REVIEW: Is “Epcot After Hours” The Best Way to Experience Epcot?

On a recent trip to Orlando for a conference, I had an “open” night which happened to line up with a date for an “Epcot After Hours” event. Having not visited the park since pre-COVID in February of 2020 – which also meant pre-Ratatouille and pre-Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind – along with a “time crunch” thanks to the aforementioned conference, I felt that Epcot After Hours would be the perfect way to experience one of my favorite Disney theme parks for the first time in a while.

Having experienced “After Hours” at Magic Kingdom twice in the past – for the first time in 2019, and again during that February 2020 visit – I was excited to try a different park’s After Hours offerings for the first time, especially given the relative “success” I had deemed my first two experiences.

While everyone’s definition of the “ideal” theme park experience may be slightly different, I’m going to run down some of the details that made my visit to Epcot After Hours worth every minute as well as the price tag.

What Is “After Hours?”

In recent years, Walt Disney World has rolled out “After Hours” events at all four of their theme parks (and Typhoon Lagoon!), which take place on select nights throughout the year. With the promise of park guests getting to “experience an evening of magic and thrills—with lower wait times on some popular attractions” for three hours after park close, the After Hours events have become one of my favorite ways to experience Walt Disney World — albeit coming with a Disney-level price tag.

Depending on the date and park you’re visiting, you’re likely looking at an approximately $160 plus tax price tag per ticket for the three-hour “After Hours” Event. (Our ticket price for Epcot After Hours was $159 plus tax). Without checking too much of the math on variable ticket pricing by the day, it’s essentially the same price or a little higher for “After Hours” as it is a one-day, date-based park ticket. That said, included in the price are unlimited soft drinks, popcorn, and select ice cream novelties from open stands throughout the park – not a full meal by any means, but enough to keep you fueled throughout the night.

You might be thinking to yourself, “why would I pay for just three hours when I could pay the same price for an entire day?” It’s definitely a valid question, but in reality, you actually get way more than just the advertised three hours if you can budget your time correctly — keep reading!. You might also be thinking, “I’ve been to Extra Magic Hours at Walt Disney World before, isn’t this the same thing?” – and to give you a simple answer, it’s not. Epcot After Hours is a limited admission ticketed event, not the “free-for-all” for all resort guests formerly known as Extra Magic Hours.

While the entire park doesn’t remain open throughout the event, at Epcot After Hours, guests have the opportunity to experience the following attractions:

  • Frozen Ever After
  • Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros
  • Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind
  • Living with the Land
  • Journey Into Imagination
  • Mission: SPACE
  • Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure
  • The Seas with Nemo & Friends
  • Soarin’
  • Spaceship Earth
  • Test Track

So, if you’re buying an After Hours ticket, note that you won’t be able to marathon the Circlevision film in Canada or the Pixar Short Film Festival. We know that you’re as upset as we were when finding this out – you’re not. Moving on.

Epcot After Hours

Our visit to Epcot after hours was on Thursday night, March 28 – right in the middle of peak Spring Break season at Walt Disney World. Boarding groups and Individual Lightning Lanes for attractions were gone during the day in a matter of minutes, and checking wait times throughout the day, many of Epcot’s signature attractions – Test Track, Frozen Ever After, Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, Mission: Space, and Soarin among them – boasted hour-plus long wait times during daytime park operation.

Holding a ticket for Epcot After Hours meant I could enter the park at 7:00pm, two hours ahead of the advertised 9:00pm park close for daytime guests. After Hours was advertised as starting at 10:00pm, and concluding at 1:00am. Staying on-property at the Walt Disney World Dolphin for my conference, I took the short walk to Epcot’s International Gateway and arrived at about 6:30pm. While I’m not sure if this is standard operating procedure, they began letting guests in about 6:45pm. After they scanned my ticket, I was given a wristband that would be my identifier to enter queues for the After Hours event.

With two hours and fifteen minutes before advertised park close, I took immediate aim at some attractions that I wouldn’t have to wait in long lines for – Journey into Imagination, the Pixar Short Film Festival, Living with the Land, and The Seas with Nemo Friends. As it was nearing park close, and given their relative popularity compared to other Epcot attractions, these attractions had short waits, which would continue throughout the Epcot After Hours event.

It was nice to be able to take on that side of Epcot at a leisurely pace before normal park close, knowing that if I was able to get those attractions out of the way before park close, I wouldn’t need to ride them again. (Though, I will say, getting to ride Living with the Land during “golden hour” with only two other parties in the boats, was a fantastic ride experience.) Checking off the Imagination Pavilion and entirety of the World Nature neighborhood save for Soarin’ (including a walk through of Journey of Water) by about 8:30, I took my time and found a spot by the Odyssey Pavilion to watch Epcot’s new-to-me nighttime spectacular, Luminous: The Symphony of Us. (Quick review: I loved Illuminations, I never saw HarmonioUS, and I think Luminous is continued proof that no one does nighttime fireworks shows quite like Disney. Highly recommend!)

As the fireworks ended, I made a bee-line to the Wonders of Xandar pavilion to ride Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind. Even though After Hours was advertised as starting at 10:00pm, they began admitting guests with wristbands immediately after the 9:00pm park close. Typically inaccessible to day guests without a boarding group or individual lightning lanes, the standby queue for Guardians was open throughout the night, meaning not only could anyone at the event ride, they could ride it multiple times if they so chose. (Spoiler alert: I rode back to back, and had ridden the coaster twice, complete with multiple pre-shows, in about 40 minutes. My songs were “I Ran” by Flock of Seagulls and “September” by Earth Wind and Fire. More on Guardians coming to soon!)

Following my rides on Guardians, I headed to Test Track. Even with multiple trips to Walt Disney World since Test Track’s current generation debuted in 2012, it was my first ever time utilizing the full stand-by line and vehicle design process rather than the single-rider line or Fastpass/FP+/Lightning Lane queue.

Designing a vehicle was fun, even if my MagicBand didn’t sync to our ride vehicle as it was supposed to. Excited to see what Test Track becomes in its next generation when it closes for a refurbishment later this year!

Mission: Space would have been the next logical choice, and only featured about a 10 minute wait compared to the 80 minute standby line I’d seen throughout the day. I’m also not a big Mission: Space fan, so I passed on it, grabbed a complimentary strawberry popsicle and Diet Coke and headed back toward Guardians again (only to find it was temporarily down) and rerouted to Spaceship Earth, passing through the Epcot After Hours Dance Party emanating from World Discovery.

Playing a mix of family-friendly pop hits along with some Disney twists (Does anyone know the DJ in the above photo? He played Disney Mambo No. 5 and the Tiki Room Macarena from Disneymania CDs I had in elementary school, and I’m a huge fan of the earworms and core memories he unlocked.) – the music was piped across the park and could be heard as far away as the entrance of the Land pavilion. Chip & Dale were also dancing throughout the night with Epcot After Hours guests.

wait time board at Epcot After Hours

Spaceship Earth was down when I tried to ride it, but I likely could have walked right in – the waits were all advertised around 20 minutes or less throughout the park, so I headed to Soarin’ where I had my longest wait of the night – about 15 minutes as we waited for a theater. By this time, I had experienced every ride in the former Future World that I had wanted to (and was taking my time walking through Epcot and soaking in the energy of the park.) After a brief rest stop with another Diet Coke to watch college basketball on my phone, it was the middle of March Madness, I walked toward World Showcase.

Knowing the early morning wake-up call I had ahead of me for the second day of the conference, I skipped the “left side” rides of World Showcase – Frozen Ever After and Rio Del Tiempo Gran Fiesta Tour – rides I’d experienced multiple times in the past, in favor of a final new-to-me attraction at Epcot After Hours, Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure – another “walk-on” wait to end the night. I left the park around 12:30am, and made it back to the Dolphin just before 1:00am, the advertised closure of the event.

Attractions Experienced In ~6.5 Hours during Epcot After Hours

  • Journey into Imagination
  • Pixar Short Film Festival
  • Living with the Land
  • The Seas with Nemo & Friends
  • Journey of Water Inspired by Moana
  • Club Cool
  • Luminous
  • Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind
  • Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind Again
  • Test Track
  • Soarin’
  • Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure

Despite Epcot After Hours being a “sold out” event during my visit, I’m extremely confident that if I had wanted to ride every ride, or put my mind to an actual plan rather than aimlessly wandering around the park, I could have easily ridden every ride in Epcot at least once, along with Guardians of the Galaxy at least twice, between 7:00pm-1:00am during Epcot After Hours. To me, that makes the steep price tag extremely worth it, because with Spring Break crowds, I would have done way more waiting than riding during a daytime visit.

Who is Epcot After Hours For?

Like I previously mentioned, I realize that the idea of Epcot After Hours isn’t for everyone. Here’s who I would recommend to purchase tickets for the event (some combination of the below list, reality.)

Solo Travelers

This trip, I was a solo traveler, which meant I was buying just one ticket for Epcot After Hours, and the price tag of $160/each can quickly get out of hand when more friends or family members are added to the equation. But, because I was by myself, I could ride what I wanted, when I wanted, and in the order I wanted to ride.

Those On A Time Crunch/Those Who Want to Maximize Every Minute of a Disney Vacation

If you’re like me, your trips to Disney aren’t as frequent as you’d prefer them to be for any number of reasons. Living in North Carolina, I’d love to get to Disney more than once every few years, but it’s not always in the cards. When I do, it’s often a quick trip (definitely less than time for a full day at each Disney Park), and I have to cram as much park time into the trip as possible. During this trip, I was in Orlando for less than 60 hours, and had a full day and a half of a conference during that time, but wasn’t coming to Orlando and not visiting at least one theme park.

With After Hours, you’re able to maximize your park time while minimizing your wait times. If you’re like me, and need to cram as much Disney into a vacation as possible, perhaps sacrificing a bit sleep in the process, Epcot After Hours is a great way to accomplish that.

People Who Want to Ride Guardians of the Galaxy

At our core, we’re a roller coaster website, and it’s definitely plausible to say that Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind is one of the best roller coasters, if not the best roller coaster at any Disney park anywhere in the world. But, at least in the near future, if you want to ride it, you have to play the Boarding Group lottery at 7:00am and/or 1:00pm to maybe ride it just once during the day. If you want to ride it twice, you have to get lucky on one of those boarding group processes AND pay ~$20 for an Individual Lightning Lane. You’re not riding it three times during normal daytime operation.

But, if you’re trying to check every song off of your Guardians of the Galaxy playlist in one day, the best way to try and do that is at Epcot After Hours.

People Who Want the VIP Experience without the VIP Tour Price Tag

If money is no option, but you don’t want to spring for the VIP Tour at a Disney Park, Epcot After Hours is a fantastic way to get the “no waiting in lines” experience without dropping a minimum of $450/hour for a minimum of 7 consecutive hours that comes with the VIP Tour offerings.

Epcot After Hours takes place on select Thursday nights in 2024 through July 18, and tickets start at $149. Discounts of about $30 are available for Walt Disney World Passholders and Disney Vacation Club Members. For more information, be sure to visit the Walt Disney World Website.