How We Did 13 Rides in 3 Hours at Magic Kingdom via Standby Lines

Magic Kingdom can be busy in the mornings. Due to its later opening time and being the most popular park at Walt Disney World, Early Entry is often crowded to the point that it’s almost useless. Because of this, we usually recommend splurging on Genie+, as Lightning Lanes usually offer the biggest advantage at Magic Kingdom.

Emphasis on usually. As the title suggests, it’s possible to beat the crowds at Magic Kingdom and knock out every major attraction with minimal waits without paying extra for line-skipping. As discussed in our recent Back to School Crowds Report for Walt Disney World, it largely comes down to choosing the right day of the week to do Magic Kingdom.

This recap of my morning in Magic Kingdom offers a step-by-step look at what I accomplished, actual wait times throughout the first few hours of the day, and how you can achieve similar results during Party Season at Magic Kingdom, which runs now through December 22, 2023 during Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party (MNSSHP) and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party (MVMCP)…

As quick background for those who are unfamiliar with Party Season park hours dynamics, Magic Kingdom opens at 8 am on days when the park closes early for special events. This means that Early Entry begins at 7:30 am instead of 8:30 am, as is the case with a normal 9 am park opening.

We’ve recently received a lot of questions from concerned readers about Magic Kingdom Park Hours operating hours still being 9 am until 6 pm even on MNSSHP days. For those who are new to Walt Disney World vacation planning (or needing a reminder), park hours are released in advance on a rolling basis, but the first ’round’ of hours are usually boilerplate or placeholder hours. Once dates draw nearer, hours are extended and finalized.

This exact same thing happened last year, and every single date that Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party or Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party was held ended up extended, with an 8 am opening time. It didn’t matter whether crowd levels were 1/10–even several of the slowest days of the entire year were extended. For whatever reason, Walt Disney World has been incredibly slow to extend hours during this year’s Party Season. Despite that, we’re still expecting 8 am openings for September through December 2023.

Although moving from a 9 am opening time to 8 am might seem significant, it’s actually huge. For those of you haven’t followed our posts about park hours and Early Entry at the other parks, each extra hour in the morning is a big deal because it shrinks the pool of potential guests who are willing and able to get up early on vacation.

When park opening is at 9 am, there are a ton of people taking advantage of 8:30 am Early Entry because it’s relatively easy to be out the door and to Magic Kingdom by that time. It’s a different story entirely when moving that forward by an hour–especially for the families with small children to whom Magic Kingdom and its Fantasyland headliners most appeal.

This isn’t just conjecture or speculation. We’ve seen exactly this scenario play out at the other 3 parks, where Early Entry everywhere else is so much more productive because fewer guests can and will take advantage of it. Once EPCOT and Disney’s Hollywood Studios moved their opening times up to 8:30 am, that was a game-changer for Early Entry. Over at Animal Kingdom, the perk has always been great thanks to that almost absurd start time.

Our normal recommendation is to arrive at least 30 minutes before the start of Early Entry, which is typically good enough for Magic Kingdom. On this particular morning, I got to the BoardWalk bus stop at 6:20 am, which I assumed would be plenty of time for a 7 am arrival to Magic Kingdom. I was mistaken.

As it turns out, I had angered the bus gods by all the celebrating of how smoothly Walt Disney World transportation has been operating. And it felt like I was truly being teased as the wait times board kept pushing back the Magic Kingdom bus arrival time in few-minute increments. For the longest time, it was only me and one other family waiting at the stop, as several Animal Kingdom buses came and went. That family finally bailed, calling an Uber at around 6:45 am (they were there when I arrived–so they were waiting even longer).

Finally, the bus arrived at 6:53 am. Success! Much to my consternation, the bus driver stepped outside, looked at the wait times board, and concluded that he was “early” because the arrival time read 7:00 am. And so we waited until 7 am until departing for Magic Kingdom, which was mildly excruciating.

Upon arriving and undergoing secondary security screening due to my overstuffed camera bag, I was inside Magic Kingdom by around 7:20 am. I still had photos to take, which I did as quickly as possible before heading over to the Fantasyland Bridge.

As is the case every morning, there’s a row of Cast Members stationed by the East Plaza Gardens to scan MagicBands, MagicMobile, resort room keys, or whatever identification you might have if staying at one of the participating third party hotels. Once you’ve done that, you’re good to go for the morning–and proceed on to either the Tomorrowland Bridge or Fantasyland Bridge.

The crowd is always smaller for Tomorrowland. This is “less true” with the 7:30 am start time for Early Entry–there’s a difference, but it’s not nearly as pronounced. We usually “joke” that Fantasyland guests are revving up their double-wide strollers, preparing to do some serious damage to the ankles of anyone walking too gingerly. The sprint to Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is a high stakes, eat-or-be-eaten game.

We did Early Entry at Magic Kingdom prior to this party day on a normal weekend day. I should’ve played “count the strollers” on the two days. Regardless, I can say with utmost certainty that there were far fewer (even as a proportionate measure of the smaller crowd) on the 7:30 am day. Again, this is likely a matter of families with small children having a tougher time getting to Magic Kingdom at this hour.

I managed to make it to the Fantasyland Bridge by 7:25 am, by which time the rope had already dropped and guests had proceeded to their first attraction of the day. (I cannot overstate how overjoyed I was to arrive and find this bridge empty. I’ve spent many hot and miserable mornings waiting here. This is an infinitely better way to start the day!)

In our Ride Guide for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, our conventional advice is to skip the SDMT Shuffle, which is typically uncomfortable and unpleasant during Early Entry. However, the 7:30 am Early Entry is not typical or conventional. For this, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train can be a good starting option, and there was no better way to put this to the test than being (literally) at the back of the pack.

My total time commitment for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train was just under 30 minutes. That’s from the time I got in line until exiting the attraction.

Had I arrived even 5 minutes earlier and actually been a part of the SDMT Shuffle, that wait would’ve been more like 15-20 minutes. But it’s probably good to have these illustrative examples that have me doing worse than everyone else, so you can see that even if you have a stroller or don’t arrive at the crack of dawn, you can still have a favorable outcome.

The really interesting wrinkle here is that Seven Dwarfs Mine Train had a shorter line when I exited the attraction at 7:54 am.

This is a result of fewer new guests arriving than were there for the start of Early Entry at 7:30 am. That’s actually not a huge surprise; the turnstiles probably opened at 6:45 am or so, and a crowd had been building for 30-45 minutes at the Fantasyland Bridge. For the next half-hour or so, the attraction was ‘processing’ people–more than new guests were getting into line.

As such, it probably would’ve made more sense for me to start at Peter Pan’s Flight and then double back to Seven Dwarfs Mine Train to hit each when their lines were shortest. That normally is not the case, and I’m not recommending that approach to you–just making an observation.

Even with the 7:30 am Early Entry, usually the crowd continues growing over the course of the morning, and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is the “correct” starting point. (Plus, you have to content with the Lightning Lane once the park officially opens–so length of the line becomes less relevant.)

Anyway, Peter Pan’s Flight was next up.

The posted wait time here was 30 minutes; my total time commitment ended up being 17 minutes. At this point, I was actually behind my average pace from 7:30 am Early Entry trial runs during last year’s Party Season.

I continued to the Haunted Mansion, with this being my attraction for both strategic and convenience purposes. On a slow day like this, the cost of backtracking is often higher than simply doing attractions in order–and Haunted Mansion is near Peter Pan’s Flight.

Additionally, Haunted Mansion always sees a bump in its popularity during the Halloween season. Even after MNSSHP is over, Haunted Mansion is going to see a sustained spike for another year or so once Hatbox Ghost is installed. That means Haunted Mansion is probably a top 5 wait time for the first half of 2024.

I was done with Haunted Mansion by 8:32 am, for a total time cost of 17 minutes. (That’s pretty much the bare minimum for this–I breezed into the Stretching Room and walked onto a Doom Buggy thereafter.)

Rather than continuing on that side of the park, I bounced over to Adventureland to do Jungle Cruise and Pirates of the Caribbean.

The posted wait time for Jungle Cruise was 15 minutes, and my actual wait time was however long it took me to walk through the mostly-empty queue. I was off by 8:50 am.

Following that, Pirates of the Caribbean was down. A wall of Cast Members outside the attraction has become an increasingly common sight, and one I encountered close to half the time during my August 2023 testing–including every single rope drop day.

I wouldn’t be surprised if PotC has experienced more downtime this month than Slinky Dog Dash, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, and Test Track combined. 

From there, it was time to trek into the Wild West, which was fittingly still a ghost town.

With Splash Mountain closed to be transformed into Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, crowds often don’t arrive to this corner of the park until later in the morning. Despite a posted wait time of 30 minutes for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, my actual wait was only a few minutes–I was off by 9:05 am.

Here’s where I got lucky. Wanting to make this plan more practical for families or people who don’t like bouncing all around, I opted for the Walt Disney World Railroad next. The train arrived right as I was walking up to the entrance, and my total wait here was only a couple of minutes.

If strategy existed in a vaccuum without the reality of things like “walking” and “weather,” the smarter approach would’ve been to backtrack through Fantasyland and knock out “it’s a small world” and the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh. But I was already beat from the heat and weight of my camera bag; the WDWRR was a welcome relief!

Upon arriving in Storybook Circus, it was time to pad my stats.

First up was Barnstormer, which I did at 9:16 am. (That’s entrance to exit!) There was only one other person on the attraction, who was also an adult.

Dumbo took a little bit longer–6 minutes in total.

I probably captured around 100 pachyderm photos while in flight and ended up using the very first one I took for the illustrative image above. Once again, I was one of two parties on the attraction.

Next up was the Little Mermaid dark ride, which was another walk-on.

If I were concerned with characters, it would’ve made more sense to arrive in this corner of the park a little later. Ariel’s Grotto has a higher average wait during Party Season, but it’s not open until 10 am. I had no intentions of doing this, though. I’ll do Barnstormer and take tons of photos on Dumbo, but I draw the line at meeting Ariel by myself.

Mad Tea Party was another easy one to knock out, with a total time commitment of 4 minutes.

Also took photos the entire time on this, 98% of which don’t really look like anything.

Nope.

As the writing here demonstrates, I already have a sufficient amount of cognitive impairment. No need to add further fuel to the fire via vehicular exhaust.

Back in Tomorrowland, it was time for a relaxing spin on the PeopleMover.

No wait whatsoever for this, and I was done in about 13 minutes.

Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin was next on the agenda, with a posted wait time of 15 minutes that was actually a walk-on.

One thing that’s probably worth emphasizing here is that Lightning Lanes would have saved, at most, 5 minutes up until this point of the morning. On most attractions, they would’ve saved no time whatsoever, as there was no standby line up to the merge point. In some instances, they’d save negative time–I passed a few parties via standby who were struggling to scan into the Lightning Lane.

At this point it was after 10 am and wait times were starting to climb throughout Magic Kingdom. Despite this, Space Mountain only had a 25 minute posted wait, so I decided to give it a shot. (The alternative would’ve been Astro Orbiter, which had a short line…in the sun.)

I should’ve known better. A headliner posting a shorter wait than everything else induces demand, and my actual wait time ended up being 28 minutes. Obviously, that’s not bad by any objective measure…but I was hoping for another near walk-on. I’ve waited less than that for Space Mountain on busier mornings and would encounter a shorter line later this same day.

All told, here’s what I accomplished between 7:30 am and ~10:30 am via Early Entry and rope drop at Magic Kingdom:

  1. Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
  2. Peter Pan’s Flight
  3. Haunted Mansion
  4. Jungle Cruise
  5. Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
  6. Walt Disney World Railroad
  7. Barnstormer
  8. Dumbo
  9. Under the Sea ~ Journey of the Little Mermaid
  10. Mad Tea Party
  11. TTA PeopleMover
  12. Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin
  13. Space Mountain

In the end, I’m pretty pleased with what I managed to accomplish in 3 hours. This is, without question, the most efficient Early Entry and morning in Magic Kingdom that I’ve had this year. I haven’t gotten this much done since early December of last year, which not at all coincidentally was also a 7:30 am start during Party Season.

Still, I always think about what could’ve gone better. (I just can’t help myself!) With the benefit of hindsight, swapping Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Peter Pan’s Flight would’ve been more efficient. Again, that’s not necessarily my recommendation to you, as 7:30 am Early Entry will get busier over the course of Party Season, so that may not work.

Additionally, doing the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and “it’s a small world” after the Little Mermaid dark ride would’ve made sense. Both of those still would’ve had low waits at that hour, and the delay wouldn’t have materially impacted wait times for subsequent Tomorrowland attractions. Doing Astro Orbiter after the PeopleMover or Buzz and saving Space Mountain for mid-afternoon would’ve been the final improvement.

During these Party Season days, we typically do not recommend buying the Genie+ service. The only major exception to that is if you’re Park Hopping to Disney’s Hollywood Studios; in which case, stacking Lightning Lanes for the afternoon there–while also potentially using them sparingly in Magic Kingdom–can make sense.

Otherwise, Genie+ is not necessary at Magic Kingdom during the daytime hours prior to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party. This same day in Magic Kingdom, I managed to repeat several of these same attractions. Jungle Cruise and Peter Pan’s Flight were only ones where Genie+ would’ve really been useful. Even Space Mountain and Big Thunder were fine via standby during the middle of the day before ‘mix-in’ hours began.

Honestly, if “forced” to choose between Genie+ at Magic Kingdom and Individual Lightning Lanes for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and/or TRON Lightcycle Run, I’d pick the latter–and I’m am ardently anti-ILL.

Ultimately, we highly recommend taking advantage of Early Entry at Magic Kingdom on days when Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, or other events are being held.

Walking down an empty Main Street plus “private park” photos with Cinderella Castle in the background is a fun way to start the day. Same goes for the cooler weather. It was hot and humid even at 7 am, but it wasn’t quite as bad as the rest of the day…and that counts for something!

There’s also the comparative lack of crowds at the Fantasyland Bridge for the start of the 7:30 am Early Entry. I mentioned this at the start of the post, but it bears reiterating for those who have never experienced the SDMT Shuffle. That’s a “great” way to start your day off on the wrong foot and risk meltdowns, whereas this is actually an enjoyable way to start the morning at Magic Kingdom.

Moreover, the 7:30 am start time coupled with the lower crowd levels at Magic Kingdom during the daytime hours of party nights makes Early Entry and rope drop much more advantageous than normal. If you use savvy strategy for Fantasyland during Early Entry and pair that with traditional rope drop for Frontierland and Adventureland, you can have a solid start to your morning at Magic Kingdom.

Even with the early closing, it is possible to accomplish a full day’s worth of Magic Kingdom attractions without buying Genie+ or Individual Lightning Lane access. Speaking of which, aside from paying extra for line-skipping, this is also the only way to efficiently experience Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Peter Pan’s Flight, since jumping in line at the end of the night isn’t a possibility on party dates.

Seriously, you can accomplish more during fewer hours and enjoy a more pleasant park experience at Magic Kingdom on these days versus the ‘normal’ days. We’ve been emphasizing this for the last year-plus, but there’s a night-and-day difference in Magic Kingdom crowds during Party Season. You really should consider taking advantage of the significantly lower attendance at Magic Kingdom on these 8 am to 6 pm days. Consider it a different form of zigging when they zag strategy for Walt Disney World.

Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!

YOUR THOUGHTS

Thoughts on Early Entry at Magic Kingdom with the 7:30 am start time? Have you experienced this 30 minute jumpstart to the day prior to Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party or Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party? What’s your preferred approach to Early Entry and traditional park opening/rope drop at Magic Kingdom? How would you have done things differently? Any other feedback on arriving early to the Walt Disney World theme parks? Agree or disagree with our advice or approach? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!

35 Responses to “How We Did 13 Rides in 3 Hours at Magic Kingdom via Standby Lines”
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