The first time I went to the Walt Disney World Resort was in 1979. I was five years old.
Mom and I, along with Aunt Amy, met my grandparents and some of their friends and we camped for a week at Ft. Wilderness.
The memories are a hazy hodge-podge from the Disney vacation we took more than 40 years ago.
In one, we’re at Discovery Island, the now abandoned wildlife area in the Seven Seas Lagoon. Papaw and his buddy Curtis set me on the back of a giant tortoise for pictures.
In another, one of the cast members of the Whoop de Doo Musical Review flirted with Curtis’ teenage daughter Christie, upon whom I had a mighty crush, and made me jealous for the first time in my young life.
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The magic of Disney after dark
There are other snippets of our trip that predated any of the other Disney Parks, such as Papaw wearing Mickey Mouse ears, riding Small World and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride.
But if we’re going to use my memory as a judge, the biggest impressions from the Magic Kingdom Park came at night.
I loved the Electric Light Parade. It was absolutely my favorite. In fact, I insisted on staying each night to see it.
I was tickled they brought it back and my kids all got to experience it as I had. It aged fantastically, unlike the Electrical Water Pageant which didn’t quite capture the same imagination several decades later.
Anyway, Disney’s Magic Kingdom after dark has always held a special reverence for me.
In fact, when we went in 2021 for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary, 42 years after that first trip, it was the after-dark magic that was truly special.
We went with some Disney fans who’d never been. Their teenage daughters had dreamed of seeing the best fireworks show in the land in front of Cinderella Castle since they were little. It was the Disney Enchantment show with its immersive projection effects and spectacular nighttime fireworks.
I kept one eye on the show and one on the girls and that night, the most Magical Place on Earth lived up to its billing. By the time Tinker Bell took flight, I think we could have floated home without any pixie dust. It was one of my favorite things from a wonderful trip.
The truth is most of Disney’s theme parks do a bang-up job with their nighttime spectaculars. Disney’s Animal Kingdom brings up the rear on this front, but it’s understandable given the particular challenges of doing fireworks shows around a park full of animals.
Is staying after dark worth it?
But for many people – especially those who took their young children to the park – Disney after dark is something of a foreign place.
When you have little kids, the formula is to hit the early theme park entry at rope drop. You do as much as you can before the heat of the afternoon, go back to the hotel after lunch and rest.
Afterward, the family returns to watch the nighttime parade and nighttime fireworks from a vantage point on Main Street U.S.A. Finally, you race back to the main entrance in an attempt to beat the crowd to the buses, boats or monorail.
You get the kids bathed and in bed and be back up and at ‘em for the early morning magic the next day.
Over the years, we’ve always had a young child in our group so that’s pretty well the formula we’ve followed – with one of us sometimes staying with our oldest daughter to explore the park at night while the other took the little ones back to rest.
On our most recent trip, Ainsley – our youngest – was nearly seven and that gave us a little more liberty to explore the Disney Parks at night with the whole group.
And so, do you have questions about Disney after dark? We’ve got answers.
Is it better to go to Magic Kingdom at night?
It really depends on the make-up of your group, the length of your vacation and what you want to accomplish.
With older kids and multiple days in the park, I think you should absolutely plan to close the park on multiple nights.
There are advantages to going at night. Chiefly, wait times for the most popular attractions drop as people focus on the parade, the nighttime show and getting out of the park.
As a result, you can target the rides you weren’t able to get on during the day or the rides you didn’t get a Lightning Lane for. And that applies to all parks, not just the Magic Kingdom.
We were in Disney’s Hollywood Studios and had just finished Star Wars Rise of the Resistance – the best ride in Orlando – with some time to spare. The older girls were able to hustle to Tower of Terror and sneak in a ride they’d missed throughout the day. On and off, quickly.
There’s another advantage to visiting at night
Also, Disney’s parks in the evening can mitigate the Florida heat, somewhat. In the height of summer, it’s still hot.
However, you can wander through the sections of the park without worrying about being burnt to a crisp under the oppressive Central Florida sun.
Also, once you’ve seen the nighttime show from a prime viewing spot, it can be cool to see the fireworks from other vantage points. We loved the view of the fireworks as they exploded over Small World and above the floating lanterns near Rapunzel’s adjacent bathroom space.
Still, if you have smaller kids, let’s not ignore the benefits of early entry. With the deletion of the Extra Magic Hours program – which varied from park to park offering Disney resort guests early entry some days and extended evening hours others – resort guests now get into the parks a half hour earlier than regular guests.
It’s not as good, but there is something to be said for that half-hour head start.
If we’re there at rope drop, we’ve found we can pretty much get everything we want to do in Fantasyland knocked out before lunch without having to endure horrible waits, except for the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train which is always a long wait for a very short ride.
What are the best rides to target in the Magic Kingdom after dark?
Here are some of the best rides to ride after dark:
1. Space Mountain
Since it’s inside and in the cold black of space, there’s not a lot of advantage to riding Space Mountain during the day other than the air conditioning.
One of the iconic Magic Kingdom rides, Space Mountain’s wait times can be extensive, especially if you haven’t purchased the Disney Genie+ which offers a limited number of opportunities to skip a line throughout the day.
If you have multiple days in the Magic Kingdom, I’d use my Lightning Lanes on other rides and then watch on the My Disney Experience app for the wait times to drop.
2. Peter Pan
A nostalgia overload, the Peter Pan ride is consistently one of the worst wait times in the park.
You need to hit it early or late or use a Lightning Lane. Otherwise, you’ll be in line for an hour or more for a very short ride.
3. Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
It’s hard to catch this one with a reasonable wait time. Until Tron opens, it is the only Individual Lightning Lane purchase in the park.
Therefore, even if you get the Genie + Lightning Lane Service, you have to pay more. It’s a good ride, a fun ride but it’s not worth the extended wait times.
Wait for the fireworks to begin. The only problem? Most of the other people in the park not watching the fireworks will be doing the same thing.
4. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
There’s a theme here. All the best rides for the big people are great targets for late-night rides or Lightning Lanes.
What are the worst after-dark rides?
1. Splash Mountain
I don’t like water rides at night. If I’m going to get wet, I prefer it to be during the day when the sun can dry me out.
This may change with Tiana theming, but I doubt it.
2. Jungle Cruise
The wait times for this ride throughout the day are ridiculous. I’ve never gotten it.
I’ll ride the Jungle Cruise every third or fourth visit to Disney. But don’t waste your precious night time on this. If you must ride it, it’s a prime lightning lane candidate.
3. Pirates of the Caribbean
Patience is the watchword with Pirates. There will be several points throughout the day the wait time drops significantly and you can cruise on.
However, on hot afternoons there are worse places to be than in the exceptionally cool Pirates queue. Lightning Lane if you must, but I’d target the rides with more consistently unmanageable wait times.
How late can I enter the Magic Kingdom?
Technically, the closing time is when they stop letting people into the park and in the ride queues.
You can enter the Magic Kingdom at 8:59 pm if you want and knock around Main Street or wherever until they come sweeping the last stragglers out of the park.
If you get in a line before the park closes, they’re supposed to let you ride that ride.
Is Magic Kingdom doing fireworks every night?
Yes. The Disney Enchantment show will continue through March 2023 and then revert to the Happily Ever After Show.
Both are magnificent.
What time is the nighttime show at the Magic Kingdom?
Currently, it’s 9 pm, but that can change seasonally and with various after-hour events.
The best thing to do is check the schedule when you get to the park that day. Nothing worse than thinking you’ve got the schedule down pat only to find out things aren’t happening when you thought they were.
Which park has the best nighttime spectacular?
Until Fantasmic! returns to Hollywood Studios – which is supposed to happen sometime in 2022 – it’s the Magic Kingdom.
After the Magic Kingdom, it’s EPCOT’s Harmonious which launched a couple of years ago to great fanfare.
However, it is already set to be replaced with a new show for the Disney Company’s 100th Anniversary. It may – like Happily Ever After – return after the anniversary run is over. But it seems odd to replace such a new show so quickly.
After that, there’s a significant drop to Hollywood Studios’ Wonderful World of Animation – a fun little projection show on the Chinese Theater that is in no way as awesome as Fantasmic!
Animal Kingdom’s Beacons of Magic is fine considering the completely understandable limitations of the park. It’s just not in the same category as the others. It is pretty, though.
What is the best ride to target for an after-dark experience in the entire Disney World Resort?
The Rise of the Resistance in Hollywood Studios is the best ride at Disney. If you can catch it at an acceptable wait time, it’s the easy answer to the question.
However, a lot of people will target it for the final ride of the day. They take advantage of the rule that allows you to ride after the park closes if you’re already in line. As a result, you’re not likely to get a break there.
The same issue exists with Flight of Passage in Animal Kingdom. It’s the second-best ride in the entire park.
But I don’t know that you’re going to get a significant drop in wait time even if you try for an evening time slot.
I think the right answer in some order is as follows:
- Expedition Everest (Animal Kingdom)
- Slinky Dog Dash (Hollywood Studios)
- Tower of Terror (Hollywood Studios)
- Frozen Ever After (EPCOT)
- Soarin’ (EPCOT)
- Any of the new rides you can catch with wait times under 20 minutes.
In other words, if you see Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, Guardians, the Star Wars rides and the Pandora rides with a wait time under 30 minutes, don’t hesitate.
Do you enjoy Disney after dark? Let us know in the comments.