One of the most common questions that people ask about Disney World is how they can beat the crowds and get on their favorite rides without a long wait.
There are a couple of different options, including making use of the Lightning Lanes with Genie+ and Pay-Per-Ride. But if you’d rather not pay to skip the lines, another option is to get to the parks as early as possible. If you’re staying at a Disney World hotel, you qualify for Early Theme Park Entry, which means you can go into the Disney World theme parks before the other guests. So what exactly is Early Entry? And how should you spend your extra time in the parks? We’re answering all your Early Entry questions here. Let’s dive in!
We’ll start with a quick overview about what this perk is, who qualifies for it, and how to use it.
What Is Early Theme Park Entry?
Early Theme Park Entry is one of the Disney World hotel perks that replaced Extra Magic Hours. The old perk (Extra Magic Hours) allowed Disney World hotel guests to go an hour early or stay an hour (or two) later at certain theme parks on certain days. The schedule changed frequently for which parks had this perk. The current system (Early Theme Park Entry) allows guests to enter any of the four theme parks 30 minutes before other guests every day.
(Note that there is also an Extended Evening Hours perk, which allows guests at Deluxe resorts to stay an extra two hours past closing time at certain parks on certain days. We’re focusing on the Early Entry for this post, but you can learn more about the Extended Evening Hours on our Extra Theme Park Hours Benefits page.)
To sum up, Early Theme Park Entry allows qualifying guests to go into any Disney World theme park a half hour before the other guests. This applies to all four theme parks, but you still must have a ticket and park pass reservation in order to enter the park.
You qualify for this benefit if you are staying at any Disney World hotel, including Value, Moderate, Deluxe, or Deluxe Villas. Some other hotels also qualify, including the ones listed here:
- Shades of Green Resort
- Hilton Orlando Bonnet Creek
- Waldorf Astoria Orlando
- B Resort & Spa Lake Buena Vista
- DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Orlando
- Hilton Orlando Buena Vista Palace
- Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista
- Holiday Inn Orlando
- Wyndham Garden Lake Buena Vista
- Wyndham Lake Buena Vista
- Four Seasons Resort Orlando
- Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin
- Walt Disney World Swan Reserve
To use Early Theme Park Entry, just show up to the park you’re visiting that day at least a half-hour before its scheduled opening time. So if Magic Kingdom is opening at 9AM, make sure you’re at the entrance by 8:30AM. (We actually recommend being there earlier than that — more on this in a bit!)
There will be a special entrance for Early Theme Park Entry, so watch for signs that point to that entrance. It’s still located in the same area, but there are usually a couple of lanes designated for Early Entry.
Not everything is open during Early Entry. Select gift shops and dining are open at this time, and some (but not all) of the park’s rides will be running. Make sure you check to see what’s available in each park before you visit so that you don’t head to an attraction that’s not running until park opening time.
What Should You Do During Early Theme Park Entry?
OK! So you got to the theme park early, you found the Early Entry line, and now you’re in the park. What next? You’ve got a few options: (1) You can grab breakfast at one of the open restaurants and enjoy a plethora of available seating. (2) You can take amazing pictures in front of the Cinderella Castle while there are a lot fewer people in the way. (3) You can hit the shops and find the best merchandise while there are very few other shoppers around.
But the BEST time saving choice (and probably the one that most people do) is to head straight for the most popular ride in whichever park you’re visiting.
We’ve tested out Early Theme Park Entry in all four Disney World parks, and we discovered that you can probably ride one or MAYBE two rides if you go for the most popular ones.
On the day we visited Magic Kingdom, it opened at 9AM. We were at the park entrance for Early Entry at 8AM. Cast Members let guests into the park at that time, although the rides don’t start running until 8:30AM (the official start to Early Entry).
Fantasyland and Tomorrowland are the only areas open for Early Entry (as of writing), so most of the guests were heading straight for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (or Peter Pan’s Flight, if they were traveling with little kids). Cast Members stopped guests near Cheshire Café until 8:30AM, at which point guests could go get in line for the attractions.
We hopped in line for Seven Dwarfs and only waited about 20 minutes to get on the ride. Even though the line was VERY long (it stretched back to Storybook Circus by the time we got out), it seemed to move quickly.
At that point, it was almost 9AM (when the rest of the guests could enter the park), so we moved quickly to Jungle Cruise. This attraction didn’t open until 9AM, but there was already a fairly long line for it. We still only waited about 25 minutes to get on.
By the time we disembarked from Jungle Cruise, it was about 9:45AM, which means the benefit of Early Entry had ended.
SUMMARY: We got on two popular attractions — Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Jungle Cruise — with less than a half-hour wait each.
Our visit to test out Early Theme Park Entry at EPCOT happened just a couple of days after Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure switched from a virtual queue to a standby queue. Since this attraction is likely the most popular in EPCOT, we decided it would be our #1 priority.
We arrived at the entrance to EPCOT a few minutes before Early Entry began, around 9:30AM. There were big crowds there for Early Entry, but the lines to get into the park moved quickly.
Sure enough, we were joined by a big crowd of people heading to the France pavilion to ride Remy’s.
We were officially in line at 9:40AM, and it looked like a loooong line. Like the entrance, however, the line moved quickly. We made it to the front and were boarding after about 30 minutes.
By the time we got off the ride, it was about 10:15AM, which meant that Early Entry was over.
SUMMARY: We only got on one popular attraction — Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure — but we got on it with a shorter wait than you’ll usually see for this ride.
We arrived at Disney’s Hollywood Studios entrance by 7:50AM, and Early Entry officially began at 8:30AM. Cast Members let guests into the park around 8AM, and most guests headed to one of three rides: Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, or Slinky Dog Dash.
We joined the Slinky Dog Dash crew and were in line at around 8:10AM. The ride didn’t open until 8:30AM, but once it opened we only waited about 10 minutes before boarding the ride.
Once we got off this ride, it was about 8:45. We headed straight for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, which already had a posted standby wait of 75 minutes. We got in line anyway, which paid off since we made it to the pre-show in just 35 minutes.
Once we got off Rise of the Resistance, it was 10AM, which meant Early Entry was over.
SUMMARY: We made it on two popular rides with lower waits than normal. Slinky Dog Dash had a 10 minute wait, and Rise of the Resistance was just 35 minutes.
You’ll need to wake up extra early for Early Entry at Animal Kingdom, because this park usually opens around 8AM.
In our experience, we’ve been admitted into the park around 7AM and then stopped in front of the Tree of Life until 7:30AM, when Early Entry begins.
Most guests head to Avatar: Flight of Passage (especially since Expedition Everest is currently closed) in Pandora. When we tried out Early Entry at this park, we were able to ride Flight of Passage…
…and also hop into the Na’vi River Journey line before 8AM hit.
Na’vi River Journey gets pretty long lines later in the day, but we were able to get on this attraction with about a 20-minute wait. By the time we left that attraction, it was past 8AM, which meant the Early Entry time was over.
SUMMARY: We were able to ride two popular attractions — Flight of Passage and Na’vi River Journey — but only because they were located close to each other. We probably wouldn’t have made it over to Expedition Everest before 8AM if we had tried to do that.
Our biggest takeaways from these experience include the following:
- You will probably be able to ride one or two big attractions in the half-hour before the parks officially open.
- Although we didn’t finish riding a second attraction before Early Theme Park Entry time ended, the key was that we got in line before the park’s official opening time. If you can get in the line before the other guests enter the park, you’ll have a shorter wait time. So once you get off that first attraction, if the park hasn’t opened yet, hop into another line ASAP.
- At each park, we definitely saved some time by using Early Theme Park Entry. The biggest attractions at each park usually have long standby wait times, ranging from one to three (or more) hours on a daily basis, depending on the attraction. By getting on those attractions early, we freed up that time later to get on smaller attractions or just enjoy the park.
How Genie+ Might Affect Your Early Entry
Your plan for Early Theme Park Entry might be different, depending on your plans for Genie+ and Pay-Per-Ride. Here are a few adjustments you might make, based on the options available:
If you’re planning on using Pay-Per-Ride (the individual fee to skip the line at the most popular attractions) but NOT Genie+: Head to the most popular rides that are available on Genie+. For Magic Kingdom, that’ll be Peter Pan’s Flight (open for Early Entry) and Jungle Cruise (not open for Early Entry). For Animal Kingdom, it’ll be Kilimanjaro Safaris and Na’vi River Journey. For Hollywood Studios, head to Slinky Dog Dash, Tower of Terror, or Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster. In EPCOT, go to Test Track and Soarin’.
You can knock out those rides and then pay to skip the line at the pay-per-ride attractions later on in the day, when the standby lines are long.
If you’re going to buy Genie+ but NOT Pay-Per-Ride reservations: Go to the Pay-Per-Ride attractions first.
Here’s a list of the Pay-Per-Rides in each park:
- Magic Kingdom: Seven Dwarfs Mine Train & Space Mountain
- EPCOT: Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure & Frozen Ever After
- Animal Kingdom: Avatar Flight of Passage & Expedition Everest
- Hollywood Studios: Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance & Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway
If you’re not going to buy Genie+ OR Pay-Per-Ride: Go for the most popular ride that you want to go on. This will probably be the Pay-Per-Ride attractions, since those tend to get the longest lines during the day (with a few exceptions: Space Mountain and Expedition Everest usually have shorter lines at some points during the day).
Get to the theme parks early! And by early, we mean earlier than 30 minutes before opening time. You will still have to wait in line to enter the parks, which eats into the already shortened time. The earlier you get to the parks, the more likely you are to actually get your 30 extra minutes.
Try to be at the front gates at least a half hour before early entry (one hour before normal park opening time) for the best results.
Early Theme Park Entry is a little bit trickier at Magic Kingdom than at other theme parks if you’re driving to the park. Magic Kingdom’s parking lot doesn’t open until 7:30AM, and then you need to factor in time to get to the park from the TTC. By contrast, guests who use Disney transportation are able to get to the park entrance sooner. If you’re staying at a Disney World hotel, we recommend using the Disney transportation instead of driving yourself for this reason.
And if you’re at Disney’s Contemporary Resort, Disney’s Polynesian Resort, or Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, the best choice is probably to walk to Magic Kingdom, since you can do that as early as you want to. The earlier you arrive, the more time you’ll have in the park since you’ll be at the front of the Early Entry crowds.
Hopefully that helps you make the most of your morning in Disney World! Keep following DFB for more tips as you plan your Disney World vacation.
Have you used Early Theme Park Entry in Disney World? Tell us about your experience in the comments.