When it comes to Walt Disney World touring strategy, Genie+ and Lightning Lanes, Early Entry, and Extended Evening Hours are the best options. This photo report offers a look at morning in Magic Kingdom on a 9/10 crowd level day, wait times and what we accomplished during the Extra Magic Hours replacement, plus how this on-site perk compares to using Genie+ to skip lines.
On this day at MK, the park opened to the general public at 9 am, meaning Early Entry began at 8:30 am. We were out the door of our room at Art of Animation by 7:15 am, which is necessary due to the long commute and unpredictability of transportation. The bus to Magic Kingdom picked us up at 7:29 am and dropped us off at 7:49 am. We breezed through bag check and the turnstiles in minutes, and were on Main Street by 7:54 am.
Getting to the parks for Early Entry is surprisingly easy. Bus transportation starts running early, and most guests simply are not up and out the door by 7:30 am. Monorails and boats are departing every few minutes, and usually are not full at this hour. We’ve found it to be a far more pleasant transportation experience than leaving an hour or two later. Our bus from Art of Animation was about one-quarter full, whereas by 8 or 9 am they’d be completely packed.
Our normal recommendation is to arrive at least 30 minutes before the start of Early Entry, which is definitely good enough for Magic Kingdom. You’ll want to arrive earlier if your plan is to do Seven Dwarfs Mine Train–but that really should not be your plan. As we’ll cover here, there are better options for that Fantasyland headliner.
Upon reaching the end of Main Street, you’ll see Cast Members with signs direction guests to the right for Early Theme Park Entry. This works exactly the same as morning Extra Magic Hours, if you remember those.
On-site guests head to the right of the East Plaza Garden. There’s a row of Cast Members stationed here to scan MagicBands, MagicMobile, resort room keys, or whatever identification you might have if staying at one of the participating third party hotels.
You can’t access Tomorrowland or Fantasyland until you’ve entered through here. Once you’ve done that, you’re good to go for the morning–unlike Extended Evening Hours, MagicBands or room keys are not scanned at each individual attraction.
From there, you proceed on to either the Tomorrowland Bridge or Fantasyland Bridge.
The crowd is always smaller for Tomorrowland. There’s more breathing room here and it’s definitely the more laid back option. By contrast, the Fantasyland Bridge is packed with people. Both are in direct sunlight, which can be a brutal way to start the day if you’re stuck in one spot for ~15 to 30 minutes. (My bucket hat isn’t looking so dumb now, is it?!)
The mood is also more tense on the Fantasyland side. Guests are revving up their double-wide strollers, preparing to do some serious damage to the ankles of anyone walking too gingerly. The sprint to Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is a high stakes, eat-or-be-eaten game.
Not really, but the atmosphere does feel tense before the crowd starts moving. Once it does, it’s more like a slow trudge in a sea of humanity. No one is doing anything even resembling running. We call it the “SDMT Shuffle.” Ironic that this is for Fantasyland, as it’s a bit nightmarish.
With that said, we were pleasantly surprised by the Fantasyland crowd on this particular morning.
When we finally made our way over here at 8:15 am, the sea of humanity hadn’t yet flowed back to the bridge. This is when arrivals accelerate for Early Entry, with the crowd really filling in by 8:20 am. As always, the overwhelming majority are planning to do Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.
I’ll repeat what I always say: skip the SDMT Shuffle. It’s uncomfortable and unpleasant, and does not set the right tone for a good day in Magic Kingdom. Wait until evening to do Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, pay for an Individual Lightning Lane, or even do it during the middle of the day when everything has a long wait. Anything but first thing.
There is no scenario where you’re coming out ahead doing Seven Dwarfs Mine Train during Early Entry. Even if you’re at the front of the pack, you had to get up and arrive to Magic Kingdom super-early to “accomplish” that. Given that, the opportunity cost of doing Seven Dwarfs Mine Train instead of short waits elsewhere, and the risk of the kiddie coaster having the dreaded delayed opening…it’s just not worth it.
We’ve done Early Theme Park Entry and/or rope drop dozens of times at Magic Kingdom in the last two years and have experienced the full spectrum of possible outcomes. You won’t convince me Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is the best way to start the day.
Anyway, Sarah and I took a divide and conquer approach to Early 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 can differ dramatically from posted times) to come up with new/better plans.
She started at Peter Pan’s Flight, entering its line at 8:33 am. She was on Peter Pan’s Flight by 8:37 am, with a totalwait time of ~5 minutes versus a posted wait time of 5 minutes. Peter Pan’s Flight averaged a 72 minute wait throughout the day at Magic Kingdom.
Meanwhile, I started in Tomorrowland. This is a similar story to Fantasyland, with the overwhelming majority heading to Space Mountain.
Although this line looks lengthy, that’s because it’s stacked outside the queue, with the inside line not yet having opened. Eyeballing it, this would’ve been about a 10-15 minute wait at most. Not bad by any means, but Space Mountain only averaged a 51 minute wait this day–20 fewer minutes than Peter Pan’s Flight.
With virtually everyone heading to Space Mountain, the rest of Tomorrowland is blissfully uncrowded.
Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin was a walk-on (I did it to get out of the heat for a few minutes), as were Tomorrowland Speedway, Astro Orbiter, and the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover. While 30 minutes isn’t much, you could come close to knocking out all of Tomorrowland during that time.
Sarah did the Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and “it’s a small world” after finishing up Peter Pan’s Flight.
If you’ll be following this strategy, the better approach is Pooh first, even though it involves a little backtracking. The reason for this is that people inevitably bail on Seven Dwarfs Mine Train once the posted wait time shoots up and they realize their mistake–and this is their closest alternative. You’ll be heading back towards “it’s a small world” for proper park opening, anyway.
We wrapped up Early Entry just in time for rope drop.
As Jungle Cruise continues to command long waits, there’s been a definite shift in crowd distribution, with more an increasing number of guests heading towards Adventureland. It’s still not a majority, but it’s enough to make things slightly more pleasant in Frontierland.
Our first stop was Splash Mountain.
We often recommend doing Big Thunder Mountain Railroad first since it’s shorter, but we were towards the front of the pack and simply wanted to do Splash Mountain first, figuring our rides are numbered on this and not wanting to skip it if the wait time shot up for some reason. Our actual wait turned out to be about 7 minutes, which was how long it took to shuffle through the queue–the line never stopped moving.
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was next up.
Posted wait time was 20 minutes, whereas our actual wait time was also about 7 minutes. All of that wait was after the Lightning Lane merge point.
Pirates of the Caribbean was next up–another 20 minute posted wait time.
This was a walk-on. The added “bonus” here was that the boats weren’t being filled at this early hour, decreasing the likelihood of getting wet on the ride.
I didn’t think to take a photo, but the line for Jungle Cruise was already prohibitively long. That was fully expected by this point, but still worth mentioning. Not that long ago, this would’ve been the ideal time to do Jungle Cruise, but that has not been the case for a while.
Instead, we met Aladdin in Adventureland. No wait.
Waits only continued to build from there, with rope drop quickly transitioning to normal crowds. The 10 am to 11 am hour is a good time to knock out things like meet & greets and minor attractions that can have long waits later, like the TTA PeopleMover (what we did after trying unsuccessfully to find more roaming characters) or Astro Orbiter.
All told, here’s what we accomplished between 8:30 am and ~10:30 am via Early Entry and rope drop at Magic Kingdom:
Peter Pan’s Flight
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
“it’s a small world”
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
Pirates of the Caribbean
Aladdin Meet & Greet
Contrast this with the last time I used Genie+ at Magic Kingdom, with a laid-back approach that did not entail getting up this early:
Peter Pan’s Flight
Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
Obviously, this is not an apples to apples comparison. For one thing, we’re comparing a couple of hours in the morning to the entire day using a paid line-skipping service. For another, my results with Genie+ look worse than reality because there were several attractions with shorter waits later in the day that didn’t require using Lightning Lanes for a short wait.
The big benefits Genie+ gave over Early Entry and the first hour of the day at MK were not having to wait in line for Jungle Cruise, Space Mountain, or Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin. Even then, I probably could’ve knocked out the Tomorrowland duo later in the evening with minimal wait. That really just leaves Jungle Cruise.
From that, you might reach the conclusion that Genie+ is not necessary at Magic Kingdom. Knocking out so much in the first couple hours sets you up for a very productive day–one where you can afford a couple lengthy standby lines. That’s definitely true and I think it’s entirely possible to skip Genie+ with Early Entry and/or Extended Evening Hours at Magic Kingdom.
However, it’s impossible for me to say which is objectively superior strategy for Magic Kingdom. While I prefer alternative approaches at the other three parks, I still advocate for buying Genie+ once in Magic Kingdom. Consider this the “both…and” option. There’s simply so much to do and Genie+ works better in Magic Kingdom than any other park. Lightning Lanes make the day easier, and Genie+ is worth the cost if you want to re-ride anything, or simply have a more relaxed day. That’s not true in the other 3 parks, but it is at Magic Kingdom.
Buying Genie+ also enables you to have a more laid back start to Early Entry at Magic Kingdom. The reason we have done rope drop and Early Entry so many times is because it’s a great time of day in the park.
I love the golden light glistening on the spotless handrails and reflecting on the freshly-watered flowers, all while the park is relatively quiet and the weather is more pleasant than it’ll be later in the day.
Whenever we do these mornings in Magic Kingdom, a good portion of my time is devoted to photographing the Central Plaza and Main Street.
We keep going back not because I need to test new touring strategies (the best approaches are relatively well-established at this point), but because I’ve been very unlikely with sunrises and morning clouds. I’m hoping to get good conditions with the 50th Anniversary decorations up.
Attractions are important and waiting in short lines is a great way to start a day at Magic Kingdom. That should go without saying–especially given the wealth of strategy posts on this site.
However, there’s something to be said for simply being there. Enjoying that morning light and beauty of a polished park waking up for the morning is truly special–even magical. While racing around taking morning photos, I sometimes stop to snap family photos for other guests who are opting to enjoy the ambiance instead of being at the front of the pack for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train or whatever. I am firmly convinced the memories and photos they’ll have from a peaceful morning in Magic Kingdom are far superior to saving ~30 minutes in line.
Suffice to say, don’t put too much pressure on riding X or Y in a specific order as make-or-break to your vacation experience. (Spreadsheet planning is a fool’s errand.) Quite often, it’s the “little” things that form the indelible memories more so than the headliner attractions you’re hyping up in your head. Planning and savvy strategy are important, but so too are spontaneity and these special moments. While Genie+ can seem like the antithesis of spontaneity–and often is at the other 3 parks–it also lowers the stakes at Magic Kingdom, and facilitates a more relaxed day.
Ultimately, we highly recommend taking advantage of Early Entry at Magic Kingdom. It’s always more crowded than the other three parks due to the later starting time (and comparative popularity of Magic Kingdom), but fortunately, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Space Mountain soak up the vast majority of those crowds.
If you follow savvy strategy and pair that with traditional rope drop for Frontierland or Adventureland, you can have a solid start to your morning at Magic Kingdom. Even with high crowd levels, it is possible to accomplish a lot and avoid higher wait times later in the day if you simply start early, pace yourself, and stay late.
What you encounter might appear intimidating at first, but just remember: most of those lines aren’t getting any shorter later in the day. Whatever you’re seeing at 8:45 am, triple it and that’ll be the wait time in 2 hours (with the exception of Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, which often peaks at 9 am and falls by 10 am). If you want additional strategy for the starting your day at the other three parks, check out our Guide to Early Theme Park Entry at Walt Disney World.
Thoughts on Early 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 and traditional park opening/rope drop 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!