I always find myself planning my Walt Disney World Vacations to incorporate time in the evening at each park. While I love to hit the parks early in the morning before the crowds and to see it fresh, there is something (even more) magical about night time at Walt Disney World. The lighting, the more relaxed pace, the dining, the shows . . . it all comes together to make the entire property glow. Here are 10 suggestions of things not to miss after the sun goes down at Walt Disney World:
10. Disney Springs
Disney Springs comes alive at night! There is an electric atmosphere almost. From the live entertainment (bands all over the place; living statues; roaming piano) to night life it is the place to be after dark at Walt Disney World. Since it is open until the wee hours of the morning you could even hit a park after dark and still enjoy some of the fun at Disney Springs. There are several lounges that really come alive at night like the Edison with some amazing entertainment from aerialists. You could take a ride in the Aerophile balloon at night. Or just having dinner at one of the amazing restaurants at Disney Springs makes for a great night at Walt Disney World.
9. The Holidays
If you are at Walt Disney World from about August-January 1 there is a lot of special things happening at night in the parks. In the fall you can attend Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party at Magic Kingdom where everyone finds their inner child to dress up, trick or treat, see an over-the-top fantastic parade, watch special fireworks, and catch a special stage show. After the Halloween Parties end Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas party picks up. Again, you will become a kid again with snow on Main Street USA, special holiday fireworks, Disney’s fabulous Christmas parade, stage shows and more. But if you don’t want to purchase a ticket to a Christmas party, you will find so much more at night during the Christmas holiday season. At Epcot you don’t want to miss the Candlelight Processional or the holiday “tag” at the end of the current Illuminations: Reflections of Earth show. Hollywood Studios puts on a show too with Jingle Bell Jingle Bam projected on to the Chinese theater and surrounded by fireworks, and the Flurry of Fun on Sunset Boulevard with more holiday projections on the Tower of Terror and interactive billboards lining the street (and more “snow”).
8. The Jungle Cruise
Many attractions take on a different character at night, and some I think are improved if you ride them at night. The Jungle Cruise at Magic Kingdom is one of those. The darkness makes the rivers of the world a little more mysterious as you move deeper into the Jungle with your trusty skipper at the helm. I think it erases some of the outside elements that might detract a little bit from the experience during the day and really helps you focus on the scenes (and the corny jokes). On your next trip save our Jungle Cruise ride until the evening and see if you don’t agree.
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7. The Boardwalk
The Boardwalk is one place that I think a lot of guests forget that they can go experience for some evening fun—and there is not entry charge. Just visit the Boardwalk resort and walk down the steps to the actual Boardwalk (there is a huge arrow, you can’t miss it). Once you arrive you will find all kinds of fun activities. There are Boardwalk games to play, Surrey bikes to ride, Carnival food to eat, and even entertainers doing live shows up and down the Boardwalk. Not to mention my very favorite ice cream at Walt Disney World (and maybe the entire world) at Ample Hills Creamery. Sports fans will love the ESPN Club there, especially if there is a big game happening. If you are looking for a more grown-up way to experience the Boardwalk at night might want to start with drinks at the fantastically themed Abracadabar, then enjoy a signature dining experience at Flying Fish, and round out the evening at Jelly Rolls, the dueling piano bar.
6. Haunted Mansion
The Haunted Mansion at Magic Kingdom falls into the same category as Jungle Cruise for me. The dark night just makes it a little more mysterious . . . and spooky. Go through the stand-by line so you can walk through the graveyard with the evening lighting, then enter the mansion if you dare. It may be just a little bit scarier if you enter at night (not to mention your eyes adjust to the low lighting much faster than day time in the Florida sun). As you exit be sure to check out the pet cemetery and the lighting on the mansion. It all looks so perfect at night.
5. General Park Atmosphere
One of the reasons I try to plan a night time visit to each of the parks is I find the general atmosphere of the park to be so much different than the day time. Most of the time it is cooler, and there is a more relaxed feeling all around. Many people have knocked out most of the attractions they wanted to hit earlier in the day, and now they are taking a slower pace, enjoying some dinner and catching a nighttime show. I love to just stroll around at night and take in the sights and entertainment. Epcot is my particular favorite to do this, especially around World Showcase snacking as I go. The nighttime lighting of the parks is also spectacular and dramatic. At Animal Kingdom the Tree of Life is all lit up and periodically has the “Awakenings” taking place as projections. Back in Africa there is a street party and other paths are dimly lit so you feel like you are in the jungle. Over at Disney’s Hollywood Studios the streets are filled with neon lights which transport you to Hollywood of the 1940s and 50s. Epcot has the beautiful lighting on Spaceship Earth and the magical twinkle lights and patterns in some of the Future World walkways. And Magic Kingdom features the iconic Cinderella Castle with colored lights (be sure to stay for the Kiss Goodnight), but I think the white-light lined Main Street USA may be my favorite nighttime atmosphere for that park.
At night roller coasters that are outside become a little more intense. This is true for Expedition Everest at Animal Kingdom, Slinky Dog Dash at Hollywood Studios, and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at Magic Kingdom. I think the last two, Big Thunder Mountain and Seven Dwarfs might be my favorite to ride at night. Particularly if you have already watch Happily Ever After Fireworks from a nice vantage point on Main Street USA, and then can time a ride on one of these 2 coasters during the fireworks later in the trip. Two of my most magical rides on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad were when we timed it just right that the fireworks were going off all around us for the entire ride.
3. Toy Story Land
The newest addition to Disney’s Hollywood Studios—Toy Story Land—absolutely glows at night. I love it during the day for all of the amazing details the Imagineers included in Andy’s back yard, but at night it becomes magical. There are Christmas lights strung across the land by Andy and at night those glow in all different colors. The track for Slinky Dog Dash has a running color strip underneath that changes both color and pattern adding even more kinetics to the land. And then could be some special surprises at night, if you exit Toy Story Midway Mania at night pay close attention to the sides of the outside exit path, you may just see a Green Army Man or two waiting on you.
2. After Hours Events
One of my favorite “extra ticket” events that I have done is the After Hours at Magic Kingdom. By the title, this event obviously takes place at night. Normally it runs 3 hours after park opening, so sometimes that is 8pm-11pm and other times it may be 11pm-2am. I will tell you that the 11pm-2am event I attended was very tough, but I made it to the very end. The After Hours at Magic Kingdom events give you access to nearly every attraction including some character meet & greet in the park, along with unlimited bottled drinks, ice cream novelties (can you say Mickey Bar), and popcorn. With a limited number of tickets sold you have the run of the park with very short lines and in several places we didn’t even see any other guests as we walked around the park. It truly felt like a VIP experience and that we were alone in the park. If Disney is hosting an After Hours at Magic Kingdom during your vacation definitely check out the option.
As predicted, the number 1 thing to experience after dark at Magic Kingdom are the fireworks extravaganzas. There really aren’t words to properly describe the awesomeness of these shows. They put nearly all Fourth of July fireworks show to shame. At Disney’s Hollywood Studios the Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular dazzles Star Wars fans and non-Star Wars fans alike with its combination of pyrotechnics, lasers and projections. As a bonus at Hollywood Studios you can also see the Fantasmic! where Disney characters come together with fountains, projections, a few fireworks and other effects to help Mickey Mouse overcome his nightmare and good defeat evil (spoiler alert, but it is Disney after all). Epcot’s long running favorite Illuminations: Reflections of Earth has a mix of fireworks, a stirring musical score, lasers, fountains and lighting effects . . . if you love this one catch it before it ends and is replaced with a new version in 2019. Magic Kingdom’s Happily Ever After fireworks is a beautiful show blending favorite Disney stories and songs with amazing projections on Cinderella’s Castle coordinated with a ton of fireworks. As I mentioned earlier, there are also seasonal fireworks shows that can be seen at special ticketed events like Hallowishes at Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party and Holiday Wishes at Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party, along with the Holiday ending to Illuminations and the Jingle Bell Jingle Bam holiday fireworks at Disney’s Hollywood Studios (neither of which require a special ticket).
What makes your “must experience” list after dark at Walt Disney World?