As announced today, Disney After Hours events are returning to Disney World in 2023. In this post, we'll take a look at what these parties entail, the information we have about the upcoming parties and whether or not these are "worth it" for the average guest.
Disney After Hours (DAH) has existed since 2016. Technically, they existed for much longer than that, but were just called "longer hours" back then. I kid, kind of. For years, park hours were longer and Extended Evening Hours added on even more time in the parks as part of your regular admission. Like many things in recent years, this has been monetized by Disney and rebranded as Disney After Hours.
Before we get too far into the commentary, let's talk about what DAH actually is. Basically, this is a hard ticket event that takes place on select nights and select parks (in the case of the 2023 announcement, Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios only). This ticket allows you to stay late at night in the parks after they close to regular guests. For Magic Kingdom, the hours announced are 10:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. and for Hollywood Studios, it's 9:30-12:30. You can find all the official details here
In both cases, guests with DAH tickets are allowed into the park as early as 7:00 when day guests are still there. This is advantageous for numerous reasons, which we'll talk about below. But one of the big things here is that you can watch the nighttime spectaculars during regular hours before your ticket even kicks in.
I mention that detail as a lead in to something else. DAH has a lot in common with the Halloween and Christmas parties at Magic Kingdom. But in those cases, the park closes early, so the only way to watch the nighttime shows is to have a ticket for the event. They also start and end earlier. During the pandemic era, Disney stopped the traditional holiday parties for a hybrid party/after hours event that attempted to satisfy both fans of holiday entertainment as well as guests looking for emptier parks. This half measure didn't really work but was a "necessary" evil of the times. Holiday parties are back to normal this year.
Where DAH differs from those parties is all in what you are paying for - these aren't themed events with exclusive shows and parades. These are simply MORE HOURS in the parks. As mentioned above, this kind of thing used to be free. Now that it's not, is that a reason in and of itself to NOT purchase these? Whether you hold a grudge against Disney or not is up to you, but the fact remains that this is the way they do things now so you have to decide whether you want to spend money for this kind of luxury.
The luxury part is pretty great, in my opinion. One of the hallmarks of DAH has been the very low number of tickets sold for the events. This USED to be the case for the holiday parties as well, but in recent years, attendance has crept up, making them pretty crowded for the price you're paying. This hasn't stopped attendance though - this year, for the first time ever, all of the Mickey's Not So Scary Halloween Party dates have sold out.
There's always the chance that Disney will do the same thing here, but I'm hopeful that's not the case. The holiday parties are marketed as exclusive, holiday-specific themed events. DAH is marketed as "lower wait times for your favorite attractions." If word gets around that this isn't as true as it used to be, the value of these tickets goes down. Disney probably wants to avoid this whenever possible.
The price you pay for lower crowds is pretty steep, and in line with what the holiday parties have been recently - for 2023, they range from $129 to $155 a ticket. For a family of four, that's about $600 for one night, in addition to whatever you're paying for your regular tickets during your vacation. That's a non starter for many people, as is the time - if you have young kids, staying up until 1:00 a.m. or later might not be possible (or a good life choice).
But if you can get past these concerns, there is a lot of value to what you are getting here. We've been big proponents of anything that gets you extra time in the parks beyond normal hours - these currently include Early Entry and Extended Evening Hours (a post we've linked to MANY times, but it is truly the best current way to beat the crowds). There's also Genie+ and Individual Lightning Lanes; while these are things you can use during regular hours, they are monetized ways to cut lines and therefore save valuable time.
Disney After Hours is now another way in which you can avoid crowds. While Early Entry and EEH are only available to on property guests (with EEH only being available to guests of deluxe resorts), DAH can be purchased by anyone. If you've saved some money by staying in a less expensive resort nearby, this is a good way to get to experience emptier parks, a perk usually only reserved for certain guests.
There are certain ways to leverage these nights too, depending on how long your vacation is. You can purchase fewer days of regular tickets, then show up with DAH tickets and accomplish just as much if not more in a shorter period of time. The math doesn't always work out here, however, as the more days worth of tickets that you buy, the cheaper each extra day becomes. So shorting yourself a day or two of tickets to spend more on DAH tickets is sort of cutting off your nose to spite your face. But if you have a shorter trip, this can make more sense.
It's also worth it if you're adding a day at Disney onto another vacation (perhaps Universal?) instead of devoting a week to Disney specifically. This way, you can buy one ticket that is similar to a one day regular ticket and get to experience lower crowds and generally better weather once the sun goes down (though the dates currently listed in this announcement are from January to early April, so this won't be as much of a factor here).
So why are these events making a comeback now? One factor is simply a return to normal operations. During the early pandemic era once the parks reopened, Disney was artificially limiting attendance for safety reasons. It would have been a hard sell to get people to purchase tickets for lower crowds when all of the crowds were already lower across the board.
Another reason for DAH is that these take place during non-party seasons. The holiday parties are their own selling points (and logistical challenges) from August through December. There has been some overlap in the past, but most of the time, they took place during the "off season" (if such a thing exists). That may seem counterintuitive, based on what I said above about lower crowds. But lower in this case is relative, while DAH will still hold notable value over an average day. These dates also bleed into Spring Break season, and anything to avoid the crowds there is useful.
Let's say you could only attend one of these DAH events - which would you choose? My feeling here is Hollywood Studios. It is possible to leverage EEH for Magic Kingdom to experience lower crowds; for Hollywood Studios, outside of a random date or two, this has not been the case. So getting to experience that park, with its top heavy attraction line up, is probably more valuable in a vacuum than Magic Kingdom.
By staying at a deluxe resort, it would be possible to use Extended Evening Hours at Magic Kingdom and Epcot, as well as purchase Disney After Hours tickets for Hollywood Studios. That's a pretty good situation to find yourself in, as you could be one of the last guests in three of the four parks over the course of one vacation.
Disney After Hours isn't for everyone, especially at that price point, but that's by design. There's still an air of exclusivity around these events and for guests that are willing to pay, you will be rewarded. Our recommendation is to go to at least one of these, budget permitting.