Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Extended Evening Hours - Still Worth It?


On our recent trip to Disney World, we once again had the opportunity to take advantage of Extended Evening Hours (EEH) at both Epcot and Magic Kingdom.  After our last trip, I wrote this post, basically talking about how great this experience was.  This post will talk about whether that remains true a couple of years later.  

That post also breaks down who is eligible and why, so I won't rehash that too much here.  But as a quick refresher, EEH is only available to those guests staying in deluxe resorts, meaning that the pool of people who are eligible to take advantage of them is lower than the general pool of guests throughout the day.  That, coupled with the later end times, often means that the crowds are low, and get lower throughout the evening.

We'll start again with Epcot in this report, as (in general), Epcot's EEH day is Monday and Magic Kingdom's is Wednesday, so if you're coming in for the week, you'll likely experience them in this order.  Epcot closed to the general guests at 9:00, which was the same time it closed on our last trip (and is often the closing time throughout the year).  That meant that EEH ran from 9:00-11:00.

Unlike on our last trip, we did not watch the nighttime spectacular, which was performed right at 9:00 - in other words, park closing time.  This was not for lack of desire, though.  We had actually watched Luminous a couple of days earlier and really enjoyed that show.  We had intended to watch it again, even if it meant eating into our EEH time.  But there was one big complicating factor here - Guardians of the Galaxy Cosmic Rewind.

Keep in mind, this is basically a first world problem here, not an inherent issue with Extended Evening Hours or park strategy in general.  As I noted in our review of Guardians, the best way to ride that attraction is to use the virtual queue (VQ), which is available at 7:00 a.m. and 1:00 p.m., but is also available to EEH guests at 6:00 p.m., with return times scheduled after 9:00 p.m. only when EEH begins.

We had attempted to ride Guardians on our first day, and it didn't go so well (as noted in that linked post above) so as of the day of our Epcot EEH, we had not ridden Guardians yet.  If we had, we MIGHT have strategized differently during EEH (though perhaps not, since Guardians was a big hit with our family and we likely would have wanted to ride again; keep this in mind when we get to Tron in the Magic Kingdom section below).

In any case, we had visited Animal Kingdom during the day on this particular day, and after having some much needed downtime at the resort, headed over to Epcot for the late afternoon/early evening before EEH.  My goal here was to spend some time doing attractions with lower wait times, take some photos and grab some dinner.  We did all of those things, including eating at Connections Eatery, going on Spaceship Earth and getting some photos in that area, then heading up to do Journey Into Imagination.  We even stopped by the Canada pavilion to do Canada Far and Wide, a show that we normally skip.  So far, so good.

We were eating dinner around 6:00 when the VQ for Guardians opened up.  Luck was with us again, and we nabbed the VQ easily.  I can't remember our boarding group number, but the impression I had was that we would be called early once EEH began, possibly in the first groups.  Even though they didn't list a possible return time since EEH wasn't active yet, I kept an eye on the boarding groups to see how many they were getting through.  For quite some time leading up to 9:00, the app showed the same message - "not boarding."

This made me concerned, as I began to wonder whether the ride was down, and if so, whether it would be back up by the time EEH began.  My only experience with Guardians at that point was a few days earlier, and I knew the queue could get severely backed up.  I didn't want to be far from Guardians once 9:00 rolled around; if we were called early, we would be waiting until Luminous finished, and then have to work our way over to the ride.

Instead, we went on Soarin' some time around 8:40 (my photos from this period are shockingly incomplete).  The queue was relatively empty, but we just missed getting into one theater and had to wait through the whole cycle (if you know, you know).  We exited the Land pavilion right as Luminous was starting, or just after 9:00.  While Soarin' didn't technically happen during EEH, I kind of count it, as it's often a staple of our EEH strategy and in this case, we managed to knock it out beforehand.

At this point, the app still showed Guardians as "not boarding."  I figured the best plan of action was to go over to the ride and ask a cast member what was going on.  Right when we showed up and I began to inquire about the ride being down, I saw that our boarding group had been called.  It couldn't have been later than 9:15 at that point, which meant my theory was correct and that we were called in the first groups.  

Guardians is wonderful, as I talk about in more detail in that other post.  But it's also a long experience between the queue (mercifully empty this time), and two pre-shows.  We also had a minor snafu where we couldn't find my daughter (who was waiting at the ride exit since she didn't want to ride).  That created some confusion (and/or panic) until we sorted that out.  In terms of time, we were now basically halfway through EEH and had only done one attraction.

Next we headed over to Test Track.  I can't remember the wait time here, but I want to say it was posted at around 20 minutes.  This is another longer attraction, with designing your vehicle and then actually riding.  I do have pictures of my son in the car showroom after the ride with a time stamp of 10:27.  With no time to waste, we quickly headed up to Frozen Ever After.  There was a wait time posted there (again, maybe 20 minutes) but the actual wait time was basically however long it took to get through the queue.  It was certainly the quickest and easiest time I've ever had on Frozen.

Time was winding down here - I have some photos stamped at 10:53 as we walked through the park.  We even stopped to get Mickey bars, since we were hungry again.  We entertained a thought about trying to get to France to jump on the line for Remy's Ratatouille Adventure at 10:59, but as we were on the way there, we realized we weren't going to make it.  This was no great loss, as we had done it on our first day and had planned to rope drop it later in the week.

A couple of other notes here.  If we had been so inclined, rather than try to walk all the way around the park to get to Remy, we could have gotten back on the Frozen line and done it a second time, with ease - that's how empty the line was at the time.  Whether that's relevant to how you would spend YOUR EEH time is a different question.  Also something I found interesting - there was a rope put up after Norway, meaning that you could not go in that direction during EEH.  I guess this is because none of the attractions or shops were open in much of World Showcase - really only Frozen and Remy, which aren't that close to each other.  I thought it might have been nice to get some really empty World Showcase photos, but I can see why Disney would want to not "lose" guests out there when they're trying to close.

If you look at what we actually accomplished during EEH here, you might think this wasn't worth the effort. This is a fair point - as I noted in my original review, Epcot doesn't work as well due to the limited number of rides open and the distance between them.  Still, an easy run on Guardians, as well as two of the other big three rides (and with a little more luck, all of them, or at least a double shot of one of them), meant that we saved considerable time over doing these during the normal day.  That is worth a lot.  And add in the fact that the relentless sun was down and Epcot literally shines at night, this was a very pleasant evening.

As for Magic Kingdom, as I pointed out on our last trip, EEH is worth a lot at this park, since there are plenty of rides to burn through with very short waits.  The other major difference is that Magic Kingdom closes later than Epcot; in this case, it closed at 10:00, meaning EEH was from 10:00 to midnight.  That one hour doesn't sound like a lot, but families with younger kids (or just exhausted guests) don't often want to be out that late.  This was actually earlier than our previous trip, where the park closed at 11:00 and EEH went until 1:00 a.m.  Did that affect how I feel about EEH?

This was a particularly epic day, even for us. We had rope dropped Epcot and spent most of the early part of the day there.  We actually ran later than I had wanted, and since the kids wanted to go in the pool rather than nap, we didn't have a lot of down time.  We arrived at Magic Kingdom around 5:30, with plans to eat and knock out some rides.  We had purchased Genie+ for use in both parks that day, so we had stacked a couple of rides that we could do while the park was open to all guests.

I know we did Big Thunder Mountain around 6:00 via the lightning lane, because that was where I famously scored a boarding group for Tron while on the downslope of this coaster.  From there, we did Carousel of Progress, Peter Pan's Flight (also via lightning lane) and  Haunted Mansion in quick succession.  These rides are all relatively close to each other (at least, they're all on the same side of the park), and we ended up back in Fantasyland to eat dinner at Pinnochio Village Haus around 7:30.  This is late for us, but we had had a late and large lunch at Space 220.  


After dinner, my photos tell me that we did Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin before heading back to the hub in front of the castle for Happily Ever After at 9:00.  We arrived around 8:30, which worked ou perfectly; the hub was already crowded, but cast members kept directing guests to fill in the space, so we ended up much closer than I had expected, dead center to the castle.  This is beyond the scope of this post, but Happily Ever After is still the greatest nighttime show in Disney World history, and I'm so happy that it's back.

That show ends around 9:20, meaning the park was still open to all guests.  A lot of people simply leave after the fireworks, so I figured we would have some shorter wait times even before EEH.  Of course, the downside of being in that throng is that it's nearly impossible to walk anywhere for a while.  Eventually we fought our way through to Adventureland, and rode Pirates of the Caribbean with little wait.  

Thinking that history would repeat itself with the VQ, we headed back to Tomorrowland in the hopes that our boarding group for Tron would be called early.  While it didn't take too long, it was not as early as we had expected, so we had to find some other things to do in the meantime.  For us, this meant the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh around 10:30.  

We still hadn't been called for Tron yet, but after leaving Winnie the Pooh, we passed right by Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.  Experience and other first hand reports have told me to save this ride for the very end of the night as the line would be the shortest.  But as we passed, it said 25 minutes and the line itself suggested this might be on the high side.  We took a chance, and our actual wait time was 12 minutes.  Again, the easiest time I've ever had on Mine Train.

Around this time, our Tron boarding group was called.  It was not as fast of a process as Guardians had been during EEH, but the line moved for the most part and we got to experience Tron at night, which is a whole new level of cool.  We were off of this by 11:30.  I got some empty park photos as we left here, since the crowds were as low as they had been all night.


Could we have done more here?  Possibly, but as I said, this was a long day.  We opted to end the night in somewhat traditional fashion for us, which meant going on It's a Small World right before the park closed.  We were in the deserted show building around 11:50 and out around 12:05.  This might have not been the best use of our time from an efficiency standpoint, but we have some incredible memories of an empty attraction which we'll never forget.

Overall, we did less during our two hours than we had on our last trip.  But some of that, again, was taken up with the VQ return time for Tron.  I love the VQ, as I've pointed out before.  If we had chosen to skip this, we could easily have gotten in another couple of high profile rides, but as it was, between Genie+, the Tron VQ and EEH, we accomplished a ton in a far shorter timeframe than we would have during any given part of the day.  If I had any advice here, I would say to do the earlier VQ drops if possible - it's basically a "free" standby ride during the regular day.  I don't regret doing these at night (especially Tron) but if you're looking to maximize your EEH time, that would be one way to do it.

If you're asking me (and I guess you are, if you're reading this), EEH is still the best perk to stay at a deluxe resort.  You can accomplish a lot in those few hours, and there is less pressure to maximize your time than there is during After Hours, which is a paid event.  But more than anything, getting the opportunity to walk around a mostly empty park is an indescribable feeling - there is no more magical time to be at a park than late at night when most guests are asleep.  

That alone make EEH "worth it" in my book.  I don't know that I'd book a whole trip at a deluxe resort solely for that, but if you were doing so already, or if you were renting DVC points and therefore reducing your cost (raises hand), or if you do a split stay to take advantage of the deluxe resort for a few days, there is no reason not to visit during EEH.  I hope this perk continues indefinitely; Disney still has a lot of making up with their guests to do, but this one is a slam dunk.

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