdom today and they just let everyone in at 8am (magic hour should have been from 8am-9am). I even asked someone who worked at Magic Kingdom if we were in the wrong line because there was alot of people around us who were sgaying off site. And he told me first that the park opened at 9am, then when I showed him the disney Extra Magic hour times guide and he checked with a co-worker and said the park opened at 8am. Dont know if this had anything to do with the easter weekend. But it was not what I was expecting. Just thought I would let you know. That and for anyone wanting to see Anna and Elsa trying using that extra hour to head there. Even at 8am the line was over 1hour

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