How much is an hour at the Magic Kingdom worth to you? And what if there were essentially no lines? This is the crux of the question Disney is asking consumers with their new After Hours nighttime event at Walt Disney World’s most popular park. For a $150 fee a limited number of guests can roam an almost-empty Magic Kingdom for three hours after park closing on select nights. The pitch, and the exorbitant price tag, have been the subject of an intense discussion of late amongst resort watchers either in love with the idea of an utterly uncrowded park or decrying the resort’s continued emphasis on up-charged experiences.
Following the initial announcement observers were taken aback by the offering’s cost. Many incredulous fans noted that existing special events like Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, often criticized itself for escalating prices, provide guests with five hours of party-exclusive activities and entertainment for around half the cost of the new event ticket. Without any additional incentives apart from complimentary ice cream and soda, the debate centralized on the value of a park without crowds. Fans wondered who would be willing to pay such a fee just to experience minimal lines for three hours. As it turns out, the answer may have been ‘not as many as Disney had hoped.’
A few days before the first After Hours event was scheduled to take place members of the Disney Vacation Club, Disney’s official timeshare program, received emails from the mouse offering free admission to the exclusive party. When news of the giveaways spread speculation picked up that the pricey party wasn’t selling well and was thus being filled up, as it were, by available DVC members in an effort to reach attendance goals if nothing else. Whatever the reason, by the time the first party finally rolled around Disney proudly proclaimed that the event was “Sold out.”
Reports from that first night certainly confirmed the promise of explicitly limited attendance. Numerous guests described the surreality of walking through empty queues and posted photos of popular areas featuring no more than a dozen people. Many participants made note of bored cast members standing about with nothing to do at some essentially vacant attractions. Rides like Splash Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean and the Jungle Cruise were complete walk-ons while waits for lower capacity attractions like Peter Pan’s Flight and the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train topped out at an abnormally low 25 to 40 minutes. All told total attendance was said to be capped at around 3,000 according to some cast members, though it was also suggested that actual in-park numbers for the night were closer to 2000. For reference, the average daily attendance at the Magic Kingdom tends to be around 52,000 guests.
Various party goers raved about the utterly uncrowded environment and the ability to simply walk onto almost any ride they wished. Other frequent patrons were a bit put off by the park’s deserted atmosphere, missing the familiar energy and festivity of a typical Disney day. Laughing Place correspondent Jeremiah Good also noted that, while the lines may be minimal, there simply isn’t enough time to hit up all 26 available attractions, “…I was able to do most of the attractions that normally have the longest wait times such as Peter Pan and the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train with no wait at all, but, if you try to squeeze in attractions like Mickey’s PhilharMagic and Country Bear Jamboree that normally have no wait, you will miss out even more on the major E- Ticket attractions.”
Whether the After Hours event is ‘worth it’ is hard to say. Beyond the idea of wandering a sparsely populated park it comes down to how much you value your time versus your budget. Fan site EasyWDW rather summed up the majority opinion, saying that “While the price point is undeniably high, one might find some value in it if they only had one evening to spend at Walt Disney World. Instead of buying a $115 1-day ticket, you could purchase the $149 event-ticket and probably experience more attractions in a shorter period of time.” Remaining dates for the event include May 5, 8, 12 and 19.