On our recent trip to Walt Disney World, we had the opportunity to take advantage of Extended Evening Hours (EEH) at both Epcot and Magic Kingdom. This post will take a look how we were able to do that, what we accomplished and whether it's worth the built in cost to use this advantage.
Extended Evening Hours are a relatively new perk offered to guests of deluxe on-site Disney resorts - and ONLY guests of deluxe resorts. This initially created some outrage in the online community, as there were calls of Disney being "elitist" and pricing out the middle class. These claims are not entirely without merit. But Universal offers Express Pass Unlimited (a better service than any FastPass/Genie service Disney has ever offered) with their higher end resorts, and while you can purchase this pass separately, the easiest way to get it is to stay at one of these hotels. EEH is similar for Disney.
Besides, all Disney resort guests get access to early park entry now, so this is something extra available to those willing and able to stay at a deluxe resort. Part of the appeal of these kinds of perks is exclusivity - the more people that can take advantage of it, the less valuable it becomes to any individual using it. It's a delicate balance, but one that I think Disney has played well in this case.
Of course, the selling point of these EEH is MUCH lower crowds, by virtue of the limited pool of people who can even take advantage of them, as discussed above. There is also the fact that not everyone eligible to use them actually does use them - we'll get into that more below. The general point though is that, especially at busier times, you need to do everything you possibly can to avoid crowds and therefore make your park experience better. Do Extended Evening Hours do this? Let's take a look.
We're going to start with Epcot, where our experience was slightly less successful for a number of reasons. One reason is that Epcot closed at 9:00 when we were there, meaning that the Extended Evening Hours were from 9:00-11:00. On the other hand, Magic Kingdom closed at 11:00, meaning EEH were from 11:00-1:00. For those with kids (or simply just too tired from walking around the parks all day), it's much more palatable to stay until 11:00 rather than 1:00. We'll talk more about that in the Magic Kingdom section.
The other reason our Epcot experience wasn't as successful was largely a function of bad luck. Our plan had been to watch Harmonious the prior night, but a sudden and relentless monsoon quickly changed those plans. Since Harmonious starts at 9:00, that meant that about 15-20 minutes of our EEH time would be spent watching the show and not enjoying lower crowds. We could have just skipped it, but we wanted to see the show and didn't have any other opportunity to do so that week. Choices have to be made, and this was ours.
In any case, we watched Harmonious from a location near the Morocco pavilion and as soon as the show was over, we moved quickly to France where we got in line for Remy's Ratatouille Adventure. This is (currently) the newest attraction at the park, and often subject to the longest wait times. It's also not a part of Genie+ but instead an Individual Lightning Lane (ILL) purchase. We didn't have any intention of using ILL for this ride, so standby was our best bet and I figured that during EEH, the lines would be shorter.
The wait time when we arrived was around 65 minutes. That was pretty hefty, but I didn't want to abandon this plan. I would say the actual wait time here was 50 minutes or so. Was the wait (and therefore eating most of our EEH time) worth it? I'd say yes, because it guaranteed a spot on this ride, which was our number one goal during EEH. If we had jumped in line right at 9:00, we obviously would have been done earlier but I thought it was ultimately time well spent.
Here's where bad luck reared its head again. Objectively, the next two most popular attractions at Epcot are Frozen Ever After and Test Track, probably in that order. My intention was to go to one or both of these as soon as we finished Remy. Indeed, while checking wait times on My Disney Experience while in the Remy line, Frozen was showing 20 minute wait times. Perfect for what we wanted and much better than its typical 70-80 minutes during the day.
Unfortunately for us, by the time we were done with Remy, both Frozen AND Test Track were down. Test Track is often unreliable so that one didn't shock me. But both of these being down was a real kick in the teeth and an unfortunate circumstance for our plans. Instead, we made our way over to Soarin' Around The World, and breezed through that line, then jumped on Spaceship Earth on the way out right around 10:58.
I felt less satisfied with this evening than I had hoped, but I would still absolutely encourage people to take advantage of this perk if possible. It's unlikely that you would run into this string of bad luck, and while Epcot, with fewer rides, is more difficult to navigate in these two hours, you would still be much better off than trying to do these attractions in the most crowded part of the day.
Let's turn our attention to Magic Kingdom, where things went a lot differently (in a good way). Remember that I said earlier that Magic Kingdom closed at 11:00 during the dates we were there. Another factor in lower crowds is that their nighttime spectacular, Enchantment, runs at 9:00. A large portion of the crowd left after Enchantment, meaning that the 9:00-11:00 hours were already less crowded than any other time during the day. By the time the rest of the crowd left at 11:00, the park was noticeably emptier.
I can't remember exactly what our itinerary was during these EEH. The hours between 9:00 and 1:00 all kind of blended together as well, so I can't remember how much we did before the official start of EEH and how much after. I know for sure (based on photos!) that was did Big Thunder Mountain, Haunted Mansion, Winnie the Pooh, Prince Charming Regal Carrousel and it's a small world.
The big score was Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Magic Kingdom's ILL attraction that we had been saving just for this time frame. I know we got on sometime around 12:15 - the wait time said 40 minutes, I believe, but we were on the vehicles in eleven or twelve minutes. Wait times are often way inflated at this time of night and that proved to be true here.
We probably could have chosen more headliner attractions to fit in during this time period, but we mostly went with what the kids wanted to do as well as making sure we did Mine Train. Someone with a more, say, ruthless plan could easily have hit the five or six highest wait time attractions in the park with little difficulty.
The later the night got, the more surreal things became. I have a memory of going on Peter Pan's Flight right around midnight when we went to the Halloween ticketed event in September. This time around, we got on it's a small world right before 1:00 a.m. I've never seen it so empty in there and it was an incredible experience. I also enjoyed simply walking around the park and snapping some quick pictures this late at night - I assure you, there are almost no circumstances in which you will ever see an emptier Magic Kingdom.
That sort of feeling is intangible, and might not be worth as much to someone else as it was to me. But I loved the feeling of having the park mostly to ourselves for a while - the later it got, the emptier it was. By the time we left, everyone who was still there was gathered around the Cinderella Castle, commemorating the quiet and emptiness.
As you can probably tell from all of those above words, this is something that we wholeheartedly recommend. Any advantage you can have over crowds is a good one, and this is certainly your best bet currently. And yes, I understand that staying a deluxe resort is a luxury that not everyone can afford. This is one reason I recommend renting Disney Vacation Club points, as it's a more cost effective way to stay at these resorts. Extended Evening Hours is an added bonus on top of simply staying at a high end resort for essentially moderate money. If there is a way for you to use this benefit, I would absolutely do so. You won't regret this one.