Guide to Early Entry at Disney World Theme Parks

Guests of on-site Walt Disney World resorts and other hotels have access to Early Entry. This strategy guide covers everything you need to know: eligibility, ride rosters, how the perk works, and tips for best using the extra morning time in Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. (Updated June 1, 2023.)

In terms of basics, Early Theme Park Entry replaces morning Extra Magic Hours. With that said, there are some key differences between the on-site guest benefits, and pros & cons of each. 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. That is a definite plus for Early Entry, as it means the crowds are diluted.

Another difference is that Extra Magic Hours lasted for an hour on each morning it was held. By contrast, Early Entry is daily 30-minute (or so) access to Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom. At Magic Kingdom and EPCOT, this is a definite negative. It’s more complicated at Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios, for reasons relating to park hours that we’ll explain in the strategy section…

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. As we’ll discuss, there is a huge difference between Early Entry on 8 am v. 9 am opening days at Magic Kingdom.

Let’s starting by taking a look at the eligible hotels for Early Theme Park Entry at Walt Disney World:

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

  • DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Orlando
  • Hilton Orlando Buena Vista Palace
  • Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista
  • Holiday Inn Orlando
  • Four Seasons Resort Orlando
  • Shades of Green
  • Walt Disney World Swan Hotel
  • Walt Disney World Dolphin Hotel
  • Walt Disney World Swan Reserve

Now through December 31, 2023, the following hotels offer Early Theme Park Entry for registered guests:

  • B Resort & Spa Lake Buena Vista
  • Wyndham Garden Lake Buena Vista
  • Wyndham Lake Buena Vista
  • Signia by Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek
  • Waldorf Astoria Orlando
  • Drury Plaza Hotel Orlando Lake Buena Vista

Note that the above list with an end date is a change as of Summer 2023. Walt Disney World has already confirmed that Early Entry is continuing throughout 2024. To participate in Early Entry, on-site third party hotels must reach agreements with Walt Disney World that, presumably, involves the hotel paying Disney a large sum of money for access to the perk.

Given the above, it would seem those hotels have already advised Disney that they won’t be renewing their agreements for next year. Walt Disney World also offered this note: “please check back later for further details regarding eligible resorts in 2024.” This suggests that it’s possible other hotels will be added or removed from the list of eligible third party hotels. Accordingly, if you’re considering a non-Disney hotel for 2024 and Early Entry is a make-or-break perk, you might want to wait a bit before booking–or make a refundable reservation. (All Disney-owned hotels will offer Early Entry in 2024.)

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

  • Frozen Ever After
  • Impressions de France
  • 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
  • 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
  • DINOSAUR
  • 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 TRON Lightcycle Run offer paid Individual Lightning Lane access. As you might’ve noticed from the ride roster above, TRON Lightcycle Run is not yet open for Early Entry as of Summer 2023–and probably won’t be until sometime in 2024. This isn’t an oversight–it’s because that ride uses a virtual queue. See our Virtual Queue Strategy Guide for TRON Lightcycle Run for how to experience the attraction for free.

With that said, there are more strategy options for Magic Kingdom than any other park participating in Early Entry. Our biggest 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 is the better way to go.

To that end, consult our Best Early Entry Morning at Magic Kingdom Plan and Genie+ Lightning Lane Comparison for the optimal approaches to both Tomorrowland and Fantasyland. That takes a step-by-step look at the first 2 hours of the day at Magic Kingdom, with Sarah starting in Fantasyland while I started in Tomorrowland. It shows precisely what we accomplished, alternative approaches, and a comparison to an average day using Genie+ and Lightning Lanes.

Again, the ideal approach to Early Entry at Magic Kingdom does NOT include Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (SDMT) on days when the park opens at 9 am. The reasons for that are discussed deeper in this post, and we’d strongly encourage you to read that advice and heed our warnings. If you’re dead set on doing the SDMT Shuffle, refer to our Magic Kingdom Early Entry Strategy Starting at Seven Dwarfs Mine Train instead.

However, when the park opens at 8 am, the strategy changes and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train once again becomes a smart first ride. Suffice to say, the 7:30 am Early Entry at Magic Kingdom is a game changer (see that link for strategy), and 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.

Next up, Disney’s Hollywood Studios. At this park, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance is the Individual Lightning Lane attraction. Rise of the Resistance is also the most popular ride at Walt Disney World and now has standby access. 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 Slinky Dog Dash. Knocking out some or all of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge and/or Toy Story Land is huge, and a much better way to start the day than Sunset Boulevard or Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway.

For comprehensive DHS advice, see Early Entry at Disney’s Hollywood Studios Strategy & Park Opening Plan. In fact, if you only read one standalone step-by-step strategy guide, make it that one. There are a lot of quirks for doing Early Entry and rope drop at DHS, and that will help you immensely. You can literally save 4+ hours by following the plan there!

Next up, Epcot. This park is home to two of the three newest rides at Walt Disney World–Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind and Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure. However, only the latter is currently available during Early Theme Park Entry, and 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.) See our EPCOT Early Entry Itinerary: International Gateway with Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure for a full run-through of a morning starting from the back of the park.

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. Our EPCOT Early Entry & Park Opening Strategy shares a comprehensive plan from the park’s front entrance.

At Animal Kingdom, there’s only one good approach to Early Entry: starting with 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.

With that said, our Early Entry & Park Opening at Animal Kingdom: Speed Running Ride Strategy covers how to knock out every single ride in Animal Kingdom before 10:30 am. This is great for those with Park Hopper tickets or simply want to enjoy a leisurely afternoon at Animal Kingdom.

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 switches to standby (likely sometime in 2024), or 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!

YOUR THOUGHTS

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!

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