Early Entry at Magic Kingdom offers on-site guests of Walt Disney World hotels a head-start on long lines, and the ability to accomplish attractions with lower wait times…in theory. This photo report shares my step-by-step morning on an average day (crowd level 6/10), but that felt far worse due to a meltdown of many rides in MK.
We’re big fans of Early Entry, and have enthusiastically recommended it in dozens of planning posts. In large part, this is because we think it’s an underrated perk, with many guests dismissing it as “only” 30 minutes and inferior to the now-defunct, hour-long morning Extra Magic Hours. However, it’s also typically a lot less busy than EMH was, since it’s at all 4 parks every single day, thus diluting the crowds.
As explained in our various Extra Hours Photo Reports, the perk is a great way to knock out Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, Frozen Ever After, Avatar Flight of Passage, and other headliners with minimal waits via the standby lines before Lightning Lanes clog up queues. However, you’ll notice one conspicuous omission from our emphatic praise about Early Entry: Magic Kingdom.
I’ve done Early Entry at Magic Kingdom over a dozen times in the last 2 years. It’s my least favorite park for Early Entry, and frankly, it’s not even a remotely close call. I still do Early Entry elsewhere “for fun,” whereas Magic Kingdom is strictly for the sake of research and reporting at this point. When it comes to enjoyment, I’d only do Early Entry at Magic Kingdom during Party Season.
This is because Operating Hours at Magic Kingdom are still reduced, with the park opening at 9 am most mornings–even on the busiest days of the year! Only during Party Season from August through December (plus a few other dates) does Magic Kingdom open at 8 am. The good news is that Party Season is right around the corner, so many of you planning Walt Disney World trips will have precisely this opportunity.
Suffice to say, the 7:30 am Early Entry at Magic Kingdom is a game changer. We highly recommend it on Halloween or Christmas Party dates. Very few guests have the desire and determination to be out their hotel room door by ~6:30 am, which is pretty much what’s necessary to arrive at Magic Kingdom in time for the start of Early Entry. By contrast, tons of people can make it for 8:30 am Early Entry, which is the main reason why Magic Kingdom is the worst park for Early Entry.
I was out the door of the room with plenty of time to make it to Magic Kingdom on time and the bus was scheduled to arrive in only 5 minutes. Perfect. Then that got delayed by a few minutes, and then that bus skipped our stop entirely. We’ve had that happen a couple times due to buses filling up at earlier stops at Caribbean Beach.
Another bus bound for Magic Kingdom arrived in 8 minutes, amounting to a total wait of a little over 15 minutes. That’s certainly not awful, but it’s the longest wait I’ve had for Early Entry in a long time–and when you’re on a tight schedule, that 15 minute wait feels like 45!
My issues didn’t end there. After arriving to Magic Kingdom, my bag was flagged while going through security. This is a bit tangential, but for the last year, I was breezing through bag check by holding my camera bag out in front of me (far off my body) if I only had lightweight mirrorless lenses.
In the last couple of months, I’ve been flagged every single time I’ve gone through the security scanners. I’ve also noticed many more people in line with me at secondary screening. So I’m pretty sure it’s not a “me problem.” (My biggest pro tip for those packing a lot for the parks: use a lightweight backpack with a single main compartment. Not only is it a lot more comfortable to wear, but it’s way more efficient at bagcheck.)
My guess is that Walt Disney World turned up the “sensitivity” of the Evolv scanners (or something like that) after incidents about them started making headlines. Normally, this doesn’t add too of a delay, as I have an ‘efficient’ single compartment camera bag. On this particular morning at Magic Kingdom, the line for secondary screening was a dozen people deep and amounted to another 12 minute delay.
Anyway, I finally entered Magic Kingdom at 8:05 am for the 8:30 am start of Early Theme Park Entry. By this time, Magic Kingdom’s turnstiles had been open for probably at least 30 minutes. A crowd had already built up on Main Street, there was a line for Starbucks, and so forth.
Our normal recommendation is to arrive around 30 minutes before the start of Early Theme Park Entry. If your plan is to do Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, you want to arrive 30+ minutes in advance. Less time is fine for Peter Pan’s Flight, Space Mountain, or the other options.
After snapping some photos around the Central Plaza and Cinderella Castle, I headed to the right of the East Plaza Garden for Early Theme Park Entry.
Here, there’s a row of Cast Members stationed to scan MagicBands, resort room keys, or whatever appropriate identification you might have if staying at one of the participating third party hotels. You can’t access Tomorrowland or Fantasyland without scanning here. Once you’ve done that, you’re good to go for the morning. This works exactly the same as morning Extra Magic Hours.
From there, you proceed on to either the Tomorrowland Bridge or Fantasyland Bridge.
As always, the crowd is significantly smaller for Tomorrowland. This is the entirety of it–the rope is under the archway, and there’s decent breathing room among parties.
By contrast, here’s a portion of the crowd for Fantasyland. It would end up extending all the way out past the other side of the Fantasyland bridge.
There were probably 10-15 times as many guests waiting here. Approximately 90% of those people are planning on doing Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.
Normally, we would take a divide and conquer approach with Sarah getting stuck doing the SDMT Shuffle while I run around taking pictures and assessing lines throughout Tomorrowland and Fantasyland. Sarah wasn’t able to join me, so I had to decide which path to take: practical plan testing or research. I chose the latter.
The idea of doing the SDMT Shuffle is always unappealing to me, but doubly so when I’m at the back of the pack and elbow-to-elbow with a bunch of tired and fellow under-caffeinated guests on a morning when Florida ‘feels like’ temperatures are already approaching the triple digits.
Without even doing it, I can tell you that the SDMT Shuffle would’ve been stressful, generally miserable, and I would’ve been halfway into a 75-minute long line. Seven Dwarfs Mine Train alone would’ve been the entirety of my Early Entry time at Magic Kingdom. (With the benefit of hindsight, that actually wouldn’t have been the worst possible outcome this particular morning!)
Instead, I headed to the Tomorrowland bridge right as Early Entry started to check out Space Mountain.
As is always the case, the experience getting into Tomorrowland is downright blissful as compared to Fantasyland. However, a long line did form immediately at Space Mountain.
Guests were stacked outside the queue, and funnel down from a bit of an amorphous blob into an actual line closer to the entrance. This might look bad, but keep in mind that there’s no one inside the building yet and is purely standby at this hour.
It likely would’ve been about a 10 minute wait, with most of that being a matter of walking through the interior queue. That would’ve made Space Mountain a strong starting option for Early Entry, just like most mornings in Magic Kingdom. However, I was here for research–not fun–so I kept on going without blasting off into space.
Going it alone, my goal was to make it back to Peter Pan’s Flight before all of the guests who bail on Seven Dwarfs Mine Train head that direction. This happens every morning as some of the back half of the SDMT Shuffle participants realize they’re in for a 45 minute or longer wait.
At this point, the posted wait time for Peter Pan’s Flight was only 15 minutes–not bad at all. That meant it would’ve been a walk-on for anyone who headed directly to Peter Pan’s Flight at the start of Early Entry. I was curious as to how it would look ~10 minutes later, so I headed back towards Fantasyland.
On my way back, I noticed that Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin was down.
Then I passed the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, and saw that was also experiencing the dreaded delayed opening. So I checked the My Disney Experience app again…
Sure enough, half of the Early Entry attractions in Magic Kingdom were down.
Astro Orbiter, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, Mad Tea Party, The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover, and the Little Mermaid dark ride were all ‘temporarily closed’ according to MDX.
Unsurprisingly, Peter Pan’s Flight was no longer a 15 minute wait when I arrived.
In the span of a few minutes, it had skyrocketed to 65 minutes, and had Cast Members directing traffic into an outdoor overflow queue. This was probably just because the interior queue was still filling with people, but I wasn’t about to find out.
Heading back the other direction a few minutes later, the line for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train already wrapped around the mountain and was back by the Little Mermaid dark ride.
The posted wait time for SDMT was 75 minutes. That might’ve been inflated a bit, but it would’ve been long regardless. Certainly worse than I had seen it during other Early Entry mornings, including many that would end up having higher crowd levels.
I headed back to Tomorrowland, where the lines had also built up.
Here’s a look at Space Mountain, now with a 60 minute wait and a line that leads all the way back near the corridor leading into the land. (It was almost to Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor.)
Even though it was still down, the PeopleMover had a decent number of people (probably a few dozen) simply waiting for it to open.
This type of thing happens in these ‘meltdown’ situations when numerous attractions are ‘temporarily closed’ to start Early Entry. The fewer attractions that are open see their wait times skyrocket and have visibly long lines (that are frankly a bit deceptive), so people start waiting around for the down attractions to open. A lot of people were also simply sitting around the Lunching Pad.
Back at Peter Pan’s Flight, the overflow queue was gone and the posted wait time was “only” 50 minutes at 8:50 am.
Around this time, the attractions with delayed openings also started to open. The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and Mad Tea Party were both up. By 8:58 am, everything except Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin and the Little Mermaid dark ride were up and running. This would be great news for actual rope drop crowds, but a sour start for many of those doing Early Entry.
All in all, I would’ve been able to accomplish either Space Mountain or Peter Pan’s Flight with minimal wait had I started with one of those two attractions. If I arrived earlier, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train also would’ve been an option. But that was it–one ride with a short wait–on this particular morning.
I wandered for a bit, checking out other attractions in Fantasyland before heading to the Tangled Toilets™️ for regular rope drop of Frontierland and Adventureland. Had I been really strategic, I would’ve headed back through the hub to start from there.
There wasn’t much of a crowd here and I moved quickly to make my way over to Jungle Cruise, but speed didn’t matter. The distance is far longer from this point than it is from the hub, and I was behind the rope drop crowd.
I had actually planned on doing Jungle Cruise, but it also was experiencing a delayed opening, so I bounced immediately. In checking MDX, it looks like it opened about 2-4 minutes after I left. Can’t win ’em all.
Absolutely no crowd over in Frontierland.
A bit surprised that a colossal crowd hadn’t gathered outside Magic Kingdom’s UNESCO World Heritage Site, Country Bear Jamboree, waiting for it to open.
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad still had a 10 minute wait.
I did this, and my actual wait time was however long it took me to walk through the mostly-empty queue. Trains were being dispatched about half full. Even as I exited, the wait time was still 10 minutes, and didn’t look any worse than when I arrived. This has been the rope drop dynamic (at least in my experience) since Splash Mountain closed.
Honestly, I was expecting larger crowds with only one attraction to absorb guests instead of two. Instead, it appears that people are avoiding this corner of Magic Kingdom completely. That’s why we do field-testing rather than simply make assumptions about what we expect to happen. Sometimes crowd dynamics surprise us!
From there, it was back to Adventureland for Pirates of the Caribbean.
This was also a walk-on, which is completely unsurprising.
Back at Jungle Cruise, the line is entirely inside the queue but the posted wait was now 40 minutes. Frankly, that’s not too bad and I didn’t notice many people heading into the Lightning Lane.
I’m guessing the actual wait time would’ve been under 30 minutes–maybe under 20 minutes. I was hungry and disinclined to find out for myself, though. Sorry.
In general, Frontierland and Adventureland were not busy at all.
My guess is that the attractions with delayed openings came back up just in time to keep the Early Entry crowd in those lands longer than expected, while also drawing in rope drop guests who saw the lower wait times for all of the rides coming online between 8:45 and 9 am. I don’t know how else to explain the chaos of those two lands contrasted with the calm of Adventureland and Frontierland.
Ultimately, this experience with Early Theme Park Entry at Magic Kingdom was not great. It still would’ve been decently productive had I been at the front of the pack for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, or started with Peter Pan’s Flight or Space Mountain. But the wheels would’ve fallen off after that. I could’ve only done one of those rides with a short wait before having to figure out what to do about the ride breakdowns.
This kind of morning meltdown at Magic Kingdom is hardly unprecedented. It’s been a while since we’ve experienced anything to this degree firsthand, but there are days when a half-dozen attractions are down due to power outages or who knows what. When that happens, you can either try to wait it out or head in the other direction and hope for the best.
In the end, my morning at Magic Kingdom could’ve gone worse, but it also could’ve been better. My biggest misstep was being impatient with Jungle Cruise, but I probably wouldn’t have given up so quickly if so many things weren’t broken down during Early Entry. Still, a subpar day for the worst Early Entry park at Walt Disney World.
It’s also worth emphasizing that my best results would’ve come after rope drop, regardless. I could’ve done Jungle Cruise, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Haunted Mansion all with low waits. After that, continuing into Fantasyland to do mid-tier dark rides with short waits would’ve been viable. I could’ve arrived almost an hour later than I did, and simply saved the headliners for after Happily Ever After. (With that said, transportation and security likely would’ve taken longer or been worse had I waited to depart my resort.)
Even on a good day, Early Entry at Magic Kingdom requires a relatively decent time commitment, larger crowds, and far less payoff than the other parks at Walt Disney World. As we’ve cautioned before, don’t let Magic Kingdom be your first Early Entry experience, as it’ll unduly prejudice you against the other parks, despite Early Entry being far superior in EPCOT, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios. Speaking of which, if you want strategy for the other three parks, check out our Guide to Early Theme Park Entry at Walt Disney World.
Have you experienced the dreaded multi-ride morning meltdown at Magic Kingdom when many attractions start out temporarily closed? Thoughts on Early Theme Park Entry at Magic Kingdom? Have you experienced this 30 minute jumpstart to the day at Magic Kingdom? What’s your preferred approach to Early Entry? 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!