Guide to Early Entry at Disney World Theme Parks
Guests staying in on-site Walt Disney World resorts and other select hotels have access to Early Theme Park Entry. This strategy guide covers everything you need to know: eligibility, ride rosters, how the perk works, and tips for best using the time.
In terms of basics, Early Theme Park Entry replaces morning Extra Magic Hours, or rather, is a spiritual successor to that on-site guest benefit. Whereas morning Extra Magic Hours were offered on select days and at select parks, Early Entry is offered at all 4 theme parks every single day.
Another difference is that Extra Magic Hours lasted for an hour on each morning it was held. By contrast, this is daily 30-minute access to Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom.
Speaking of park hours, those can vary depending upon the season and attendance projections. Walt Disney World continues to extend park hours, with opening times moved forward. Typically, Animal Kingdom opens at 8 am, with Hollywood Studios and Epcot following at 8:30 am or 9 am. This is significant, as these earlier official opening times move forward Early Entry, and make that even less busy.
Magic Kingdom’s opening time varies due to party season–or August through December when the park is hosting Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party followed by Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. On days when the park closes early for those events, Magic Kingdom opens at 8 am.
Even outside of Party Season, Magic Kingdom opens at 8 am on certain dates. Most frequently, this occurs during the peak season or on days of Magic Kingdom After Hours. Read our Photo Report & Strategy: Magic Kingdom Early Entry at 7:30 am for a look at why this is so much better than a regular 9 am opening day.
As background, Early Theme Park Entry is an expansion of morning Extra Magic Hours, while also cutting its duration in half. This has pros and cons. The obvious drawback is that it’s 30 minutes shorter than its predecessor, so you have less of a head-start on off-site guests than during Extra Magic Hours.
The upside is that it’s every single park, every single day. This means on-site guests taking advantage of the perk are diluted–spread among all of the parks rather than concentrated in a single one. This itself is a downside for off-site guests, who now cannot avoid Early Entry to strategize around it.
We’ve already had a chance to take advantage of Early Theme Park Entry multiple times, and share some strategy below as a result of our experiences.
Let’s take a look at the eligible hotels for Early Theme Park Entry:
Early Entry Eligible Disney Owned Hotels
- Disney’s All-Star Movies Resort
- Disney’s All-Star Music Resort
- Disney’s All-Star Sports Resort
- Disney’s Art of Animation Resort
- Disney’s Pop Century Resort
- Campsites at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort
- Disney’s Caribbean Beach Resort
- Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort & Gran Destino Tower
- Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – French Quarter
- Disney’s Port Orleans Resort – Riverside
- Cabins at Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort
- Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge
- Disney’s Beach Club Resort
- Disney’s BoardWalk Inn
- Disney’s Contemporary Resort
- Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
- Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort
- Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
- Disney’s Yacht Club Resort
- Bay Lake Tower at Disney’s Contemporary Resort
- Boulder Ridge Villas at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
- Copper Creek Villas & Cabins at Disney’s Wilderness Lodge
- Disney’s Animal Kingdom Villas – Jambo House
- Disney’s Animal Kingdom Villas – Kidani Village
- Disney’s Beach Club Villas
- Disney’s BoardWalk Villas
- Disney’s Old Key West Resort
- Disney’s Polynesian Villas & Bungalows
- Disney’s Riviera Resort
- Disney’s Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa
- Villas at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa
Early Entry Eligible Third Party Hotels
- Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek
- Waldorf Astoria Orlando
- B Resort & Spa Lake Buena Vista
- DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Orlando
- Drury Plaza Hotel Orlando
- Hilton Orlando Buena Vista Palace
- Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista
- Holiday Inn Orlando
- Wyndham Garden Lake Buena Vista
- Wyndham Lake Buena Vista
- Four Seasons Resort Orlando
- Shades of Green
- Walt Disney World Swan Hotel
- Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel
- Walt Disney World Swan Reserve
Next, the attractions lineup for Early Theme Park Entry at each of the 4 theme parks…
Early Theme Park Entry Rides – Magic Kingdom
- “it’s a small world”
- Astro Orbiter
- Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin
- Dumbo the Flying Elephant
- Mad Tea Party
- Mickey’s PhilharMagic
- Peter Pan’s Flight
- Prince Charming Regal Carrousel
- Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
- Space Mountain
- The Barnstormer
- The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
- Tomorrowland Speedway
- Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover
- Under the Sea ~ Journey of The Little Mermaid
- Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress
Early Theme Park Entry Rides – Epcot
- Beauty and The Beast Sing-Along
- Frozen Ever After
- Mission: SPACE
- Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure
- Soarin’ Around the World
- Spaceship Earth
- Test Track
- The Seas with Nemo & Friends
Early Theme Park Entry Rides – Disney’s Hollywood Studios
- Alien Swirling Saucers
- Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway
- Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run
- Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith (currently closed for refurbishment)
- Slinky Dog Dash
- Star Tours — The Adventures Continue
- Star Wars – Rise of the Resistance
- Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
- Toy Story Mania!
Early Theme Park Entry Rides – Disney’s Animal Kingdom
- Avatar Flight of Passage
- Expedition Everest — Legend of the Forbidden Mountain
- It’s Tough to be a Bug!
- Na’vi River Journey
- TriceraTop Spin
As you can see, not all Walt Disney World attractions are available during Early Theme Park Entry. With minor exceptions, these lists are identical to morning Extra Magic Hours with only certain lands in each park being open to start the morning.
Moreover, the Early Theme Park Entry schedule and available attractions are subject to change without notice. Applicable theme park, days and times of operation, attraction and service availability may vary and are subject to change without notice. Subject to capacity and cancellation. [Insert other boring boilerplate caveats.]
Valid theme park admission and MagicBand, Key to the World Card, or Disney MagicMobile pass is required. Guests without the Park Hopper Option or Park Hopper Plus Option must spend the day at the same park where they’d like to enjoy the Early Theme Park Entry benefit.
This too works the same way as morning Extra Magic Hours, with eligible guests having their MagicBands or park ticket media scanned to gain access either at the turnstiles themselves, or at a certain ‘checkpoint’ within the park to deeper areas while off-site guests await traditional rope drop.
Early Theme Park Entry Strategy
Our recommendation is arriving at least 30 minutes before Early Theme Park Entry starts. In other words, an hour before official park opening time. This is nothing new–we offer this same advice for normal days and will continue to advise off-site guests to get to the parks at least 30 minutes early. In reality, you should err on the side of arriving earlier, especially if you’re at the mercy of Walt Disney World’s highly-variable transportation.
Thirty minutes flies by, and you’ll want to be as close to the front of the pack as possible when Early Theme Park Entry begins so that you can (hopefully) experience more than one attraction. It’s also pretty common for parks–especially Disney’s Hollywood Studios–to quietly start Early Entry before its official time.
Note that some of our recommendations depend upon whether you’ll be purchasing Genie+ or Individual Lightning Lanes for each park. See our Guide to Genie+ and Lightning Lanes FAQ for everything you need to know.
In general, we recommend Genie+ for Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios for most people, most days. Usually, we do not recommend buying Genie+ at Epcot or Animal Kingdom. Personally, we’re against paying extra for Individual Lightning Lanes, with the perspective that savvy strategy can beat long wait times at those attractions.
Let’s start with Magic Kingdom strategy, where Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Space Mountain offer paid Individual Lightning Lane access. Those thus become the objective best options for Early Theme Park Entry because you can theoretically ride one of those attractions then, the other at the end of the night, and never have to pay the a la carte charge. Depending upon the day, you might actually be able to accomplish both.
Our current rope drop advice is usually to skip Seven Dwarfs Mine Train–zig when others zag–because it’s so popular first thing in the morning and also prone to delayed openings. Knocking out shorter rides, like Peter Pan’s Flight and other Fantasyland classics, might be the better way to go.
That’s especially true if you don’t plan on buying Genie+ or if you don’t want to hassle with huge crowds shuffling to Seven Dwarfs Mine Train first thing in the morning. We highly recommend checking out our Magic Kingdom Early Entry Photo Report for what we accomplished.
Next up, Disney’s Hollywood Studios. At this park, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance and Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway are the Individual Lightning Lane attractions. Rise of the Resistance is also the most popular ride at Walt Disney World and had standby access added within the last few months. It is the obvious choice for Early Theme Park Entry at DHS.
If it’s the obvious choice, you will not be alone in heading that direction. Popularity coupled with a long attraction duration casts some doubt on Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance as being the optimal pick. Additionally, it often has downtime first thing in the morning–or opens late–making it a bit of a gamble. On multiple occasions doing Early Entry at DHS, we’ve managed to accomplish both Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance and Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway.
Check out our report on Early Entry at Disney’s Hollywood Studios to read how this works. The biggest ‘secret’ to success here is arriving closer to an hour before Early Entry officially starts at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and doing Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance first.
On busy days or if you don’t arrive quite that early, you’re better off racing to Slinky Dog Dash, especially if you won’t buy Genie+. Due to that roller coaster’s short duration, it’s entirely possible you could do this twice during Early Entry. Or once and then Toy Story Mania plus Alien Swirling Saucers. Knocking out Toy Story Land during Early Theme Park Entry at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is another option.
Next up, Epcot. As noted up top in this post’s update, Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure–Epcot’s newest headliner attraction–is now available during Early Theme Park Entry. However, it’s located in the back of World Showcase and may not be a practical first choice unless you’re arriving via International Gateway.
If you’re coming from the Crescent Lake or Skyliner Resorts and thus entering through International Gateway, you should absolutely start with Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure. (As with DHS, arrive more than 30 minutes before the start of Early Entry.) From there, you have a decent shot at doing Frozen Ever After before the wave of people hits it.
Those entering via the front of Epcot should prioritize Frozen Ever After or Test Track. It really depends upon your priorities, and whether you’re buying Genie+ or Individual Lightning Lanes. Just be aware that if you do Frozen Ever After, you probably won’t have time for a second attraction.
If you do Test Track, head to Mission: Space once finished. Not exactly revolutionary strategy, but Epcot is tough. As with Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, it’s also important to note that Test Track frequently has delayed openings.
At Animal Kingdom stick to the tried and true: do Avatar Flight of Passage.
No matter what your plans are with Genie+ or Lightning Lanes, that’s the savviest strategy. All Animal Kingdom attractions that are popular are either long in duration or spaced far apart from one another (or both!), meaning it’ll be virtually impossible to do 2 headliners during Early Theme Park Entry. Just race to Avatar Flight of Passage and follow up with Na’vi River Journey as the park opens to off-site guests if the posted wait time isn’t prohibitive.
Ultimately, that’s everything you need to know about Early Theme Park Entry at Walt Disney World. We will undoubtedly be updating this strategy guide several times in the coming months.
Expect another update after TRON Lightcycle Run opens in April 2023 as crowd dynamics and park hours continue to change, impacting Early Entry strategy in the process. Stay tuned–we’ll continue to cover all of the important planning details and also share Early Entry photo reports from our experiences with this new on-site hotel benefit!
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!
Thoughts on Early Theme Park Entry at Walt Disney World? Excited to take advantage of the new on-site guest perk or think it’s too short to be useful? Disappointed about the eligibility rules or attraction lineups? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? 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!
Just back WDW, stayed at Caribbean Beach Resort Wed – Sunday.
Thank you to Tom for all itineraries and trips. We got the kids up and to the parks early morning, saved so much time hitting the rides we wanted with minimal wait times. Genie+ ended up being a bust, used it on our MK day but made me have to look at my phone too much vs spending time with my wife and young kids. If you utilize the early hours and get to the park 30 min before the early hours opening, then you can prioritize and hit 4-5 attractions no problem before the park gets busy
Noticed someone mentioned that parking lots open 45-60 min before official park opening so I checked and confirmed on the Disney official site that that’s correct. Also saw that buses only begin running 60 min before park opening. If my plan is to arrive at DHS 45+ min before early entry as you suggest, what is the best way to actually get there? I’d prefer to drive as I will have my own car but don’t want to be kicking myself waiting in line to enter the parking lot while others are already inside the park. Will be staying at All Star Movies in Feb. Thank you!
If you are staying off site and have early entry access, how early can you arrive at the parking lots using Uber? I thought read parking lots do not open early which would prevent us from getting to the park to enter for early access? Was looking forward to our trip in December but more confused than ever at what time we can be dropped of to park? Thank you!
For some reason the email for new posts has not been coming through, could be an issue on my end so I have added a different email address – thanks
Where will you be able to enter in Epcot? Will it be limited to the main entrance or will you be able to enter through the international gateway?
Do you know if they are soft opening the extended evening hours as well?
Do we know if early entry is valid on the check-in day? I’m staying on-site on October 9th and I’m hoping to get into Epcot early on the morning I arrive.
I happened to look at the wait times last night before closing (I think around 8 pm ET?) and it indicated that RotR was only a 40 minute wait.
Sure, if they can process all those on-site guests well below the 1/2 hour time frame, especially if you happen to be one of the ones to camp out many hours earlier to get to the front of the line. However, if there’s still going to be a mob of onsite guests that will take more than a 1/2 hour or so to go through, then, when the park opens to off-site guests and they’re not even yet done with letting in on-site guests who have arrived an hour earlier and you (as an on-site guest) are still in the middle of the first pack of on-site guests?
We stay at the swan every trip, as we stay for free on points. We can always get our hotel reservations to link in the my Disney app, which allows us the perks each trip.
Ok, but you said not to RoR during early entry. Now I’m confused. Is there a better time to ride it without paying for Genie? Thanks
I noticed you mentioned Genie + going live in late October. Has their been a definite start date for that? My family has tried to get boarding passes for ROTR on two past trips, but have never been able to score one. We are going to HS on the 8th and were hoping to pay for the Individual Attraction Selection. I’m not excited about using the extra morning hours to stand in a huge standby line, but I guess I may have to.
Very excited to hear about the soft opening! Especially since our first day is the 26th at HS. Now I have to rethink all our strategies. Good problems to have. Thanks for the article!
Been reading for the past year, getting ready for our first trip in the second half of October.
We’ll be staying at the Swan hotel and are wondering how the early/late hours for the parks will work for the 3rd party hotels since there’s no way to link the stay to your Disney account.
Any insight or possibly a most likely scenario as to how to make use of these perks?
How can we find out if the 3rd party hotel we are staying out gets the 30 minute allowance?
We are staying at our time share at The Holiday Inn Resort in Orlando next to Disney, and I see the Holiday Inn is on the list for 3rd party hotels with this perk? Do we ask at the resort/hotel?
My strategy is to stay away from the parks till later in October – or November
Notably, your strategies assume people would like to avoid paying “Magic Carpet Access” fees — Which generally isn’t a bad assumption.
But, should also be noted — A guest willing to pay G+ and Magic Carpet fees, could really maximize that first hour in the park.
Assuming it’s a 9am opening park, like Magic Kingdom:
8:30 am — Peter Pan and then knocking out the rest of Fantasyland, minus Mine Train
9:00 am — Magic Carpet access to Mine Train
9:20 am — redeem first Genie+ for another e-ticket attraction (BTMRR, Haunted Mansion, POTC, etc)
As you said — zig while others zag. Nearly everyone will be zagging to the Magic Carpet attractions during Early Entry. So if you are willing to pay for Magic Carpet (or skip the attraction), you can zig towards a non-Magic Carpet attraction during rope drop.
Unless you’re in front of the pack, you’ll still have a long line at FOP or Mine Train, even during early entry. But even if you’re not front of the pack, you can probably walk right on to Peter Pan or TOT or Navi River during early entry, as everyone else zigs to the Magic Carpet rides.
(You’re really going to need a few different touring plans — Off-site, on-site with minimized add-on costs, and a plan for those willing to max out the upcharges)
RoR wasn’t listed as one of the rides open for Early Theme Park Entry. With its shift to a standby queue though, I’m guessing they’ll have to change that, right? Have you heard anything definitive about this?
Since you’ve done a previous anniversary, what ETA would you suggest for the MK Oct 1st? We’d like to have a good spot for the 50th Official program which I suspect will take place in front of the castle.
Assuming something happens in front of Cinderella Castle (probably a safe bet) in the morning hours, you’ll probably want to be to Magic Kingdom by 7 am, if not earlier.
I have no clue how they’re going to handle Early Entry that day, because people are going to start showing up at the park really early. It’ll be chaotic, that’s for sure!
Regarding Hollywood Studios, with everyone rushing and mobbing the gates to get on ROTR while VQ is on Pause, there doesn’t seem to be much point in only a 1/2 hour for early entry there.
If you’re trying to do Rise of the Resistance, it wouldn’t matter whether early entry is 10 minutes or an hour–that’s a significant start on off-site guests and you’d only have time for that one attraction during the early entry period, regardless.