Early Entry & Extended Evening Hours Coming to Disney World

Walt Disney World has announced more details about the replacement for Extra Magic Hours, which will be offered both in the morning and evening at every park–Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom–daily. In this post, we share more details. Plus, commentary about the “pay to play” nature of the extended hours, recent rope drops, and what’s still unknown. (Updated July 8, 2021.)

Just in time for the start of the 50th Anniversary celebration, on October 1, Walt Disney World will be rolling out a new early theme park entry benefit for on-site guests (meaning Disney-owned resorts plus some third party ones like Swan & Dolphin, Shades of Green, etc.) giving them the first chance to enjoy select attractions at every theme park, every day. Guests will need a valid ticket or pass and a theme park reservation for the same park on the same date for early theme park entry.

In addition, guests staying at Deluxe or Deluxe Villa Resorts at Walt Disney World will also be able to enjoy extended evening hours on select nights in select theme parks. Extended evening hours will begin in early October 2021. Further specifics, including dates and parks will be shared at a later time…

For the extended evening hours, guests will also need valid park entry and a reservation for the same park on the same day to experience extended evening hours. Alternatively, guests may Park Hop for extended evening hours so long as they entered their first park where they made their reservation earlier in the day.

During both of these extended park hours options, select attractions, merchandise, and food and beverage locations will be available. Eligible guests will need to bring a MagicBand, Disney MagicMobile pass, or Key to the World card linked to the hotel stay, or another form of Resort ID.

Back at the hotels, the “Caravanning ‘Round The World” RV will continue to roll around during Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary. This is a nice touch, and we’re totally on board with the ways Walt Disney World has found to infuse characters into the experience, despite the lack of meet & greets and regular character meals.

During the World’s Most Magical Celebration, characters will be dressed in their EARidescent best and dropping by to visit with guests at Walt Disney World Resort hotels. Sounds nice!

In one final tidbit before we get to the commentary, Walt Disney World gave a non-update update on the Disney Dining Plan: “While we’re not quite ready to share an update on timing, we are planning to bring this guest-favorite option back at a later date. We will also continue to reopen more Resort offerings, including restaurants like ‘Ohana (with the noodles!).”

This is undoubtedly because it’s among the top 2 most asked questions by guests, right after when will FastPass+ return? It should come as absolutely no surprise whatsoever that the Disney Dining Plan will be coming back, and as soon as possible. As we explain in When Will the Disney Dining Plan Return?, it’s a cash cow for Disney that is only temporarily suspended out of necessity. What’s “interesting” is that no such reassurances were given about the fate of FastPass. 😉

As for commentary, my main thought is that this is all super vague. Honestly, this feels more like a “hey, we haven’t forgot about this, it’s still coming! Please keep booking resort stays.” reminder than anything else.

Based on Disney’s verbiage, I’m not even totally confident that morning early theme park entry begins on October 1, 2021. That seems to be the implication, but there’s enough ambiguity and it’s possible they’re simply reiterating that’s when the 50th Anniversary starts. Personally, I think having a little bit of a buffer between launching theme park early entry and the onslaught of the World’s Most Magical Celebration makes sense, but that’s just me.

In addition to whether theme park early entry will start on October 1, there’s the question of duration. In the first reveal of this program, it was stated to be 30 minutes at every park, every day. This “details” post glossed over that important detail. Perhaps it’s an oversight, but in an announcement that’s 75% fluff, it seems like that would’ve merited inclusion as something substantive.

My hope here is that there’s still internal debate over how long early entry should be, and the potential for it to be expanded from 30 minutes to an hour. That seems inconsistent with the direction Walt Disney World is taking things right now, so we can probably file that under naive wishful thinking on my part.

Recently, rope drop has returned to “normal” at all four Walt Disney World theme parks. In the process, it has become something of a de facto early entry, but for everyone who is able to arrive in time for it. (I’m guessing it’s mostly on-site guests given the challenges of driving, parking, and entering on time.)

If our preliminary “restored” rope drop experiences are any indication, early theme park entry will not be particularly valuable. I’m still not totally sure what the deal is, but in our (admittedly limited) visits thus far, it has felt like we would’ve been better off sleeping in, arriving late, and staying late. We plan on making some more visits before jumping to any conclusions, though.

On a random note, I think it’s odd that they’re dropping the Extra Magic Hours moniker. The names for these future offerings are more descriptive than anything, and the lack of capitalization (which was present in the original announcement) suggests these are not even proper names.

I’m guessing no one reading this cares, but it’s fascinating to me. Walt Disney World is usually so good with branding, and Extra Magic Hours is a beloved offering. Tweaking the details while retaining the Extra Magic Hours name would’ve made sense. Dropping the EMH branding and replacing it with a descriptive name is surprising. (I feel the same way about FastPass, which I suspect will return with a different name, too.)

This is probably going to be an unpopular opinion, but I’m fine with extended evening hours being limited to only guests staying in Deluxe and Deluxe Villa Resorts. I’m going to assume this includes guests staying in Disney Vacation Club units, as those are technically Deluxe Villas. The positive impact it would have on DVC sales if included and the negative impact if not included makes that a no-brainer.

July 8, 2021 Update: Disney Vacation Club has confirmed exactly this in their latest Membership Magic email: “Members and Guests staying at a Disney Vacation Club Resort or Disney Deluxe Resort hotel will exclusively be able to enjoy extended evening hours on select nights in select theme parks providing more time to enjoy the Magic. Extended evening hours will begin in early October with specific dates and parks to be shared at a later time, so please be sure to check back on DisneyWorld.com for the latest.”

While bookings at most resorts are through the roof right now, numbers at the Deluxes have lagged behind Values and Moderates for years. That will likely be true once again once pent-up demand fizzles and the first few months of the World’s Most Magical Celebration play out.

I’m not convinced that someone otherwise considering Caribbean Beach will upgrade to the Poly now because of this–I think pricing is the core issue there and the return of discounts like Free Dining are more or less necessary to prop up the Deluxes–but it’s worth trying out. Walt Disney World can tweak this down the road or expand eligibility as necessary.

From a practical perspective, limiting the pool of guests eligible for nighttime extended hours is necessary to make it a worthwhile benefit for anyone. Evening Extra Magic Hours were a nightmare in their last few years due to the larger pool of eligible guests.

As a result of Walt Disney World expanding and building new resorts and adding to the list of participating on-site hotels, crowds had become pretty bad. It got to the point that not only did we recommend avoiding Evening EMH, but also the park hosting that hour during the day. As it turns out, people are more likely to be night owls than early risers on vacation!

The core problem here is the gradual reduction of park hours. This was becoming a pronounced issue pre-closure, and we actually had a post in draft form comparing park hours to a decade earlier. In the last couple years, there have been days when the Magic Kingdom was open for 4-5 fewer hours, despite millions more guests per year visiting the park.

This undoubtedly contributed to crowding in more recent years during Evening Extra Magic Hours, and it will likely lead to more frustration about the extended evening hours reserved only for Deluxe and Deluxe Villa Resort guests. It was one thing for Walt Disney World to reduce park hours last year post-reopening due to low crowd levels. However, with attendance projections for October and beyond sky-high, regular fall and holiday season hours should be extended significantly.

If regular operating hours were longer and allowed guests to have a satisfying day even without extended hours, I think the perk would be less controversial. In such a scenario, since it will operate on a more sporadic schedule (like EMH), it’ll be easy to plan around.

Early entry, by contrast, will occur daily and off-site guests won’t be able to plan around it. Nevertheless, I see that as less of a source of frustration since it’s shorter, fewer people rope drop, and most of those who are serious about the morning efficiency stay on-site.

As Annual Passholders who make most of our park visits without accompanying hotel stays, neither of these perks bother me. Personally, I think better benefits for on-site guests is fair, and more for the higher resort tiers is likewise reasonable. Don’t be surprised if the eventual replacement for FastPass and the included access it entails for resort guests works the same way. Every on-site guest gets something, but perhaps Deluxes receive more than Values. (Conversely, it’s ridiculous when the Deluxe Resorts have shared bus service.)

I love several of the Value and Moderate Resorts and we stay in them regularly, but Walt Disney World’s approach here strikes me as reasonable. As someone who wants there to be actual on-site advantages, instead of the illusory ones, I’m cautiously optimistic about this news. While some people might lament this as “pay to play” or elitist, my response would be–that’s the nature of on-site perks. It has always been that way, and just like Deluxe Resorts are a luxury some can’t afford, so too is staying on-site in a Value Resort…or even visiting Walt Disney World, period. It’s all relative. Exclusive perks are something everyone wants, until they’re the one being excluded.

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

What do you think of this news of early theme park entry and extended evening hours at Walt Disney World? Excited for these on-site perks? Disappointed the nighttime bonus time will only be for Deluxe and Deluxe Villa Resort guests? Hoping for an announcement on the Disney Dining Plan in the near future? Planning on going to Walt Disney World this summer, or holding off until the start of the 50th Anniversary celebration? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!

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