The darkness is coming. The daylight hours are getting shorter and shorter as winter approaches. And this, my friends, is reason to celebrate. Nighttime is the best time to be in the theme parks and I’m here to shed some light as to why.
Let’s face it, Florida is too hot during almost half of the year. With average temperatures during the day being in, or feeling like, the 90s most of the time, it can be exhausting being in the parks during the day. But once that sun sets there is a glimmer of hope as temperatures decline throughout the evening. Put away the sunscreen, put away your massive shade-providing hat, and let out a sigh of relief as you enjoy more pleasant weather as evening descends.
Dazzling Light Treatments
The theme parks have always looked their best in their evening attire. Starting with Disneyland in the 1950s with the beloved twinkle lights in the trees of the Sleeping Beauty Castle Courtyard, and there was even a TV special dedicated to Disneyland After Dark.
Nowadays the special lighting effects and light treatments at theme park’s newest lands transform the entire experience. Each new land seems to have a better night treatment than the last. Pandora – World of Avatar uses special paint and lights, and even lights that look like plants that glow. Sadly, the intensity of this experience was dialed back due to initial low lighting, but it is still a remarkable sight. Surprising of all is Toy Story Land’s nighttime look, especially Slinky Dog Dash with its special LED lighting throughout the ride. And of course, Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge is otherworldly at night. The reveal of the Millennium Falcon is already jaw dropping in itself, but add in the dramatic lighting at night and it is enough to make you howl like a wookie.
Nighttime entertainment in Orlando’s theme parks is far more than fireworks. Thanks to elements like fountains, lasers, and awe-inspiring projection mapping technology, nighttime shows in the theme parks just keeps getting better. Magic Kingdom reigns supreme with the fireworks spectacular “Happily Ever After”. Cinderella Castle has never had so many incredible looks. But the magic doesn’t end there. Rather than attempting the impossible to rush out of Magic Kingdom right after the fireworks, stick around for “Once Upon a Time” which usually follows “Happily Ever After” (about 45 minutes after). It’s a little odd that “Happily Ever After” comes before “Once Upon a Time” but I’ll just let that one go. “Once Upon a Time” is about 14 minutes of covering Cinderella Cast in Disney movie moments. There are a handful of pyrotechnics, otherwise this show is all about the projection mapping. It is a lot of fun and often half the crowds of the main fireworks show.
Epcot has long been captivating at night. With all the delectable dining options it’s the perfect place to partake in a nice dinner before enjoying the park’s nighttime spectacular. Currently Epcot’s nighttime show is “Epcot Forever” while preparations for the next nighttime installment are underway. It is a clever temporary show worth sticking around for as long as you’re not overly tired.
Disney’s Hollywood Studios currently offers two powerful nighttime extravaganzas: “Fantasmic!” and “Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular”. While “Fantasmic!” is a little long in the tooth, it still draws a crowd. It’s hard to turn away from a show packed with Mickey, memorable Disney movie moments, villains, and dayglow monkeys. Generally “Fantasmic!” is the first nighttime show of the night, followed by “Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular”. Even if you are not a major Star Wars fan this production is worth a watch purely from its smart use of projection mapping.
But wait, there’s more! Just before “Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular” there is the “Wonderful World of Animation” which is a fun tribute to Disney’s animation accomplishments through the years, and it takes place in the same spot as the Star Wars show. A great way to be entertained for a while. I suggest grabbing either a drink at Brown Derby Lounge or a shake at Tune In Lounge then claim your spot in the park’s center courtyard.
Disney’s Animal Kingdom has only recently became a park to thoroughly enjoy at night. It is the most relaxing vibe of all the parks at night. Although “Rivers of Light” is an enjoyable show, it is almost rivaled in beauty by the “Tree of Life Awakenings” mini-shows. These delightful, colorful shows take place on the Tree of Life every fifteen minutes. Not an over-the-top production, they are lovely to witness and soothing in a way.
The Final Hour
The most magical time in the parks is the last hour of operations. The crowds thin out, it’s easy to walk around and just enjoy the atmosphere. If you’ve watched one of the nighttime shows don’t rush out of the park, you’re not going to get very far, very fast anyhow. Either hang back and savor your surroundings, or sneak one or two final rides in.
Generally, operating protocol for the rides is to continue to let guests enter the line right up until closing time. So, even if the park closes at 10:00 PM you can get in line at 9:58 PM to wait your turn and be well in the park after closing time. There are some attractions that close before the park’s official closing time, like Kilimanjaro Safaris at Animal Kingdom, so be sure to double check the operating times.
Tips and Information
- While crowds tend to die down as the day goes on, so too does staffing. Sometimes security check points and registers at merchandise stores can take a little longer when staffing is reduced late in the day or evening.
- Not all restaurants and attractions stay open all the way though the operating hours of the park. Be sure to check TouringPlans schedules and information to help you plan accordingly.
- Even though the sun isn’t beating down on you at night, make sure you still hydrate so you can keep going well into the late hours.