Early Theme Park Entry is now available for on-site hotel guests at Walt Disney World, and we’ve had a couple chances to check it out. This Magic Kingdom photo report offers a step-by-step look at what we accomplished during the morning Extra Magic Hours replacement, strategy & tips, and more.
For this visit to Magic Kingdom, we stayed at Disney’s Polynesian Villas (photos & video of the new studios coming soon!) and left the Moorea longhouse by 7:45 am. Our room was closer to the Transportation & Ticket Center than the Poly’s boat dock, so we walked over there and took the ferry to Magic Kingdom.
Using the TTC for transportation tends to be more efficient if you’re staying on the DVC side of the Poly. Ferries are departing every few minutes, and you can take the Express Monorail rather than the resort line. With higher hotel occupancy numbers, this is the safer bet if you’re running late or don’t want to risk waiting on a boat or monorail. Anyway, we arrived to Magic Kingdom shortly after 8:00 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. There was no backup at the entrance, a crowd had built up on Main Street, there was a line for Starbucks, and so forth.
Our normal recommendation is to arrive “at least” 30 minutes before the start of Early Theme Park Entry, but consider adjusting that upwards to 45 minutes right now. Perhaps longer if your plan is to do Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.
Upon reaching the end of Main Street, you’ll see Cast Members with signs direction guests to the left for breakfast reservations and to the right for Early Theme Park Entry.
This works exactly the same as morning Extra Magic Hours.
On-site guests head to the right of the East Plaza Garden.
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.
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 where the line ends for Fantasyland–and it snakes around the corner to midway up 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.
We were among the Fantasyland crowd doing the “SDMT Shuffle,” which we haven’t done in a while. Can’t say it’s something I’ve missed.
Since rope drop resumed this summer, we’ve been cutting through Liberty Square to circle back to Fantasyland. That’s far more pleasant, but it’s no longer possible with Early Theme Park Entry.
As usual, Sarah and I took a divide and conquer approach to Early Theme Park Entry at Magic Kingdom. The plan was for her to stick to our strategy, while I assessed real time crowd patterns and actual wait times (which, as a reminder, can differ dramatically from posted times) to come up with new/better plans.
She started at Peter Pan’s Flight, entering its line at 8:32 am. She was on Peter Pan’s Flight by 8:37 am, with an exact wait time of 4 minutes and 32 seconds. Peter Pan’s Flight averaged a 42 minute wait throughout yesterday at Magic Kingdom.
Meanwhile, I had about all I could take of the Slow SDMT Shuffle before we reached the Mad Tea Party, so I doubled back to Tomorrowland at that point.
Comparatively, Tomorrowland was blissful.
Space Mountain had guests stacked outside its queue, but this was before the line opened.
Eyeballing it, this would’ve been about a 5-10 minute wait. Shorter had I simply started by heading to Tomorrowland rather than taking the convoluted route.
Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin was a walk-on by the time I got over there.
Ditto Tomorrowland Speedway, Astro Orbiter, and the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover. While 30 minutes isn’t much, you could’ve come close to knocking out all of Tomorrowland during that time.
Heading back into Fantasyland 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 65 minutes. That might’ve been inflated a bit, but it would’ve been long regardless.
As a reminder, there are two pitfalls to starting at Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. First, it’s not uncommon for the ride to have a delayed opening–same goes for Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.
Second and more predictably, the wait time for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train generally peaks early. Yesterday, the average posted wait time was 52 minutes and the rope drop wait was 65 minutes. After Early Theme Park Entry and traditional rope drop surges subsided, its line got visibly shorter and the posted wait time dropped.
Almost all of the Fantasyland early arrivals head to Seven Dwarfs Mine Train first. I’ve said this before, but it’s fascinating to me that people see the line and don’t opt to cut their losses. This is why it’s so crucial to go with the flow and zig when others zag. Developing a rigid itinerary months in advance is counterproductive.
Some strategists might counter that if you arrive earlier and are at the front of the Early Theme Park Entry pack, the wait for Early Theme Park Entry is short. My counter to that counter is that it’s costing you more time one way or another. I’d further add that being in that herd of humanity waiting for the Early Theme Park Entry rope to drop for even longer sounds incredibly unpleasant.
Since only Fantasyland and Tomorrowland are open for Early Theme Park Entry (and because I walk very quickly), I managed to make my rounds by the time Sarah was done with Peter Pan’s Flight. It was still posting a 5 minute wait at this point, but there’s no way that’s accurate. More like 20 minutes.
We met up at the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and did that with only a 5 minute wait.
From there, we wandered for a bit before heading to the Tangled Toilets™️ for regular rope drop of Frontierland.
We probably had enough time to do one more Fantasyland attraction before rope drop, but there was minimal upside. Those rides would have short waits most of the day, and missing rope drop could put us considerably behind the curve with either Splash Mountain or Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.
We were towards the front of the pack here. I assumed that was the case because the Tangled Toilets™️ are closer to this point than the Liberty Square Bridge, but when we were held up again in front of Country Bear Jamboree, not much of a crowd filled in behind us.
Even though hotel occupancy is picking up, this was still nothing like what we experienced in Magic Kingdom Rope Drop Report: Busiest Day of Year at Park Opening. Notably, that day–July 28–still stands as having the worst wait times at Walt Disney World thus far this year. (Subjectively, it was also awful, with miserable heat and humidity. Much better yesterday!)
Don’t let this crowd outside the entrance fool you–this is a relatively insignificant number of people in the grand scheme of the attraction’s capacity. Splash Mountain was a walk-on, with the wait time basically being however long it took to walk through the queue (I didn’t clock it, sorry).
And that’s with Big Thunder Mountain Railroad having a delayed opening, so all of the guests heading towards Frontierland were funneled to Splash Mountain. Well, aside from the millions of visitors who made a bearline to Magic Kingdom’s UNESCO World Heritage Site, Country Bear Jamboree.
From there, it was on to Adventureland. Our plan was to do Jungle Cruise, but the posted wait was already 60 minutes and the line was spilling out into the walkway by the Magic Carpets of Aladdin.
In hindsight, we should’ve done Jungle Cruise first and Splash Mountain second. It’s pretty likely that the renewed popularity of Jungle Cruise is going to be sustained throughout Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary, with fans wanting to see the changes. Unlike a lot of other attractions, Jungle Cruise’s wait time is consistent throughout the day and it’s not available during either the morning or evening ‘bonus’ time for resort guests.
Instead, we did Pirates of the Caribbean (also a walk-on) before heading back to Main Street. We could’ve hit a few more attractions with <10 minute waits, but wanted to check out the 50th Anniversary merchandise since we had still yet to see a lot of it.
Following that, we took the ferry back to the TTC, wanting to spend more time in our Poly Villa and enjoying the resort.
Ultimately, our experience with Early Theme Park Entry at Magic Kingdom was pretty productive, and combining that with traditional rope drop for Frontierland and Adventureland gave us a solid start to our day at Magic Kingdom. The bulk of the crowds head to Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, which makes for efficient zig-when-they-zag touring for the first couple hours of the day.
Although we didn’t do it, there’s a very strong case to be made for starting with Tomorrowland. The wait, ride, and total time for doing Space Mountain would likely be fairly minimal, and that’ll be an a la carte (Magic Carpet Access) Lightning Lane attraction when the Genie+ system launches.
Doing Space Mountain, then Astro Orbiter, and Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin before bouncing across the hub to Adventureland for Jungle Cruise followed by Frontierland for Splash Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is all theoretically possible during Early Theme Park Entry plus the first hour or so of Magic Kingdom’s regular operations. The aggregate time savings would’ve been better than what we did or starting with Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, too. That approach is what we’ll test next time we do Early Theme Park Entry.
However, we also did Extended Evening Hours last night at Magic Kingdom, and our morning strategy took that into account. We’ll be back with another photo report on how that evening Extra Magic Hours replacement went. For now, if you want additional preliminary strategy for the other three parks, check out our Guide to Early Theme Park Entry at Walt Disney World.
Thoughts on Early Theme Park Entry at Magic Kingdom? Have you experienced this new 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!