Walt Disney World is a very different place after the sun has set. Oh sure, it is still just as family friendly, to the point that their Halloween bash is a celebration of cheer and laughs not gore and frights (not that I don’t enjoy the occasional film nightmare come to life), but it just seems as if you are more aware of what is taking place around you at night.
Disney does a wonderful job of adding in effects and lighting to highlight certain areas they really want you to notice after dark. So, today, I thought we’d take a little bit of a different approach to examining how some attractions change at night and how wonderful they are.
If you stay at a Walt Disney World resort, then you have probably seen Stacey Aswad giving you the highlights of the Parks on the Must Do Disney channel that repeats 24-7. Once upon a time, that list was a Top 7 list of attractions both in and around the Parks. Without further ado, let’s pay respect to those years gone by and great nighttime attractions with my Top 7 Disney After Dark Must Dos.
7 – Characters in Flight (Downtown Disney)
This one deserves to be higher, but since the balloon has been pulled for replacement and there is no timetable for when it will return, I had to put it here. We all clamor for those great shots of a pavilion or attraction at night, but Characters in Flight offers up a bird’s eye view of the entirety of Walt Disney World with its shimmering lights and amazing structures.
6 – Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom (Magic Kingdom)
The Magic Kingdom’s latest foray into interactive experiences, the collectible card game known as Sorcerers of the Magic Kingdom, leads guests on a raucous adventure throughout Main Street, U.S.A., Adventureland, Frontierland, Liberty Square and Fantasyland. The spell cards activate some wonderful on-screen effects, but their true worth comes from playing at night. The game portals actually have some amazing light and sound displays, but most of these get washed out by the intense Florida sunshine during the day. To really see the magic of your spells, definitely take on the horde of Disney villains after dark!
5 – Expedition Everest (Disney’s Animal Kingdom)
Like Characters in Flight, albeit for a much briefer window, Expedition Everest offers up an amazing view of Walt Disney World from its peak, especially if you happen to be in the front row. Navigating through the dark caves and caverns of the Forbidden Mountain is great during the day, but at times during a night exploration it can seem like a roller coaster through pure and impenetrable nothingness. The village of Serka Zong and the lighting effects of the Forbidden Mountain only amplify the thought that you are not in a world you know.
4 – Haunted Mansion (Magic Kingdom)
Walt Disney World is great at hiding its stories. Take the Haunted Mansion for example. The whole attraction takes place in the middle of the night, but you don’t seem to notice the shift from day to night when you come out of the noonday sun because you are so enveloped in the tale you’ve become a part of. While the attraction itself may not change, the experience of the Haunted Mansion is different after sunset, particularly the house itself. At night, the Haunted Mansion takes on an ominous appearance, a stately manor filled with ghost stories. As you approach, flashes of lightning illuminate the darkened eaves and deep corners of the house, candles flicker in a few windows and, surprising for an abandoned home, you can see a light make its way through the conservatory, casting shadows on the furnishings inside. If you didn’t know better, it’d be enough to send a shiver down your spine!
3 – Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (Magic Kingdom)
Another roller coaster at night? Definitely! In the case of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, the citizens of Tumbleweed, who have likely been taking shelter out of the sun all day, really hoot and holler after dark. The Gold Dust Saloon is where all of the action happens, and your runaway mine train passes it at breakneck speed, but it is worth a second look. The piano is rocking, the patrons are engaged in lively conversation, and the windows are filled with the silhouettes of saloon-hall girls and dusty cowpokes. A better vantage point can be seen via the Walt Disney World Railroad, but who wouldn’t take Big Thunder Mountain as a means to view the wildest bar in the wilderness?
2 – The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror (Disney’s Hollywood Studios)
Utilizing the same spooky story mechanics as the Haunted Mansion, The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror takes place at night, on an evening very much like the one witnessed in the library film. The only difference is that The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror actually gives you a view of Sunset Boulevard and Disney’s Hollywood Studios beyond during the attraction. While the park is quite a bit brighter than the Hollywood of 1939, taking a ride aboard the fifth-dimension bound elevator at night just completes the story perfectly.
1 – The Attractions of Rocket Tower Plaza (Magic Kingdom)
I’ll be honest with you, I had the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover pegged for this spot until I was given the gentle reminder that the Astro Orbiter is 110% cooler at night. The fact of the matter is that the neon glow of Tomorrowland bouncing off of the polished steel structures is great no matter what the vantage point. After dark, the PeopleMover offers up a leisurely tour with more vistas of the land, plus a great view of the Main Street Electrical Parade making its way around the hub if you time your trip correctly, while the Astro Orbiter really makes you feel like you are flying through the space envisioned in another era. Both attractions begin and end in Rocket Tower Plaza, making this a great destination for your nighttime riding experience.
There you have it, the Top 7 Must Do Disney After Dark attractions! I’m sure many of you think I botched the order of these experiences or that left off a great attraction (Splash Mountain, Malestrom, Jungle Cruise, Test Track, Prince Charming Regal Carrousel…), but that is the great thing about Walt Disney World: the story is as individualized as the person living it! Which begs the parting question, what are your favorite nighttime attractions at Walt Disney World?
Ryan is the owner and editor of Main Street Gazette, providing perspective on the world of yesterday, tomorrow and fantasy. He shares personal thoughts, historical perspectives, tasty bites, photographs and layered details found throughout the Vacation Kingdom.