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Guide to Early Theme Park Entry at Disney World

Guide to Early Theme Park Entry at Disney World

Early Theme Park Entry (or Early Entry for short) is a great way for onsite guests to ride at least one of the most popular attractions at Walt Disney World before the park opens to the general public.

Here’s how it works:

What is Early Theme Park Entry?

In a nutshell…

Early Theme Park Entry allows Disney Resort Guests (as well as guests from other select hotels) the opportunity to enter any of the 4 theme parks (Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, and Hollywood Studios) 30 minutes before non-Disney Resort guests.

Early Theme Park Entry was announced in January 2021 as a part of the 50th Anniversary Celebration as a replacement for the now-defunct Extra Magic Hours.

Are Early Theme Park Entry and Extra Magic Hours the same thing?

Sort of, but there are differences.

Extra Magic Hours (which were frequently abbreviated as EMHs) were times that the parks would open to onsite guests outside the normal operating schedule.

That part sounds an awful lot like Early Theme Park Entry.

But, unlike Early Theme Park Entry where every park is open 30 minutes early, Extra Magic Hours could be in the morning or night, only covered one park per day, and were either 1 hour (for morning EMHs) or 2 hours long (for evening EMHs).

Magic Kingdom entrance

As you can imagine, because Extra Magic Hours were only at 1 park per day, it significantly affected crowds. In fact, historically we rarely recommended people visit a park with Extra Magic Hours because those parks would, nearly without fail, be the busiest.

But, we feel the total opposite about Early Entry.

Since it is daily and at all 4 parks, Early Theme Park Entry doesn’t have the same effect on crowds that Extra Magic Hours did – which is a good thing. And instead, it allows guests to be a lot more flexible with how they plan their days because it is an easy way to ride at least 1 (if not more) of the most popular attractions at each park before the park gets packed.

What time do I need to leave my resort to make it to Early Theme Park Entry on time?

If you are eligible to participate in Early Theme Park Entry, you can use Disney Transportation, drive and park, or even walk. Here’s what we recommend for timing for each of those:

Bus

While we used to recommend arriving at the bus stop 60 to 75 minutes before Early Entry begins, after testing the timing out many times, we now recommend 90 minutes. That 90-minute window is especially important if you:

  • want to be on the first bus (which we recommend), or
  • if you are staying at a large resort like Art of Animation, Pop Century, or the All-Stars, or
  • if you are staying at a resort with multiple internal stops, like Caribbean Beach or Coronado Springs.

Expect the first bus of the day to arrive between 1 hour to 75 minutes before Early Theme Park Entry starts. The goal is to be on the first bus of the day, and the lines for the buses will get very long, very fast. Arriving 90 minutes before Early Theme Park Entry will get you to the front of the pack, and likely on that first bus.

Skyliner

For the Disney Skyliner, aim for 75 minutes before Early Theme Park Entry begins if you don’t have to transfer, and 90 minutes if you do. Both the Hollywood Studios and Epcot lines start up about 1 hour before Early Entry begins.

Monorail

Plan to get to your monorail stop about 60-75 minutes before Early Theme Park Entry. For reference, the Resort Monorail Loop goes:

  • Transportation and Ticket Center
  • Polynesian Resort
  • Grand Floridian Resort
  • Magic Kingdom
  • Contemporary Resort

Boat

If traveling by boat, 60-75 minutes before Early Theme Park Entry is probably good.

Walking

Walking? You’ll have it the easiest!

Guests that walk are typically allowed to line up at the tapstiles around 60 minutes before the park opens for Early Theme Park Entry. If you want to be at the front of the pack of the walkers, plan to arrive ahead of that. (If you arrive before they begin allowing people to line up at the tapstiles, you’ll be held back by security.)

Car

When traveling by car, plan to arrive at the parking lot entrance about 70 minutes before Early Theme Park Entry. If the parking lot booths are not open at that time, you should be able to just wait for them to officially open up. But, don’t show up too early because they may not let you wait for the booths to open and instead will force you to turn around and come back closer to opening.

Important note: The Magic Kingdom parking lot will often open up a bit earlier, sometimes closer to 90 minutes before Early Entry begins.

What is open during Early Theme Park Entry?

While you’ll have a lot to choose from, unfortunately, not every attraction in every park will be available. Here’s what you can expect:

Line for Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway

Note: Attractions labeled with an * are our recommended choices for Early Theme Park Entry

Magic Kingdom

In Magic Kingdom, Early Entry is limited to attractions in Tomorrowland and in Fantasyland:

Fantasyland

Tomorrowland

Epcot

Hollywood Studios

Animal Kingdom

How does Early Theme Park work?

The procedure for Early Theme Park Entry varies a bit from park-to-park, and procedures can even vary from day-to-day. But, with that in mind, here are some basics that you can expect:

Magic Kingdom

  • At Magic Kingdom, all guests (both onsite and offsite) are allowed into the park about 30 minutes before Early Theme Park entry starts. However, offsite guests will be stopped at the Hub (the area around Cinderella Castle), while guests eligible for Early Theme Park Entry will have their tickets or MagicBands scanned at the entrance to either the Fantasyland Bridge (which is where you will go if heading to Seven Dwarfs Mine Train or Peter Pan’s Flight) or the Tomorrowland bridge (for attractions like Space Mountain).
  • At Epcot, guests eligible for Early Theme Park Entry are typically directed to specific tapstiles. At some point, if the lines grow long enough, they will often let onsite guests into the park to be staged until the official start of Early Theme Park Entry. Guests entering at the International Gateway are typically held near the bridge to France, while the exact spot(s) where guests are held at the front of the park can vary due to all the construction. If there are multiple places where guests are headed, make sure you go towards the one that is on the path to whatever attraction you are heading to first.
  • Hollywood Studios has a similar procedure. There are specific tapstiles for onsite guests to use, and guests will often be let into the park around 25-30 minutes before the start of Early Theme Park Entry. At that point, depending on which attraction you are heading to first, you’ll be held back near there until the official opening for Early Theme Park Entry. EXCEPTION: although most of the attractions here don’t open until the official start of Early Theme Park Entry, Rise of the Resistance often does open before Rope Drop.
  • At Animal Kingdom, oftentimes all guests are typically allowed in early; however, onsite guests will be directed towards the left side of the Tree of Life (towards Pandora), while offsite guests will be directed to the other side to wait until regular park opening.

Early Theme Park Entry Touring Plan

Trying to decide which attractions to focus on?

30 minutes really isn’t that much time. And, considering just how popular this onsite resort benefit is, you can’t skip around from attraction to attraction without lines.

But, we are confident that you can knock out at least one headliner before the park opens. And, if you’re at the front of the pack, you *may* even be able to get through 2, especially if you pair a headliner with a nearby less-popular attraction.

Note: Keep in mind that some of the attractions we recommend have height requirements.

How to save money by going to Early Theme Park Entry

If you want to skip the lines at Walt Disney World, you now have to pay for access to the Lightning Lanes.

That means, for the shortest waits without shelling out money for a spot in the Lightning Lane, you’ll need to either try to ride them during Early Theme Park Entry OR at the end of the evening (right before the parks close).

That’s why we recommend you aim to knock out one of the headliners listed below during that 30-minute Early Theme Park Entry window.

By getting at least 1 high-demand attraction done early, you may find that you won’t need to purchase a lightning lane or pay for Genie+ for that park, which means you’ll either save some money, or free yourself up to select something different, instead.

Magic Kingdom Early Theme Park Entry Touring Strategy

Magic Kingdom has the most attractions of any park, but you can see by the list above that Early Theme Park Entry only includes attractions from 2 lands: Fantasyland and Tomorrowland. That means several other popular attractions that typically see long waits (like Big Thunder Mountain Railroad) aren’t available until the park officially opens.

For Magic Kingdom Early Entry, we recommend you head to one of these attractions FIRST.

Note: Keep in mind that 2 of the 3 attractions we list do have height requirements.

  • Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (38″ height requirement)
    • If you finish here before official park opening, head to Peter Pan’s Flight next
  • Space Mountain (44″ height requirement)
    • If you finish here before official park opening, get in line for Astro Orbiter or The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
  • Peter Pan’s Flight
    • If you finish here with at least 15 minutes before official park opening, hop on ‘it’s a small world”
    • If not, use the restroom, get a drink, and line up near the Tangled restrooms to head to Haunted Mansion at official park opening

Epcot Early Theme Park Entry Touring Strategy

Although Epcot doesn’t have many attractions to start with, all 4 of their most popular attractions are included in Early Theme Park Entry.

If you are entering from the front of the park, we recommend you head to Test Track first and then Frozen Ever After. If you are coming from the International Gateway, you’ll want to go to Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure first, and then head to Frozen Ever After.

Hollywood Studios Early Theme Park Entry Touring Strategy

Hollywood Studios is home to one of the hottest attractions around, and if you want to ride Rise of the Resistance, you are in luck as it is available during Early Theme Park Entry.

It is important to keep in mind that Rise of the Resistance is a lengthy attraction and will most likely take the entire 30 minutes (and maybe more). However, if it is a priority for you to ride, hitting it early in the day could be your best bet since the ride is known for going down periodically throughout the day. Follow up a ride on this by hopping in line for Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run.

Not interested in riding Rise of the Resistance? We recommend focusing on one of the other attractions on this list:

  • Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway
  • Rise of the Resistance (40″ height requirement)
  • Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith (48″ height requirement)
  • Slinky Dog Dash (38″ height requirement)
  • The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror ™ (40″ height requirement)

If you start your day with Slinky Dog Dash and are done riding before official park opening, we suggest you head over to Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway next. If Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway is your starting point, heading over to Toy Story Land after would be your best bet.

If you plan to start with either Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster or Tower of Terror, you should go to the other of the 2 attractions that you didn’t start with second. Our recommendation is to start with Tower of Terror then head over to Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster after.

Animal Kingdom Early Theme Park Entry Touring Strategy

With only 6 attractions to choose from, the choice of what to focus on at Animal Kingdom isn’t as tough.

We recommend heading to Pandora and going directly to Flight of Passage. Hopefully you’ll be done there before the line gets too long over at Na’vi River Journey and you can head there after.

If riding Na’vi River Journey isn’t a priority for you, we would recommend heading to Kilimanjaro Safaris after exiting Flight of Passage. Kilimanjaro Safaris often opens before official park opening so this is a great option to do second.

But, keep in mind that even without a long line, Flight of Passage just takes a lot of time to ride, so if you make this your primary focus, you’ll likely spend close to all 30 minutes here.

  • Avatar Flight of Passage (44″ height requirement)
  • Na’vi River Journey

Who should use it?

Unlike Extra Magic Hours, which we only recommended for a few people, we highly recommend Early Theme Park Entry to all eligible guests.

Pop Century

The busier the parks get, the more important Rope Drop will be.

Lines build fast, so staying at the head of the pack can mean the difference between waiting in a 15-minute line for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train or a 70-minute one.

And since Early Theme Park Entry is available at all four parks every day, they don’t significantly impact the overall crowd levels for a park.

How does Disney know I am eligible for Early Entry?

Don’t think you can sneak into Early Entry. Disney will scan your ticket or MagicBand before allowing you to line up at an attraction. Only 1 person per party will need to scan in, though, so the process does go quickly.

Tapstyle

Which resorts are eligible for Early Theme Park Entry?

All onsite resorts, plus a few offsite resorts that are typically included in special things are eligible for this new benefit.

That includes:

Are there evening extended hours?

Sort of, but just for guests of select resorts.

Guests of Deluxe and Deluxe Villa resorts have access to extended evening hours at either Magic Kingdom or Epcot.

But, unlike Early Theme Park Entry, the Extended Evening Hours are just a couple of days per week and only include Disney Deluxe and Deluxe Villa resorts plus the Swan, Dolphin, Swan Reserve, and Shades of Green.

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Heather Thomas

Saskia

Monday 18th of September 2023

As a resort guest, can you enter any moment during early entry? Or can you just get in 30 minutes before and then have to wait for official opening?

Jason

Monday 5th of December 2022

Wondering, any idea if we can enter early the day of our resort reservation? Meaning we can check into our disney resort that afternoon but can we go to a park that day and get in early?

Lonnie Wold

Sunday 26th of September 2021

First time at the magic kingdom Orlando, today. I would love early entry. Wife is suffering several diseases. What do you think? Thanks. Lonnie

Linda Andrae

Sunday 27th of June 2021

So, basically anyone staying at an offsite, more reasonably-priced accommodation has no chance of entering the park early at rope drop?

Helena Basket

Tuesday 22nd of November 2022

They hope you buy Genie+ and ILL instead. Most reductions in guest spending come at a compromise, either reduced park experience or increased upcharge spending.

Michael Ann Effron

Sunday 15th of August 2021

I am wondering the same thing!!! We are rope drop people but could find absolutely NO affordable availability (and now none at all) on Disney property. So worried we will get there and the lines will be sooooo long as soon as we can enter.