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Guide to Early Theme Park Entry at Disney World

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Guide to Early Theme Park Entry at Disney World

Many long-time visitors are very familiar with the old Extra Magic Hours, but for the 50th Anniversary, Disney has announced that they are scrapping EMHs and are going with a new system called “Early Theme Park Entry.”

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 of 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, we rarely recommended people visit a park with Extra Magic Hours because those parks would, nearly without fail, be the busiest.

But, since it is daily and at all 4 parks, Early Theme Park Entry allows guests to be a lot more flexible with how they plan their days.

Plus, instead of concentrating park goers to 1 park, it should (hopefully) spread people out between *all* of them.

What time do I need to get to the bus stop to make it to Early Theme Park Entry?

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

Plan to be at the bus stop 90 minutes before Early Theme Park Entry. Expect the first bus of the day to arrive between 45 minutes to 1 hour 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 to the bus stop 90 minutes before Early Theme Park Entry will get you to the front of the pack, and likely on that first bus.

Skyliner

90 minutes is a good rule of thumb for the Skyliner, too. Especially if your trip will require you to transfer Skyliner lines. The Hollywood Studios line typically starts up about 1 hour before the park opens, and the Epcot line is between 30 minutes to 1 hour before that park opens.

Monorail

45 minutes to 1 hour. 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 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. 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 to 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.

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 best choices for Early Theme Park Entry

Magic Kingdom

  • “it’s a small world”
  • Astro Orbiter
  • Buzz Lightyear’s Space Ranger Spin
  • Dumbo the Flying Elephant
  • Mad Tea Party
  • Mickey’s PhilharMagic
  • *Peter Pan’s Flight
  • Prince Charming Regal Carrousel
  • *Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (38″ height requirement)
  • *Space Mountain (44″ height requirement)
  • The Barnstormer (35″ height requirement)
  • The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh
  • Tomorrowland Speedway (32″ minimum to ride, 54″ minimum to drive)
  • Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover
  • Under the Sea ~ Journey of The Little Mermaid
  • Walt Disney’s Carousel of Progress

Epcot

  • Beauty and The Beast Sing-Along
  • *Frozen Ever After
  • Mission: SPACE (Orange – 44″ & Green – 40″ height requirements)
  • Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure
  • *Soarin’ Around the World (40″ height requirements)
  • Spaceship Earth
  • *Test Track (40″ height requirements)
  • The Seas with Nemo & Friends

Hollywood Studios

  • Alien Swirling Saucers (32″ height requirement)
  • *Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway
  • Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run (38″ height requirement)
  • Rise of the Resistance (40″ height requirement)
  • *Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith (48″ height requirement)
  • *Slinky Dog Dash (38″ height requirement)
  • Star Tours – The Adventures Continue (40″ height requirement)
  • *The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror ™ (40″ height requirement)
  • Toy Story Mania!

Animal Kingdom

  • *Avatar Flight of Passage (44″ height requirement)
  • DINOSAUR (40″ height requirement)
  • Expedition Everest (44″ height requirement)
  • It’s Tough to be a Bug!
  • *Na’vi River Journey
  • TriceraTop Spin

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:

  • 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 be held on the bridge to Fantasyland until the official start of Early Theme Park Entry.
  • 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 we think this new onsite resort benefit will be popular, you aren’t going to be able to run from attraction to attraction without lines.

But, we do think that it will be possible to 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

In addition to Genie+ (which works like the old MaxPass system at Disneyland and will allow you to secure return times for select attractions), in all 4 parks, guests will also be able to pay for up to 2 return times at several of the most popular attractions.

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’ll be able to skip buying an individual Lightning Lane pass for that attraction, 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.

If you are planning your time, here’s what we *think* will be the best options for Magic Kingdom Early Theme Park Entry. Keep in mind that 2 of the 3 attractions we list do have height requirements.

  • Seven Dwarfs Mine Train (38″ height requirement)
  • Space Mountain (44″ height requirement)
  • Peter Pan’s Flight

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.

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.

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)

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.

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 expect to 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 shouldn’t significantly impact the overall crowd levels for a park.

Truth be told, most of the parks open up at least 30 minutes early anyway.

And, if you’ve been lucky enough to hit up the parks during those 30 minutes, you know how nice it is to get at a couple of your “must-see” attractions done before the crowds build.

This new perk will just make those bonus minutes “official” for onsite guests only.

How does Disney know I am eligible for Early Theme Park Entry?

While we don’t have any official word from Disney, we imagine they will use some of the same procedures they used for Extra Magic Hours, like scanning your MagicBand or ticket.

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.

As of October 2021, 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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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?

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.