As a way to “sell” the same theme park rides multiple times per day, Disney constantly experiments with special events in the theme parks that require buying separate admission. For example, on some days the Magic Kingdom hosts separate-admission events before the park opens, then regular park hours, and then another event after the park closes to regular guests.
The scope of the Disney special events varies: Morning events usually include access to all the rides in just one land, plus breakfast. During the Magic Kingdom’s Early Morning Magic, you get to take great pictures, too, such as those in front of the castle. Evening events typically include most of a park’s attractions.
Holiday-themed events are held in the evening and include special entertainment, parades, fireworks, and decorations, in addition to access to almost all the park’s rides.
Disney restricts the number of tickets sold for these events, from a few hundred at the morning events to less than 30,000 for the Halloween and Christmas events. As a result, wait times for rides at most of these are usually 15 minutes or less. Hyper popular rides will undoubtedly have longer waits, but nothing like those during the day. The trade-off for the money, therefore, is shorter lines (and often unique entertainment). We think all of the events have some value to guests with limited time. To help you decide whether they are worth the cost, we’ve summarized each below.
Please note that these Disney special events happen on select dates only and that Disney tinkers with these offerings constantly.
Children rate character greetings and these events’ parades and fireworks higher than almost every ride in these parks. If you’re looking for good entertainment with short lines for your children, start here.
MICKEY’S NOT SO SCARY HALLOWEEN PARTY Runs 7 p.m.–midnight at the Magic Kingdom. In 2019 the party is held 36 times. The event includes trick-or-treating in costume, parades, live music, storytelling, and a fireworks show. Every year there is a villain show, and the latest show, the Hocus Pocus Villain Spelltacular, is absolutely spectacular! Held several times throughout the evening in front of Cinderella Castle, the show, like the special Halloween fireworks, is very popular. We suggest attending the last show to avoid losing too much time claiming an unobstructed spot right in front of the stage. Aimed primarily at younger children, the party is happy and upbeat rather than spooky and frightening.
We recommend arriving at least an hour before the beginning of the party. Disney usually allows party guests to enter the Magic Kingdom as early as 4 p.m. Upon entering the park, you will be issued a wristband identifying you as a party guest. Also, get the special map for the event, with details and hours of all the happenings. Go straight to the rides that are on your must-do list, and after that, just enjoy the party. If trick-or-treating is a priority, do that first thing after you arrive or toward the end of the night, when crowds thin out and there are no long lines in front of the trick-or-treating stations.
An absolute must-ride is The Haunted Mansion, which is spooky but only in the sweetest way. Look for the ghost in the garden of the mansion when you’re queuing up; his hilarious tales and interaction with the guests will make you forget that you’re standing in line. Characters are out in force all over the park, and the Boo-to-you parade is pretty amazing. Our two favorite parts of the parade are the headless horseman riding at full speed through the park and The Haunted Mansion’s groundskeeper, with his dim lantern in one hand and his bloodhound, followed by a large group of ghosts and gravediggers.
In addition, the Mad Tea Party has spooky lighting, pirates invade and interact with sailors at Pirates of the Caribbean, and Space Mountain has a new soundtrack and special effects. The Storybook Circus Disney Junior Jam, a dance party, features some favorite Disney Junior characters, including Doc McStuffins. The party has become very popular, and you won’t be able to see or do it all. Pick your favorite events, and enjoy the night.
Advance tickets for the 2019 event cost $84.14–$143.78 for adults, $78.81–$138.45 for kids (including tax); same-day tickets, if still available, typically cost about $6 more. Regular park admission is not required. Discounts are available for annual pass holders and Disney Vacation Club members. The least-crowded events are typically in September and on Tuesdays; tickets for the late-October dates usually sell out by mid-October at the latest.
MAGIC KINGDOM AFTER HOURS This 3-hour event begins after the Magic Kingdom’s regular closing. A ticket purchased in advance costs $113 per adult or child, and $137 per adult or child on the day of the event. Hours are 10 p.m.–1 a.m. For that price you get short lines for the park’s best rides and character greetings. Also included are all the ice cream, popcorn, and soda you can consume (from select vendors). This event is only worthwhile if your kids are able to stay up late at night. Even teenagers may balk at doing anything before noon the next morning. The big advantage of this special event is that Disney After Hours’ guests can enter the park at 7 p.m. Regular park admission is not required.
MICKEY’S VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS PARTY Is staged 7 p.m.–midnight (after regular hours) on 23 evenings in November and December at Disney’s Magic Kingdom. Advance tickets for the 2019 event cost $105.44–$148.04 for adults, $100.11– $142.71 for kids (including tax); same-day tickets, if available, typically cost $6 more. Tickets for busier dates usually sell out a week in advance. Included in the cost is the use of all attractions during party hours, holiday-themed stage shows featuring Disney characters, cookies and hot chocolate, performances of Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade, carolers, “a magical snowfall” on Main Street, and fireworks.
The least crowded dates are usually the weeks before Thanksgiving week and the week after. Tuesday (and the rare Wednesday) parties are the slowest too. Disney usually allows party guests to enter the Magic Kingdom as early as 4 p.m.
MAGIC KINGDOM EARLY MORNING MAGIC Early Morning Magic is a special extra-cost event offered on certain Tuesdays and Sundays in select months. For $84 per adult and $73 per child (tax included); if still available, same-day tickets typically cost about $6 more. Guests get a breakfast buffet at Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Cafe and unlimited access to seven Fantasyland attractions (Mad Tea Party, Princess Fairytale Hall, It’s a Small World, Peter Pan’s Flight, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Under the Sea: Journey of the Little Mermaid, and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train) starting about 75 minutes before regular park opening. Regular park admission is required in addition to the above-mentioned fee, making this event rather pricey.
Consider this upcharge only if you have small children and limited time to see the Magic Kingdom. On EMM days the official park opening is 9 a.m. You will have to be at the park entrance by 7:15 a.m. (check-in starts at 7:30 a.m.) at the latest to take full advantage of early access to the rides. If you have small children, keep in mind that you will have to get your family out of the hotel room by about 6 a.m.; by noon, everyone will be ready for a long nap!
Don’t waste time on breakfast prior to official park opening, as the buffet at Cosmic Ray’s Starlight Café is served until 10 a.m.
ANIMAL KINGDOM AFTER HOURS This special extra-cost event provides guests with 3 hours of unlimited access to Expedition Everest, Dinosaur, It’s Tough to Be a Bug!, TriceraTop Spin, Avatar Flight of Passage, and Na’vi River Journey, as well as several character meet-and-greets. The Tree of Life Awakenings also takes place, as well as Rivers of Light. A ticket purchased in advance costs $113 per adult or child, and $137 per adult or child on the day of the event. Also included are all the ice cream, popcorn, and soda you can consume (from select vendors). This event is only worthwhile if your kids are able to stay up late at night. Even teenagers may balk at doing anything before noon the next morning. On Mondays, the event is held 10 p.m.–1 a.m.; on all other days, it’s held 9 p.m.–midnight. The big advantage of this special event is that Disney After Hours’ guests can enter the park at 7 p.m. Regular park admission is not required.
EARLY MORNING MAGIC AT TOY STORY LAND For $84 per adult and $73 per child (tax included), guests get a breakfast buffet and unlimited access to Toy Story Land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, starting about 75 minutes before regular park opening. Offered on certain Mondays and Wednesdays in select months, the attractions for Early Morning Magic (EMM) include Toy Story Mania!, Slinky Dog Dash, and Alien Swirling Saucers. Regular park admission is also required. On EMM days the official park opening is 9 a.m. You will have to be at the park entrance by 7:15 a.m. (check-in starts at 7:30 a.m.) at the latest to take full advantage of this early access to Toy Story Land. If you have small children, keep in mind that you will have to get your family out of the hotel room by about 6 a.m. Breakfast is available at a quick-service dining location outside of Toy Story Land until 10 a.m. Please note that, based on capacity, Disney may make other reservation times available, with breakfast preceding the park experience. Note that, if available, same-day tickets typically cost $6 more.
We would not be surprised if, in the future, Disney decides to offer specially ticketed morning and evening events at Disney’s Hollywood Studios that include Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Until that happens, though, we think that the Disney’s Hollywood Studios Early Morning Magic Hours are only worth it for families with very small children.
For more information on all there is to do at Walt Disney World, check out The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World with Kids by Liliane Opsomer and Bob Sehlinger, with Len Testa.