Welcome to the inaugural edition of Seth Kubersky’s Best Week Ever! Last week, we bid a fond farewell to Daisy Lauren, who filed her final Best Week Ever column before leaving the series in my semi-capable hands. Daisy leaves some pretty big shoes to fill, but I’ll do my best to continue in her style of upbeat observations from around Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, and other area attractions.
What better way to kick off my first Best Week Ever than with Walt Disney World’s biggest event of year? Of course, I’m talking about the 24 Hour Day party at the Magic Kingdom, which served as the kickoff for Disney’s “Coolest Summer Ever” campaign. I’ve been attending WDW’s 24-hour parties ever since the very first one on Leap Day 2012, and they are always an amazing (if exhausting) experience.
This year, I was tied up for most of May with the Orlando International Fringe Theatre Festival (a must-see extravaganza for anyone interested in the arts), so 24-Hour Day marked my first opportunity to visit the Magic Kingdom in many weeks. After several years’ experience, I’ve learned that the most interesting part of the all-nighter is after midnight, which is precisely when I pulled into the TTC parking lot.
Luckily, a powerful rainstorm had pushed through the resort less than an hour before my arrival, resulting in an exodus of soggy guests. That allowed me to snag a parking spot practically underneath the monorail track, within an easy walk of the monorail station.
As I approached the TTC, I noticed a substantial queue of people waiting to purchase tickets. Pro tip: you always want to buy your park admission before arriving, especially during a special event when every minute counts!
After a brief and uneventful monorail ride, I was ready to enter the Magic Kingdom. Is there anything quite as beautiful as a Disney castle park after dark when the streets are wet?
Here’s a look at the unique Times Guide with attraction hours and events for the 24 Hour party.
By the time I arrived, crowds were camping out on the curbs of Main Street U.S.A. in anticipation of the 1 a.m. Main Street Electrical Parade, but the streets were still navigable. Even so, for crowd control purposes the backstage corridor connecting Town Square and the Tomorrowland Terrace was opened to guests.
At the castle hub, I noticed that the Partners statue is still behind refurbishment walls as the area’s reconstruction continues. It was a bit sad to think of Walt and Mickey stuck inside their box, unable to join in the party…
The week before, I used My Disney Experience to pre-book some FastPass+ appointments for the evening, and it was soon time to ride my favorite opening-day Magic Kingdom attraction: the Haunted Mansion!
Before FastPass+ this ride rarely had a long wait, but on a night like this I was happy to have expedited entry. Orlando’s attraction may not have Anaheim’s impressive new Hatbox Ghost animatronic, but it is still popular enough to attract a substantial standby wait at nearly 1 a.m.
The bad news is that the 24 Hour Day seems to have confused the My Disney Experience database, as both the app and website refused to show any of my reservations beyond midnight. Only my FastPasses for the following day (Saturday, May 23) would appear, with the option to select May 22 grayed out on the calendar.
Fortunately, my phantom FastPasses were still somewhere in the system, as the checkpoints turned green upon my arrival at the Haunted Mansion. But the only way to view of change your FastPass+ reservations after midnight were via the park’s touchscreen kiosks, which aren’t always convenient. Of course, by this time the only new FastPass+ slots available were for attractions like Stitch and Small World, so the point was effectively moot…
After I returned from the spiritual realm, I realized I was just in time to catch the Electrical Parade as it passed through Frontierland. Main Street was packed with parade-watchers, but I was able to find a spot with plenty of elbow room right across from the Diamond Horseshoe.
I’m still jealous of the folks at Disneyland who got to see the premiere of Paint the Night while we at WDW were watching this nostalgic chestnut. But then again, we in Florida didn’t have to fight the catastrophic crowd control issues experienced out west, so I guess it’s a fair trade.
As the parade concluded, I cut through Adventureland to see that there was a wait for Dole Whip, even at almost 2 a.m.!
Pirates of the Caribbean had a very reasonable posted wait, one of the lowest I’ve seen since it became eligible as a FastPass+ selection.
Time to recharge with some sugar-dusted sweet potato nuggets from the Golden Oak Outpost…
…before redeeming my FastPass+ for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. Good thing I had one, as the ride has been inoperational earlier in the evening, and had amassed almost a 30 minute standby queue.
As the Magic Kingdom’s biggest outdoor roller coaster, this is my favorite attraction in park to do after dark. While BTMRR is a well-themed family coaster by day, it always seems to be a much swifter, more intense experience after the sun sets.
By the way, this sign posted outside of Big Thunder’s entrance was the first evidence I’ve spotted of Disney’s increased enforcement of selfie stick restrictions:
As I exited Big Thunder, I noticed a blinding light shining across the Rivers of America, accompanied by the thundering beats of Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off.”
Behold the 24 Hour Day Frontierland dance party, where screaming celebrants were shimmying to the Backstreet Boys and Spice Girls like it was 1998 all over again.
While the Frontierland DJ certainly had the crowd hopping, I was disappointed not to see any costumed characters in the crowd. In general, I seem to remember running into more characters (including some rare ones like Clarabelle Cow) at previous 24 Hour events. This year, I even missed Mickey & Minnie in their P.J.s, which is always a treat.
After surviving the pop onslaught in Frontierland, it was time to decompress with a cruise on it’s a small world.
There was no wait to board a boat, but the unload was backed up into the finale room as usual, which means that infamous song was beaten into our sleep-deprived brains for an extra five minutes. I believe that may be a violation of the Geneva Convention…
By about 3 a.m. Fantasyland was becoming blissfully quiet.
Only a 35 minute wait for Peter Pan’s Flight…
…and an amazingly short standby queue for Anna & Elsa’s meet and greet.
Of course, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train maintained an hour posted wait until it closed for overnight maintenance.
One downside I noticed about the 24 hour party is that all my favorite eateries (especially Columbia Harbor House) closed down early, leaving only Pecos Bill’s and Cosmic Ray’s available in the wee hours. As a result, demand for Cosmic Ray’s ho-hum hamburgers remained high through the night.
Just don’t tell Sonny Eclipse — he thinks all these people are here just to see him perform.
Elsewhere in Tomorrowland, the video screen originally installed for the ill-fated Stitch stage show was being used to screen the Frozen sing-along in an endless loop. (Insert your own snarky “Let It Go” joke here.)
Space Mountain also maintained a long line right up until the queue was closed at 3:30 a.m.
Finally, it was time for one last ride of the night (morning?) on the attraction that has become my annual 24 Hour Day tradition: the TTA PeopleMover!
I met this little Olaf in line for the PeopleMover. On this humid evening, he was learning what snow does in summer: it sweats!
There’s nothing better at the end of very long day than relaxing lap on the PeopleMover…
Before leaving Tomorrowland, I wanted to check out a couple clever photo ops that had been set up for the event. This clock face display was very popular:
I also really liked this forced-perspective chalk drawing:
Here’s shot of me with Liliane Opsomer from the Unofficial Guide, showing you how the image looks when photographed from the proper perspective.
On my way out of Tomorrowland, I realized a hard truth: even at 4 a.m., hardly anyone is delirious enough to voluntarily sit through Stitch’s Great Escape.
Time to make my way towards the exit, which required passing through the raucous dance party being held on the castle forecourt.
Retreating down Main Street, it was obvious that the evening’s consumption had not yet abated, judging by the queues inside Casey’s Corner…
Naturally, all of the Emporium’s exclusive event merchandise had long since sold out by this time in the morning. However, you can still order 24 Hour Day items online at www.disneystore.com/parkevents until May 31st.
Speaking for the Emporium, Inside Out toys have taken over one of the store’s prominent displays.
Here’s one last look at the Magic Kingdom before I left around 4:30 a.m.
While I understand others (especially those at Disneyland) may have had less positive experiences during the 24 hour event, I always enjoy the opportunity to explore the park while the rest of the world is asleep. While I wish there were more character and dining opportunities, and the FastPass+ glitches were frustrating, events like this aren’t really about the attractions; the best reason to attend is the communal spirit (and spectacular people watching) that emerges after 20+ hours of park operations. I’ll definitely be back again for next year’s 24 hour event, but I may need to sleep until then just to recover!
I’ll be back next Thursday with a Best Week Ever visit to Busch Gardens Tampa for the announcement of their newest roller coaster. Then in the following weeks, watch for my anniversary visits to Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood!
If there’s something you’d like to see me cover in Best Week Ever, or you have an idea for a better column name, please let me know in the comments below. Until next week, I’ll see you around the parks!