Early Entry at Magic Kingdom is a perk for on-site resort hotel guests at Walt Disney World, offering a 30-minute head start on the official park opening crowds. This photo report shares our step-by-step strategy for starting at Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and continuing from Fantasyland to Adventureland and Frontierland for regular rope drop.
The first thing you you need to know is that Park Hours at Magic Kingdom can vary. There are days when the park opens at 8 am, but Magic Kingdom mostly opens at 9 am. This is usually true even if you’re visiting on an insanely busy day of the year, unfortunately. If you somehow have the option of doing Magic Kingdom on an 8 am opening day, you absolutely should–it’s a huge advantage!
Moving from a 9 am opening time to 8 am might seem like a big hassle for an insignificant gain. It’s actually huge and that’s precisely because it’s a hassle. That hour earlier in the morning is a big deal because it shrinks the pool of potential guests who are willing and able to get up early on vacation. When park opening is at 8 am, this means that Early Entry is at 7:30 am. For most Walt Disney World guests, that’s simply too early.
This isn’t just conjecture or speculation. We’ve tested this repeatedly, and it is always the case that an earlier Early Entry is more fruitful because fewer guests can and will take advantage of it. Suffice to say, the 7:30 am Early Entry at Magic Kingdom is a game changer (see that link for strategy), and we highly recommend it on Halloween or Christmas Party dates. Very few guests have the desire and determination to be out their hotel room door by 6:30 am, which is pretty much what’s necessary to arrive at Magic Kingdom in time for the start of Early Entry.
Speaking of being up and out the door early, you’ll want to be up in time to join the TRON Lightcycle Run virtual queue no matter what. This new roller coaster is incredibly popular, and has been running out of boarding groups in seconds (literally) since it opened. See our Strategy Guide for the TRON Lightcycle Run Virtual Queue for tips & tricks to improve your chances of success. It isn’t as easy or straightforward as you might think!
This photo report concerns a day at Magic Kingdom during Spring 2023, when the park opened to the general public at 9 am, meaning Early Entry began at 8:30 am. I was out the door of our room at All Star Sports by around 7:10 am, which is necessary due to the long commute and unpredictability of transportation. The bus to Magic Kingdom picked me up at 7:20 am and dropped me off at around 7:45 am. My camera bag got flagged for additional screening, delaying the process by about 10 minutes, but I was still on Main Street shortly after 8 am.
It’s a common question, but getting to the parks before Early Entry starts is surprisingly easy. Bus transportation runs well in advance, and most guests simply are not up and out the door before 7:30 am. Monorails and boats are departing every few minutes, and usually are not full at this hour. We’ve found it to be a far more pleasant transportation experience than leaving an hour or two later. My bus from All Star Sports was packed, which is a relatively uncommon experience at that hour. Granted, it was peak season.
Upon reaching the end of Main Street, you’ll see Cast Members with signs direction guests to the right for Early Theme Park Entry. On-site guests head to the right of the East Plaza Garden. There’s a row of Cast Members stationed here to scan MagicBands, MagicMobile, resort room keys, or whatever identification you might have if staying at one of the participating third party hotels.
You can’t access Tomorrowland or Fantasyland until you’ve entered through here. Once you’ve gone through that checkpoint, you’re good to go for the morning. Unlike Extended Evening Hours, MagicBands or room keys are not scanned at each individual attraction.
From there, you proceed on to either the Tomorrowland Bridge or Fantasyland Bridge.
The crowd is always smaller for Tomorrowland. There’s more breathing room here and it’s definitely the more laid back option. By contrast, the Fantasyland Bridge is packed with people. The tables will turn whenever TRON Lightcycle Run switches from using a virtual queue to a standby line.
The mood is also more tense on the Fantasyland side. Guests are revving up their double-wide strollers, preparing to do some serious damage to the ankles of anyone walking too gingerly. The sprint to Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is a high stakes, eat-or-be-eaten game.
Not really, but the atmosphere does feel tense before the crowd starts moving. Once it does, it’s more like a slow trudge in a sea of humanity. No one is doing anything even resembling running. We call it the “SDMT Shuffle.” Ironic that this is for Fantasyland, as it’s a bit nightmarish.
With that said, I was pleasantly surprised by the Fantasyland crowd on this particular morning. Despite this being a busy day, the bridge wasn’t backed up at all when I arrived at 8:10 am.
That’s probably at least in part because it was a foggy, overcast day…which meant nothing in terms of crowds, but everything in terms of my focus. Normally, I’ll run around the Hub and Cinderella Castle to capture empty-park photos of the sunrise or morning light. Aside from a few obligatory photos for illustrative purposes, my camera was mostly in the bag this particular ugly morning. On the plus side, not waiting in the scorching sun was definitely a better way to start the day!
I hate doing the SDMT Shuffle, and always recommend first-timers or infrequent guests skip it. Our Ride Guide for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train covers alternative options that are superior strategies. The SDMT Shuffle is tense and competitive, and can set a bad tone to start the day.
Despite all of this, I was doing the SDMT Shuffle on this particular day, in part to illustrate why it doesn’t work as well as the alternatives. Anyway, the crowd started shuffling shortly after 8:20 am and I was in line for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train before 8:25 am. It’s common for Early Entry to start on-time at Magic Kingdom, and beginning 10 minutes early was likely the result of high crowd levels. Even then, the line for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train didn’t start moving until 8:30 am.
Once in line, I was treated to a good reminder of just how stressful the SDMT Shuffle can be. Two parents near me (not pictured in the photos here) got into a heated argument, each blaming the other for how “bad” they had done to end up “so far” back in line. The thing is, this was a pretty good spot. Unless they had been at the very front of the pack to start, they were wrong. They did just fine.
It’s easy to understand how you could have the impression of poor performance, though. The crowd literally shuffles forward, with people mostly preserving their same place in the crowd…up until the line for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train forms. At that point, it’s a total free-for-all, becoming chaotic and overwhelming.
Some people make the mistake of rushing for the entrance, only to realize that the line is forming outside the attraction and winding back towards the teacups and Storybook Circus. They then chase the end of the line, which keeps getting farther away as others fill into it. This can be even more stressful for stroller drivers, I assume.
Once the line started moving, it was smooth sailing. I was on Seven Dwarfs Mine Train by 8:47 am or so.
This amounted to a ~20 minute wait, which is not bad considering that the posted wait time was about 100 minutes more than that a couple hours later. However, this was still the longest wait I had for Seven Dwarfs Mine Train all week long, and I did the attraction a half-dozen times (never using the Lightning Lane). All things considered, a decent-enough option if Seven Dwarfs Mine Train is a must-do and you have (literally) no better options, or want to do it repeatedly during your trip. Still not my recommended approach.
By the time I made it over to Peter Pan’s Flight, it was around 8:55 am and the posted wait time was already 60 minutes.
These posted wait times are almost never accurate, but it was a busy day (and relatively late into Early Entry), so I wasn’t going to just get in line without doing some legwork.
So I headed over to the side of the attraction to see if the line was spilling out of the interactive indoor queue, and it was.
Between this and that Genie+ guests would soon start showing up at the Lightning Lane return, this was a no-go for me. The posted wait time was probably inflated, but not by that much. Given the Lightning Lane to standby ratios I had experienced over the course of this week, my guess is that this was at least a 45 minute wait. Too long for Peter Pan’s Flight.
Instead, I joined the modest crowd that had gathered for rope drop by Columbia Harbour House. This immediately started moving–a few minutes before 9 am.
If you’re heading to Haunted Mansion (bad idea) or Frontierland, this is a good spot for rope drop. It’s less ideal for Adventureland, but my alternative would’ve been doubling back through the hub to approach from Main Street, and I didn’t have time for that. This would have to suffice.
As Jungle Cruise continues to command long waits, there’s been a definite shift in crowd distribution, with more an increasing number of guests heading towards Adventureland. It’s currently the #4 wait of April 2023 at Magic Kingdom (pretty typical), with an average posted standby time of 69 minutes.
Between that high number and the fact that Frontierland is down a headliner while Splash Mountain is reimagined into Tiana’s Bayou Adventure, thereby pushing a disproportionate number of guests to Big Thunder, starting in Adventureland is the obvious option.
Don’t let that long queue fool you; the line was “stacked” outside the attraction because the interior queue had not yet opened. I saw multiple guests see this line and immediately head elsewhere. That’s a mistake.
I ended up being on Jungle Cruise by 9:20 am, which amounted to a wait of just over 20 minutes. (I don’t remember the precise time I arrived, but the queue opened at ~8:59 am.) I forgot to take a photo, but the Jungle Cruise queue was entirely inside the attraction’s front entrance at this point, despite the line being significantly longer.
My next stop was Frontierland.
The above photo is after I got off the attraction, at which point the posted wait time was 60 minutes. My posted wait time was 20 minutes, and my actual wait time was 25 minutes. That 60 minute posted time was likely accurate given the degree to which the queue was full and Lightning Lane returns. The closure of Splash Mountain has definitely had a big impact on crowds back in this corner. I’d probably recommend most people save Big Thunder until night now (it’s better after dark, anyway).
Pirates of the Caribbean was next up–another 20 minute posted wait time at around 10 am.
On less-crowded days, Pirates would still be a walk-on around this time. Instead, I waited pretty close to 20 minutes for the attraction. If I recall correctly, the posted wait was 45 minutes when I exited.
Waits only continued to build from there, with rope drop quickly transitioning to normal crowds. The 10 am to 11 am hour is a good time to knock out things like meet & greets and minor attractions that can have long waits later, like the TTA PeopleMover (my favorite) or Astro Orbiter (objectively better choice).
All told, here’s what I accomplished between 8:30 am and ~10:30 am via Early Entry and regular rope drop at Magic Kingdom:
- Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
- Jungle Cruise
- Big Thunder Mountain Railroad
- Pirates of the Caribbean
- TTA PeopleMover
Nothing necessarily went wrong here, but I do not consider this a good morning at Magic Kingdom or a satisfying use of my time. Keep in mind that this is not just 2 hours–it’s more like 2 hours and 45 minutes. It’s only appropriate to add the 45 minutes in advance that I arrived (but not the transportation time, as that’d be required regardless) and waited around for Early Entry to start.
The other problem here is that, after doing these 4 headliners, every other high-profile attraction had a posted wait time of at least 45 minutes. Many were significantly higher. As a result, following a standby strategy like our 1-Day Magic Kingdom Itinerary, would’ve been an uphill battle until wait times started subsiding in the evening.
This is why we highly recommend using Genie+ at Magic Kingdom. I know I’ve said this countless times, but it bears reiterating. Magic Kingdom is the best park for Genie+ at Walt Disney World, and it is the worst park for Early Entry and rope drop. If you only purchase Genie+ for one day of your entire trip, it should be at Magic Kingdom. (See Best Time-Saving Strategies at Walt Disney World for the ideal options at each of the 4 parks.)
Buying Genie+ also enables you to have a more laid back start to Early Entry at Magic Kingdom. The reason we have done rope drop and Early Entry so many times is because it’s a great time of day in the park. I love the golden light glistening (well, not on this particular day!) on the spotless handrails and reflecting on the freshly-watered flowers, all while the park is relatively quiet and the weather is more pleasant than it’ll be later in the day.
There’s something to be said for simply being there. Enjoying the beauty of a polished park waking up for the morning is truly special, and downright magical. It’s a fantastic time for family photos set against the backdrop of a nearly-empty park, and the memory you have of those will be far superior to that of doing the SDMT Shuffle!
Ultimately, we still recommend taking advantage of Early Entry at Magic Kingdom. Even though it’s the “worst” park for Early Entry from and objective perspective and is more crowded due to the later starting time, it’s still a great time to enjoy the atmosphere of Magic Kingdom and accomplish a few attractions. So long as you avoid the SDMT Shuffle, it’s a great way to start your day in Walt Disney World’s flagship park.
If you’re skipping Genie+ for whatever reason, Early Entry at Magic Kingdom is downright essential. If you follow savvy strategy in Fantasyland or Tomorrowland and pair that with traditional rope drop for Adventureland and Frontierland, you can have a solid start to your morning at Magic Kingdom. Even with high crowd levels, it is possible to accomplish a decent amount and avoid higher wait times later in the day if you simply start early, pace yourself, and stay late. If you want additional strategy for the starting your day at the other three parks, check out our Guide to Early Theme Park Entry at Walt Disney World.
Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!
Thoughts on Early Entry at Magic Kingdom? Have you experienced this 30 minute jumpstart to the day at Magic Kingdom? What’s your preferred approach to Early Entry and traditional park opening/rope drop at Magic Kingdom? How would you have done things differently? Any other feedback on arriving early to the Walt Disney World theme parks? Agree or disagree with our advice or approach? 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!