Disney World Extra Magic Hours
Experience has taught us that the first few hours after park opening are by far the most productive. Starting the day with empty ride queues and empty streets is the best way to see the park without a crowd and the accompanying hustle.
Each day at Disney World, at least one park opens early to on-site hotel guests. The early admission is usually an hour before regular park opening, and it’s called an Extra Magic Hour (EMH for those in the know).
Our days always start at an Extra Magic Hour park, which usually means an 8:00am EMH opening time. But on our last trip we encountered 7:00am Extra Magic Hours.
Early Extra Magic Hour: Blessing or Curse?
We travel to Orlando from the West Coast, so the early mornings are a big challenge. But we know the payoff – we try to get on East Coast time as quickly as possible, and we have some proven strategies to help us cope.
Eight o’clock on the first morning is tricky but we can do it. But seven? When you start doing the math it quickly devolves into a “don’t want to know” situation:
Be at the park by 6:45am
Catch the park bus by 6:15am
Leave the hotel room by 6:00am
Don’t want to think about wake up time
Do not convert this to Pacific time
And therein lies the “curse”.
But any day that Disney thinks they should open a park at 7:00am is probably one of the busiest days of the year. Sleeping in and giving up that hour of freedom on a day like that would be like throwing away a winning lottery ticket.
We decided to make it work.
We were at Disney World for President’s Day weekend, an off-season holiday with crowds on par with the height of summer. So we were “lucky” enough to have two 7:00am EMH mornings in a row, at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios.
Both mornings we were among a handful of guests on the bus to the park. Going through security was a breeze. And both days we were just steps from the front of the line, second in line at Hollywood Studios!
What you can do when you arrive at a Disney World Park at 7am ~ Even on a peak day
Yes it was dark, and a little cold, as we waited for the park to open. But this is what we were able to accomplish in those first hours in the parks. We didn’t run, we stopped for photos, we had a snack, (we didn’t shop – that can wait till the lines are long), we enjoyed the quiet of the parks. And we did this:
Animal Kingdom (we had no Fast Passes for this park)**
Expedition Everest – 5 times (watched the sunrise from the top of the ride)
Kilimanjaro Safari – 1 time
Dinosaur – 1 time
Primeval Whirl – 2 times
Tough to be a Bug – 1 time
Lunch at Harambe Market at 11 am – no crowd
Toy Story Midway Mania – 2 times
Rock n Roller Coaster – 3 times total (2 times standby, then used a fast pass)
Star Tours – 1 time
Tower of Terror – 2 times total (first in standby line, then used fast pass)
10:30am done, caught the boat to EPCOT for lunch in France
Disney World Morning Extra Magic Hour Park Hacker Tip
If you’re planning to visit a park at EMH, consider reserving your FastPass+ for another park later in the day. You don’t really need them for the morning, but you will definitely want them in the afternoon. We usually start in one park at opening then hop to another around lunchtime when we need a break and things start getting crowded.
Although it was tough getting up, the 7am opening time was totally worth it for us. In effect it was more like a couple of extra magic hours – we really didn’t notice the crowds until after 9:00am.
According to the number-crunchers at TouringPlans.com, both of these days (February 13 & 14, 2016) the crowd levels rated 10 on a scale of 1-10. This means average wait times later in the day were well over an hour, sometimes over 2 hours, for the attractions we breezed onto in the morning.
If you can do it, we highly recommend getting out of bed and taking full advantage of the 7:00am Extra Magic Hours.
How to get your family out of bed on your theme park vacation
I have written an entire post full of tips to help you get up early for your day at the park, including one of my favorite vacation tech hacks. Be sure to check it out before you go.
And you can listen to my conversation on The Disney Hack Podcast where we discuss strategies to best use early Extra Magic Hours and how to get your family out of bed.
Click here for more Disney World tips, including: