Cinderella Castle at Night

Winter 2024 Trip Report Day 4 Part 2 – Magic Kindgom Extended Evening Hours

We took a prolonged midday break to recharge for a long evening at Magic Kingdom. Normal park closing was scheduled for 11pm which meant that Extended Evening Hours would go until 1AM! We left the hotel right around 5pm and were in the park about 30 minutes later.

I had been stacking Lightning Lane return times for Magic Kingdom throughout the morning and afternoon. This task is a bit laborious and requires some attention and dedication. I had to book an attraction for whatever return time was available and then check in every so often to move it back to a time when we would be in the park. The payoff was that by the time we arrived at Magic Kingdom at 5:30 I had 5 Lightning Lanes booked. To me, this is the bests strategy to ensure efficient touring, bar none. More on that in another post.

Our first stop was Peter Pan. As you’re probably aware, this is attraction is one of the hardest to secure a Lightning Lane return time for. If you want to employ a strategy like we did and stack Lightning Lanes at Magic Kingdom this is one you’ll want to get early.

Hook and Pan duel
Hook and Pan duel

After Peter Pan we headed over to Voyage of the Little Mermaid and waited in the stand by line for this one. Along the way the 6pm virtual queue for Tron opened up and I was able to secure a return time. This is a special virtual queue that only goes into effect after Extended Evening hours open. I don’t think this was well understood as I overhead several guests wondering aloud why the queue status wasn’t changing.

The stand by line for Little Mermaid wasn’t bad and we waited about 15 minutes before boarding. This attraction is usually a good “filler” type attraction that you don’t have to plan much around. That’s exactly what it was for us at this time and it worked out. I did notice a 30 minute + wait for this attraction a couple times during the trip, so at least check the app before you assume this doesn’t have a long wait.

Ariel from Voyage of the Little Mermaid
Ariel from Voyage of the Little Mermaid

After the Little Mermaid we had a Lightning Lane for Space Mountain but had some time to kill. We headed that way but in a roundabout manner, pausing to take in some of the enchanting evening time sights that the Magic Kingdom offers.

Beast's Castle at Twilight
Beast’s Castle at Twilight
7 Dwarves with Castle Background
7 Dwarves at Night

We rode Space Mountain via lightning lane with no issues. The stand-by line was long, listed at 60 minutes and seemed every bit of it as we briskly walked by and into the loading area. It took about 10 minutes to get on the rocket ship.

We checked wait times and nothing else was very appealing so we decided to to head back towards Main Street and eventually to Tony’s Town Square for our 7:30 dinner reservation. Though it was a bit chilly this evening we were hoping to be able to dine outside. Tony’s has a great little outdoor porch area that overlooks the entrance to the park and Main Street. This turned out to be no problem. People are always underprepared for just how cold Florida can feel and most were not interested in sitting outside.

View from Tony's Porch
View from Tony’s Porch

We got a great two top along the banister of the porch offering great views of Main Street and people watching.

Main St Shop from Tony's
Main St Shop from Tony’s

As any Walt Disney World fan knows, Tony’s does not have the best reputation. Until recently it was often described as a cut or two below the Olive Garden. Now I have nothing against Olive Garden, it’s perfectly fine americanized Italian food, but that description didn’t exactly make this a dining destination for most. More like an ADR of last resort.

This isn’t a dining review so I won’t spend too much time on the meal, but we really enjoyed it. We started with the Insalatta Caprese. This dish was fresh and flavorful, hitting exactly how you’d want a caprese salad to hit with some nice acidity and depth of flavor from the white balsamic pesto.

For our entrees I got the Tortellini Al Forno, “Calabrian Chili and Cheese Tortellini baked Italian Sausage, Onions, Peppers, and Mozzarella in a Creamy Tomato Sauce”. This was quite good and very cheesy with a generous topping of melted mozzarella. If the ingredients are things you enjoy then don’t hesitate to give this a shot.

My wife got the Chicken Parmesan, “Lightly-breaded Chicken Breast baked in Tony’s Marinara Sauce and Mozzarella served with Spaghetti”. This dish also hit the right notes and it was basially exactly what you’d imagine a chicken parm dish would be. Of note, the spaghetti was cooked perfectly.

Overall, we really enjoyed this meal. The ambiance of sitting on the porch overlooking Main St made this experience an overall winner. The food itself was good and best of all was fairly down the middle so should offer something for everyone.

The fireworks went off while we were eating dinner. We weren’t concerned with seeing the show, we’ve seen it before. I am not a huge fireworks person, but Disney definitely does it right. For us fireworks at MK are something we do if things work out rather than something we plan around. We let the post fireworks exodus run it’s course while enjoying some post-dinner coffee.

After dinner we had LLs for Haunted Mansion, Big Thunder, and Pirates. Haunted Mansion was donw however, so that mean our next stop was Frontierland for a LL ride on Big Thunder Mountain. It was difficult not to take it slow and admire Magic Kingdom at night. It really doesn’t feel magical. It definitely felt less crowded post fireworks and it was very pleasant to walk around the park, and there was still 4 hours of operation left including Extended Evening hours.

Cinderella Castle and the Partner Statue at Night
Cinderella Castle and the Partner Statue

We used our LL at Big Thunder, then Pirates. At this point crowds were really starting to wane and wait times were slowly dropping at most attractions. The premier attractions were still showing elevated wait times but it was clear that the long operating hours and cool temperatures were combining to drastically thin out crowds. Fine by us!

Somewhere along the way I noticed that our Haunted Mansion return time came and went and it was still down, so we were provided a Lightning Lane to use at any other attraction except for the individual lightning lane attractions and Space Mountain. I really wanted to ride Haunted Mansion again so opted to keep that LL in my back pocket int case it reopened.

At this point it was nearing 10PM or the last hour of normal park hours. Crowds were definitely thinning and wait times were dropping further. We decided to hope on Small World and then revaluate where we go from there. Haunted Mansion was still down after small world so I decided to use the pass at Winnie the Pooh. We hadn’t done that yet and that attraction keeps long wait times throughout the day due to it’s proximity to the 7 Dwarves exit.

We were not the only ones with this plan and the lightning lane line was very long. It moved quicky but that meant that folks in the stand-by line were barely moving. There is some ratio of LL to stand-by that attractions follow. I’d guess somewhere along the lines of 10-1. But this felt even worse than that. We witnessed several folks angrily getting out of line while muttering about ridiculous wait times. I don’t think we saw a single person load from stand-by while we were there. I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the folks who got in line with a posted 30 minute wait and probably ended up waiting close to an hour while not moving an inch for long periods of time.

Of course, Haunted Mansion reopened right after we used our LL at Winnie the Pooh as is custom. A bit of bad luck for sure, but at least we weren’t in the stand-by line! We speed walked over to the Mansion and had about a 15 minute wait. Not bad.

By the time we exited the Haunted Mansion we were into Extended Evening Hours and our virtual queue at Tron was open. To be honest, at this point were tired. It was day 4 of our trip and we had been going pretty hard. We decided we’d go ride Tron and then head out. We made our way to Tomorrowland.

Tomorrowland during Extended Evening Hours
Tomorrowland during Extended Evening Hours

Crowds were very light during extended hours, but Tomorrowland was definitely the center of activity. So the crowds in the photo above were about as dense as they got. Not too shabby.

Everyone says that you have to ride Tron at night and I agree that is objectively the best time to ride it. That said, you’re outside for such a brief period of time I wouldn’t stress it too much. Ride it when you’re able or when is most convenient. If you have the opportunity to do so at night, take it, but it’s not worth planning your entire day around or anything.

After Tron we made our way out of the park. Stopping to appreciate a relatively empty Main Street USA.

Main Street USA during Extended Evening Hours
Main Street USA

The above photo was taken at 11:49PM, or less than halfway through Extended Evening hours. It’s a smart idea to take advantage of extended evening hours, but even moreso when a park has a late closing like Magic Kingdom did today. By stacking lightning lanes and maximizing touring efficiency through extended hours, one could have likely experienced every attraction at MK minus some shows in roughly a half-day worth of touring. If you’re staying a deluxe resort you should absolutely plan your touring around taking advantage of the Extended Evening hours. The next time we stay deluxe I’m not going to rope drop at all assuming this is still being offered. The parks are better at night, the crowds are smaller and only get smaller the longer you stay. To me, it is the best way to experience the parks without paying extra.

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