Walt Disney World has extended hours with earlier openings and later closings for the peak season dates around Christmas and New Year’s Eve. More importantly, this post shares strategy from our recent experiences doing midnight at Magic Kingdom–plus tips & tricks for beating 10/10 crowd levels and accomplishing a ton during those late nights. (Updated December 18, 2023.)
Let’s start by getting the added hours out of the way. All four theme parks have had hours added to DisneyWorld.com’s park hours, and the current calendar now runs through February 27, 2024. At this point, those winter hours next year are honestly pretty meaningless. Three of the four parks are scheduled to operate from 9am until 9pm most days, which will probably be the final schedule during the winter off-season, but certainly not for all of those dates in early 2024.
With regard to the schedule, a few more notes before we dig into the tips & tricks. First, Magic Kingdom closes on several nights per week at 6 pm to day guests for Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party. Those separately-ticketed events begin at 7 pm and runs until midnight and occur multiple nights per week. Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party is now entirely sold out for the remainder of the holiday season, which is totally unsurprising.
More surprising is that the Disney Jollywood Nights Christmas Party has not sold out most dates, and still has a couple of nights available. Even though quick adjustments were made, the early reviews seemingly doomed that new event. So that’s an alternative if you didn’t buy MVMCP, but keep in mind that the two are very different experiences.
Finally, there’s the New Year’s Eve festivities. The big thing to note here is that Magic Kingdom celebrates on both December 30 and December 31. It’s the only park to do this, so attending Magic Kingdom on December 30 is the no-brainer. As for New Year’s Eve, we recommend EPCOT, which closes at 1am! See our Guide to New Year’s Eve at Walt Disney World for everything you need to know.
With that out of the way, let’s turn to the extended hours for the heart of the holiday season at Walt Disney World…
December 23, 2023: 9am to 11pm (previously 9am to 9pm)
December 24, 2023: 8am to 12am (previously 9am to 9pm)
December 25, 2023: 8am to 12am (previously 9am to 9pm)
December 26, 2023: 8am to 12am (previously 9am to 9pm)
December 27, 2023: 8am to 12am (previously 9am to 9pm)
December 28, 2023: 8am to 12am (previously 9am to 9pm)
December 29, 2023: 8am to 12am (previously 9am to 9pm)
December 30, 2023: 8am to 12am (previously 9am to 12am)
December 31, 2023: 8am to 1am (previously 9am to 12am)
January 1, 2024: 9am to 11pm (previously 9am to 9pm)
January 2, 2024: 9am to 11pm (previously 9am to 9pm)
January 3, 2024: 9am to 11pm (previously 9am to 9pm)
January 4, 2024: 8am to 11pm (previously 9am to 9pm)
January 5, 2024: 8am to 11pm (previously 9am to 9pm)
January 6, 2024: 8am to 11pm (previously 9am to 9pm)
December 24, 2023: 8:30am to 9pm (previously 9am to 9pm)
December 25, 2023: 8:30am to 9pm (previously 9am to 9pm)
December 26, 2023: 8:30am to 9pm (previously 9am to 9pm)
December 27, 2023: 8:30am to 9pm (previously 9am to 9pm)
December 28, 2023: 8:30am to 9pm (previously 9am to 9pm)
December 29, 2023: 8:30am to 9pm (previously 9am to 9pm)
December 30, 2023: 8:30am to 9pm (previously 9am to 9pm)
December 31, 2023: 8:30am to 12:30am (previously 9am to 12am)
January 1, 2024: 8:30am to 9pm (previously 9am to 9pm)
January 2, 2024: 8:30am to 9pm (previously 9am to 9pm)
January 3, 2024: 8:30am to 9pm (previously 9am to 9pm)
January 4, 2024: 8:30am to 9pm (previously 9am to 9pm)
January 5, 2024: 8:30am to 9pm (previously 9am to 9pm)
January 6, 2024: 8:30am to 9pm (previously 9am to 9pm)
December 24, 2023: 8am to 7pm (previously 9am to 7pm)
December 25, 2023: 8am to 8pm (previously 9am to 7pm)
December 26, 2023: 8am to 8pm (previously 9am to 7pm)
December 27, 2023: 8am to 8pm (previously 9am to 7pm)
December 28, 2023: 8am to 8pm (previously 9am to 7pm)
December 29, 2023: 8am to 8pm (previously 9am to 7pm)
December 30, 2023: 8am to 8pm (previously 9am to 7pm)
December 31, 2023: 8am to 8pm (previously 9am to 7pm)
January 1, 2024: 8am to 7pm (previously 9am to 7pm)
January 2, 2024: 8am to 7pm (previously 9am to 7pm)
January 3, 2024: 8am to 7pm (previously 9am to 7pm)
January 4, 2024: 8am to 8pm (previously 9am to 7pm)
January 5, 2024: 8am to 8pm (previously 9am to 7pm)
January 6, 2024: 8am to 8pm (previously 9am to 7pm)
Now here are our tips for beating the crowds and making the most of these extended hours at Walt Disney World…
Wide Weather & Temperamental Temperatures – There are a lot of misconceptions about how the weather impacts crowds at Walt Disney World. By and large, rain does not clear out crowds. Neither does high heat. Both of those things are pretty much par for the course with Florida weather–if the parks weren’t busy when it’s rainy or hot, they’d be uncrowded half the time! To the contrary, tourists and locals alike prepare for these types of weather so it doesn’t send them heading for the exits.
What does make a difference is colder weather and, more importantly, a wider range of weather. If the daytime high is in the upper 70s or low 80s but the nighttime low is in the low 50s, that is the sweet spot. It’s even better if a little bit of precipitation, or better yet, wind, is thrown into the mix.
A lot of visitors will dress for whatever season it is when they head out the door, and won’t be prepared for a dramatic drop when the sun goes down. At that point, their options are to buy a sweatshirt (at ~$60 per person, that’s an expensive proposition), bear the cold weather, or head home. People start dropping like flies.
The best way to ‘forecast’ a lower crowd level in the evening at Magic Kingdom during the winter is taking the difference between the day’s high and low temperatures. The bigger the spread, the more likely crowds will be lower. That’s a better predictor than day of week trends, crowd calendars, or anything else. I’m 100% serious.
Early Entry Excellence – We are huge advocates of Early Entry. Usually, Magic Kingdom is the lone exception to this. That’s because park opening normally occurs at 9am, and as a result, there are a ton of people taking advantage of 8:30 am Early Entry. It’s relatively easy to be out the door and to Magic Kingdom by that time.
It’s a different story entirely when moving that forward by an hour–especially for the families with small children to whom Magic Kingdom and its Fantasyland headliners most appeal. This is half of why we love doing Magic Kingdom during the shortened 8am to 6pm days. (The other half is lower crowds, discouraged by the 6pm closure.)
In our experience, it’s a partially different dynamic on 8am to midnight days at Magic Kingdom. For one thing, crowd levels are much higher over the course of the entire day. Those party-shortened days are usually seeing crowds of 1/10 to 3/10. By contrast, the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve will be 9/10 to 10/10 across the board.
The upside of that, though, is that there’s no sense of urgency for guests to arrive ASAP to get everything done. People have until midnight, so they pace themselves. It’s typically a later arriving crowd as a result. Take advantage of this by being there for Early Entry and going hard in the first few hours of the day.
Character Cadence – Starting at around 9:30am can be a good time to accomplish character meet & greets if those matter to you. A couple of these open after the rest of Magic Kingdom, and they typically have lower crowd levels in the first hour that they’re open because most guests prioritize rides. It can be a good time to knock out the following (in this order of demand-priority):
Meet Mirabel at Fairytale Garden
Meet Various Princesses at Princess Fairytale Hall
Meet Ariel at Her Grotto
Meet Daring Disney Pals as Circus Stars at Pete’s Silly Sideshow
Meet Dashing Disney Pals as Circus Stars at Pete’s Silly Sideshow
You’re going to know if princesses are important to your party. If so, you should prioritize Princess Fairytale Hall and Mirabel (there’s a path that cuts from Fairytale Hall to Fairytale Garden, which is in front/to the side of Cinderella Castle). The princesses are popular and offer Lightning Lane line-skipping, so you want to beat the late-arriving crowd there. Unless you buy Genie+, in which case, grab a Lightning Lane and do those later.
Elderly Eating – I mean no disrespect to the senior citizens out there, who are known for having their meals a few hours earlier than the general population. There’s a reason they say with age comes wisdom. I, too, eat early.
It’s no coincidence that the ’13 rides in 3 hours’ post ends at 10:30am. That’s when I eat lunch on days like this. That might seem too early (debatable), but it’s honestly perfect. Even the most popular counter service restaurants are dead at this hour, and I rarely have anyone anywhere near me. I don’t even bother with Mobile Order, because there’s always no line at the cash registers.
Trust me, the amount of time you’ll save–and stress you’ll avoid–by eating before 11am is huge. In my opinion, this is one of the most underrated tips for dealing with crowds at Walt Disney World. Since restaurants don’t have wait times, people tend to ignore this type of advice…but they really shouldn’t.
Midday Resting & Recharging – If the Magic Kingdom is open until midnight and you’re following the tips & tricks here, you’ll be able to do the entire park twice in one day. That is, of course, if your family is full of Energizer Bunnies and endurance is no issue.
If you’re mere mortals, you probably aren’t going to be able to keep going and going and going (etc.) the entire day. However, you still shouldn’t choose between arriving early and staying late. Instead, cut out midday portion. It’s the most crowded and congested, with the longest wait times and least desirable weather.
Go back to your hotel to take a nap during the worst hours of the day. If you’re staying off-site or just don’t want to head all the way home, decompress by visiting a monorail loop hotel or making time for stage shows like Carousel of Progress, Hall of Presidents, Country Bear Jamboree, and Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room. No need to go go go between 11am and 3pm, though.
Genie+ Maximization – If you’re arriving early or staying late–nevermind arriving early and staying late–Genie+ is not a strict necessity. On these longer days, you can accomplish most of Magic Kingdom (or all of it, with savvy strategy) without Lightning Lanes. It’s pretty much a numbers game–the extra time offsets the longer waits, and you can beat the crowds at the beginning and end of the day.
With that said, Genie+ will help you accomplish much more when the hours are longer and the crowds are higher. Again, this is a math problem. Longer hours means more time to use Genie+ to book Lightning Lanes, and higher standby wait times means more time saved. So even though Genie+ will undoubtedly cost $35 (if not hit a new all-time high), its value is also higher during weeks like this.
This is where Park Hopping can be really advantageous. Genie+ has the same cost whether you do Magic Kingdom or multiple parks, so you might as well do the latter. If you play your cards right, you can knock out the biggest rides with minimal waits via Lightning Lanes, Early Entry, and late nights in some combination of Disney’s Hollywood Studios, EPCOT, and Magic Kingdom…all in a single day. (No need for Lightning Lanes at all in Animal Kingdom if you do things right.) See our Guide to Genie+ and Lightning Lanes at Walt Disney Worldfor more info, strategy, etc.
Night Times Two – We love Magic Kingdom. We have spent many long days here, and all of the tips here are speaking from experience during 8am to midnight visits during the holiday season–and especially the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. But I’ll be honest with you: I cannot recall the last time we did a full day at Magic Kingdom. There have been many times when we’ve arrived before 7am and left after 1 am in the same day (well, technically that 1am departure would be the following day, but you know what I mean).
However, it’s very rare for the middle of that day to be all Magic Kingdom. Most of the time, we head somewhere else for the middle of the day. I’m not a big napper and do have Energizer Bunny endurance, so it’s usually not the hotel, either. Our default is usually EPCOT. It’s easiest on the monorail, we enjoy eating at the festival booths, and EPCOT is our favorite place to be. But that’s not necessarily what we’d recommend to you. Or not the only thing we’d recommend.
Instead, consider Animal Kingdom. Sunset this time of year is around 5:30pm in Orlando, and if you arrive at Animal Kingdom around 3pm, you can enjoy Merry Menagerie and knock out most of the park with minimal waits after the day crowd departs. Once you’re done with rides, be sure to stick around and enjoy the brilliance of bioluminescence in Pandora at night, the Tree of Life Awakenings, and Discovery Island Luminaries. You’ll practically have the park to yourself in the last hour of the day at DAK, and you can still make it back to Magic Kingdom in time for Happily Ever After.
Fantasyland Fireworks – Cinderella Castle the centerpiece of the Magic Kingdom fireworks, and the shows lose some of their emotional impact without it. However, it can be downright uncomfortable crowded and congested before, during, and after the fireworks–especially during peak weeks of the year. On these dates, there are exponentially more people in Magic Kingdom than will safely fit on Main Street.
Fortunately, there’s one location in the park that’s outside of Main Street where you have almost all of the upside but none of the downside. Directly behind Cinderella Castle! It’s a totally different perspective of the show, and much less crowded back there. This is our favorite “secret spot” (to the extent that Magic Kingdom’s most popular land can be a secret) because it feels like you’re in the midst of the fireworks, with bursts both in front of and behind you.
You’ll also enjoy pyro over Beast’s Castle above Be Our Guest Restaurant, which is cool. I still prefer viewing from the front of Cinderella Castle as you do lose a bit back here, but between the castle walls is a great place to watch for a second-viewing or for avoiding the crowds. Granted, I’ve seen it many times, but during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve (and other peak season dates), there’s no way on earth I’d try to watch Happily Ever After from Main Street. It just is not worth enduring the chaos and crowds.
There’s also strategic advantage to watching Happily Ever After from Fantasyland, which is a good segue into my night maximizing Magic Kingdom attractions…
My Magic Kingdom at Midnight Maximization
Let’s pick up my evening immediately after Happily Ever After, which was shown at 8pm. That left a little over 3.5 hours on the clock in Magic Kingdom. Here’s a list of what I accomplished, in order, after the fireworks:
Peter Pan’s Flight
Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
Pirates of the Caribbean
Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin
TTA PeopleMover (x2)
TRON Lightcycle Run
The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
Peter Pan’s Flight
Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
In terms of commentary about the above list, I want to start by cautioning that you will not accomplish this much during the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. That’s a big part of why I didn’t spell this out, step by step–because I do not believe it’s replicable. I got lucky with weather clearing out the crowds, and as a result, my longest wait was for Space Mountain…even that was under 15 minutes.
Nevertheless, some of the ideas here can be applied to your own visits. First, notice that I did Peter Pan’s Flight first–racing there immediately after Happily Ever After ended–despite being closer to Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. If it were the end of the night, I would’ve done SDMT.
However, my theory is that the Lightning Lane ‘abandonment rate’ is higher for Genie+ attractions than it is for Individual Lightning Lanes. Meaning that people who pay extra to specifically purchase a Lightning Lane for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train are far less likely to miss it than those who scored a Lightning Lane for PPF. (Can’t prove it, but makes complete sense to me!) As a result, it’s more difficult to “beat” the post-fireworks Lightning Lane rush to SDMT than it is PPF.
The biggest gamble on that list was doing Jingle Cruise before 10pm and when the posted wait time was still 60 minutes. But I was in the neighborhood and didn’t really want to crisscross the park later just for it. Not only that, but I figured it was at least moderately inflated given the lines elsewhere and the weather. To my surprise, it was a walk-on. Literally 5 other parties in the standby queue and maybe a couple in the Lightning Lane.
Inflated waits were a common theme of the evening, which is not uncommon. Wait times are least accurate at the end of the evening, and that’s doubly true when it goes from being a busy day to an uncrowded night. With only a few exceptions at the very end of the night, almost every posted wait time was (at least) double my actual wait.
The final “noteworthy” thing here is doing the PeopleMover twice to run out the clock on TRON Lightcycle Run. I’ve done that roller coaster many times now, so I always gamble on joining the virtual queue now. Always the 1pm entry, and never right at 1:00:00pm on the dot. I’ll usually wait until at least 1:05pm, at which point I’m often in a boarding group that gets called after the fireworks. If I wait until the end of my window, I’m among the last groups.
If you’ve never done TRON Lightcycle Run or it’s really important to you, don’t do this. I have been burned before and shut out of the virtual queue, to which my response is a shrug of the shoulders. Oh well, next time. If your response would be anything but that, don’t do this! But for me, the strategy can work really well, and mean no line or–if I’m really lucky–lightcycles that aren’t fully full. This was a really lucky night. In trying to accomplish as much as possible, this is pretty important to me, as I’ve also been unlucky and TRON ate up 60+ minutes despite being a “virtual” queue.
The end of the night was uneventful. Pooh was a walk-on and I still had enough time left before park closing that I was willing to take a gamble on Peter Pan’s Flight a second time. Had there much much of a line in Lightning Lane queue or in the interactive portion of the standby queue (there was no one at all in either), I would’ve bailed. My midnight at Magic Kingdom ride ended up being Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, where I was literally the last guest in line (downside: not getting all the spinning jewel buckets to activate), which was a walk-on.
Ultimately, it was a highly productive evening in Magic Kingdom. Between this and Early Entry/rope drop, I knocked out a ton of high-profile rides–more than the average guest likely accomplishes during multiple normal days. All of that despite a very meandering and unfocused midday, during which I did a mix of nothing at all, stage shows, and the PeopleMover. (In hindsight, I probably should’ve done a 4-park challenge!) All in all, a very satisfying day at Walt Disney World despite peak season attendance–which hopefully demonstrates to you how it’s possible to have a great experience and beat those high crowd levels!
Have you done a midnight closing at Magic Kingdom this holiday season? Were you able to accomplish a lot after the fireworks? Planning on being in the parks between Christmas and New Year’s Eve this year? If you’ve done it in the past, what do you think of our recommendations? Do you think Magic Kingdom should be open from 8am until midnight on more days? What about earlier opening times at the other parks? What has been your experience this Christmas with crowds and wait times? 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!