Best Walt Disney World Rides after Dark
I’m unusual in a lot of ways, but one quirk that distinguishes me the most is that I’m a night owl. I’m nocturnal to the point that I do more work after 10 PM than most freelancers do in a day. At night, I’m just getting warmed up, and that behavior translates at Disney.
Nothing makes me happier than exploring the parks when they’re illuminated with the gentle glow of artificial lighting. Some attractions were meant for this sort of evening color. Here are my favorite Disney attractions after dark.
Alien Swirling Saucers
Toy Story Land signifies one of the most significant recent triumphs of Imagineering. Sure, some critics will contend that the lack of shading and seating remains a problem. Others will argue that only Slinky Dog Dash lives up to the hype.
I think all of that is poppycock. I wholeheartedly embrace Alien Swirling Saucers for the childlike whimsy of the ride experience. And I prefer taking a spin swirl at night. Toy Story Land comes alive in the evenings when its rainbow color scheme lights up the dark. It’s gorgeous to behold from a distance and that much better during the ride itself.
You’ll never catch me on this ride during the middle of the day. The lines are always too long, and cast members insist that I ride with someone else in my spacecraft. At my height, that’s not a comfortable experience.
At night, Magic Kingdom crowds disperse, at least some. Usually, it’s enough that I can get a seat to myself, allowing me to stretch out and relish not just the ride but also the view.
At Astro Orbiter’s height, a lot of Magic Kingdom is visible, along with Bay Lake and Disney’s Contemporary Resort. It’s a panoramic perspective that never fails to take my breath away.
The most memorable moment on this roller coaster occurs when you exit daylight and get thrust into the darkness. For this reason, you might expect Expedition Everest to lose something at night. After all, you don’t have the safety of daylight at any point.
Give Imagineers lots of credit here. They recognize that perception and play against it with the nighttime features. A backlit canvas centers the last wall you see before you go outside. The exterior lighting is genteel enough that it soothes you into a sleepy state. And while you take at the entirety of Walt Disney World through broken train tracks, you realize that you’ve been set up.
The evening version of Expedition Everest has distracted you with its visuals, lulling you into a false sense of security. Somehow, the descent into darkness seems so much more terrifying at night.
I’m a sucker for any outdoor boat ride that takes place at night. That philosophy extends beyond the Disney Bubble, but it applies inside the parks, too.
When I board Jungle Cruise, I expect a series of horrible puns that make Dad Jokes seem cutting edge by comparison. By this point, I know the script by heart. In fact, I appreciate when a Skipper boldly ad-libs, because that livens up an otherwise predictable adventure. I love the jokes anyway in the same way that I enjoy reruns of my favorite television episodes, but different is better.
Any time that I ride Jungle Cruise at night, it feels off – and I mean off in a good way. The nighttime vibe relaxes me so much that I focus more on the little details. I notice more detail in the lovingly crafted sets. I admire how so many of them appear different with less light. And the sequences that take place inside enclosed spaces seem soooo much darker.
Somehow, Jungle Cruise after dark livens up the concept, no small feat for a ride that started in 1955.
I’ve said many times that I believe Expedition Everest represents the heart and soul of Disney’s Animal Kingdom. The “theme park” doubles as a permanent zoo, although this idea would be only theoretical without a bit of exploration. You’d never know just how many animals roam the grounds without taking an RV ride through the park.
For the body of 20 years, Kilimanjaro Safaris amazed guests with its tour of many man-made artificial habitats. Then, Disney boldly chose to plus the attraction in an unexpected fashion.
Park officials finally extended the operating hours of Animal Kingdom, allowing Kilimanjaro Safaris to provide tours after dark. Now, the nocturnal creatures have become a part of the proceedings, as well. And I like them even better.
Seven Dwarfs Mine Train
Some of my most treasured recent moments at Walt Disney World have occurred in and around Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. Disney’s latest man-made mountain adventure at Magic Kingdom impresses me at all times of the day. At night, it’s even better.
During an evening ride, guests get spun around the tracks in a jovial but dizzying fashion. At some points, you’ll notice Cinderella Castle, but it’s not the only regal structure in sight. The mountain from Be Our Guest is visible, too. In fact, you’ll have your pick of several different Magic Kingdom weenies to watch as you circular the tracks.
When you’re exceptionally lucky, you can ride Seven Dwarfs Mine Train in the middle of a performance of Happily Ever After. You’ll get to watch the fireworks presentation in a singularly unique way. When you don’t time it right, I still have a tip for you. The area close to the ride exit doubles as a phenomenal place to watch the fireworks. You won’t get to look at the castle projections, of course, but this spot is perfect for the fiery explosions in the sky.
I’m a devout believer that Splash Mountain is a ride that you should save until you’re ready for a break. Whether you’re about to eat a meal or leave the park, you’re perfectly positioned to experience a wet ride. You can dry your clothes and fix your hair during the downtime that follows.
I would never ride Splash Mountain at the start of my park day, as I’d have that gross sensation of soggy socks for hours afterward. But I love splashing down after dark. The lines are shorter, allowing me to pick the time that best fits my evening itinerary.
Best of all, the indoor/outdoor combination of the ride allows me to admire the Magic Kingdom scenery in between the animal scenes. It’s an intoxicating mix of a fantasy Disney realm with the real world after dark.
What I just said about Splash Mountain goes double for Test Track. As everyone knows, the big finish on this hybrid attraction takes place outdoors. For most of the journey, you’re on a combination dark/thrill ride that takes place in the blackness of a safety testing facility. Your vehicle slides around uncontrollably to prove that it’s road-worthy.
The “reward” for passing these tests is that brief real-world adventure. Throughout the day, you experience a blinding light when the doors open. In the evenings, Test Track behaves differently.
That first moment isn’t as spectacular, but the journey around the exterior track includes some of the most impressive sights at Epcot. You may catch a glimpse of the Epcot ball or maybe even the nightly fireworks if you time it correctly.
Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover
While I made this list alphabetically, I’ve still saved the best for last. Who here hasn’t ended their Magic Kingdom visit with a journey on the PeopleMover? It’s a timeless tradition in my family and, I strongly suspect, many others like ours.
At night, the PeopleMover allows weary travelers to rest for a while. Simultaneously, it gives us a stunning view of Tomorrowland’s brightest signs. Plus, it shows the unforgettable Progress City model followed by several quick glances at Cinderella Castle.
In truth, the PeopleMover might offer a better view of Happily Ever After’s fireworks than Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. You can’t go wrong with either one!