This post covers our recent weekend in Magic Kingdom, during which we enjoyed evening in the park despite it closing before sunset. In this, we’ll share photos and offers tips for staying “late” in Walt Disney World, and experiencing nighttime in the parks.
As you’re likely aware, Walt Disney World dramatically cut fall hours up until Halloween. As a result, none of the parks are currently open after sunset. This is disappointing–night is the best time in all of the parks, the most pleasant given the weather, and the optimal time for enjoying the Halloween atmosphere in Magic Kingdom.
The good news is that Walt Disney World has been extending park hours for select dates in October, and now Magic Kingdom closes only slightly before sunset. We visited for one such extended hours evening, and report on that here along with “how to” enjoy nighttime in the parks right now…
If you’re interested in the full play by play of our day, first check out our Magic Kingdom Weekend Report: Beating Heavier Crowds & Higher Waits. That covers our morning rope dropping the park, strategy for beating crowds and long waits (exactly as the title suggests!), and leaves off where this picks up.
Previously on this Magic Kingdom photo report, we were heading to Splash Mountain approximately 15 minutes prior to the park’s closing time…
Totally off-topic, but prior to getting in line for Splash Mountain I stopped to take a photo on the bridge due to the way the golden hour light was hitting Cinderella Castle.
This underscores why I’ve dubbed this Cinderella’s Chameleon Castle. It looks totally different depending upon the light and cloud cover–sometimes good, sometimes bad. I can’t say I’m a fan of this faux metallic look it has when bathed in side light in the early morning or evening hours.
Here’s the same scene after we exited Splash Mountain, which was about 20 minutes after park closing and just after official sunset time.
Part of the difference here is that Cinderella Castle is illuminated for the evening, so it’s no longer simply the paint and reflected natural light.
This was our first time in Magic Kingdom after sunset since the theme parks reopened at Walt Disney World.
Even though it was open until 7 pm nightly this summer, sunset times were always too late then. There were a couple of times we could’ve stuck around for it, but rain or overcast skies made that pointless.
This particular evening, on the other hand, was gorgeous.
At its peak, the sunset was a rich range of color from deep blue to fiery red. Oh, and the moon as the cherry on top!
Another look at the moon above the National Treasure that is Country Bear Jamboree. It’s truly a shame UNESCO hasn’t awarded it World Heritage Site status yet. They keep ignoring my applications for some odd reason.
Joking aside, this stroll through Frontierland was delightful. We were among the last guests to get in line for Splash Mountain, and after stopping for photos in front of the attraction, pretty much everyone was gone by this point.
After making our way through Frontierland, we arrived in Liberty Square. Equally devoid of other guests, this area is also delightful in the evening.
Overlooked due to its compact and modest design, Liberty Square packs a more powerful punch without anyone around. You can better hear its sounds and see the architectural details–or even mosey past the entrance of Ye Olde Christmas Shoppe for the scents of the season.
I stopped on the bridge between Liberty Square and Main Street for a while, both because I noticed a colossal crowd in the Central Plaza and to wait for the color of the sky to change a bit.
It looks slightly different because of the underlying color scheme change, but this is the same lighting package as before Cinderella Castle had its royal makeover.
It was a lovely evening, with a cool (by Florida in September standards) breeze and slow-burn sunset that we savored well after Magic Kingdom had closed.
As much as I enjoy just gushing about the experience, we promised some tips for staying late, so let’s turn to those…
The best one is fairly standard advice for anyone versed in our step-by-step Walt Disney World itineraries: jump in line for a headliner attraction a few minutes before park closing.
The two obvious picks are Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Splash Mountain, since those typically have the longest wait during the day. This effectively kills two birds with one stone, extending your day and killing time before nightfall.
As a bonus, you should be able to enjoy some beautiful sunset views while on each of those two attractions.
The above photo is one such view–Magic Kingdom’s “skyline” from the drop into the briar patch on Splash Mountain.
Another is a park closing Advance Dining Reservation. Magic Kingdom restaurants accept reservations right up until (or in some cases after) park closing.
Unfortunately, this advice isn’t particularly practical, as it’s incredibly difficult to score one of those elusive ADRs between now and Halloween. (It should be useful for those planning Christmas-time trips, though.) As with the last-minute ride, doing dinner at or after park closing is also useful for extending your day and not “wasting” valuable park time on eating.
The silver lining there is that even if you’re unable to book an Advance Dining Reservation for park closing, you can still benefit from them.
Because restaurants are seating until then, that means guests are eating until an hour or longer after Magic Kingdom closes. Since those guests are still in the park, Disney has little incentive to clear Magic Kingdom quickly.
Accordingly, the final way to stay late at Magic Kingdom is to…just do it.
While the various lands that do not have table service restaurants will generally ‘gently herd’ guests out of the land within 30 minutes or so of closing, guests are able to linger on Main Street for far longer.
It’s not a matter of simply hanging out to enjoy the atmosphere, either.
Stores on Main Street remain open and PhotoPass photographers are out well after closing, so you can be “productive” after Magic Kingdom closes, if you so desire. Yet again, another way to extend your day.
Just be aware that the lines for the Emporium and PhotoPass can be long immediately after official park closing time.
A lot of people see these options on their way out, and impulsively take advantage of the opportunity to do more shopping or have one last photo taken. (On this particular evening, about a half-dozen PhotoPass photographers were out for over an hour after closing!)
One of my favorite nighttime “activities” at Walt Disney World is getting as close as possible to the park icon, standing under it, and gazing up for a few minutes.
You’ll notice details you’ve never otherwise seen, and there’s an unparalleled feeling of awe. Maybe it’s just me, but the icon takes on a new sense of beauty and grandeur. Highly recommended.
You can also enjoy the Halloween decorations in their full glory!
This was one of the big reasons we stayed, and it did not disappoint.
As an added bonus, Halloween background music played from time to time (for some reason, the music alternated between the normal Main Street USA loop and the Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party one).
I only wish Casey’s Corner were open. One of my ‘guilty pleasure’ Magic Kingdom meals is the Corn Dog Nuggets with Cheese Sauce. (I’m not sure why, but I associate that with fall at Walt Disney World–probably because that’s when I’ve most often eaten that?)
Ultimately, an excellent evening in Magic Kingdom. While visiting on a weekday would’ve resulted in lower wait times and lighter crowds, it was all worth it for that extra hour and this twilight tranquility. We have missed these evenings on Main Street so much, and the holiday season truly cannot come soon enough so we’re able to do this for a longer period of time and on a more regular basis.
We ended up leaving Magic Kingdom at 8:30 pm–90 minutes after official park closing time–at which point there was still a steady trickle of guests onto Main Street. We could’ve easily stayed later, but we were hungry and there was a pizza place behind Magic Kingdom calling our names. Here’s hoping for an early Festivus miracle–the reopening of Casey’s Corner by November–so we don’t have to leave so “early” next time!
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!
Have you stayed in Magic Kingdom until nightfall since Walt Disney World reopened? What was your experience? How long after closing did you stay? Did you do a park-closing Advance Dining Reservation, last-minute attraction, or “just do it”? Will you be attempting to experience evening in Magic Kingdom this Halloween or Christmas season? Do you agree or disagree with our advice? 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!