On-Property Update: Farewell Magical Express and Extra Magic Hours
On January 11th, Walt Disney World (WDW) announced that they would be doing away with Magical Express at the end of 2021 and permanently stopping Extra Magic Hours (EMH) in favor of Early Theme Park Entry. This isn’t a huge surprise as Magical Express had been operating on a limited basis, with no baggage handling services. Additionally, the resort had not been doing EMH since reopening in July. However, it is unfortunate to see these two great perks of staying on property go away.
But don’t despair - this isn’t all bad news! The addition of the Early Theme Park Entry may make it an even greater imperative to stay on property. Or even at one of the good neighbor hotels with similar perks. Let’s break it down.
The End of Magical Express
Magical Express is the free WDW resort bus service that provides transportation to and from Orlando International Airport. In the past, the biggest benefit has been that, upon arrival, Magical Express would pick up your baggage directly from the airport and deliver it to your room. On your return to the airport, it would be checked with the airline from the Disney resort when you were leaving. This benefit has not been offered since reopening and was likely not going to return anytime soon.
Without the baggage services, the current biggest benefit of Magical Express is that it is free and offers a safe and easy transportation option for large families, especially those with children who would require a car seat or booster seat. Without Magical Express, families will have to hire a ride share service that has the safety seats in order to get to their hotel from the airport. This is definitely not ideal, and we would expect WDW to add their own paid options over the coming year to serve this market, potentially by bring back and expanding their MinnieVan service.
With Magical Express still being in place until the end of the year, we’d recommend taking advantage of this free service during any adventure you may have planned for this year. While they won’t be taking care of your bags this year, it is still a fun way to start the WDW magic right when you land at the airport, as well as to keep it going as you wind down your trip.
Extra Magic Hours (EMH) vs Early Park Entry
EMH were opportunities for guests staying on WDW property or at a few other local resorts to enter the park early or stay late. Generally, there had been one park per day that would have an hour of EMH in the morning and another park with two hours of EMH in the evening. Our general guidance was to try to go to the park with the EMH if you intended to use them by getting there early or staying late. If not, we guided guests to opt for a different park.
With the new perk that WDW is rolling out of Early Park Entry, the strategy here actually changes quite significantly. This perk is going to allow for Disney resort guests to enter ANY park 30 minutes early every day, meaning that every park will now have guests arriving early. What are the pros and cons of this new system?
More Flexibility: The biggest positive here is that WDW resort guests will now have more flexibility in where they want to visit in the morning each day. With the option of having all parks with Early Park Entry, you will no longer have to consider which park was opening early that day and can make your park decision based on factors more important to you.
Less Crowded than Before: The early hours will likely be less crowded than before, as people will be spread out across four parks instead of one. So, while you will only have 30 minutes, instead of the hour before, there will be considerably fewer guests there. In parks like Magic Kingdom or Hollywood Studios, where the big rides are close to each other, this could mean quick access to multiple rides back to back to back.
No more rope drop for off-site guests: If you are not going to stay on property you will not be able to do rope drop - ever. If this is important to you, then we would highly recommend staying on property. We will note here, that rope drop is no longer what it used to be as WDW is no longer holding guests back at certain areas of the park due to social distancing regulations. Instead they are holding guests back at the parking gates and transportation sites.
Only 30 minutes, instead of a full hour: The 30 minutes of additional time is definitely not as valuable as the full hour that was provided before. For example, if you choose to start the day with a longer ride or rides with multiple pre-shows, like Flight of Passage in Animal Kingdom, Test Track in EPCOT, or Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run in Hollywood Studios you may only have time for one, maybe two rides before the rest of the guests are allowed to enter. We would still recommend targeting most of these rides first. However, the value of the additional time is just not as valuable as before, where you could often ride up to 4 rides before official park opening.
No more evening hours: The elimination of EMH is not just about the morning. The evening EMH were very popular and often busier than their morning counterpart. These extra few hours were a great time to enjoy the parks at night. This is definitely a huge loss for many guests. We expect Disney to expand their very popular ticketed events, such as Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party, Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, with new events at parks like EPCOT or Hollywood Studios, where they have not been used in the past in order to recoup lost revenue from 2020.
There are still quite a few unknowns with the Early Park Entry system. Currently, the parks are opening 30-40 minutes early. Would Early Park Entry then mean that the park would open an hour before it’s scheduled opening? Or will cast members start holding back off-site guests - which would have implications for social distancing? Obviously, there is still a lot to figure out here! Whatever plan WDW comes up with will impact how best to leverage the new perk.
While some of the benefits for staying on site are decreasing, we feel that the need to stay on site is more essential now. Especially for those of you that want to get the most out of your time in the parks. If price is an issue, there are several good neighbor hotels that offered the EMH perk in the past and we would assume they would offer the Early Park Entry in the future. Check out a few of our favorite options for both on-property and good neighbor hotels here.