We spent New Year’s Eve Eve in Magic Kingdom for a “soft opening” of 2022 at Walt Disney World, so to speak. In this report, we’ll share our thoughts and photos & video from the experience, and planning advice for anyone else debating between Magic Kingdom and Epcot for NYE, whether it be tonight or in the future.
Prior to this, it had been a couple of years since we’ve done a proper New Year’s Eve at Walt Disney World. Just like everyone else, due to circumstances that don’t need rehashing here. Given what that last full NYE at WDW ushered in only a few short weeks later, I’m not sure revisiting the festivities was such a wise move. Sorta like feeding Gizmo after midnight, just to see if that might fix the Gremlins outbreak. (I’m not sure that makes sense, but to my sleep-deprived brain, it’s amusing.)
We’ve been doing New Year’s Eve (Eve) at Walt Disney World for as long as we’ve been locals. We even did it a couple times prior to that as tourists, getting hooked on the experience after a stay at Bay Lake Tower exactly a decade ago. It’s absolutely not for everyone, but we enjoy it. So long as you follow the recommended strategy outlined in our Tips for Surviving New Year’s Eve at Walt Disney World, it tends to work out pretty well. Apparently, it also helps if you’re in your twenties, as my ability to operate on no sleep isn’t quite the same today. Weird how that works.
If you’re debating which park to visit at Walt Disney World for New Year’s Eve, it’s an easier decision than you might think. Magic Kingdom does its New Year’s Eve celebration on two nights—December 30th and 31st. There’s no material difference between the two in terms of entertainment, just no noisemakers and hats on New Year’s Eve (Eve).
Typically, Magic Kingdom is significantly less crowded on the night of December 30 and it’s the only park with New Year’s Eve entertainment on that night. In other words, doing Magic Kingdom on December 30 is a no brainer.
Epcot is the best park for New Year’s Eve. Animal Kingdom closes early, so it’s a non-factor (although it can be a good spot to start your day to avoid crowds–or if you can’t get a Disney Park Pass reservation anywhere else), and Disney’s Hollywood Studios doesn’t do much of anything special, so it’s also out.
All things being equal, Epcot also has the best party atmosphere for New Year’s Eve. At least, for adults without children. We don’t drink much anymore, but even if we did, we wouldn’t imbibe at Epcot on NYE. Everyone drinking around the world at Epcot on NYE has a good time…until they don’t. Lines for booze and bathrooms get outrageous and unless you’re dancing the night away, you need to lock in a fireworks spot early.
Usually, we’d spend most of the day in Magic Kingdom on New Year’s Eve Eve enjoying the park with friends. New Year’s Eve would begin with lunch in the Crescent Lake area, followed by a little quality park time at Epcot–but really, camping out most of the day in the Front of the House area for fireworks talking about Disney and the other dorky things that interest us. All of our friends are blocked out this year, so that put a damper on our plans.
Nevertheless, we headed out to Magic Kingdom for New Year’s Eve Eve, albeit much later than normal this year. Given the surrounding circumstances and since we have relatively important plans coming up that we don’t want to have to cancel, we opted to mitigate some risk and play it safer. Obviously, that’s a relative term since we still chose to visit the world’s busiest theme park on NYEE.
Getting to the park presented its own challenges. There was a huge accident near the Transportation & Ticket Center, which would’ve been easily avoidable had we checked traffic before leaving home and choosing our route. We didn’t, which tripled the commute time to Magic Kingdom. (Later, while chatting with a security guard, he mentioned that it was a really rough night–please be safe and responsible if you’re venturing out tonight.) This was further complicated by limited transportation options to Magic Kingdom after parking, which tacked on even more time to the commute. None of that is particularly interesting, so let’s skip to once we were inside the park…
We entered Magic Kingdom about 90 minutes later than originally intended, and stepped foot on Main Street at exactly 11:30 pm. That might seem like cutting it close, but we were relieved just to make it inside at all. We thought we were going to arrive too late, but the monorail and park entrance process were far smoother than anticipated, with tons of Cast Members around for crowd control.
Even though it was late, congestion on Main Street was minimal and there was even some space on “The Hump” past Casey’s Corner. While scouting out spots, it became a question of whether we wanted some breathing room and an obstructed view of the perimeter bursts, or a packed but perfective perspective. We chose the former, which was also a new-to-us location for Fantasy in the Sky.
As always, Fantasy in the Sky was excellent. Of course, a big component of that is the pyro. Given how much they’re lighting up the sky with so many big and beautiful explosions, Disney could probably have John C. Reilly read the phone book for the show “soundtrack,” and people would still love it.
Perhaps this is nostalgia speaking, but I think Fantasy in the Sky’s soundtrack is much better than John C. Reilly reading the phone book. You can tell it’s a more old school nighttime spectacular, and the arrangement can be a bit eclectic–but it has heart, personality, and evokes emotion.
With music from iconic films and attractions, I’d go as far as to say that Fantasy in the Sky would’ve been a far more enchanting 50th Anniversary fireworks show for Magic Kingdom.
I’m not going to bother “reviewing” Fantasy in the Sky as it’s only shown two nights a year at this point, but we enjoy it. Afterwards, Sarah turned to me and said, “now that is a Magic Kingdom nighttime spectacular.”
Here are more Fantasy in the Sky fireworks photos:
Never thought a shoulder kid behind me would pose photography problems, but that’s how it goes!
Sarah shot a video of the Countdown to New Year after Fantasy in the Sky:
It’s probably evident from the photos and video, but we do not recommend this location as a pure fireworks viewing spot for Fantasy in the Sky. I doubt anyone back here was disappointed, but you will be much more “immersed” in the pyro once you get past Casey’s Corner. (Also, there’s snow on Main Street during Fantasy in the Sky, which is a nice touch, but poses problems for photography.)
We avoided the Magic Kingdom mass exodus immediately after Fantasy in the Sky by heading to Tomorrowland.
We did a quick lap around the park, which was pretty much dead at that point. From what we saw, ~50% of guests still in the park had made a beeline to Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, which was posting a 95 minute wait. Judging by the overflow standby queue and lengthy Lightning Lane return line that spilled out towards the castle walls, that was probably accurate.
Other than that, Magic Kingdom was dead from midnight to around 1:30 am.
This isn’t particularly surprising, as this always happens on New Year’s Eve Eve at Magic Kingdom. Not only is it significantly less busy to begin with, but it clears out faster. After all, actual NYE is the following day and people need to rest up for that. Figured it was nonetheless worth mentioning as Disney Park Pass throw a monkey wrench in everything, and could’ve changed the dynamic. They did not. The only thing reservations did was make crowds significantly smaller this year.
No one who knows us would call us “dance party people,” but we spent a lot of time in front of the Cinderella Castle Forecourt Stage. (The Tomorrowland and Frontierland dance parties had totally cleared out by that point.) In the past, I’ve called it “jarring” to hear modern music being blasted by a DJ on Main Street, but that seems so trivial now.
Honestly, it felt great to have that bit of normalcy restored, and seeing people have fun ringing in 2022…or rehearsing how they’d do it, I guess. I even got in on the fun, unable to resist rocking out to today’s hit songs, such as “All Star” by Smash Mouth. Whatever I was doing can’t properly be categorized as dancing–more like vaguely rhythmic movement (even that’s a stretch).
In fitting fashion, our last ride of 2021 at Magic Kingdom was the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover. We jumped on the attraction just before park closing, and enjoyed a leisurely loop mostly devoid of other guests.
While riding, something interesting happened: fog rolled into Magic Kingdom.
We watched this happen in real time, which is no exaggeration. At 1 am, there was no fog in sight. Visibility was perfect, as far as I could tell (not something I was actively monitoring). When we rounded the first turn on the TTA heading towards the Progress City model, our view of Cinderella Castle was clear.
By the time the TTA exited Space Mountain, there was a thick fog between us and Cinderella Castle. By the time we got to Main Street, it was even thicker.
This was really awesome and added a neat moodiness to the evening. Foggy nights and mornings aren’t uncommon this time of year in Florida (we’ve been having them a lot lately), and I love this look around Christmas time for the ‘silent night/not a creature was stirring’ vibe.
I’ve never seen the fog roll in this quickly and heavily, though. Despite its lights still being on, you couldn’t see Cinderella Castle at all from the end of Main Street, let alone any of the monorail loop hotels from outside the park. Visibility was so bad that the boats stopped running, too. It was quite the sight (or lack thereof) to behold, and feel–by the time we walked back to our car, Sarah’s hair was wet and so were our clothes!
Finally, huge kudos to Magic Kingdom Cast Members. While we weren’t there all day, two things immediately stood out to us during our limited time that evening. First, crowd control had things totally under control and was fully prepared. This is always one of Disney’s strong suits around New Year’s Eve, but I’ll admit to be worried about the loss of institutional knowledge in the last two years. Thankfully, they’ve still got it.
Second, there were leaders all over the place picking up trash between midnight and when we left the park. This is something that should be commonplace, but I haven’t seen it nearly as much lately. Kudos to them. In addition to this, it was nice to see so many Cast Members in a cheery and upbeat mood after the fireworks. This might seem unremarkable–after all, it’s New Year’s Eve (Eve), a fun night. However, after the holiday season they’ve endured…it was a bit surprising.
In any case, everyone was in a great mood at Magic Kingdom, with guests and Cast Members feeding off one another’s positivity. As memorable as the fog and fireworks were, this is what made for such a special night at Walt Disney World, and a great ‘last visit’ of 2021 for us. We’ve had a lot of fantastic nights in Magic Kingdom over the years, but this one was definitely up there thanks to all of that. Hopefully this is a sign of good things to come in 2022–we are very much ready to turn the corner and start having overwhelmingly positive news to report and experiences to share in the new year!
Thoughts on anything covered here–fireworks, fog, or the fun we had in Magic Kingdom? What do you think about New Year’s Eve or the holiday season in general at Walt Disney World? Have you done New Year’s Eve at Walt Disney World? Which park is your favorite? Thinking about doing a future NYE at Epcot or Magic Kingdom? 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!