Extended Evening Theme Park Hours is coming to Animal Kingdom for the first time ever at the start of the Christmas 2023 season at Walt Disney World. This post shares date(s), details, and strategy for taking advantage of the on-site perk for guests staying at a Deluxe Resorts, DVC Villas, and select other hotels.
For those who are new to Walt Disney World vacation planning, Extended Evening Theme Park Hours is nighttime counterpart to Early Theme Park Entry. There are several differences, most notably that guests staying at Value or Moderate Resorts are not eligible for Extended Evening Hours.
Extended Evening Theme Park Hours has two types of resort eligibility, occurs two nights per week, is at two parks, and runs for two hours (pretty much everything about the perk occurs in twos). It’s usually every Monday at EPCOT and every Wednesday at Magic Kingdom. See our Strategy Guide Guide for Extended Evening Hours at Walt Disney World for more ins and outs of the nighttime Deluxe benefit.
By contrast, Early Entry is offered at all 4 theme parks every single day, runs for 30 minutes, and every on-site resort guest is eligible, including the third party on-property hotels. Despite the expanded eligibility, Early Entry is also great–especially at Animal Kingdom. Due to the start time, not many people take advantage of it, and you can use Early Entry and rope drop to knock out every ride at Animal Kingdom by 10:30 am!
For everything you need to know about that benefit, see our Strategy Guide for Early Theme Park Entry at Walt Disney World. That includes where Early Entry works best and worst, rides to prioritize and avoid, and more.
As for Extended Evening Hours, it’ll be available at Disney’s Animal Kingdom on the following dates in Late 2023:
That’s it…for now. Walt Disney World just published the preliminary park hours for early November, so the calendar doesn’t go any farther than that. It’s possible that Animal Kingdom will become the new Wednesday ExEH park, displacing Magic Kingdom during the heart of Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party season. In which case, we can expect Extended Evening Hours at Animal Kingdom on November 8, 15, 22, 29; December 6, 13, 20, 27.
It’s also possible that this is a one-off, and Extended Evening Hours will be hosted at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and/or Magic Kingdom on Wednesdays. Another scenario is that it’s a combination of the three as scheduling dictates with the hard ticket events and holiday crowds.
For those thinking “what holiday crowds?” when it comes to November 8, the answer is Veterans Day weekend. We’ve mentioned this countless times, but that’s an increasingly popular long weekend at Walt Disney World, and the bulk of the busy days will actually occur before the weekend. Seriously, Veterans Day is easily one of the busiest holidays of the year, far surpassing Memorial Day, Fourth of July, and Labor Day.
Of course, it’s not the only big holiday during November and December, but I doubt any Walt Disney World fans would doubt that Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year’s Eve are busy stretches. Along with Columbus Day (also one of the worst weekends/weeks), Veterans Day sneaks up on a lot of people!
We previously mentioned the ‘heart’ of Party Season as the big reason why Magic Kingdom probably won’t host Extended Evening Hours during the final three-plus months of the year. Magic Kingdom is a veritable crowd roller coaster this time of year, and moving ExEH to a different park should help combat crowds and displaced guests as a result of that.
This is because tourists are not doing Magic Kingdom on party days in their normal numbers, meaning that they are disproportionately visiting on non-party days. As a result, both the days and nights of Extended Evening Hours at Magic Kingdom can be really busy during Party Season–and that’ll become even more pronounced once the hard ticket events expand from a couple of nights per week to 3-4 nights. Hosting ExEH in parks other than Magic Kingdom is a good move for all involved.
It’s possible that the same concern exists with the Disney Jollywood Nights Christmas Party, which would explain why Disney’s Hollywood Studios is not hosting Extended Evening Hours on November 8, 2023. But I sorta doubt it. That hard ticket holiday event only occurs once per week until the last week of November, and it’s highly unlikely it’ll disrupt crowd trends.
For one thing, DHS never has the same nighttime crowds as Magic Kingdom. It almost always empties out early, a trend we’ve seen occur despite Fantasmic returning. For another thing, past After Hours parties at Disney’s Hollywood Studios have never had an impact on crowd patterns. It’s just a totally different dynamic than Magic Kingdom during Party Season. It’s still possible that Walt Disney World operations is erring on the side of caution, but as before, I doubt it.
Other possibilities are private park buyouts, other unknown events, or that Walt Disney World is testing different approaches to Extended Evening Hours to see what works best. Given the schedule quirks throughout October and early November, my money would be on testing.
If so, kudos to Walt Disney World for seeing what guests favor for ExEH parks. My guess is that Hollywood Studios is going to prove much more popular, but it’s certainly worth trying out different options and assessing actual guest feedback. We appreciate when Walt Disney World does this type of thing.
We love Animal Kingdom at night. Well, when it’s open after dark–but that’s usually the case during the holiday season thanks to Daylight Saving Time and earlier sunsets. Pandora – World of Avatar looks great at night, and takes on a totally different atmosphere that’s surprisingly serene even when it’s busy. (It usually is not busy at night.)
Then there are the Discovery Island Luminaries and other gorgeous decor lit up for Christmas. Between that and the Tree of Life Winter Awakenings, we’re big fans of doing an Animal Kingdom afternoon and evening during November or December. That’s how we do DAK most of the time during the holiday season. And we still highly recommend that for Christmas 2023.
However, I’m not sure how enthusiastically I’d recommend Extended Evening Hours at Animal Kingdom. It’s difficult to assess how popular this will be, especially with it being limited to only Deluxe Resort and other select guests (excluding Value and Moderate Resorts).
I will just say that I was not a fan of Evening Extra Magic Hours at Animal Kingdom. Honestly, I can’t even remember the last time we did that offering at Animal Kingdom; like DHS, it wasn’t consistently offered pre-closure. I want to say we did it sometime in 2018, but I could be wrong. In any case, we stopped doing Evening Extra Magic Hours at DAK because it was miserable.
Animal Kingdom was much more crowded during that “perk” than on a normal night, and the lines for Avatar Flight of Passage and Na’vi River Journey were ridiculous. What I do vividly remember was long lines that stretched back to Harambe, and actual wait times that were triple-digits. With that said, I also remember other parts of the park being ghost towns, so that was a plus!
I wouldn’t be surprised if Extended Evening Hours at Animal Kingdom is a somewhat similar story. It definitely won’t be as bad due to a smaller pool of eligible guests and since the ‘new land smell’ has worn off Pandora. But it could still be busier than a normal night in Animal Kingdom, which is typically pretty quiet.
The first reason for this is induced demand. Animal Kingdom is quiet in the evenings because most Walt Disney World guests don’t realize how great it is; if this were brought to their attention, their behavior would change. Extended Evening Hours is essentially bringing it to their attention, and via an “exclusive” perk. People love things that are (purportedly) exclusive. But I could be completely wrong–we shall see!
The second reason for this is that Animal Kingdom is bad at absorbing crowds. This is always true, which is why there’s a ‘tipping point’ when DAK goes from totally manageable to insanely crowded, without much of a moderately busy in-between. Such is the nature of a limited ride roster.
As far as strategy goes, Avatar Flight of Passage is the main substantive draw of Extended Evening Hours at Animal Kingdom. Experiencing this attraction with a minimal wait is a huge selling point of the perk; guests will undoubtedly recognize this, seeing ExEH as an alternative to paying for Individual Lightning Lane access.
That’s exactly why Flight of Passage will be busy at the start of Extended Evening Hours. Based on our past experience during late nights at Animal Kingdom (Extra Magic Hours, After Hours, DVC events, etc.), our advice would be to save Flight of Passage until the end of the night.
We’ve done events during which Flight of Passage posts a 60-90 minute wait at the start, is a walk-on after the first hour, and has entire theaters going nearly empty towards the end. During After Hours, in particular, there were occasions when no one else was in the entire theater (not just our load area–all of them). It was surreal looking left and right while riding the banshee and seeing a sea of empty seats on an attraction that is among the hottest at Walt Disney World. With that said, we’d expect ExEH to be busier than After Hours, since the latter cost $100+ per ticket and this is “free.”
As odd as this might sound, there’s a good reason for the fall-off: Flight of Passage’s pre-show. If you’ve only experienced the attraction a handful of times, the awkward and rambling pre-show might strike you as mildly annoying. Try experiencing that same pre-show 4 consecutive times and you’ll find it interminably long and bordering on torture (talk about the ultimate first-world hyperbole, but still).
In theory, you could probably ride Avatar Flight of Passage a few times during Extended Evening Hours at Animal Kingdom. The full experience from entering the queue to exiting and walking back to the front of the line as a walk-on ranges from 19 to 22 minutes (depending upon walking speed, load time, and whether you have Pandoran parasites).
However, most guests do not have the patience to subject themselves to that pre-show that many times in a single evening. It just isn’t possible. As majestical, detailed, and euphoric as the ride experience itself is, you’ll be spending the bulk of your time in the pre-show each time, and that’s just too much. Unfortunately, there is no way to skip the pre-show since it contains the safety spiel.
This is precisely why the line will drop off sharply for Avatar Flight of Passage during the course of Extended Evening Hours. People will get their fill at the beginning of the event, and not do it again either due to the long line they encountered the first time, the long pre-show, or both.
Accordingly, I think the best approach to Extended Evening Hours at Animal Kingdom is starting in Asia and doing Expedition Everest, potentially repeatedly. The total ride experience there is significantly shorter and it should be a similar story with the line. You could probably do Expedition Everest a few times in short order if your body is up to it.
From there, doing Dinosaur once or twice makes sense (you can skip the pre-show there…but why would you want disrespect the venerable Dr. Seeker like that?!) before ending the night in Pandora – World of Avatar where you can bounce between Na’vi River Journey and Avatar Flight of Passage to mix things up a bit, and prevent overload on that pre-show.
Our rationale for this strategy is that everyone is going to head to Pandora first. It’s the main draw, and why 95% of people are going to attend Extended Evening Hours at Animal Kingdom. Not only will ExEH guests flock to Pandora, but day guests will still be there at the start.
After about an hour, day guests will be long gone, and Extended Evening Hours guests will also start to move on to other areas of Animal Kingdom. The last 30 minutes or so, you should have Pandora pretty much to yourself. Not only will you be able to enjoy the attractions with minimal wait, but you can enjoy the ambiance of Pandora at night devoid of crowds.
I love the physical environment of Pandora, but it is normally so chaotic that it’s difficult to enjoy. At night, it’s usually so devoid of people that the “organic” ambiance there is much more convincing–truly like an alien planet being reclaimed by nature. Walking around other areas of the park is similarly satisfying.
Honestly, that is the upside of Extended Evening Hours at Animal Kingdom from our perspective. While I consider Animal Kingdom to be the weakest of the 4 parks at night, that is very much a relative term–even the “weakest” in this case is still fantastic, and incredibly underrated.
It’s not just the moody atmosphere, it’s the serene sounds and just general peacefulness of the park. If you’ve only done DAK during hot days, you will have a totally fresh perspective on it–noticing details you’ve never seen before and leaving with a newfound appreciation for the park. I promise!
The biggest downside to Extended Evening Hours at Animal Kingdom is everything that isn’t open. Kilimanjaro Safaris, Festival of the Lion King, Finding Nemo: Big Blue & Beyond, or Feathered Friends in Flight, all of which currently end operations well before 7 p.m.
Accordingly, we’d recommend arriving a few hours early, and allocating that time to other attractions, stage shows, and also the excellent holiday season entertainment that won’t be open or performed during Extended Evening Hours. During the event, you’re necessarily going to be repeating attractions, as so few are open.
Ultimately, Extended Evening Hours at Animal Kingdom is an event that leaves me conflicted. On the one hand, I prefer nighttime in the other 3 parks, and I also favor ExEH in both Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Magic Kingdom from a practical perspective given the ride rosters in each of those parks.
On the other hand, I really don’t want to undersell how incredible Animal Kingdom is at night, during events like this one (so long as crowds aren’t too bad). It may be my least favorite park at night, but it’s still fantastic–and criminally underrated. It’s a real shame that so few Walt Disney World guests experience Animal Kingdom in the evening, as the entire park takes on a different vibe–especially Pandora – World of Avatar. More than anything else, this really just makes me wish Animal Kingdom had a (good) nighttime spectacular and larger ride roster so people stayed late here on regular days.
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Will you be taking advantage of Extended Evening Theme Park Hours at Disney’s Animal Kingdom in Late 2023? Disappointed about the lack of ExEH at Magic Kingdom during the heart of this Party Season? Hoping more Extended Evening Hours dates are offered at DAK for the holiday season? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? 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!