If I try to do a full trip report of our recent anniversary stay at Walt Disney World I will NEVER get it written, so I thought I’d break down our impressions into smaller posts. We tried a lot of the extra-cost offerings this time, and I feel like the bottom line that most people want to know is…. Is it worth it?
So here’s the first installment in my Is It Worth It series, covering the Disney After Hours events we attended at Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom.
Disney After Hours: Animal Kingdom
We are the absolute last Disney fans on the planet to see Pandora: World of Avatar at Animal Kingdom. In fact, the whole reason we planned our anniversary trip for WDW was so 1) I could see IllumiNations one last time and 2) Patrick could finally see Pandora. I might have to do a whole separate post on that, cuz he had a LOT to say about it!
I was very stressed out about scheduling enough time in our trip for Patrick to fully enjoy Pandora, especially with the horror stories I’d heard about lines for Flight of Passage. So when reports came back that Animal Kingdom’s After Hours event was a ghost town, it seemed like a really good way to ensure we got our fill of the rides in Pandora.
I scoured the DISBoards’ **Disney After Hours-Animal Kingdom** FAQ & Discussion Thread for tips so we could maximize our time and then threw them all out the window when we actually got there. Instead of showing up at Animal Kingdom at 6:30 pm or 7:00 pm and beginning to rack up rides, we had a leisurely dinner at Jiko with the Roots and ambled over to the park around 8pm.
Here’s that night’s schedule:
Instead of knocking out all the rest of Animal Kingdom’s attractions in the party’s first hour to allow crowds in Pandora to die down, we walked straight to Navi River Journey when the party started at 8:30pm. We’d decided to focus our time on new-to-us Pandora instead of running all over Animal Kingdom doing rides we could get on pretty much whenever we wanted during a normal day.
We rode Navi River Journey twice in a row. They made us get off the boat for the second ride but let us use the cast member gate to cross directly from the unloading area to the loading area.
Then we rode Flight of Passage twice in a row. It was a walk-on both times, but, as others have pointed out, each ride takes at least 20 minutes (24 for us — I timed it!) by the time you walk through the In queue and the Out queue and do both preshows. Weirdly, they’d let us skip almost the entire first preshow when we rope-dropped FOP the previous day, but they ran the full pre-show AND the extra decontamination bit during After Hours.
We did learn that Line 3, Door B2 and numbers 7, 8, 9, and 10 is supposedly the best combination for a view of FOP, according to the CM who sent us there.
After that we hadda walk allllllll the way out of Pandora, across the bridge and down to Tiffins to find the snack cart and get our free Mickey Bars. Supposedly this is because only Pandora-themed food is allowed inside Pandora. Thanks for wasting our precious After Hours time, Joe Rohde!
Then it was back for one more ride on Flights of Passage and two more on Navi River Journey before the clock ran out. The only other thing we had time for was a quick tour of the coolest parts of the standby queue, thanks to a kind manager who heard us and another couple pestering a cast member about taking a peek.
I know it would be a criminal waste of time, but if you did want to shop Pandora undisturbed by the rabble, Disney After Hours would be the time to do it!
Imagineering: “In Pandora we could have an Ollivander’s-style attraction where a baby banshee chooses a guest and then all the other guests are encouraged to choose banshees that fit their personalities!”
Accounting: “Orrrrrrr…. we could just throw all the banshees on a shelf. But it’ll be shaped like a tree!”
On the way out we finally stopped to watch the Pandora Drummers. I was expecting those audience-participation drums to be rubbery, if not actual drum heads, but they are hard, hard slabs of resin or something that will give you the injury known as “Pandora Hand.”
Is It Worth It?
Animal Kingdom’s After Hours is great for knocking out a few rides multiple times, but with only six attractions open and a price higher than that of a full-day ticket, it is NOT a replacement for a full day in the park. I think for us it was the perfect way to really get our fill of the rides in Pandora on our first visit, but I don’t think we’ll ever do it again.
Disney After Hours: Magic Kingdom
This time we did better at following expert tips and started the evening with a 6:30pm reservation at Jungle Cruise Skipper Canteen.
After dinner, we walked down to the distribution spot across from Pirates of the Caribbean and got our wristbands for the After Hours party. We forgot to get a paper schedule, so here’s the list of attractions on the app:
We were still in the “bonus” period before the park closed and the event started, so we got a totally useless FastPass for Barnstormer that saves you about 3 feet in line before dumping you into the general queue. As usual, the ride was the best 90 seconds of my life.
Here’s a random photo of Space Mountain!
Next we satisfied Patrick’s curiosity about the interactive wait-in-a-playground queue over at Dumbo before hopping on that ride with no wait.
Then I had what I thought was a brilliant idea but turned out not to be as brilliant as the next idea I got, a little too late. We were walking past Star Traders when I thought, “Let’s try to get on the Peoplemover in time to watch fireworks from it!”
We even waited a few minutes at the bottom of the speed ramp so that we’d be boarding our car right as the show started. I had this vision of us whipping around the corner for that one great 5-second view of the castle right as fireworks exploded behind it—completely forgetting that, from that angle, the fireworks are actually nowhere near the castle. And that the Peoplemover is under a roof. And that 80% of the track is indoors or facing away from the fireworks.
But what you CAN see from the Peoplemover is the Astro Orbiter, and that’s when the real genius struck: We should watch the fireworks from up THERE! So as soon as we got back into the station, we scrambled down the ramp and ran to the elevator for the Astro Orbiter loading platform JUST as the cast member closed the doors and sent the cars up. We stood there vibrating with impatience as a breezy Muzak version of “Girl From Ipanema” played on a loop in my brain. At last the doors opened, we bolted into the elevator and then…. waited some more for the loading and the button-pushing. At last, we reached the top and dashed to the gate just as the last blasts of Happily Ever After filled the sky.
So…. that’s my hot tip for next time: Get in line for the Astro Orbiter at closing time!
After that we had to actually ride the dang thing, which may be the only Disney attraction I’m actually scared of. You’re up so high with nothing but a stretched-out plastic strap keeping you inside this tiny little thing that feels like it could fling you out at any minute!
Next we headed to Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and were disappointed to learn it was down. Hidden in the shadows across the way was the only line-less snack cart we saw all night. If we’d known then what a hassle it would be to get our free snacks, I woulda tossed it over Hulk-style and grabbed all my popcorn and Mickey bars then!
We almost turned up our noses at Peter Pan because the line was already to the entrance, but I’m glad we didn’t. With Seven Dwarfs Mine Train down most of the night, Peter Pan had a huge line for the rest of the event.
This is about when I started getting a hankerin’ for free Mickey bars, but every cart we passed had at least 10 people lined up. With only 3 hours to ride as many rides as possible, we couldn’t be wasting valuable time in snack lines!
Next we rode Haunted Mansion behind some jerks who took flash photos and were glued to their super-bright cell phones the whole time. Like, why are they even on the ride?!
Then we trekked across the park to ride Big Thunder and Splash Mountain. Poor Patrick never gets to ride the latter cuz I’m not a fan of having soggy undies the rest of the day (call me crazy!). But it was pretty warm that night and such a short event that I sucked it up. And then HE got drenched!
We looped around to Pirates but decided to skip it because our time was so short. Across from the Tiki Room we finally found a snack cart with only one couple in line, so we stocked up on popcorn and ice cream. We had a fun ride on the Jungle Cruise and took what may have been our first-ever flight on Aladdin’s Magic Carpets, just because we could!
Because we are dummies, we then walked all the way across the park to see if Seven Dwarfs Mine Train was open, thinking that the Disney Parks app wouldn’t show wait times after regular operating hours had ended. But apparently we could’ve just looked in the app to see the dreaded “–” instead of a wait time. It was still down. But that sent us back to Haunted Mansion for a MUCH better ride. This time we waited to board until at least 4 empty cars had passed, and we enjoyed the perfect dark, distraction-free ride!
At this point, our 3 hours were almost up and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train was still down, so we decided to concentrate on the next-best E-Ticket, Big Thunder, instead of wasting time walking between a bunch of rides. We hunkered down over there and rode it 5 times in a row, til the park closed. I made the mistake of attempting to get a bottle of water for the road at the cart outside Big Thunder. At 11:02pm they cut off the 20-person deep line (whereas at the AK After Hours Event, the Pandora-adjacent cart was practically throwing drinks and treats at exiting guests well after the event ended).
So we trudged toward the exit, and as we trudged I stewed, and when we got to City Hall, I swerved right and spent 30 minutes in line waiting to complain to anybody who’d listen about how this party had been our only chance to ride Seven Dwarfs Mine Train on the whole trip.
This gave Patrick time to take these lovely photos for you!
The cast member I got kindly let me run my spiel out and then did the only thing any of them are empowered to do: Throw FASTPASSes at it! This did not seem like the ideal restitution because we only had one full day left on the trip, and it was scheduled to the hilt at Epcot. But the promise of 6 FASTPASSes apiece enticed me to move around our plans on departure day so we could make a banzai run on Magic Kingdom to take advantage of the “free” rides.
Is It Worth It?
Much hay has been made about how Animal Kingdom After Hours features only six rides and attractions, whereas Magic Kingdom’s offers, by our count, at least 20 (but this may have been compensation for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train being down all night)—at the same price.
I feel like more attention needs to be paid to the fact that After Hours only lasts 3 hours, at a price higher than that of a full 11- or 12-hour day in the park. Which means at Animal Kingdom you have plenty of time to do and see everything offered, especially if you stay in Pandora for most of the night. But at Magic Kingdom you spend most of your time crisscrossing this ginormous park trying to get to the next thing. We spent the entire event breathlessly racing to grab the next ride but still only managed to do about three per hour.
The next day we were sharing our experience with family members who have been to Disney World annually for at least 15 years, and they told us tales of past after-hours events that lasted til 2am or even 4am! Which of course made me even crankier about our experience.
So Magic Kingdom After Hours may be slightly more of an alternative to a full-day park ticket than Animal Kingdom After Hours is, due to the higher number of available rides. But I still think that three hours is just not enough time to get your money’s worth, due to the size of the park and the number of people filling the queues.
Maybe we should’ve tried the one at Pixar Playland…?