This has been the year of the after hours event at Walt Disney World. I talked about H2O Glow nights at Typhoon Lagoon a few weeks ago – but there's a whole host of after hours events elsewhere that we haven't even touched on yet – including the ones at Magic Kingdom. First with the Disney Vacation Club nights, then with the paid hard ticket events, and now most recently with the Annual Passholder nights. And in some way shape or form I've done them all – and have seen how different each is. So I thought it was worth taking a moment here to give a rundown on each one.
DVC After Hours
This year, Disney has really stepped up its game in recognizing the loyal tribe of fans that have bought into the Disney Vacation Club. Perhaps tops among the perks has been a series of free after hours events at the various parks, including two at the Magic Kingdom. Members were able to sign up on a first come, first serve basis and could bring guests as well – so I was able to go to both, one as the DVC member and one as the guest of my Disney bestie.
The DVC after hours events are not where you'll find the emptiest parks, but lines at the Magic Kingdom events were drastically shorter than usual and it was easy to hang around after closing to grab some incredible empty Main Street shots.
I've heard that the DVC after hours events at other, smaller parks were much more crowded in general but I did not see those in person.
What the DVC after hours events somewhat lack in lowest crowds, though, they make up for in pretty much everything else. More or less all of the attractions are open, there are special fireworks shows for attending members, and food and drink are FREE!! That's right: throughout the park you'll find typical park fare like chicken fingers, hot dogs, drinks, and Mickey ice cream bars for free. The character photo ops were also pretty amazing. Little John *and* the Fantasia ostrich and hippo?? Sign me up.
Hard Ticket Paid After Hours
On certain nights, Disney is also offering 3-hour long paid ticket after hours events, which are open to anyone willing to spend the $119 + tax for the privilege. A dear friend was kind enough to take me to one of these for a much needed girls' night out and I've gotta say – it was incredible. The food selections were fewer than at the DVC events – for your ticket you'll find free popcorn throughout the parks and access to pretty much anything your heart desires at the ice cream and soda carts – so be sure to eat any actual dinner you're planning before the event but to save room for ice cream.
But the park. The park was e-m-p-t-y.
This is not an evening for special fireworks or rare characters – though I was *incredibly* excited to see the lantern shots by the Tangled restrooms with little to no wait at all, which, if you've ever tried to get them, you know is huge.
This was Magic Kingdom circa 1994. Wide open spaces. Walk on rides. Photo ops on Main Street and in the hub like you'll never get any other time.
We snacked on goodies and walked on every ride in the park, including 7 Dwarfs Mine Train, for 3 solid hours. We rode Buzz Lightyear Space Ranger Spin 5 times in a row without getting off. And walked into meet and greets with every princess.
All in all, I cannot recommend this event enough. At $119 a ticket, it's not cheap – but if you and your significant other, or you and some friends, want to experience a totally relaxed and quiet Magic Kingdom late at night, it's worth the expense. And as of right now, you can still get tickets for the remaining two events on the calendar: August 30th and September 20th.
It was everything that I wanted from a paid event like this – Disney is figuring out that to make these worthwhile they need to seriously limit the number of people that get tickets and they're doing just that.
Annual Passholder After Hours
Last but not least, not long ago Annual Passholders received an email advising us to keep an eye on our inbox for upcoming AP after hours events – and just a few days later registration opportunities for the first few rolled in, including Magic Kingdom on August 5th (10p.m.-12a.m.) and Epcot on September 6th (9p.m.-11p.m.) and October 25th (9p.m.-11p.m.).
I'll caution you to start that registration for these is a bit different. Unlike the DVC events, everyone going needs to be an AP holder and there is no overlap – so if a friend who's an AP holder brings you as a guest to one of the events, you cannot register for another.
Let's not look a gift horse in the mouth, shall we? It's kind of like Extra Magic Hours for locals. The park was quite busy – due in part to the fact that the event is only 2 hours long and that's about the amount of time it takes to flush the regular guests out. But even the number of guests with writstbands for the event was alarming. Lines just to check in for wristbands in the park were a mile long. As such, I highly recommend going to the entrance gate around start time and getting your band there, as the wait there was much less painful.
Lines never really died down. Throughout the evening the wait times on the app looked about like this:
Better than usual – but for an event that's only 2 hours long with no character meets, etc., I'm not trying to spend 35 minutes waiting to ride Peter Pan.
Space Mountain and Buzz Lightyear were down for a large portion of the event – but I will say that we at least got to ride Buzz a few times without getting off once it reopened.
But lines are not that different from usual, there is absolutely no free food – carts, Casey's, and the Main Street Bakery are just open and instructed not to sell to anyone without an event wristband. (I might have run up to an ice cream cart excitedly when my watch hit 10p.m. and asked for a Mickey ice cream bar to get a rude awakening when she rung me up…. It turned out to be an expensive evening since I'd promised my kids unlimited ice cream.)
All in all I'll just admit that the AP after hours event was a bit of a disappointment after the excitement of the DVC event and the paid ticket event. Don't get me wrong – I appreciate that Disney is offering these nights. If you're a local looking for some extra park time or an AP holding non-local looking for an excuse for a quick trip, it'll fit the bill. But there were no characters, no fireworks, no complimentary snacks, and no walk on rides. If the goal of this event was to give AP holders the chance to be in the park like a resort guest doing EMH, I suppose it did the trick. If the goal was to make AP holders feel special for dedicating a sizeable portion of their yearly income to Disney annual passes – it did not. And to that end, I'll own that a large portion of my disappointment was that I'd had such better experiences at the above-described DVC and paid events. My mom and her friend were in town for this DVC after hours event and I'd been excited to show them the fun and was disappointed that what they experienced wasn't nearly the same.
I'll be curious to see what the next couple of Annual Passholder after hours events have in store – but in all honestly I won't be clamoring to get there.
Have you done any of these after hours events this year? Whether it was a DVC event, a paid event, or an Annual Passholder event, I would love to hear your thoughts!