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Disney World Planning Challenges: Managing Your Disney Evening

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So you’ve had a great day at Disney World! What should you do next? Follow up that great day with a fantastic evening, of course.TouringPlans logo

Whether you have a full-fledged touring plan in mind or decide to focus on more subdued activities during your evening, Disney World offers plenty of choices. This article highlights specific tips and looks at TouringPlans.com tools and information that can help make your evening a success.

An Evening in the Parks

Making a smooth transition from a day to an evening in Disney World will keep your vacation fun on track. Maybe you are just starting your vacation and planning some park time on the night of your arrival day. Or you have taken a resort break and plan to return to the parks later. Maybe you have taken the day off from the theme parks with plans to go into a park at night. Or you are extending a day already in the parks into the evening.

Great Movie Ride night by Sarah Graffam
The Great Movie Ride glows at night

In all of these cases, when planning for some park time at night, it’s important to consider factors such as what time to depart for the parks, how to get to there, whether to plan activities in advance, and—finally—when you may want to plan on heading back to your hotel. A bit of strategic planning can help you get to the fun as soon as possible.

Getting Off to a Good Start. One of the best ways to avoid feeling rushed when starting off your evening is to avoid the temptation to plan for only the most optimistic conditions in terms of timing. Instead, if it’s your arrival day, be sure to build in some extra time for getting to the World from the airport and checking into your hotel. My family generally expects to get from the airport to a park in 2.5 to 3 hours when stopping at our resort first.

If you have already started your vacation, be sure to leave time for the kids to have a last minute snack or take a final dip in the pool during an afternoon break.

Getting to the Parks. Remember that you will need to walk to Disney transportation or your car, and this can take from 5 to about 15 minutes depending on your resort, your room location, and your walking pace. If you’re taking Disney transportation, estimate your travel time via bus, boat, or monorail (see below for some help with this); if you are not in a rush, you may decide to take the form of transportation your family will enjoy the most over the fastest one. My family loves to take a boat ride whenever we can, even if it is slower than other transportation choices.

Photo by Sarah Grafam
Enjoy a boat ride to the Magic Kingdom at dusk

The hotels section of the TouringPlans.com website shows commuting times to the parks from Disney resorts using resort transportation. Scroll down to the bottom of the page for each resort to see the times. If you own the paperback or Kindle version of our 2015 Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World, there is an excellent chart of “Door-to Door Commuting Times to and from the Disney Resorts and Parks in Your Car Versus the Disney Transportation System” on pages 398-399.

If you reach the park earlier than you planned, you’ll get to enjoy some bonus time! While other guests rush past, stop to appreciate the at-dusk or after-dark atmosphere that makes entering a park at night an entirely different (and I think often more magical) experience from arriving in the daytime.

Planning for Dining. Opting to have dinner at your resort before heading out to the parks can be an efficient way to make sure everyone in your party has energy for your evening activities. Younger kids (and likely some adults) in your party will have a lot more patience traveling to the park when they already have a full tummy.

If you choose to dine at a quick service restaurant, be mindful of the timing. At your resort, arriving before the dinner time rush will not only get you on your way to the parks sooner but make for a more pleasant experience. This is also true in the parks, where you should try to avoid eating at a quick service restaurant during peak dinner hours (generally around 6:00-7:00 PM).

If you have a reservation at a table service restaurant in the parks, be sure to block off enough time to get to the restaurant once you arrive. Although Disney World restaurants appear to unofficially allow for a 15-minute grace period for late arrivals, there is a $10 per person charge if the entire party is a no show. Tip: Even if only one person in your party shows for the reservation, there is no cancellation charge.

If you’re making your way to a park but stopping along the way to dine elsewhere or taking a break from a full park day by dining at a nearby resort, plan for transportation time using the same strategies mentioned earlier. Visit the Dining section of TouringPlans.com for more tips on when and where to dine.

Some evening FastPass+ reservations

Planning for Attractions. Once you have transportation and dining plans, you can make a good estimate of what time you’ll be at the park and ready to start experiencing attractions. Having evening FastPass+ reservations is a good way to ensure you can experience some of the more popular attractions with shorter lines.

If you haven’t been to the parks yet that day or chose not to use FastPass+ earlier in the day, you can preschedule all three of the FastPass+ reservations allotted to each person per day to use in the evening. Or you could split your FastPass+ reservations between morning/early afternoon and evening touring, keeping in mind that all three prescheduled FastPass+ reservations need to be for the same park.

Alternatively, if you have already used your three prescheduled FastPass+ reservations during the first part of your day, you can make additional FastPass+ reservations one at a time at in-park kiosks, including at a different park. Tip: You can only make additional FastPass+ reservations at a kiosk in a park where you’re actually present. So if you are returning to the same park later, visit a kiosk to choose your fourth FastPass+ before you leave for a break. With this strategy, you’ll not only be able to choose your additional FastPass+ when there is more availability but also set a time frame for returning to the park.

TouringPlans.com has all the information you need to on making FastPass+ reservations, including making them on Disney’s website, the My Disney Experience app, and at in-park kiosks.

If your goal is to experience several attractions in the evening, TouringPlans.com offers some late afternoon/evening touring plans, including ones for Magic Kingdom evening Extra Magic Hours. You can also create a personalized touring plan for the specific hours you will be in the park and the specific attractions you want to experience.

Don’t forget about experiences other than the usual attractions. Use an evening to focus on character meets, play a game like Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom or A Pirate’s Adventure, or just enjoy a favorite snack and one of the night time shows.

Planning an Exit Strategy. Having a plan for how and when you will exit the park can help end your great day on a great note. Even if you plan to close the park down, knowing your late-night transportation options will make for an easier return to your resort. Definitely check the transportation schedules. You don’t want to find that the monorail has stopped running when you’re ready to leave.

Entrance to Main Street U.S.A. bypass is behind the fountain

One of the main factors to consider when deciding when to make your exit is the park’s night time show schedule. If you’re planning to watch, you may want to sacrifice being in the best viewing area so that you are positioned ahead of the exiting masses. The reward is avoiding the longest lines of the night for the bus, boat, monorail, or parking lot. Or stake out that perfect viewing area and plan to experience another ride or two while the transportation lines subside.

During busy times, the Magic Kingdom may open its alternative exits that allow you to bypass the crowds on Main Street U.S.A. These bypasses are located on either side of Main Street. The entrance to one can be found between the Plaza Restaurant and Tomorrowland restrooms, and the entrance to the second bypass is near the restrooms between Casey’s Corner and the Crystal Palace.

An option to keep in mind when leaving late or when a quick exit is particularly important is to take a taxi instead of Disney transportation. If you are at Magic Kingdom, there isn’t a taxi line directly outside the park. Rather than taking the monorail to the Transportation and Ticket Center and then getting a taxi, walk over to the Disney’s Contemporary Resort and take one from there.

An Evening Outside the Parks

An evening outside the parks usually requires less effort than planning for the parks. Taking advantage of dining and recreation around your own resort like the pool or outdoor movies makes for an easy night after a full day in the parks. Take a ride on the monorail or a boat just to relax and enjoy the views. Go for dessert or drinks at a resort lounge. Focus on an experience like seeing a dinner show like Hoop Dee Doo Muscial Revue or Mickey’s Backyard Barbeque. Or take a specialty fireworks cruise to see either Magic Kingdom’s Wishes or Epcot’s Illuminations.

Narcoossee’s viewing verandah during the Electrical Water Pageant

Seeing Wishes outside of the Magic Kingdom is another option. Although your view may not be perfect and the music is not always available, watching Wishes from a monorail resort can be very magical. My family has watched Wishes from the 4th floor observation deck at the Contemporary Resort. You can also see them from the marina at Disney’s Grand Floridian resort. Seeing them from Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort can be a bit iffy these days with the construction at the resort. If you time your reservations right, you also could combine dinner with Wishes viewing at the Contemporary Resort’s California Grill, the Polynesian Village Resort’s ‘Ohana, or the Grand Floridian Resort’s Narcoosee’s.

Another outside-of-the parks favorite for me and my family is the Electrical Water Pageant. Here’s a great article on this musical water parade, including times and locations.

All of these non-park activities will give you a break from the level of planning that can be involved in visiting a park.

Splitting Up

Another way to manage your evening is for your party to split up if some are interested in going into a park while others need some time to rest and would rather hang at your resort. For parents, splitting up can involve taking advantage of one of Disney World’s Children’s Activity Centers. These supervised activity centers open starting at 4:00 PM to 5:30 PM and stay open until midnight. The kids can make some new friends, while the adults get some alone time either in or out of the parks.

Bedtime and the Planning for the Next Day

A worthwhile final activity for your evening is getting a jump start on your next day of fun. See my article “Disney World Planning Challenges: Managing Your Disney Morning” for some tips on how a few minutes of prep time at night can make for a smoother morning.

With a bit of planning, you can enjoy an evening in or out of the parks at your own pace. What strategies have helped you make the most of an evening at Disney World?

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Sarah Graffam

Sarah gets that giddy feeling when walking down Main Street, U.S.A. (and sometimes in her own living room just thinking about her next trip to Disney World). She is a Disney Vacation Club member and has been a professional writer and editor since 1990. Other favorite places she has traveled include Hong Kong, the Czech Republic, England, the Caribbean, Hawaii, Alaska, Kenya, Tanzania, and Disneyland.

3 thoughts on “Disney World Planning Challenges: Managing Your Disney Evening

  • We love visiting the Boardwalk area at night. We don’t usually stay on-site but anyone can visit. We also like visiting the themed WDW hotels.

  • A good article with lots of good information but one big problem… like many articles here, this one assumes you will be staying on-site. Many of us don’t. As just one example where this changes the assumptions in the article, it takes us approximately 5 seconds to walk from the front door of the town home we stay in to our car. Then no more than 15 minutes to get to the TTC (the furtherest lot from us on-site).

  • There is something more magical about the parks when you enter in the evening, isn’t there? For our next trip in May, we keep going back and forth about going to Downtown Disney on our arrival evening or to one of the parks. It’s a tough call!

    Thanks for the great post!


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