Disney World After Dark: 10 Tips for Night Owls

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Just about every reputable planning guide for Walt Disney World (ahem, Unofficial Guide) strongly advises getting up early in Orlando – really early. During the winter holidays, making rope drop for an morning Extra Magic Hour at Magic Kingdom could have your family strolling up to the tapstiles shortly after 6:00. In the morning.

But if you haven’t seen a sunrise since the last time you stayed out all night, never despair. You don’t need to sacrifice your sleep-in to have a great time at Walt Disney World. In fact, the dark hours are some of my favorite times to be in the parks. Here’s how you can have a fabulous night owl-optimized vacation at Walt Disney World, without bringing an alarm clock into it:

Magic Kingdom at night. Main Street U.S.A.’s best hour.


1. Accept the things you can’t change. If you don’t get to the parks early, there are some things that you won’t be able to do, or won’t be able to do without a long wait. If you want to sign your kids up for the Jedi Training Academy in Disney’s Hollywood Studios or ride both Test Track and Soarin’ in the same day at Epcot without a long wait, you’re probably out of luck. Accept that and move on.

2. Plan to split up the party. One of the great downfalls of an otherwise fantastic vacation is attempting to keep the whole group together all day: It’s okay to split up! If your family wants nothing more than to have breakfast with Pooh at the Crystal Palace at 8:00 AM and then experience Peter Pan’s Flight at rope drop, but you can’t stomach the idea of getting up before lunch, it’s okay to divide for part of the day. The morning larks can reunite with those night owls back at the hotel during their afternoon break, and everyone can spend the evening refreshed at the parks for nighttime entertainment. Planning to split up periodically will save you cranky fights in line and disappointment over missed activities.

3. Travel during crowded times. This sounds counterintuitive, right? But lower-crowd periods, such as early September, or parts of January and February, tend to have shorter park hours. If you’re a night owl, you’ll see higher crowds in June and July, but you’ll also have more hours at the end of the day in which to tour. If you’re visiting Magic Kingdom or Disney’s Hollywood Studios, it’s also much more likely that the park will show the Main Street Electrical Parade or Fantasmic! more than once, and the later showing will be much less crowded. If it’s really crowded, however, be aware that the park may close for a period of time due to capacity, and have a backup plan.

Tinker Bell in the Main Street Electrical Parade
It’s easy to get a prime spot for the last Main Street Electrical Parade of the day.

4. Pick your park days strategically. Check the Extra Magic Hours schedule before you pick your park days. Magic Kingdom can stay open until 2:00 or 3:00 AM during peak-season days with evening Extra Magic Hours, and you’ll have parts of the park to yourself after midnight when the morning larks have long since packed it in. However, be sure to check the closing times of rides and restaurants. Not all attractions and eateries can stay up as late as you! And if you’re visiting Epcot during the Food and Wine Festival, aim for a weekday, unless you want to spend those late hours in line for food.

5. Don’t bother going to parks before the afternoon. If you’re visiting Magic Kingdom, you could probably even stay away until early evening. Sleep in, have lunch, go for a swim or do some shopping in Downtown Disney, and then set out for the parks.

DisneyQuest Exterior
You’ll have this place to yourself before dusk.

6. Be smart about FastPass+ selections. Morning people and speed walkers are still grieving the end of old-school paper FASTPASS, but your pre-booked FastPass+ selections are going to be your new best friend. Just do the reverse of what the morning people do — schedule your FastPass+ selections for high-demand attractions during your first few hours in a park, and as the crowds ease up, pick up fourth FastPass+ selections for lower-demand attractions and start shifting to standby lines.

7. Maximize the last two hours of the day. Most people don’t make it to park closing. But you, my friend, are different. The last two hours before the park close are when lines start dropping and crowds start thinning, so think about what you want to get done during this time. Hoping to ride Expedition Everest more than once? Save that for the end of the day, and for even more ride chances, use the single-rider line. Meet Mickey and friends with no wait by hanging out in Future World in the evenings at Epcot, after everyone has migrated over to World Showcase. And use the night to ride the attractions that are coolest in the dark, like Tower of Terror, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover, and Dumbo.

8. Get in line for something a minute or two before park close. You can get in line right up until the park closes (with the exception of attractions that close early or character meet lines that are cut). Be willing to gamble on a line with a longer wait time listed — often, these wait times are inflated to discourage people from doing precisely what you are doing. But you know better!

9. Eat as late as you can. Prime meal times at restaurants and lounges are slammed. If you’re going to be up late anyway, plan a meal or a cocktail later in the available time windows. You’ll get to enjoy lighter crowds and more attention from characters if it’s a character meal (I think I saw Donald, Minnie, and Goofy four or five times apiece during our last-slot breakfast at Cape May Cafe). The hot-ticket new Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto at the Polynesian Village Resort has seen wait times drop after 10:00 PM, especially on weeknights. And don’t worry about being hurried through your meal: if you have a reservation in Epcot or Animal Kingdom right at closing, you won’t be kicked out when the park closes. You can linger over your drinks and leave when you’re done.

10. Don’t rush out when the park closes. It is perfectly acceptable to mosey your way to the front of the park after your last ride or evening meal. In fact, in Magic Kingdom, if you stay late, you’ll be rewarded with the Kiss Goodnight at Cinderella’s Castle, an experience few visitors get to have. Take the opportunity to get a shot of your family on an uncrowded Main Street U.S.A. (and if it’s really late, take the photo in front of the clock!), or do your souvenir shopping without the crowds. Plan to end your day deep in the park, and work your way to the exit. The cast members may start politely nudging you toward the front of the park, but the main gift shops near the gate will stay open for about an hour after closing, and you’ll still be able to get a bus back to your resort. The parks are beautiful in the dark and the quiet. Enjoy the sounds of the background music without the wall-to-wall people.

Epcot Night View
Daytime Epcot can’t compare.

And a bonus tip:

Stay at a hotel with a great pool. What the heck does a pool have to do with sleeping in? If you are traveling with kids who get up early (or don’t), or you’re just planning to start your day in a leisurely fashion, staying at a hotel with a truly excellent pool allows you to spend the hottest, most crowded parts of the day relaxing near or in water with your beverage of choice. If you’re not a pool person, or it’s likely to be too cold to swim, consider staying in one of the hotels with a boat to Downtown Disney. Late morning and early afternoon are the best times to enjoy shopping, eating, and playing in DisneyQuest (at least until it closes forever!) without a crowd.

Angelina Panettieri

I'm a nonprofit organizer in Washington, D.C. who actually enjoys the swampy heat. In addition to Disney parks, I have a real soft spot for old-fashioned roadside attractions, weird museums, and anything claiming to be the World's Largest something.

21 thoughts on “Disney World After Dark: 10 Tips for Night Owls

  • August 3, 2015 at 7:32 am
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    Excellent advice, Angelina! I’ll vouch for every tip you posted. 🙂

    Reply
  • August 3, 2015 at 7:58 am
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    I love the evening magic hours. The World Showcase in the evening is beautiful and at night it is almost empty. It is one of our must do’s. Magic Kingdom at night is great too especially Tomorrowland. Plus in the summer it is not nearly as hot!

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    • August 3, 2015 at 12:34 pm
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      Lingering in World Showcase after the post-Illuminations rush is basically the best thing ever. I can see why Disney started capitalizing on it with the “wind-down” event last year!

      Reply
  • August 3, 2015 at 8:37 am
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    Does anyone know if the Kiss Goodnight happens on party nights (specifically MNSSHP)? I’d really like to see it!

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    • August 3, 2015 at 12:46 pm
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      You know, I’m not sure! In my experience, Cast Members tend to clear the park a little faster after parties, so it might be a little harder to stay late and see it, if it does run.

      Reply
  • August 3, 2015 at 10:04 am
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    Don’t forget to grab a taco at the 24-hour adventure dining experience, Picabu Buffeteria, inside the Dolphin.

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    • August 3, 2015 at 12:43 pm
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      Having had my share of unfortunate meals at Picabu, I think if I was that hungry after midnight, I’d just order a pizza!

      Reply
  • August 3, 2015 at 10:09 am
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    Speaking of rides that get better after dark, my favorite in that category is Jungle Cruise. If you haven’t tried this ride in the dark, you’re missing out!

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  • August 3, 2015 at 10:14 am
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    I love both Magic Kingdom and Epcot during EMH evenings, although there are far too few of them at Epcot (and F&W booths still close at 9pm in my experience) Hollywood Studios has very little open if I remember correctly.
    Where can you check to see what rides are open during EMH?

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  • August 3, 2015 at 11:18 am
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    One of my favorite Disney memories is LAYING in the middle of Main St. with my brother as a 18-19 year old sometime after midnight. The park had emptied out, it was still beautiful, the lights were amazing and we just peacefully laid on the ground. I would not suggest trying that at rope drop…you will be trampled!

    Reply
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  • August 3, 2015 at 3:17 pm
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    There have been several times over the years when we were literally the LAST car in the parking lot. One time at MGM, they called a tram to come back from the garage to take us to the lot. I love the parks at night!

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    • August 3, 2015 at 3:21 pm
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      I’m not sure what’s more impressive – being the first car in, or the last one out. I have definitely had buses to myself before, though.

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  • August 3, 2015 at 11:22 pm
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    Am I the only high energy person doing rope drop and hopping until all of the parks are closed? I love both the short lines of the morning and the way the parks look at night.

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    • August 4, 2015 at 1:16 pm
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      I love doing this: being one of the first in AND one of the last out. Really get my money’s worth. Definitely requires some planned periods of relaxed touring though, like an hour+ for a table-service meal or at Tom Sawyer Island.

      Reply
  • August 5, 2015 at 10:29 am
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    These are great tips for Teens! Mine moan & groan because of the early rising. They love to sleep in & stay up late! I get up before they do & take a leisure stroll around the hotel & I am able to enjoy myself then! veryone wins!!

    Reply
  • August 5, 2015 at 12:43 pm
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    This is why I love to go to WDW in the middle of the hot and humid Summer. My friends all think I’m crazy, but there is just something extra magical about WDW after dark! It’s my favorite time to be in the parks!!! We bring lots of glow necklaces with us and the kids have a great time putting them on. Also a good way to keep track of them in the dark.

    Reply

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