June 17, 2024

Is It Time to Skip Early Entry at Magic Kingdom?

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Early Entry at Magic Kingdom gives on-site guests of Walt Disney World hotels a head-start to do rides with shorter lines and lower wait times. Well, at least that's the idea. This photo report shares




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Early Entry at Magic Kingdom gives on-site guests of Walt Disney World hotels a head-start to do rides with shorter lines and lower wait times. Well, at least that’s the idea. This photo report shares my experience on a relatively slow day (crowd level 3/10) that felt far busier first thing in the morning and asks whether it’s time to skip Early Entry at MK.

We’re big fans of Early Entry, and have enthusiastically recommended it in dozens of planning posts. It’s an underrated perk, with many guests dismissing it as “only” 30 minutes and inferior to the now-defunct, hour-long morning Extra Magic Hours. While I’d obviously rather have 60 minutes as opposed to 30 minutes, Early Entry is a lot less busy than EMH was. Having the perk at all 4 parks every single day makes a huge difference, to the point I’d argue EE is better than EMH at 3 of the 4 parks.

As explained in different Extra Hours Field Reports, Early Entry can be a great way to knock out Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, Slinky Dog Dash, Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, Frozen Ever After, Avatar Flight of Passage, and other headliners with minimal waits via the standby lines before Lightning Lanes clog up queues. You might notice one conspicuous omission from our praise for Early Entry: Magic Kingdom. 

I’ve done Early Entry at Magic Kingdom over a dozen times in the last few years. It’s far and away my least favorite park for Early Entry, but I keep returning for the sake of research. Well, and photos. I still do Early Entry at the other three parks “for fun,” whereas Magic Kingdom is strictly for the sake of bloggability. If I were an average tourist, my answer to the titular question would be yes–and would’ve been for a while now.

With that said, Early Entry at Magic Kingdom during Party Season is great. I would do–and have done–that for fun without writing anything about the experience or testing strategy. Early Entry is great during Party Season from August through December (plus a few other dates) because Magic Kingdom opens to the general public at 8 am and is typically less busy.

With Party Season right around the corner, many of you planning Walt Disney World trips will have precisely this opportunity. See this post about why 7:30 am Early Entry at Magic Kingdom is a game changer. We highly recommend it on Halloween or Christmas Party dates.

Very few guests have the desire and determination to be out their hotel room door by ~6:30 am, which is pretty much what’s necessary to arrive at Magic Kingdom in time for the start of Early Entry. By contrast, tons of people can make it for 8:30 am Early Entry, which is the main reason why Magic Kingdom is the worst park for Early Entry.

For this Early Entry at Magic Kingdom trial run, we stayed the Contemporary. Far and away the easiest resort for Early Entry–or just Magic Kingdom in general–because of the short walk to the park.

I didn’t pay attention to when I left the room, got through security, or the turnstiles. It was all a smooth and seamless process, taking however long it would take you to walk from wherever your room is at the resort to the park. I walk fairly fast, so it was likely under 15 minutes room door-to-Main Street for me. YMMV.

There’s the clock showing when I arrived…ish. I had spent a couple of minutes monkeying around taking photos by the Sharing the Magic statue, waiting for a clear shot of Main Street until it became abundantly clear that wasn’t going to happen. Can’t win ’em all.

By this time, Magic Kingdom’s turnstiles had been open for probably at least 30 minutes. Our normal recommendation is to be there roughly 30 minutes before the start of Early Theme Park Entry. If your plan is to do Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, you want to arrive 30+ minutes in advance. Less time is fine for Peter Pan’s Flight, Space Mountain, or the other options.

After snapping some photos around the Central Plaza and Cinderella Castle, I headed to the right of the East Plaza Garden for Early Theme Park Entry. There’s a row of Cast Members stationed to scan MagicBands or room keys to verify Early Entry eligibility.

Everyone is allowed to enter Magic Kingdom and hang out on Main Street, taking photos or waiting for rope drop over on the Frontierland and Adventureland side of the Central Plaza. But you can’t access Tomorrowland or Fantasyland without scanning here. Once you’ve done that, you’re good to go for the morning.

From there, you proceed on to either the Tomorrowland Bridge or Fantasyland Bridge.

As always, the crowd is significantly smaller for Tomorrowland. This is the entirety of it as of 8:05:06 am–the rope is between the rocks and the archway, and there’s decent breathing room among parties.

Had I joined this crowd, I could’ve done Space Mountain as a near walk-on, assuming I walked briskly to it and didn’t get distracted along the way taking photos…which I would’ve!

By contrast, here’s the crowd for Fantasyland as of 8:06:58 am.

There were probably 10-15 times as many guests waiting here. Approximately 90% of those people are planning on doing Seven Dwarfs Mine Train.

Honestly, this isn’t that bad. The people at the very front had probably been waiting for a while, but even if I joined the mass at 8:06:58 am, I probably would’ve had a 25 minute or less wait for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. All depends upon how well I navigated the SDMT Shuffle in getting from here to the actual line. But I didn’t join the herd.

Whenever possible, we both try to do Early Entry and take a divide and conquer approach with Sarah getting stuck doing the SDMT Shuffle while I run around taking pictures and assessing lines throughout Tomorrowland and Fantasyland. I was alone for this field test, so I had to decide which path to take: practical plan testing or research. I chose the latter.

The idea of doing the SDMT Shuffle is always unappealing to me, but doubly so when I’m at the back of the pack and elbow-to-elbow with a bunch of tired and fellow under-caffeinated guests. Plus, I wanted to take more photos in the Hub. The flowers are looking gorgeous and it was a lovely morning.

Without even doing it, I can tell you that the SDMT Shuffle would’ve been stressful, as everyone shuffled (hence the name) from the bridge to the attraction entrance and a line formed in the most awkward way possible. Seven Dwarfs Mine Train alone would’ve been the entirety of my Early Entry time at Magic Kingdom. With luck, I would’ve been done by 8:30 am, just in time for regular rope drop.

After taking photos of the flowers in the Hub, I checked back on the crowd as of 8:19:11 am.

All of these people chose poorly. They either should’ve arrived ~15 minutes earlier or gone to the Tomorrowland Bridge. You cannot both arrive late and do the Fantasyland Bridge. That’s not how this works.

Anyone beyond the bridge itself is taking the perk and turning it into a worse outcome–an average (or worse) wait time for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train at a time when other attractions have below average waits. Terrible opportunity cost!

Here’s the crowd on the Tomorrowland Bridge as of 8:20:31 am.

This might look bad, but it’s really not. I would say it’s about average, and the crowd is much more chill. Perhaps a little too chill, as there’s a lot of breathing room between parties, and people from the back kept cutting ahead and filling that space. (I wasn’t about to do that since it seems like poor form, but I also wouldn’t have left so much available space for exactly that reason.) But whatever. I was just along for the ride.

One thing I will add here is that the back of the pack here is objectively better for getting to Fantasyland than the Fantasyland Bridge. It’s a longer walk, but if you’re speedy, you can actually move freely here–no shuffle. I’ve “beat” the back of the pack from this location on several occasions. (I’ve done it to get to Peter Pan’s Flight, since SDMT is a lost cause from back here–just as it’s a lost cause from the back of the other pack.)

As is always the case, the experience getting into Tomorrowland is downright blissful as compared to Fantasyland. Just look at all that available space between the parties walking into the land. No one is shuffling!

A line formed immediately at Space Mountain waiting to enter the attraction.

Guests were stacked outside the queue, and funnel down from a bit of an amorphous blob into an actual line closer to the entrance. This might look bad, but keep in mind that there’s no one inside the building yet and is purely standby at this hour.

Even from the back of this line, it likely would’ve been about a 10-15 minute wait, with most of that being a matter of walking through the interior queue. That would’ve made Space Mountain a strong starting option for Early Entry, just like most mornings in Magic Kingdom.

You could’ve probably hit that and then Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin and Astro Orbiter before crowds started to build. However, I was here for research–not fun–so I kept on going without blasting off into space.

I was surprised to see a bit of a line at Buzz, as it’s often a walk-on during Early Entry.

This still wouldn’t have been remotely bad–probably a 5 minute actual wait as the line is also stacked outside here and constantly moving once inside the building.

Shocked that more people didn’t want to start their day off with the sweet, sweet scent of auto exhaust.

It boggles my mind that this is how anyone wants to spend Early Entry. I would literally rather sit outside the Tangled Toilets™️ and enjoy the serene sounds of the venue. Much better ambiance. I also have a voice inside my head saying, “shut up you fool, this is going to come back to bite you in a few years when Tomorrowland Speedway is Megatron’s favorite ride.

Arriving in Fantasyland, the line for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train already wrapped around the mountain and was back by the Little Mermaid dark ride.

This is not at all abnormal for Early Entry. It can be slightly better or worse, but I’d say this is about average.

The tricky thing about getting into this line is that it’s a constantly moving target. So many guests race towards the entrance of Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, and find themselves chasing the line backwards, seeing their wait time balloon thanks to that one, not-so-little misstep.

This is also why the Tomorrowland Bridge starting point can be superior. Take the ‘long way’ around the teacups and you have an easier time meeting the back of the line as it forms. (This also works from the Fantasyland Bridge, but the herd mentality makes people reticent to do it.)

The posted wait time for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train was 75 minutes. That might’ve been inflated a bit, but it would’ve been long regardless. Certainly worse than I had seen it during other Early Entry mornings, including many that would end up having higher crowd levels.

The critical thing this particular day, though, was that 75 minutes was the peak wait time for SDMT. It never got any worse than this! You could’ve literally rolled up in mid-afternoon and found a 60 minute posted wait time. But for a lot of people, 75 minutes was not the total commitment…they also waited around for Early Entry to start, so their “all in” total might’ve been ~85 minutes. (Surely no one who arrived before 8:15 am waited 75 minutes, at least.)

Not only that, but there’s the aforementioned opportunity cost. Instead of an unpleasant shuffle to an above-average wait for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, they could’ve pleasantly breezed through Tomorrowland and knocked out 2-3 rides with below-average waits. Really makes you think.

Seeing that long line, a decent number of guests had the good sense to balk and bounce to Peter Pan’s Flight. This happens every morning as some of the back half of the SDMT Shuffle participants realize they’re in for a long wait.

That would normally be the smart play and they’d encounter a wait time of 20 minutes or less. But on this particular day, the wait time was already 45 minutes and the queue stretched back to the Tangled Toilets™️. Oof.

This is roughly 10 minutes before regular rope drop.

Some of these guests probably were front of the pack at Seven Dwarfs Mine Train or Peter Pan’s Flight, but my guess is that about half didn’t do anything major during Early Entry. They balked twice, cut their losses, hit the bathrooms, and got ready for rope drop. This is my “guess” because I overheard a couple different parties suggest that’s what happened–that they ‘got up early for no reason’ or ‘didn’t do anything.’

I moved quickly to make my way over to Jungle Cruise, but speed didn’t matter. The distance is longer from this point than it is from the hub, and I was behind the rope drop crowd.

The line was already 45 minutes long. Granted, it would mostly be constantly moving as Lightning Lane returns would be sporadic at first, but if the actual wait was anything over 30 minutes at this point, it could balloon at the end as more Genie+ users began returning towards the end of their window.

It’s also worth noting that I did Jungle Cruise later in the day with a 30 minute posted wait time and ~20 minute actual wait.

Big Thunder Mountain Railroad still had a 5 minute wait when I got back there, but with the queue spilling out the entrance, this probably was not accurate. Five minutes is about how long it takes to walk the queue at a moderate speed.

With Tiana’s Bayou Adventure still over a month away from opening, Big Thunder Mountain is absorbing all of the rope drop crowds back in Frontierland. We actually have not noticed those worsen–it seems like fewer guests are heading back here as a result of having the other mountain (can we still call it that?) down.

Ultimately, the big “issue” for me that prompted the title to this post is that Early Entry and rope drop were still rather busy despite it being a relatively slow day at Magic Kingdom. Both of the Fantasyland headliners had longer waits during Early Entry than later in the day, which was also true of Jungle Cruise at rope drop. All of this despite no rides having downtime, which is normally what causes inflated wait times elsewhere. On top of that, you’re typically arriving prior to the start of Early Entry and waiting for that to begin.

This isn’t to say I couldn’t have accomplished attractions with shorter waits during Early Entry and rope drop. Zigging when they zag and joining the smaller, more carefree crowd waiting on the Tomorrowland Bridge would’ve been the objectively best strategy. It would’ve allowed later arrival–rolling up as late as 8:25 am and still having a relatively reasonable wait time for Space Mountain.

Starting in Tomorrowland also would’ve saved more time as compared to Fantasyland. Bouncing from there to Big Thunder for rope drop–or sticking with second-tier Fantasyland rides to minimize walking–still would’ve yielded favorable results.

But for many guests, there’s the practical question of arriving early or staying late–it’s not possible to do both. On this particular day, Peter Pan’s Flight had a ~10 minute actual wait in the last 30 minutes of the night and Seven Dwarfs Mine Train was 18 minutes when lining up with 1 minute left before park closing. The latter was also not in the sun, since it was at 9:59 pm. I can’t be in two places at once, but the rides in Tomorrowland probably had actual wait times equivalent to Early Entry. So for those guests forced to choose between Early Entry and late nights, the answer to the titular question is yes.

Of course, many guests can arrive early and stay late…especially when Magic Kingdom park hours are a paltry 9 am to 10 pm, which probably helps explain why Early Entry was so busy on this 3/10 crowd level day. If you’re a theme park commando who can go from open to close without issue, it obviously makes sense to do Early Entry (but you probably already knew that). It also makes sense to pace yourself and go the relaxed route, knocking out Tomorrowland first as opposed to fighting Fantasyland crowds. The answer for these guests is no…but you probably already knew that without reading if you’re always going opening to closing, anyway!

Even on a good day, Early Entry at Magic Kingdom requires a relatively decent time commitment, larger crowds, and far less payoff than the other parks at Walt Disney World. As we’ve cautioned before, don’t let Magic Kingdom be your first Early Entry experience, as it’ll unduly prejudice you against the other parks, despite Early Entry being far superior in EPCOT, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios. Speaking of which, if you want strategy for the other three parks, check out our Guide to Early Theme Park Entry at Walt Disney World.

Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!

YOUR THOUGHTS

Do you skip Early Entry at Magic Kingdom or take advantage of the perk? Partake in the SDMT Shuffle or opt for the more tranquil Tomorrowland start? How would you do things differently to start the day at MK? Any other feedback on arriving early to the Walt Disney World theme parks? Agree or disagree with our advice or approach? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!




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