One of the biggest complaints about taking a Walt Disney World vacation is waiting in long lines. Fortunately, Disney has made many tools available to guests willing to plan and prepare that will significantly reduce waits during a Disney trip. Extra Magic Hours are just one of those tools that can greatly help with crowd avoidance and make a Disney vacation extra magical. Find out how, when, and when not to use them for your next Walt Disney World visit.

Walt Disney World - Cinderella Castle

Photo credit: Leslie Harvey / Frequent Flyer TravelingMom

Extra Magic Hours. If you are a Walt Disney World veteran, those three little words are probably magic to your ears. You know they can sometimes mean the difference between a five minute wait for your favorite attraction versus a 50 minute wait during other times of the day. You may also know that Extra Magic Hours aren’t always entirely magical. Sometimes they bring extra crowds and negate the time-savings they are intended to provide.

If you are a Disney newbie, however, you may have heard the term but not know what Extra Magic Hours are or how to maximize them. Keep reading to learn how Extra Magic Hours can reduce your wait times and help you skirt the crowds even on a crowded Walt Disney World day.

Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom Train Station

Photo credit: Leslie Harvey / Frequent Flyer TravelingMom

What are Extra Magic Hours?

Extra Magic Hours (EMH) are special times that Disney opens a park early or leaves it open late. The schedule for Extra Magic Hours varies greatly depending on time of year, special events, and more, so the only way to know which parks will be open early or late is to check Disney’s calendar. Luckily, Disney publishes theme park hours many months in advance so you can see which parks have EMH as you are booking Fastpasses and scheduling dining reservations.

(Note: Disneyland also offers an Extra Magic Hour, but it affects crowds quite differently, so don’t use this guide if you are headed to California instead of Florida!)

Walt Disney World also recently started offering late night access to the Magic Kingdom on some nights for three hours as a specially ticketed event, so don’t get this event confused with EMH. This event, called “Disney After Hours” is available only to those purchasing the pricey $149 ticket for the night.

Walt Disney World - Epcot Flower and Garden Festival

Photo credit: Leslie Harvey / Frequent Flyer TravelingMom

Who Can Take Advantage of EMH?

At Walt Disney World, Extra Magic Hours are a perk of staying on-property at a Disney resort. One of the reasons many Disney visitors are willing to pay extra for a Disney-owned hotel is to take advantage of these hours (along with other Disney perks, of course).

Although it’s usually publicized that only guests of Disney resorts can take advantage of EMH, that isn’t entirely true. There are a few resorts on Disney property that aren’t operated by Disney but that still get favored status and access to EMH: the Swan and Dolphin (both Starwood properties) and Shades of Green (a resort for qualified military guests only). The Hilton Orlando in the Disney Springs area used to offer Extra Magic Hours, but lost that privilege as of January 1, 2016. Don’t make the mistake of booking the Hilton if EMH are especially important to you!

Walt Disney World - Cinderella Castle in Spring

Photo credit: Leslie Harvey / Frequent Flyer TravelingMom

How Do You Make the Most of Extra Magic Hours at Disney World?

Extra Magic Hours are the source of much debate among the Disney faithful. Some find them a real benefit, reporting that they can ride and do much more if they make use of EMH. Still others find that these extended hours cause crowd levels to spike in the park that has them for the day, negating the time advantage overall.

The truth is probably somewhere in the the middle. Whether EMH makes sense for you and your family will depend on a lot of variable factors: time of year, overall crowd levels, what rides interest you most, and how mobile your group is to park hop to take advantage of EMH (or avoid them). Nevertheless, there are a few trends to keep in mind so you find yourself on the winning end of EMH.

Early Risers Are Usually Rewarded

Walt Disney World - Hollywood Studios

Photo credit: Leslie Harvey / Frequent Flyer TravelingMom

The first thing that Disney visitors considering extended hours should know is that there is a real difference between EMH in the morning and evening. Not as many guests will make use of the 8:00-9:00 a.m. early entry days just because that hour is too early for many. If you have a toddler like I do, you’re probably up early anyway though, so take advantage. I must admit that Disney vacations are the one time I’m grateful that my child is up at 6 a.m., as it means we have no problem making it to the parks to beat the crowds!

If you are going to take advantage of Extra Magic Hours in the morning, the first and most important rule is to be on time. In fact, be there early. Ideally, you want to be in line outside the park offering early entry about 20-30 minutes before “rope drop.” Give yourself time for transit delays and long lines at bag check. Disney often opens gates early (especially in Magic Kingdom where guests queue behind another rope around Main Street). If you are chronically late, early Extra Magic Hours are not for you. If you are going to arrive 15-20 minutes after EMH starts, you’re already too late and have lost the advantage. Commit fully, or don’t commit at all.

Be aware of one downside of morning EMH: fewer rides are usually open as compared to evening hours. In Magic Kingdom, for example, only Fantasyland and Tomorrowland are open on most days in the morning. While not every ride is open in the Magic Kingdom during evening extended hours either, as a general rule, much more of that park is open for evening EMH.

Disney Park Hopper Tickets Worth It: 4 Disney Parks

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Extra Magic Hours are Best for Park Hoppers

Many families decide to forgo the “park hopper” option on their Walt Disney World tickets as a way of saving money on a Disney vacation. While this strategy may very well make sense for many families, it also means that those with and without this benefit need to make their plans differently to account for the effect of Extra Magic Hours.

For guests with park hopper tickets, the best strategy is often to start in a park that has morning EMH and then hop to another park as crowds build there. For those without park hopper tickets, it usually makes the most sense to avoid the park with morning EMH entirely.  Otherwise, you may have short lines for an hour but face residual crowds at that park for an entire day. Remember – many other guest without park hopper tickets will be locked into that park for the day too.

Guests with park hopper tickets can often make the best use of EMH on days where there are both morning and evening Extra Magic Hours offered in different parks. I often start in the park with morning Extra Magic Hours, take a mid-day break, and then hop to the park with evening EMH. Just be aware that starting at 8 a.m. and going until 11 p.m. or later can definitely make for a long Disney day. Plan for a nap or a sleep-in day the next morning, especially when attempting this feat with kids.

Weeknight Very Late Night EMH Are Often the Best

The success that guests experience in avoiding lines during evening Extra Magic Hours is highly dependent on the park and the lateness of the hours offered. Most guests will see the most success on the super-late nights offered in the Magic Kingdom (particularly on weeknights), where EMH can be offered as late as 2 a.m. In most other parks, evening Extra Magic Hours only extend until 10:30 or 11:00 p.m.

It probably goes without saying that a Friday night EMH in Hollywood Studios until 10:30 p.m. is going to be much more crowded than Magic Kingdom at 2 a.m. on a Wednesday night. Plenty of visitors – even those with young kids – can make it until 10:30 p.m., but I can guarantee that the little ones won’t be a factor much past that. I recently made use of Extra Magic Hours in the Magic Kingdom on a Wednesday night when the extra hours ran from 11 p.m. until 1 a.m. Crowds were exceedingly light for every ride, especially the last hour.

One other factor to consider at night is what attractions you would like to ride during evening Extra Magic Hours. Guests who want to ride thrill rides – teens and adults traveling without kids – often keep lines for certain thrill rides like Test Track in Epcot or Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster in Hollywood Studios very long even until the end of EMH there. After all, 10:30 p.m. isn’t that late for the thrill ride demographic. Your best bet to avoid lines for these rides is still to use Fastpass+ (or single rider line for the rides that offer it).

Conversely, lines for kid-friendly attractions like Dumbo in the Magic Kingdom will die down earlier during evening Extra Magic Hours as younger kids go to bed. The bottom line is to consider what you want to ride before making the choice of using evening Extra Magic Hours.

The Final Word on Extra Magic Hours

As with many Disney benefits, Extra Magic Hours are a bit of a mixed bag. Those who prepare, plan, and are educated as to the best times to use them will do well. Others who blindly follow the crowds may well find themselves stuck in them.

Did you know that Walt Disney World opens early and stays open late for guests of Disney resort hotels? Find out how to make the most of these "Extra Magic Hours" in this comprehensive guide.

Photo credit: Pixabay & Leslie Harvey / Frequent Flyer TravelingMom