If you’ve spent even a small amount of time at Walt Disney World in Florida, you know that the one constant is the crowds. The usual advice is to be at the park, through security, and ready to go at least 30 minutes before the published opening time. This is good advice–I tell everyone who’s going to do just that–but it’s not often easy to carry out, especially with teenagers in the family. (Your kids might be early birds, but mine are emphatically not.) So, on our most recent trip, we tried the After Hours ticket to Magic Kingdom, and dear Reader, we loved it.
What Is This ‘After Hours’ of Which You Speak?
After Hours is a separate park entrance ticket for late-night hours. It’s sold in very small quantities, so attendance is low. It’s offered once or twice a week to Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom (one park per night/ticket). Specific attractions are open and there are some free food and drink options available.
After Hours is different from the Extra Magic Hours that WDW offers to guests who are staying at Disney-owned hotels (and a few extra third-party-owned hotels). EMH is free and offered on various mornings and evenings. After Hours is also not related to any of the affiliate tickets that Disney offers from time-to-time, where you’re only able to buy tickets if you’re an Annual Passholder or a Disney Vacation Club owner. Anyone, regardless of where they’re staying or what other tickets they’re using, can purchase this ticket and take advantage of the extended hours and lower attendance.
After Hours is also different than Early Morning Magic, which operates on a similar concept, but in the morning and functions as an add-on to a regular park ticket.
How Does After Hours Work?
To take part in an After Hours event, you’ll need to buy separate tickets for the specific date and park you want to hit up during the late night. Currently, you can buy those tickets on the Disney World website, starting from this page. That should also let you know how early you can arrive at the park, which attractions will be available, and what your food options will be.
One of the coolest things is that you can arrive a few hours before the park closes to day guests and After Hours begins. This lets you see the fireworks or grab food or make use of a few Fast Passes to jump start your night. (FP+ isn’t offered during After Hours, but you don’t need it. We walked onto every ride.)
Once you arrive at the front entrance, look for the After Hours signs that point you to the cast members who will funnel you through their dedicated tapstiles (using your Magic Band or park entry card like normal) and get everyone an After Hours wristband. Once the regular park hours end, you’ll need to show the wristband to get onto any rides or pick up any of the free food items.
For another evening option at Disney World, see Epcot’s Illumination Cruise: Fireworks, Seats, and a View.
Our After Hours Night
This trip was just me and the (mostly grown boys) driving down from Georgia and arriving a little later than we’d hoped. We’d done online check-in at Pop Century, though, and were able to go straight to the rooms, get our park warrior shoes on and rain ponchos packed up, and leave within a few minutes.
We got through security, found the After Hours tapstiles and got our wristbands and flyers, and were on Main Street a little before 7:30, which wasn’t bad.
I’d set up three FastPasses for the pre-park-closing hours, and we decided to eat something while all the park restaurants were still open (only Casey’s Corner would be open during After Hours. Once dinner was accomplished (loaded tots from Friar’s Nook–not exactly healthy, but hey, vacation!) we were off, and I have to tell you, we barely slowed down after this.
We logged our night, which ended up looking something like:
Dinner – 7:40 // Seven Dwarves’ Mine Train (FP) – 8:07 // Peter Pan (FP) – 8:23 // Happily Ever After (fireworks) – 8:45 – 9:25 // Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (FP) – 9:32 // Splash Mountain – 9:50 // Pirates of the Caribbean – 10:08 // Jungle Cruise – 10:20 // Ice cream, popcorn & drinks at The Enchanted Tiki Room -10:37 // Magic Carpets (x2) – 10:53 // Haunted Mansion – 11:02 // Drinks on the way to Tomorrowland – 11:15 // TTA – 11:28 // Space Mountain – 11:43 // AstroOrbiter – 11:56 // Buzz Lightyear (x3) – 12:06 // Another ice cream, popcorn & drink driveby // Goofy’s Barnstormer (x2) – 12:32 // 7DMT – 12:48 // Carousel – 12:58 // Pictures in front of the castle – 1:07 // Kiss Goodnight – 1:15 // Bus back to the hotel – 1:26 // Actually in our rooms – 1:46
I’m sure you’re not surprised to hear that we did not make it to Epcot until well after noon the next day.
A Few Tips To Make the Most of the After Hours Ticket
- If you’re planning on arriving before the park closes to day guests, do go ahead and grab some FastPasses for the time you’ll be there. Once After Hours actually begins, the lines disappear, but before that, it’s like every other night at Magic Kingdom.
- You don’t really need a plan–we literally walked from ride to ride and walked on everywhere–but do think about favorite rides and how much walking needs to happen between them so you’re not running back and forth across the park. (My tracker said I did about 15,000 steps between 7:30 p.m. and 2 a.m.)
- You’ll probably want to eat something before After Hours starts. The free popcorn/ice cream/drinks carts are plentiful and well-stocked, but there was only one quick service restaurant open and I’m not sure it’d be worth the time to go eat when the lines are so low.
- We had no trouble getting the bus back to our Disney hotel, but if you’re staying somewhere else, it’s probably worth it to drive, as I’m not sure how active Lyft/Uber are at well after 1 a.m.
Was It Worth It?
For my family, at this point in our lives, yes, very much so. My kids are all older (and night owls) and the Magic Kingdom had nearly every ride open. We skipped the character greetings, only did pictures once the rides had closed down, and still did not get to ride everything that was available.
The current price is $129/pp if you buy the ticket the day you’re going to use it; $125 if you buy in advance. I have an Annual Pass; with the AP discount, the price came down to $95/pp. Current single-day park tickets range in price from $115-$129 depending on the time of year, which makes the AH pricing very competitive. Additionally, the popcorn, ice cream and drinks we grabbed added up to at least $30/person over the evening. (I hate to use this to figure value, though, as we wouldn’t have ordinarily stopped so often. Still, it contributed to the special feel of the night.)
Plus, the temperature was reasonable–during the day it was in the low 90s but evening temps were in the 70s, which was almost perfect.
And, ya’ll… I can’t begin to tell you how few people were there. We had our own boat on Pirates of the Caribbean (and we literally walked onto the boat, never even slowing down once.) We could get up and watch the animatronics in the Tiki Room very up-close because it was just us in the show. We did not have to fight a mob coming out of the stretch room at Haunted Mansion. (Who knew this was even possible?) The boys had to get off and walk around to the entrance at Buzz Lightyear to ride again, but we stayed on at the Magic Carpets and Goofy’s Barnstormer (and could have stayed on at the TTA and Peter Pan and assorted other continuously loading rides.) The pictures that I’ve posted were not carefully staged to make it look empty; they’re literally from me turning around and snapping a random shot.
It was kind of spooky.
If your kids are small and need to go to bed early, this probably isn’t the ticket for you. It’s also not something to do if you have a full, early day backing up to it. And I’m not sure we would have gotten the same value at Animal Kingdom, where fewer rides and attractions are available for the After Hours ticket-holders. We went hard at Magic Kingdom, though, and my kids are unanimous in how much they want to do it again, as soon as we can, which is pretty much the purpose of it all, right?