Disney recently announced the return of the popular Disney After Hours parties for dates in early 2024. I wanted to talk about that here, but also put it in the context of Extended Evening Hours, which are both similar and different from the After Hours events. We'll compare these and try to answer the age old question of whether one or both of these are "worth it" for the average visitor.
Disney loves to use similar terminology for their different offerings, so let's first be clear about what we're talking about here. Disney After Hours (DAH) is a paid after party (separate from your daily admission to the parks) where guests can enjoy three hours of late night attractions, with lower crowds (and often much better temperatures). Extended Evening Hours (EEH) are two hours that can be enjoyed by certain resort guests (which we'll get to below). This is NOT a separate ticket - the only thing you need to show in this case is proof that you are staying at a qualified resort. Neither of these offerings are themed, like a Halloween or Christmas party; there was a brief time where DAH had a villains theme, but that went away and had not yet returned, so for our purposes, we're only discussing the original, come as you are After Hours.
The first major difference should be obvious from the above description - DAH is a paid event and EEH is "free." Case closed, right? Not so fast. First, the DAH pricing for 2024 ranges from $149 to $175, depending on the date and park. That is an increase from the 2023 pricing (to the surprise of no one). Four a family of four, you're looking at something like $650-700 for one night, in addition to whatever you paid for your regular park tickets. This is a steep hill.
The hours for DAH are 10:00 p.m. to 1:00 a.m. at Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios, and 9:30-12:30 at Epcot. However, guests with DAH tickets can enter the park as early as 7:00 p.m. If you end up purchasing DAH tickets, I would absolutely recommend arriving at that time. Now you're getting six hours for the price you paid, with half of the event taking place in the time where day guests are still there and half when the crowds will be much lower.
Not to go on too much of a tangent here (though when has that ever stopped me?) but the ideal plan would be to focus on attractions from the minute you arrive at 7:00. This means eat a meal beforehand so you don't waste park time there. More than that, it means avoid any nighttime entertainment. Obviously there are some good shows out there right now! I would plan to do those on a day in which you are not staying after the park closes. Park crowds tend to thin out at night, and those who remain are disproportionately gathering to watch the nighttime shows. If you skip past those, your wait times for attractions will start low and get lower.
The exception to this MIGHT be at Magic Kingdom, where Disney is bringing back Enchantment exclusively for DAH guests. This is certainly the lesser show compared to Happily Ever After, but if you never saw it or have a desire to see it again, this is your chance. This is an interesting move by Disney, and one that is new to this year's DAH events. It's safe to say that you won't have to stand around for an hour before it starts to secure your place near the castle, so if this is important to you, just make sure you're in the area before the show begins and you should be fine.
Turning to Extended Evening Hours (EEH) for a minute, the reason I put "free" in quotation marks above is because it IS free ... to guests of deluxe resorts only. This has been controversial since it was announced, with many guests feeling like this is a way for Disney to cater to well to do guests only. I don't want to rehash that debate - I only bring it up to point out that the pool of guests eligible for EEH is small, and requires a hefty price in and of itself. That price isn't directly reflected in a ticket cost, but it is there nonetheless.
And that's where things get interesting from a value perspective. If you were already going to be staying in a deluxe resort no matter what, then this perk truly is free. If you were considering staying in a deluxe, you have the opportunity to take advantage of one of Disney's recent, fairly aggressive discounts. Perhaps you can justify the increased cost of your resort by looking at the difference between a moderate and deluxe, compare the nightly savings and factor in a couple of nights of EEH. In that case, you should also be happy with this perk - you can choose to spend more on your resort but NOT spend directly on DAH tickets. As always, I would recommend considering renting Disney Vacation Club points, as it makes the cost of a deluxe resort on par with rack rates for moderates. Add EEH to that and it looks even better.
The point here largely is that there is no "one size fits all" answer to what you are getting for your money. I imagine most people have a budget in mind for a Disney trip, and they have to spread that money out however they can to make it work for them. Splurging on a deluxe resort can have intrinsic value beyond just the EEH perk; but staying in an Air BNB offsite and splurging on DAH tickets can also have a value, depending on your situation.
I find it interesting that Disney offers DAH during the same periods in which EEH is also happening. As a general rule, EEH takes place on Wednesdays at Magic Kingdom and Mondays at Epcot, while DAH is usually Mondays at Magic Kingdom and Thursdays at Epcot. Depending on your needs or financial situation, you can leverage these hours to enjoy mostly nighttime hours and lower crowds while sleeping in or resort hopping during the day.
I didn't mention Hollywood Studios there. During these months (January through April), there are no EEH offered at Studios (DAH is mostly Wednesdays, for those wondering). There are EEH events coming up in the winter months at Hollywood Studios, largely because party season puts such a heavy burden on Magic Kingdom, so Disney is looking for ways to alleviate that (this is why there are EEH events at DHS but not Magic Kingdom during these few months). There are even some EEH coming up at Animal Kingdom this holiday season, which is unique (and largely unnecessary).
I mentioned this in a similar post last year, but my recommendation would be that if you were going to splurge on DAH tickets, Hollywood Studios is the best bet. Since there are no EEH available early next year, the only way to do this park late at night with low crowds is DAH. You can work around the other parks with EEH, but not Studios, a park that has a top heavy attraction selection and long wait times during the day.
If you are already staying at a deluxe resort, I would absolutely recommend taking advantage of EEH at Magic Kingdom and Epcot. If you only book one night at a deluxe (say, as part of a split stay) to leverage this perk, I would choose Magic Kingdom. Epcot is a "beatable" park in many other ways, so Magic Kingdom would be the higher priority there.
Regardless of whether you take advantage of any of these, it's good that Disney is at least offering them. While we'd simply prefer later normal operating hours and a non-paywall version of EEH (like the old Extra Magic Hours of years past), that isn't likely to happen anytime soon. So if you can, take advantage of what they ARE giving (selling?) you to make your trip less stressful.