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. This photo report shares my step-by-step morning on the busiest day of the week during Party Season in MK, plus a bit of zig when others zag strategy.
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.
Early Entry is also typically a lot less busy than Extra Magic Hours was, since it’s at all 4 parks every single day, thus diluting the crowds. However, that’s not the full story during Party Season in Magic Kingdom, which runs from August through December. During this time of year, the park experiences roller coaster crowds and whether Early Entry at Magic Kingdom is awesome, awful, or somewhere in between depends largely upon which day of the week you choose.
We’ve already discussed this at length in various posts, so I’m not going to belabor the point here. Suffice to say, refer to our post: Best & Worst Days to Visit Every Park at Walt Disney World for advice on that. As discussed there, Monday is the busiest day of the week–and when I did this Early Entry and rope drop run-through.
There are a few reasons why Monday is typically the worst day of the week to do Magic Kingdom. Those are amplified during Party Season, when Sundays and Tuesdays (and sometimes Wednesdays!) have party-shortened operating hours, making Monday the only day in a 3-day (or 4-day!) stretch with normal operating hours.
The flip side of this is that, as we’ve also discussed, 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.
On this particular day, I arrived at Magic Kingdom very early–after security had started processing guests but before the turnstiles opened for the 8:30 am start of Early Theme Park Entry.
As a result, I was one of the first people on Main Street and had plenty of time for my favorite part of these mornings: running around taking dozens of photos of the same scenes I already have 100s of photos of. What can I say, I’m a creature of habit!
If you’re normal and like sleep, you don’t need to arrive so far in advance. 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 empty park 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 up by the rockwork, and there’s decent breathing room among parties.
Here’s the crowd for Fantasyland.
Keep in mind that this is still pretty early–over 30 minutes before Early Entry begins. Anyone who arrives and lines up for Fantasyland or Tomorrowland at this point is going to have a short wait (under 15 minutes) for whichever attraction they opt to do first, and that includes Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. They’d also have shade to keep cool for that ~30 minute wait until Early Entry started!
Normally, we would take a divide and conquer approach with Sarah getting stuck doing the SDMT Shuffle while I run around taking more 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. As such, what you see here is mostly me documenting what crowds looked and felt like as the morning progressed. By and large, this is not actionable advice, nor is it a recap of what I was able to accomplish. I didn’t accomplish much…because I didn’t set out to!
I only mention this because my ‘research’ reports tend to feedback about how I could’ve done more had I not bounced back and forth. That’s missing the point–I’m not really trying to do anything, save for showcase crowd dynamics.
Anyway, fast-forward 20 minutes and the crowd for Fantasyland is back past the bridge.
As always, 90% of the people here are heading for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train first. And every single one of them who arrived after 8:15am (15 minutes before Early Entry even starts) is too late. This is the equivalent to showing up for Black Friday sales 10 minutes before they start when everyone else is camped out overnight…and still trying to be part of the stampede for the limited-inventory doorbusters. You’re too late!
Here’s the crowd over at the Tomorrowland bridge.
This is also bad as compared to what we had been seeing over the late summer and early fall off-season, or on the 7:30am Early Entry start times. But it’s not objectively bad. It’ll be worse during the Christmas season on days when Magic Kingdom opens at 9am. (Thankfully, hours are being extended and there are fewer of those days as a result!)
Not wanting to be part of the SDMT Shuffle, I stayed over here to start by checking out the Space Mountain crowd.
As is always the case, the experience getting into Tomorrowland is downright blissful as compared to Fantasyland. A long line did form for Space Mountain, but this is not as concerning as it might look…
Guests were stacked outside the queue, and funnel down from a bit of an amorphous blob into an actual line closer to the entrance. The upside is that there’s no one inside the building yet and it’s purely standby at this hour–literally the entirety of the line is in the above photo.
This 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–no time for fun yet!–so I kept on going without blasting off into space.
Going through Tomorrowland–in other words, the long route–I was still able to make it over to Fantasyland before the guests waiting on the Fantasyland bridge.
There’s a reason we call it the SDMT Shuffle! The crowd is significantly larger, there are a lot of double-wide strollers and it’s a slow trudge in a sea of humanity. It literally is like a traffic jam, with a bit of an accordion effect as it takes people time to get moving. By contrast, the path from Tomorrowland to Fantasyland is like being in the fast lane!
It actually gets worse.
Because this crowd is inexperienced (they must be, or they wouldn’t be doing SDMT after arriving late!), they are also taking the inside path to Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. Intuitively, it’s the “correct” approach because it’s shorter…and the way everyone else is going. But it’s still objectively the wrong way to go.
This is because the line for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train will already be wrapping back towards Storybook Circus.
This means that everyone taking the longer route around Mad Tea Party won’t have to contend with that large and slowly-shuffling crowd (and thus will be able to move faster). They’ll also arrive where the end of the line actually is, rather than chasing it.
Trust me, it’s very frustrating to watch the end of the line quickly moving away from you and getting farther out of reach. It’s happening so quickly, but it also feels like you’re watching in slow motion as your morning plans slip away.
If you’ve made the mistake of doing the SDMT and been stuck towards the back (don’t feel badly–we’ve all been there!), you instantly know what I’m talking about. This may not make a lot of sense if you’ve never done the SDMT Shuffle, though. The above few paragraphs might as well be written in Klingon or Na’vi.
The salient point here is to skip Seven Dwarfs Mine Train unless you arrive over 30 minutes before the start of Early Entry. Failing that, start in Tomorrowland, cut past the Speedway, and take the outside route past Mad Tea Party to the actual end of the SDMT standby line. It’s a longer route, but exponentially more efficient!
This is why we often say you should zig when they zag. There are at least 3 instances of that in the above advice, from not doing Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at all to (literally) not following the crowd if, for whatever reason, you choose to ignore our recommendation and ride it first anyway. Magic Kingdom morning crowds are nothing if not predictably irrational.
Unsurprisingly, Peter Pan’s Flight was a 45 minute posted wait when I arrived over here. It quickly shot up to over an hour after that.
This is a direct result of people doing the SDMT Shuffle, realizing the line is way too long, cutting their losses, and heading to Peter Pan’s Flight. That’s the bad news. The good news is that you can be at the back of the pack on the Fantasyland or Tomorrowland bridge and still hit Peter Pan’s Flight with a relatively short wait if you head here directly–even with walking at a leisurely pace!
As should be obvious from the photos and text thus far, I did not head here directly. If I did, I suspect my actual wait would’ve been under 10 minutes. Sarah and I have done this enough to have a pretty good feel for wait times in different crowd levels.
Other wait times throughout Fantasyland and Tomorrowland were fairly unremarkable. Even on busy days, the brunt of the crowd is heading for three attractions–Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Peter Pan’s Flight, and Space Mountain.
Astro Orbiter, Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin, Mad Tea Party, “it’s a small world,” The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh, Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover, Tomorrowland Speedway, and the Little Mermaid dark ride would all be walk-ons during the first half of Early Entry. With the exception of peak season (or when there are a lot of ride breakdowns), that’s true pretty much regardless of the crowd level.
I headed back to Tomorrowland, to see the extent to which the crowds had worsened.
To my surprise, Space Mountain had a 10 minute posted wait time and there was no longer out the door. Since this is not par for the course in our experience, I opted to line up and see just how bad it was.
Honestly, I was fearing that the posted wait time would be understated, and the lack of queue deceptive–there are plenty of switchbacks inside! In actuality, it was lower than what was posted. From the time I got in line until I was off, it took 13 minutes. That’s nothing when you account for walking through the queue (on and off) and the ride itself.
I must’ve lucked out catching Space Mountain after the initial wave of Early Entry guests and before subsequent ones, because here’s a look at the line as I exited. You can see a Cast Member near one of the palms coming out with a ‘line starts here’ sign.
The posted wait time jumped to 30 minutes and then 45 minutes shortly thereafter.
It’s 8:55am, and the posted wait time for Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin is 10 minutes.
Needing to make it to the other side of Magic Kingdom for rope drop, I opted against doing it–but this is probably also a walk-on.
I made it to Jungle Cruise just before it officially opened.
As with the initial Space Mountain line outside the entrance, don’t be fooled by this. There is no line inside and no switchbacks are in use. It’s a 10 minute or so actual wait time, which is far and away the shortest it’ll be all day.
The biggest reason not to do Jungle Cruise first at rope drop (and I don’t think this is a good reason) is the total duration–actual wait time plus ride time. The latter is long, especially as compared to a thrill ride or Fantasyland dark ride. It’s a somewhat similar story with nearby Pirates of the Caribbean.
However, this needs to be balanced against wait times later in the day and the value of not running all over the park in the name of optimizing for efficiency. Walking between attractions also takes time and, for most people, takes a toll over the course of the day.
Plus, without Splash Mountain/Tiana’s Bayou Adventure operating, you can still arrive at Big Thunder Mountain Railroad roughly 30 minutes after park opening and still have a pretty manageable wait time.
The posted time on this particular morning was 25 minutes. That’s not terrible, and I’d also say this is a good time to do BTMRR and its open air line.
All in all, it was a pretty busy day at Magic Kingdom with one of the biggest Early Entry crowds I’ve seen here since spring break. With that said, it still would’ve been very 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.
Conversely, it would’ve been frustratingly unproductive for the poor folks at the back of Fantasyland bridge with delusions of being at the front of the line for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. Point being, at least part of your perception of Early Entry at Magic Kingdom will be colored by what time you arrive and whether you make the mistake of doing the SDMT Shuffle if arriving too late.
Had I been serious about lining up as soon as I arrived rather than screwing around taking photos, I’m confident I could’ve done both Fantasyland headliners or a trio in Tomorrowland during Early Entry. That’s really good for a Monday during Party Season bookended by two Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party days (going forward, the same will apply to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party). Remember, even if you’re not here 30 minutes before Early Entry starts, you can still have a productive morning by zigging when others zag!
That’s just during Early Entry. Add to that Jungle Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad in the first hour of the morning after park opening. (Not discussed above, but I tried to squeeze in Haunted Mansion afterwards, but it already had a 45 minute posted wait time–and a line to match!) After that, continuing into Fantasyland to do mid-tier dark rides with short waits would’ve been viable.
Conversely, I could’ve skipped Early Entry entirely, arrived over an hour later than I did, and simply saved the headliners for after Happily Ever After. Obviously, that’s not going to be a good option for families with small children, which is why Genie+ is another strong option for Magic Kingdom. (It’s the one park where we always recommend buying the paid FastPass service!)
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 Early Entry at Magic Kingdom on a Monday during Party Season? What were the crowds and wait times like? Do you prefer zigging when others zag, or following/leading the crowd to Seven Dwarfs Mine Train? What’s your preferred approach to Early Entry 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!