When creating your itinerary for your Walt Disney World vacation, are you left wondering if it’s better to arrive to the parks early or stay later into the evening? While this is rather subjective, I created a list of pros for both options, arriving early and staying late. Use these to help you decide which is a better option for you and your family.
Not everyone is as crazy as me and willing to pull a 14-16 hour day at the parks, benefiting from both the early and late hours. Some are! And that’s awesome! But I think that the majority of Guests would rather make a choice, or simply don’t want to stay that many hours in the parks. If that is the case, it’s completely rational and understandable!
So first things first… are you an early riser or a night owl? For me, this should be the first question you ask yourself (and of those in your traveling party)! If you are a morning person, you will naturally gravitate to getting up and getting into the parks early. And conversely, if you are a night owl you will rather arrive a little later to the parks and stay longer into the night. But what happens when your traveling party has a mix of both? I think there is a bit of compromise that has to happen. Perhaps one day you visit the parks early and the next you stay later. In my humble option though, I would not force anything against what the natural tendencies are, otherwise you will end up with a lot of unhappy and cranky people!
So let’s jump in and see what the benefits are to visiting the Disney Parks both early and later in the day!
Arriving Early to the Parks
Shorter Lines/Wait Times
It is a known fact that if you get to the parks early, you will have less of a wait on some of the most popular attractions. This means arriving to the parks before the scheduled park opening time (by 20-30 minutes). So for example, if the park opens at 8:00 AM, I suggest being there by 7:30 AM. Some of the more popular attractions (i.e. Flight of Passage in Animal Kingdom and Slinky Dog Dash in Hollywood Studios) will have wait times soar to 120 minutes within 30 minutes of the parks opening. If you really want to ride this attraction with minimal waits and cross it off your list for the day, you will need to get to the park before the scheduled opening time.
Book an Early Breakfast Reservation
If you book a super early breakfast reservation, you will be able to get into the parks before it opens to the public for the day. For example, booking breakfast at Crystal Palace at 8:00 AM on a day that Magic Kingdom opens at 9:00 AM benefits your family since you can stroll down Main Street U.S.A with minimal crowds. You can also get amazing pictures (often without anyone in them!) that early in the morning. Here is the caveat to this though – this ONLY works if you are visiting on a day that Extra Magic Hours (EMH) are not offered. You will need to work around that. If EMH are scheduled, booking early dining (to get into the park before the public) will backfire.
Note that from August 29 – November 2, 2019 Extra Extra Magic Hours will be offered, leaving this entire option and strategy virtually ineffective. To read more about Extra Extra Magic Hours, click here.
Some Attractions are Better in the Morning Hours
Some of the attractions are actually even better in the morning than in the evening. For example, if you are visiting Animal Kingdom, you have a much greater chance at seeing more animals first thing in the morning when it’s still cooler, than later in the day!
Time to Take in All the Details
By arriving to the parks early before the mass crowds allows you to take your time once you get into the park and really explore. One of the most magical experiences of visiting a Walt Disney World park is taking in all of the details, the sights, the sounds, the smells and noticing things you may have never seen before. Details are so easy to miss and overlook because when the crowds are barreling through the gates, everyone is in a hurry to get to their first attraction or show or dining reservation. But the details, especially on Main Street U.S.A. are not to be missed. There is so much history packed into one relatively small area. You owe it to yourself as a Disney fan to take your time and enjoy the details!
Ok, so maybe not always guaranteed. But you certainly have a fighting chance. I’m speaking mostly about visiting Walt Disney World during peak times, like during the holidays. More specifically between Christmas Day and New Years Day. During that week you can almost guarantee that if you do not get to the parks super early in the morning (for rope drop, if not earlier), you may be turned away! I wish I was being dramatic, but the parks have a tendency to reach capacity at least by mid-morning in many cases and then you cannot enter. There are different closure phases that Disney puts in place during these times, so that does help. Click here if you want to learn more about those. But being early during peak times is important!
Staying Late in the Parks
Use FastPass+ to Your Advantage
Just a few years ago I would have noted FastPass as an advantage for arriving at the parks early. That’s because, for those that don’t remember, FastPass used to be a paper-based system. And it required you to physically obtain tickets at stations parked outside the attraction. So, at park opening, there would be a mad dash to the most popular attraction in the park to obtain a FastPass ticket. In some cases, FastPass tickets would run out within minutes of park opening! So being there super early was important!
Now we have an electronic system AND we get to lock in our FastPass+ reservations 30 or 60 days before we even get to Walt Disney World. My how things have changed! So being there early for FastPass is no longer important. As a matter of fact, you can use it to your advantage. If you prefer to get to the parks a little later, book your FP+ reservations for a later time in the day. This way, not only will you be able to leisurely enter the park when you prefer, but you are guaranteed at least 3 attractions with minimal wait times!
Get on Attractions at Park Closing
If you are arriving to the parks later, I predict you will stay until park closing. Take advantage of this! As long as Guests are in line for an attraction, you are guaranteed to ride. Hope in line a minute or two before the park “officially” closes. Use the night to ride the attractions that are coolest in the dark, like Tower of Terror, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover, and Slinky Dog Dash. Not only will you be able to ride, but chances are, by the time you come out the park will be cleared out. Another advantage, this is also a great time to take some amazing photos of the park at night with no one around!
Eat a Late Lunch or Dinner
Another advantage to getting to the parks later is by the time you are ready to eat a late lunch or late dinner, it will be during off peak hours and you will probably have a better chance at scoring a dining reservation. Peak times are usually between 12:00-2:00 PM and 5:00-7:00 PM, so anytime in between or after those hours, you will have an easier time snagging a dining reservation. You may even luck out and snatch a “hard to get” reservation!
Less Hot in the Evening
As many know, the daytime hours (especially during the peak of summer) can be brutally hot and humid. The Florida sun is so intense! By going to the park later in the evening, the sun and temperature will have gone down enough to be comfortable. And you won’t have to worry about getting a sunburn either!
Start Your Day in a Relaxing Way
If you plan to visit the parks later in the day, you can sleep in a bit, and start your morning off in a leisurely way. Book a mid-morning breakfast or brunch or take a dip in the pool at your resort! During that time of day, the pool will most likely be less crowded and quiet, so it will be a nice time to relax and enjoy! You’ll feel rejuvenated and refreshed by the time you are ready to hit the parks!
Enjoy Disney Springs and The BoardWalk
Disney Springs and The BoardWalk have amazing nighttlife! If you are a night owl, take advantage of this and enjoy all it has to offer! There are some great bars and lounges to visit, along with fantastic entertainment that usually goes until 1:00 or 2:00 AM! There is something for everyone! And don’t forget about the lounges at the resort hotels. They aren’t open as late at Disney Springs or The BoardWalk, but they offer cool vibes and a great fun atmosphere.
Don’t Rush Out of the Parks
If you stay until park closing, my recommendation is to not rush out of the parks. Hang around for a little while, take it all of the sights, sounds and smells. There is so much detail that is missed because we are always in a hurry, when the crowds thin out and the park is quieter, this a great time to explore. Take lots of pictures! Generally, the parks are open up until an hour after closing time, sometimes longer. By hanging back a bit, the masses will leave before you, so your exit out of the park is quiet and less chaotic.