It’s a challenge to fit everything into a vacation at Walt Disney World (WDW)—even with as often as we go, we always have so many things on our list that there generally aren’t enough hours in the day. On a recent trip, we decided to try the Early Morning Magic ticket add-on for the Magic Kingdom to add a little extra park time to our trip. Despite the additional cost, it was somewhat of a success. I do have some reservations, but they’re mostly due to how our family travels so they might not matter to you. I’ll explain below.
What Is Early Morning Magic?
For a long time, Disney has offered extra time in the parks as a no-cost perk to guests staying in their hotels (Extra Magic Hours, which I will call EMH). In the last few years, they’ve also added a paid option they call Early Morning Magic (EMM). This add-on gives you an extra bit of time in one section of a park before the general opening time and so far has also included a breakfast. It’s available for Fantasyland in Magic Kingdom and Toy Story Land in Hollywood Studios. It’s only offered a few mornings a week (always on a day that Extra Magic Hours isn’t offered at the specific park.) It’s also available to anyone with valid admission—you don’t have to be staying at a Disney-owned hotel to take advantage of the offer.
On our spring break trip, the Magic Kingdom Early Morning Magic happened to line up with our already planned Magic Kingdom day (I’m one of those people who starts trying for dining reservations months in advance–our park days tend to follow my success for the hard-to-get restaurants) and it seemed like a fun thing to try. Like I said, we never seem to have enough time for everything we want to do.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that the Early Morning Magic is an add-on, not a ticket in and of itself. WDW considers it a dining event. You have to have admission to the park for the day, and then spend the extra money for EMM. Currently, it’s $79/$69 for an adult/child ticket (plus tax) and I didn’t see any discounts (like for an Annual Pass or Disney Vacation Club). Eighty dollars per person is a lot to spend for 75 minutes, but at least you get breakfast for the price.
The second-most important thing is that Early Morning Magic starts EARLY. For a standard 9 a.m. Magic Kingdom opening, EMM begins at 7:45, which means you’ll want to be through security and at the tapstiles at 7:30. For Hollywood Studios, that’s a relatively straightforward trip from the parking lot or where the Disney bus/boat/(soon-to-be) gondola delivers you. For the Magic Kingdom, you have to remember to add in time for the ferry/monorail trip from the Transportation and Ticket Center if you’re not using Disney transportation. If the opening time is 8 a.m., move everything up an hour.
Once you’re at the tapstiles, there will be a specific line for Early Morning Magic tickets where the cast members will wrap the wristband that designates you as eligible to get past the castle around your wrist and send you down to the castle to meet the next set of cast members who will direct you to the proper path into Fantasyland.
So, Was Our Early Morning…Magic?
Adding the aforementioned early start to my mob of teenagers didn’t really go well and we were running late right from the start. And of course we got picked for the extra security scan that further slowed us down. Then we had to find the entry line where the cast members were distributing the wristbands (the far side of the lines, naturally), and it was after 8 a.m. before we managed to get into the park. One thing that surprised me was that Main Street really wasn’t empty. The current opening process funnels people into the park early now; regular tickets stay on Main Street while EMM wristbands can go into Fantasyland (and people with early dining reservations can head to their restaurant.) By the time we got there, Main Street was hopping. Those great pictures of you and your family in front of a gloriously deserted castle are definitely not guaranteed.
I have to say that by this point, I really wasn’t happy with the money I’d just spent. Visions of a really good dinner + cocktails + fireworks viewing at California Grill for approximately the same price were dancing in my head.
We finally got past the cast members checking wristbands at the castle and power-walked onto Seven Dwarves Mine Train by 8:10, which went a long way toward making everything better. It also helped that after the crowd on Main Street, Fantasyland was practically deserted, as advertised.
Once we got going, we had a bit of a throwback morning, like when the kids were young and the best thing in the park was to see how fast they could spin the teacups. We caught several rides on Seven Dwarves Mine Train, flew over Neverland on Peter Pan’s Flight (one of my personal favorites, but one that usually gets skipped due to its notoriously slow-moving line and the vigorous objections from the rest of the family to ‘wasting’ a FastPass on it), rode the carousel while we plotted the rest of our morning, walked on Pooh, and tried to make each other sick on the Tea Cups.
It was all very fun, but I’m pretty sure that if you asked, everyone would say that the best part of the morning was being a part of the group being held at 8:55 on the border between Fantasyland and Tomorrowland, and then being walked by a cast member very, very quickly to Space Mountain, just beating out the group being walked in from the front of the park at rope drop.
We got on and off Space Mountain quickly enough that we risked a ride on Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin before making a mad dash for our included breakfast at Cosmic Ray’s Café. (The park opens for day guests at 9 a.m. but the EMM breakfast is served until 10.) This was a plated meal with scrambled eggs, sausage, bacon, breakfast potatoes, and pancakes, with a buffet of fruits, yogurts, cheeses and meats (like prosciutto.) The entrees were hot and fresh, but there was only the one (very basic) option at Magic Kingdom. (At Hollywood Studios, you have a choice of entrees, several of which are more interesting than your standard WDW breakfast.)
Once we finished there, we started working through our FastPasses (the other mountains and a certain Haunted Mansion) and a late lunch reservation at Be Our Guest. We ducked out of the park and had a laid back dinner at the Wilderness Lodge and then went back for the fireworks, but even with the break, it was a very long day.
The Bottom Line
We had fun, but unlike our try at the Magic Kingdom After Hours event or our Epcot fireworks cruise, I don’t think we’ll be doing Early Morning Magic again. My kids are too old to really do Fantasyland as anything more than a pleasantly nostalgic side trip to the real excitement. It did get us the early, no-line rides on Space Mountain and Buzz Lightyear, a reasonable hot breakfast, and a little wiggle room for our FastPass selections, but I’m not sure that plus a couple of rides on Seven Dwarves’ Mine Train is worth $80 on top of the cost of a regular park ticket.
If your kids are young, though, Early Morning Magic at the Magic Kingdom could be a solid option. There really aren’t any lines, so the kids can go from one ride to the next without any strategizing. It’s like the commercials, where it’s just you and the rides without any pesky crowds. We didn’t do any character interactions, but Princess Fairy Tale Hall was open and I would imagine the princesses would be able to take a little extra time with you and your kids. You could also adapt our rope-drop fast-walk to Space Mountain for younger kids, too. For princess fans, I’d plan to be in line for Enchanted Tales with Belle as soon as the park opens; for semi-daredevils, I’d go for AstroOrbiter. Then grab your breakfast and have your FastPasses lined up starting at 10:30ish.
Even if you’re staying at a hotel that’s eligible for the free Extra Magic Hour program, the crowds are much, much lighter at Early Morning Magic. And remember, you don’t have to be staying in a Disney-owned hotel to take advantage of Early Morning Magic. The price differential there could cut your costs enough that the EMM price might not break your budget.
If you’re staying for a longer trip, where you’re planning more than 5 or so days in the parks, though, seriously look at how much it might cost to add another day to your tickets. After a certain point, the price for another full day in the parks is around $10 more, which could make much more financial sense, even if you have to add another night to your hotel bill.
As with everything related to Disney World, the cost-benefit analysis for Early Morning Magic is something you have to think carefully about. It wasn’t the best for my family, but it might be perfect for yours.