One area in particular where easyWDW differs from other “crowd calendar websites” is in its recommendation of visiting the Magic Kingdom when it’s hosting a Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, or similar after-hours event which closes the Magic Kingdom around 7pm. Other than the “short” hours, the Magic Kingdom does not have the Wishes fireworks show or Main Street Electrical Parade scheduled in the evening on any Party date. The argument against visiting the Magic Kingdom on one of these shortened days is that it doesn’t offer the “full experience” or “all the magic that Disney has to offer.” While we can both agree that, all other things equal, a longer day with fireworks and a parade would be far superior to a day with stunted hours and no fireworks, the fact of the matter is that all other things aren’t equal. The Magic Kingdom is always significantly more crowded on days that feature a Main Street Electrical Parade and Wishes at night during weeks that also have Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween/Very Merry Christmas Parties.
This is a natural phenomenon, where Disney vacationers are inclined to visit the Magic Kingdom when it has longer hours and evening entertainment. The cost is the same after all, whether the Magic Kingdom is open ten hours with no fireworks or fifteen hours with fireworks and a parade. The problem is that the additional crowds lengthen wait times at the attractions, cause common areas to be more congested, make counter services and restaurants busier, and make for an overall less pleasant touring experience. There is an obvious trade off between visiting the Magic Kingdom when it lacks evening entertainment and is less crowded and visiting on a day with longer hours, fireworks, and an evening parade when it is much more crowded.
The reason that easyWDW recommends visiting the Magic Kingdom when it has an after-hours Party is because you will find shorter lines, less congestion, and an easier touring experience because fewer people are present. In addition, during most of September, October, November, and December when Mickey’s Parties are scheduled, the Magic Kingdom isn’t open much later on other days. For example, if you were visiting during October 17th to October 24th, the Magic Kingdom would close at 7pm, 9pm, 7pm, 9pm, 7pm, 7pm, 12am, and 7pm on respective days. While an extra two hours might seem beneficial in theory, the additional crowds work against us and it’s very likely we will spend more than an additional two hours in line during the day. Let’s say we got in line for fifteen attractions, two meals, and three characters. That’s 20 lines. If each line was just an additional five minutes longer during the “extended” day, we would end up spending 100 extra minutes in line over the course of the day, eliminating any benefit of visiting when the Magic Kingdom is open two more hours. In all likelihood, those lines will be much longer than five additional minutes. It’s not uncommon for Splash Mountain to have a 20 minute wait in the afternoon when the Magic Kingdom closes at 7pm and a 60 minute line when it closes at 12am. The line to meet the Toontown Princesses in the afternoon might be 45 minutes on a Party day and more than 90 minutes on a day with Wishes and the Main Street Electrical Parade. That’s an hour and a half of extra waits in just two lines – not to mention what it will do to FASTPASS return windows. While the longer hours might look good on paper, longer lines will erase most or all of that additional time.
When to Visit the Magic Kingdom During Periods With After Hours Parties Scheduled
Only One Day at the Magic Kingdom Without Park Hopper
If your vacation includes just one day spent at the Magic Kingdom, it’s difficult to recommend visiting when the hours are 9am to 7pm rather than 9am to 12am, especially if it’s your first visit to Disney World. While the waits to the attractions will be significantly less on the shorter day, the overall experience will also be much shorter. You also won’t have an opportunity to see Wishes or the Main Street Electrical Parade in the evening. While I am personally not a big “parade person,” a lot of people thoroughly enjoy them and I would absolutely not discount seeing either without experiencing them for yourself.
However, if you’ve already seen Wishes, Main Street Electrical Parade, and other similar evening shows and know that you won’t be staying to see them anyway, then you may want to opt to visit the Magic Kingdom when it’s open from 9am to 7pm. Ten hours of Park time is longer than it might sound and is usually the perfect amount of time for most groups to tour without feeling like they’re about to die of exhaustion. During the 9am to 12am day, you would likely need to take a break in the early afternoon to rest up for the late night or you would need to leave earlier than the closing time because everyone is too tired to continue. In this scenario, a three or four hour break would reduce your touring time from fifteen hours to eleven or twelve, which is awfully close to the ten hour day anyway. If you’re not planning to see the evening parade and fireworks, you would probably be better off going to the Magic Kingdom when it has a Mickey’s Party scheduled because of the shorter lines and smaller crowds.
No matter which day you choose to visit the Magic Kingdom, the most important touring advice remains intact – arrive as early as possible, visit the most popular attractions first thing in the morning, and use FASTPASS efficiently throughout the day. The biggest mistake you could make would be to head to the Magic Kingdom when it’s open from 9am to 9pm or later and decide to sleep in so you can stay up for the Parade and Fireworks. The first two to three hours the Magic Kingdom is open is by far the best time to tour. With the much heavier crowds during a longer day, you are going to have a very difficult time seeing the major attractions if you arrive after 11am.
One Day at the Magic Kingdom Plus Park Hopper
If you have one full day at the Magic Kingdom and have also opted for the Park Hopper upgrade, I would highly recommend making your full day one that has shortened hours and no evening entertainment. You could then Park Hop to the Magic Kingdom in the evening on another day when it has Wishes and the Main Street Electrical Parade scheduled. This way, you visit the Magic Kingdom when it has its lowest crowds and shortest lines and you can also enjoy the evening entertainment. Ideally, you would Park Hop after spending the majority of your day at Hollywood Studios or Animal Kingdom when either of them is the most recommended Park. Since the Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios close relatively early, you’re not missing anything if you Park Hop after completing your itinerary or after either Park closes.
More Than One Day at the Magic Kingdom
If you have two full days at the Magic Kingdom, consider making one of them a day with an after-hours Party at night and the second a day with longer hours and Wishes and Main Street Electrical Parade. Focus on riding the headlining rides and Fantasyland rides during the day with short hours and plan to see a lot of the second-tier attractions during the afternoon of the longer day. You may also want to take a sizable break during the afternoon of the day with longer hours to rest up for the Parade and Fireworks. Arrive as early in the morning as possible during both days to have the best chance to ride the headlining rides with the shortest wait possible and consider going straight to Fantasyland during the morning of one day to ride Peter Pan’s Flight, Dumbo, and Winnie the Pooh if they are of interest.
What to Do After the Magic Kingdom Closes at 7pm
As I explain in my Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party Review and Tips and Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party Review and Tips, it is possible for anyone to get a dinner reservation inside of the Magic Kingdom very near to the start of the Party. For example, there are reservations at Liberty Tree Tavern or Tony’s Town Square right up until 6:55pm. If you’re planning to do a sit-down dinner anyway, you could try to get a dinner reservation to end the day. You could also take the monorail to the Contemporary Resort, Polynesian Resort, or Grand Floridian Resort for dinner or to explore. You can see the fireworks from the Party at the beach at the Polynesian or Grand Floridian or the fourth floor observatory at the Contemporary Resort. If you have reservations at the California Grill at the Contemporary Resort, you can also view the fireworks from the 15th floor observation deck. The fireworks for Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party are scheduled for 9:30pm. To have a prime spot, you probably want to arrive at your desired fireworks location about 20 minutes before the fireworks start.
Of course, you can also Park Hop to another Park if you’ve paid for the upgrade. Either Epcot for dinner and Illuminations or Hollywood Studios for Fantasmic makes a lot of sense. If you’re evening Extra Magic Hours eligible, you might also consider visiting another theme park at night.
There’s also Downtown Disney, which offers a variety of restaurants and shops to enjoy or the Boardwalk Area which features numerous nighttime activities and entertainers. Returning to your resort for a relaxing evening also makes a lot of sense and it will make it much easier to be up early to take full advantage of the morning hours the next day.
All in all, there’s plenty to do in Disney World after 7pm, even if you spend the time outside of the other theme parks. My top recommendation would be dinner at either Kona or ‘Ohana at the Polynesian and then heading out to the beach to enjoy the fireworks.