If you visit the official website, you will see that, naturally, Disney Parks guests are presented with a number of perks designed to persuade them to spend their vacation dollars on-site by booking their stay at a Disney resort. One of these resort-guests-only perks is Extra Magic Hours at Walt Disney World resort hotels and Magic Morning Early Entry at the Disneyland resort hotels.
These are touted as a major perk of staying on-site: “extended theme park hours that give you additional time in select Disney Parks with valid theme park admission.” So, essentially, you’re getting more “bang” for your theme-park-admission buck.
Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Wrong!
For guests with special needs, the correct answer is: It depends!
Let me tell you how my family started out as EMH users and eventually converted to EMH avoiders.
I used to be a big believer in EMH, especially years ago when, like Disneyland, the perk was limited to early admission to a different park each day. Our children were small, so we knew we were planning to hit each park early and then head back to our resort after lunch so the kids could nap. Then, in the evening, we would hop to a non-EMH park for dinner and the nighttime fireworks or entertainment.
This plan worked well for us because of the simple fact that most guests – especially as their vacation progresses – find it difficult to get up early and make it to the park at rope-drop. So if, say, the EMH Park for the day was the Magic Kingdom, we would arrive at 8am and pretty much have enjoyed all of Fantasyland at a leisurely pace by nine. Interestingly enough, guests would still be arriving just before what would have been the “regular” opening time and after! By lunchtime, there was a noticeable increase in the crowd level but – no matter! After lunch we were out of there!
That worked well for several years until…
The Extra Magic Hours schedule changed! No longer did the parks taking turns opening one hour early. Now there was this mish-mosh of one park opening an hour early one day, and the following day another park would stay open three hours later. Well, naturally the evening EMHs worked well for folks who like to sleep in, but we found that the benefit of the additional hours was cancelled out by the huge increase in the crowd level. (Evening Extra Magic Hours are understandably popular!)
Also, staying out late the night before, added to the fact that our children had aged-out of afternoon naps, often made it difficult to get everyone up and out the door for rope-drop the following morning. Soon we discovered that we had better luck avoiding the early EMH parks! To me, it just wasn’t worth getting stressed out first thing in the morning because it can often set the mood for the entire day.
So, here is where the controversy comes in: are Extra Magic Hours parks always the place to head when you want to get the most for your Disney dollar? The answer is really a both a yes and a no.
If you’re traveling with young kids with special needs I’d say, yes. Definitely hit the early morning Extra Magic Hours Park, but plan to high-tail it out of there after lunch and take that nap! If you have teens then perhaps you can entice them to getting up each morning by promising a “sleep-in” morning somewhere in the middle of the trip, followed by a visit to the park with evening EMHs.
For our family, it is important to avoid crowds because of my son’s sensory issues related to his autism. We find that “reverse psychology” works best. Most resort guests will instinctively head for the Extra Magic Hours Park, so that is the one we avoid.
As with most things in Life, there isn’t one clear-cut solution to fit everyone’s needs. So I say, play with it. Do some experimentation of your own and find out what works best for you and your travel party!