Sunday, January 6, 2013

"Magical??" Morning Extra Magic Hours

"But I don't WANT to get up," my daughter Sadie whined as she turned her back to me and snuggled deeper into the covers of her daybed in our room at Disney's Beach Club Resort.  "It's too early.  I'm still tired," she slurred.

I sighed deeply and tried not to become frustrated.  After all, I couldn't completely disagree with her.  It was early--6:00am to be exact.  But we needed to be at the Magic Kingdom by 7:40am to take advantage of Morning Extra Magic Hours.  If we were even 15 minutes late, the benefits of arriving early would be negated by the steady stream of guests pouring into the park.   Besides, we'd rested well the night before.  After a long day of traveling and a quick jaunt over to Epcot's World Showcase, we'd climbed into bed at a very reasonable hour.  Nevertheless, while the other members of our family are early-risers, Sadie places a high value on her rest, and we'd had to wake up exceptionally early two days in a row.  I could tell that this deviation from her normal schedule was beginning to take its toll on her.

Tip Time: Extra Magic Hours are one of the perks granted to guests who are staying at a Disney onsite resort hotel.  Each day, one park opens one hour early (or stays open two hours late) for resort guests only.  Although this seems like a fantastic benefit, I usually recommend that my clients AVOID Extra Magic Hours, especially if they have small children (more on that later in the post). 

Physically lifting my daughter out of bed, I mentally ran through the complicated transportation plan for the morning.  Buses to parks with Morning Extra Magic Hours start running from Disney resorts about 30-45 minutes prior to the commencement of the Extra Magic Hours.  To give us enough time to get through security and pass through the turnstiles, however, I like to leave our resort one hour before park opening, so I'd eliminated the bus system as a transportation option.  That left us with our rental car.  Unfortunately, driving to the Magic Kingdom is a gigantic hassle.  Unlike the other three theme parks at the Walt Disney World Resort, the Magic Kingdom has no onsite parking lot.  Instead, you must park at the Transportation and Ticket Center (TTC) and take a monorail to the Magic Kingdom.  To further complicate matters, monorails do not run from the TTC during Morning Extra Magic Hours.  Our only other option was to park at the TTC and walk about ten minutes to Disney's Polynesian Resort.  The resort monorail system (which starts running at 7:00am daily) stops at both the Polynesian and the Magic Kingdom; if we arrived at the Polynesian by 7:15am, we could get to the Magic Kingdom by 7:30am, giving us plenty of time to get through security and the turnstiles.  For this plan to be successful, however, we needed to leave our hotel room by 6:30am.

So, instead of sleeping in a little, strolling down to the lobby of our resort, and hopping on a bus that would have dropped us off right at the entrance of the Magic Kingdom, we dragged ourselves out of bed at the crack of dawn and embarked on my convoluted plan.  Groggy and travel-weary from an 80 minute trip from our resort to the park, we arrived at the Magic Kingdom approximately five whole minutes before the bus from our resort pulled up.      

Tip Time: Take the bus.  Seriously, just take the bus. 

Let the Memories Begin--Again!!
Once we passed through security and walked through the front gates, however, our weariness melted away.  As soon as Jack and Sadie laid eyes on the train station that graces the entrance to the Magic Kingdom, they transformed from half-asleep zombies to little jumping beans, full of unbridled energy.  As the welcome show came to a close, the tune of "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah" filling the morning air, the kids were nearly bursting with anticipation!  When the park finally opened, Jack and Sadie rushed through the tunnel under the train station, craning their necks to get their first glimpse of Cinderella Castle again.  We rounded the corner to the front of Main Street, and there it was!  The Castle!

As we strolled toward Fantasyland, ready to put a new set of touring plans into action, it dawned on me that I'd lost track of my mother.  I nervously turned around and was relieved to see her about one hundred feet behind me.  Completely lost in the magical details of Main Street and awed by the beauty of the towering Cinderella Castle, she'd stopped dead in her tracks.  Suddenly, I remembered that she was experiencing all of this for the very first time.  And we needed to slow down and let her enjoy it.    

Tip Time: A good touring plan is crucial to a successful Disney trip.  It's important to remember, however, that touring plans should not be schedules; they are simply a list of "must-see" attractions, arranged in a logical order that will help you "stay ahead of the crowds" on your vacation.  Certain attractions at Disney World quickly build long lines.  Experiencing these attractions first (and effectively utilizing Disney's FastPass system) will allow you to spend less time waiting in line and more time making memories (which is the whole purpose of a Disney vacation).  Some Disney travel professionals (like me) specialize in designing personalized touring plans for their clients.

In line for our first ride at the Magic Kingdom
After stopping for a few moments to take in our surroundings, we continued on to our first attraction.  The first few hours of our morning were absolutely wonderful.  Once again, my touring plans worked beautifully, allowing us to enjoy more attractions in the first hour of our day than we would have been able to experience in an entire afternoon.  By late morning, however, I noticed that the our moods had definitely deflated.  There were two key reasons for this.  First, we were completely exhausted.  To truly take advantage of Morning Extra Magic Hours, we'd had to wake up extraordinarily early.  By noon, we'd already been awake for six hours, and we were starting to crash.  Second, Morning Extra Magic Hours definitely draw crowds.  While the first few hours of any day (extra magic hours or not) are the least crowded, when people see any sort of special event, they are drawn to it.  Therefore, more resort guests tend to visit parks with Extra Magic Hours, even if they do not arrive early enough in the morning (or stay late enough in the evening) to take advantage of the perk.

Tip Time: While it is not always possible, I usually advise my clients to avoid parks with Extra Magic Hours, if they can.  When a park has Morning Extra Magic Hours, crowds will build more rapidly than normal in the mid-to-late morning, negating the benefit of the extra hour.  Furthermore, you'll be so tired from getting up so early that you are less likely to truly enjoy yourself.  When a park has Evening Extra Magic Hours, larger-than-normal crowds start to build in the mid-to-late afternoon.  In addition, most children cannot stay up late enough to take advantage of the additional park hours in the evening.  While Evening Extra Magic Hours can be fun for families with older children (or guests with no children at all), I recommend against them in most cases.  

Soon after lunch, we accepted the fact that we could simply not go on, and we decided to return to our hotel for a rest.  We'd had a truly magical morning.  Even though the park was crowded, we'd been able to "stay ahead of the crowds" with my touring plans, and we'd visited every attraction on our "wish list"!  Besides, we were going to need a solid afternoon rest: we had another exciting evening planned at Epcot's World Showcase!

Meredith McCutcheon
Ginger's Getaways: Rochester Hills, MI
Personalized Disney Itineraries and Touring Plans
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