When the sun goes down at Walt Disney World, the party gets started. Well, not party, but nighttime is when the parks are best experienced, and most attractions that have outdoor portions are at least somewhat enhanced at night. At night, the parks come alive with a wonderful energy. This is especially true at the Magic Kingdom, where brilliant lighting, Wishes! fireworks, Main Street Electrical Parade, and more, all of give Magic Kingdom a fantastic ambiance that just cannot be replicated during the day.
Beyond that, the overall sensory experience of the Magic Kingdom seems heightened at night. The background music in Tomorrowland seems louder, the sweet scents from the Main Street Confectionery are more fragrant, and the Magic Kingdom is both aglow with color and more peaceful in its quiet corners. There are few things I enjoy more than walking along the wooden boardwalk along the Rivers of America in Frontierland at night. From the lighting to the lights of the Liberty Belle reflecting off of the water to the illuminated spires of Cinderella Castle in the distance, nighttime really puts the magic in the Magic Kingdom.
We’ve already covered the Top 10 Disneyland Rides at Night in a separate post, so we thought it would be fun to take a look at the best attractions are best at Walt Disney World’s castle park at night. Obviously, since the parks share a good number of attractions, so will appear on both lists, but many of our top picks are unique to each park. Let’s take a look…
The Disneyland list started out with Haunted Mansion as its unconventional pick, and so too will this list start out with one. Admittedly, this one is a bit more unconventional, but hear me out. I’m of the opinion that the Little Mermaid dark ride’s queue is superior to the actual attraction. I think I’m not alone in this sentiment, and while the ride experience isn’t impacted at all at night, this queue is significantly better at night. This isn’t just true in the outdoor portion where the waterfalls are beautifully illuminated and the rock work stands out, but is also the case inside, where you actually have a chance to stop and appreciate all of the little details when this line more or less empties out at night. Still think this one is a stretch? Okay, it probably is, but I think it was worth drawing attention to a less obvious one, even if maybe another attraction were more deserving of the #10 spot (my alternative ‘substantive’ pick would be the Walt Disney World Railroad).
A fairly simple attraction, but given Prince Charming Regal Carrousel’s location right in the heart of Fantasyland directly behind Cinderella Castle and directly in front of the Castle Walls leading to New Fantasyland, it’s a great choice for some beautiful views. Add to this relatively short waits at night (we typically walk right on or wait only 5 minutes), and it’s a nice change of pace and easy attraction to hit as you pass through Fantasyland.
With its beautiful popcorn lights, and the leisurely cruise it offers around the Rivers of America (as noted above, strolls along the Rivers of America are one of my favorite things to do at night), the Liberty Belle could be near the top of this list. However, due to limited hours, it often stops operating well before sunset. If you have the chance to ride the Liberty Belle at night (the best chance is during the winter when sunset is earlier), take full advantage!
Dumbo missed the list at Disneyland, which might have been an oversight given its location. This Dumbo makes the list primarily not because of its location, which is actually pretty good now that New Fantasyland is fully open, but because of its beautiful nighttime lighting. When Dumbo was moved and its capacity doubled, it also received an excellent new lighting scheme that really gives it added life at night. Missing is that iconic view of Cinderella Castle, but the view is still pretty good, plus there’s some excellent lighting, so we consider the “new” Dumbo a better attraction at night than the previous one.
Astro Orbiter is higher up this list than it was the Disneyland list, and that’s for one simple reason: location. In Magic Kingdom, it remains in its proper place perched atop the Peoplemover platform. While it is just a simple spinner attraction, there’s something about flying throughout ‘outer space’ (and the future?) in that elevated position and and the neon of Tomorrowland, it makes the list. It would score even higher if it were still on its elevated platform within Tomorrowland, which would offer an even better view of the whole park. Bonus points if you ride during the fireworks.
At night, Splash Mountain at Magic Kingdom is even better than Splash Mountain at Disneyland. While the outdoor section seems even slower paced and more leisurely at Magic Kingdom, the bigger benefit is that Florida doesn’t have the same chilly evenings as Southern California, and you’re less likely to get wet on the Walt Disney World version at night. My favorite parts of Splash Mountain at night are at the beginning of the attraction, when you float by an elevated area with several birdhouses, and the end of the attraction after the drop when you are in a lower area passing through Frontierland. If you can keep your eyes open, the top of the drop also affords a stunning view of the park as a whole, including Cinderella Castle.
I know that’s not technically a Jungle Cruise photo above, but close enough, right? Jungle Cruise is great at night because it captures the exotic and mysterious Heart of Darkness foreboding feel that a cruise through the jungle should have, but juxtaposes the ride’s normal wry and corny humor alongside that. As an added bonus, many skippers deviate from the standard script a bit more at night, especially when there are many children around.
Your first reaction to this might be bewilderment after my Seven Dwarfs Mine Train Review, which criticized the lack of show lighting on the mountain at night, but Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is still something special to experience at night. This is primarily for one reason: location. Seven Dwarfs Mine Train has a key piece of real estate essentially in the middle of Fantasyland, with Cinderella Castle and the attractions ‘inside the Castle walls’ south of it, and New Fantasyland north of it. As you glide around the outside of the mountain, you have beautiful views of everything Fantasyland has to offer, with literally something in every direction. The other reason why this ranks so highly is because the details of the finale scene are much easier to see at night. If Disney decides to better address the show lighting of this mountain in the future, it would likely overtake Big Thunder Mountain Railroad for the #2 spot on this list!
Always a bridesmaid, never a bride. Big Thunder Mountain was #2 in our Disneyland list, and it’s #2 on this list. It’s this high on the list for the same reason: it perfectly embodies the “tranquil yet alive” ambiance in Frontierland at the Magic Kingdom at night. Thanks to the excellent lighting on Big Thunder Mountain, the attraction’s nighttime mood is a perfect fit for what you’d expect from a deserted mining town. Plus, there are little additional details that aren’t really visible in the sunlight. While the Imagineers are great at designing artificial environments that evoke far away locations, Tumbleweed is a place that can’t possibly be fully ‘evoked’ until the sun goes down and the crickets start chirping.
I debated over whether I should put a relatively unpopular attraction (unless you’re a serious Disney fan) in the top spot, but ultimately, I’m confident in this decision. You can’t please everyone with a list like this, and although many people won’t care about a leisurely ride through Tomorrowland since it doesn’t offer any thrills or “wow” moments, to me, it’s without question the best Magic Kingdom attraction at night. Not only are you treated to amazing views of the neon of Tomorrowland and Cinderella Castle in the distance (our tip: if you’ve already watched the Main Street Electrical Parade, ride during it for a couple neat glimpses at the parade), but you also can better notice detail in Space Mountain since your eyes will have adjusted to the light. You truly have not experienced the Peoplemover until you’ve experienced it at night.
Even if you can’t hit all of these attractions in a single night at the Magic Kingdom, you should be able to have a great night trying! If you’re looking for Disney trip planning tips, make sure to read our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide.
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Which Magic Kingdom attractions do you think get better at night? Any you think are worse at night? Share your thoughts in the comments!