Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Review: Disney After Hours at the Magic Kingdom

Last year, Disney launched a late-night event that was roundly mocked, mostly because of the price: Disney After Hours, an opportunity to spend $149 per person for three extra hours in the park after regular closing time.

An empty Fantasyland in the Magic Kingdom.
After selling so few tickets last year that it had to give some away to fill up the park, Disney is trying again, at a much lower price. Instead of $149 per person, with no discounts, tickets now cost $119, or $89 for Passholders or DVC members. Note that the price is the same for adults as for children.

We took one in the wallet for you, dear readers, and attended the after-hours event last weekend to see if it's worth the price. The answer? It depends.

We see three good reasons to buy a ticket to Disney After Hours:
  • If you simply want to experience the Magic Kingdom without the crowds, this is the best way we've ever seen to do that. We were reminded of going to Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party mumble-mumble years ago, when we could stay on Big Thunder Mountain again and again and again. Today, the Christmas party feels nearly as crowded as any normal day at the park. This event, though, is limited to about 3,000 tickets. 
  • If you want to ride the E-Ticket rides — yes, even the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train — as many times as you want with virtually no wait, this is a lot cheaper than hiring a private guide. (That will cost you $400-$600 per hour, for a minimum of six hours.) 
  • If you're a photographer who would love a shot at a virtually empty Magic Kingdom at night. You could also try staying past closing time on a normal night, but Disney has been closing earlier and working mightily to sweep people from the park faster. This lets you take your time. 

Finally, if you're buying a one-day tickets and you're either going to spend $105 or $119, consider whether you'd prefer to be there from 9 a.m.-9 p.m. with a crowd, or from 5 p.m.-midnight and have the place to yourself. There's very little you'd be missing — except perhaps the new Muppet show, which is the best thing to happen to the Magic Kingdom in years.

Here's a little more about our experience:

The website for the event says check-in begins at 7 p.m., but we arrived a few minutes after 5 p.m. and found a Disney After Hours host giving out credentials for the event. This makes sense, because last week's event started two hours earlier than last year. We think the 7 p.m. start time listed online is a holdover; we'd suggest arriving four hours before the park is normally scheduled to close.

Entrance to Tomorrowland in the Magic Kingdom.

The park was plenty crowded when we arrived, so we had a leisurely dinner at the Skipper Canteen and waited for the crowd to thin out. Fireworks started at 8 p.m., an hour before park closing. At 9, the lines were short. Two hours later, they were non-existent, even on Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. Most rides were open, and so were the princess meet-and-greets.

If you get to the park early and wear your credentials, and people are bound to ask you about it — so be prepared for questions. We found it a little awkward to try to answer the question, "Why would anyone spend so much money for three hours in the park?"

In addition to admission, guests for the after-hours event get free popcorn, novelty ice cream and drinks. It's remarkably freeing to be able to walk up to snack cart, ask for a soda or a Mickey Bar (or both!) and walk away without having to pull out a wallet or swipe a Magic Band. (See what we did there? It's free-ing!) You'd have to eat your weight in Mickey Bars (or popcorn) to add up to the price of admission, but it was a nice perk.

Disney says it has not cut back Extra Magic Hours for these events, but hours for the Magic Kingdom itself seem to have been curtailed. Right now, the park is scheduled to close at 9 p.m. nightly through March. This could — and probably will — change, but we're used to the park staying open until at least 10 or 11 as the spring crowds start to arrive.

Still interested? There are five more After Hours events on the calendar so far:
  • February 2, 9 and 16, 8-11 p.m.
  • March 2 and 9, 9 p.m.-midnight
Admission is $119 per adult or child (tax not included) and $89 for Passholders or DVC members. You can buy your tickets online or call (407) 827-7185.
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