When most people think of visiting Walt Disney World, they imagine trudging through overcrowded theme parks, hopping from ride to ride while fighting the crowds and the blistering Florida sun. Everyone gets hot and cranky, and you’re covered in sweat and grime as you wait more than 100 minutes for Toy Story Midway Mania or stand in the sun nearly an hour for a Dole Whip that melts within five minutes.
It doesn’t have to be this way, people. Take a cue from the vampires: do your best work at night!
Don’t get me wrong, I like the parks in the daytime. I manage to take my best pictures during the day. Being an office worker, I’m naturally most awake during business hours (for the most part). But it does get pretty damn hot out there, even during the off-season. Not only can it be inconvenient, but it can be dangerous if you don’t stay hydrated.
You don’t have to be a night owl to enjoy WDW at night. All that beautiful theming the Imagineers put into the parks takes on a new look at night. A simple spotlight here or there can make something look completely different.
Aside from being distinctly less sweaty, one of the most exciting things about visiting the parks at night is riding the rides in the dark. Nowhere is that more evident than in the Magic Kingdom. Talk about a new dimension!
One of my favorites is Big Thunder Mountain Railroad. The wildest ride in the wilderness takes on a whole new meaning when you’re traveling by moonlight. In those semi-peaceful moments, it almost feels like you’re a cowboy camping under the stars. And there are some amazing views of the illuminated Cinderella Castle on the initial climb up the mountain.
Speaking of amazing views, you absolutely have to go on Astro Orbiter at night. It really is a “must-do” (thanks, Stacey). The views are to die for, and you can clearly see Space Mountain, Cinderella Castle, the Contemporary, the Polynesian, and basically all of Seven Seas Lagoon. Tomorrowland really shines at night with all of the purple, blue and fluorescent hues, evoking the promises of tomorrow imagined in the past. As an added bonus, Astro Orbiter is a cool, refreshing treat to ride at night!
It may sound strange to mention an indoor ride as a nighttime favorite, but Space Mountain just seems, well, darker…after dark. Maybe it’s just a subconscious thing, but maybe it’s not. Space is dark and cold and so is Space Mountain, which is why it’s such a refreshing attraction during a hot, steamy day, but it seems scarier and colder and blacker at night. Plus, the exterior looks super awesome all lit up!
Moving on over to Adventureland, I think it goes without saying that The Jungle Cruise is an attraction that plays a lot differently in the dark. Sure, the sweltering Florida summers make you feel like you’re actually on the Amazon or riding down Nile, but at night it takes on a kookily sinister theme. The animals seem to appear out of nowhere, and the lack of lighting adds a sense of mystery to the admittedly dated-looking audio-animatronics, especially the poachers who get chased up the totem pole (like the poor sap on the bottom losing a piece of his shorts to the rhino).
Perhaps the most enjoyable attraction to ride at night, though, is Prince Charming Regal Carousel in Fantasyland. It is a classic, old-school carousel just like the ones you rode at fairs, carnivals and boardwalks.The beautifully painted horses and scenes come alive under the bright lights in ways that you would never notice during the daytime, and the whole experience is so serene that it feels like the perfect end (or maybe beginning) of a magical visit to the Kingdom.
This list is only the tip of the iceberg. Honorable mentions have to go out to Splash Mountain for the park views at the top of the drop and The Haunted Mansion because, seriously, it’s the Haunted freakin’ Mansion at night. But maybe you prefer the Peoplemover after dark or Pirates of the Caribbean. I can see the appeal for other outdoor attractions, like Dumbo, Barnstormer, Mad Tea Party or the Magic Carpets of Aladdin.
Point is, the Magic Kingdom has a whole new persona after dark. You may find yourself mesmerized by the colors, details and experiences that go largely unnoticed under the hot midday sun, which only makes your experience even more exciting. Just watch out for the vampires.
What’s your favorite Magic Kingdom attraction at night? Let us know in the comments below!
James King is a fun-loving character who wishes he could just ride Space Mountain all day, every day, instead of sitting in his office at work. He first visited WDW as a young teen but didn’t really catch the Disney bug until a more recent trip with his wife Estelle Hallick, when he realized that you don’t have to grow up just because you grow older. James regularly writes on This Happy Place Blog, and you can follow him on twitter.