Earlier this week, Disney announced that it will be ending Magical Express at the end of 2021 and that Extra Magic Hours will be replaced with “Early Theme Park” Entry. Both are pretty substantial changes to Disney’s offerings, though I think the Early Theme Park Entry for onsite guests will probably have a more significant impact on Elyssa and me.
Before I dig into Early Theme Park Entry, a few quick thoughts about Magical Express. Ultimately, Magical Express was not for me. I did use the service a couple of times for very short (about 48 hour) trips, however. I appreciated the convenience of not having to worry about my transportation but found some of its details frustrating. I disliked the amount of time it took for me to arrive at my resort (which was never the first stop), or that I had to be back at my resort 3 hours before my flight to catch the return bus (instead of leaving directly from a park, Disney Springs, etc…) That said, for the trips I used, it made sense. I was traveling solo while Elyssa was working photography jobs, and my biggest concerns were minimizing some expenses on the trip and was making sure I made my flight. (For the various issue I had with Magical Express, I did have confidence that if I made my bus, Disney would do whatever was necessary to get me home, even if there was an issue with the bus or something else unforeseen.) On trips where I wanted to maximize my time in the parks, however, I would simply rent a car. That allowed me to get from the airport to my destination (hotel, Disney Springs, or park) much faster. For example, one time, Elyssa and I were flying down to go to After Hours at the Magic Kingdom, and our flight was severely delayed. In our rental car, we could drive straight to the Magic Kingdom, and we ended up getting to the Magic Kingdom just as the event was starting. If we had been taking Magical Express, that would have been impossible (setting aside some kind of “hacks” like taking a bus to the Floridian, etc… which may or may not have worked.) There are negatives to car rentals, though, especially now that Disney charges parking. People are going to have some decisions to make regarding car rentals v ride-share v other options in getting from MCO to Disney World, and they all have cost/convenience trade-offs that might not align with people’s values as much as Magical Express. I am bummed for those people.
On the other hand, replacing Extra Magic Hours with Early Park Entry has the potential to have a significant impact on our touring, especially for trips where we stay off-site. For example, a typical day for us might start with some Tonga Toast at 7:30 am before heading over to the Magic Kingdom for a 9:00 am opening. We would probably arrive at the tapstiles around 8:30-8:40 am, stroll down Main Street, and then post up around the entrance to Adventureland to watch the Welcome Show. After Mickey opened the park, we would then head over to catch one of the first boats for the Jungle Cruise. Now, with Early Park Entry, if we are offsite guests, all onsite guests would have a 30-minute head start of getting into the park. This change has the potential to eliminate quick rope drop rides on things like Jungle Cruise, Flight of Passage, or Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway if you’re staying offsite. On a recent Disney Dish episode, Len Testa estimated that this 30-minute delay to getting into the park would result in at least an extra 1 hour of waiting. We’ll have to see how things play out, but I imagine he’s not that far off, and that is a major bummer for us. (It will also be a bummer if there is no general extension of park hours later into the night, as we will definitely miss those 1am nights in the Magic Kingdom.)
It seems likely that Early Park Entry will increase the importance of Fastpass+ (if that comes back, or whatever it is replaced with) for offsite guests looking to avoid long waits and it might end up otherwise changing our touring strategy. For example, if we know we cannot get in at rope drop at Animal Kingdom since we are staying offsite, maybe we plan to have a later breakfast at Ale & Compass and then head into Epcot for the AM / early PM before heading over to Animal Kingdom at night, including trying to get in line for Flight of Passage right about park close. Again, these things will have to be evaluated once the new procedures go into effect, but it seems likely that Elyssa and I will have even more of an incentive to stay onsite as a result of this change. In the end, I guess that is exactly what Disney wants.