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Disney vacation strategy, the stuff of lengthy spreadsheets, can turn you into a king (or queen). Plan everything right and you’ve got happy kids. You’re the hero parent. Make one misstep and you’ll pay the price. Disney World rarely sees a slow day and requires planning as far as six months in advance just to book some of its most popular restaurants.

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If you’re short on planning or just prefer not to wait in lines, Disney World offers a number of special tickets that give you access to the most popular rides at times when the lines are short or nonexistent. These ticket options can put a hurt on your wallet but may be worth the bucks.

I wasn’t the first TPG crew member to give one of these events a try. Mommy Points has done Early Morning Magic at Magic Kingdom and more recently at Hollywood Studios. She’s a huge proponent of paying for early access. Meanwhile, fellow family traveler Richard Kerr scrambled his eggs a bit during his early-morning visit.

Instead of a daytime experience, our family tried Disney After Hours. Our tickets got us exactly what it sounds like: after-hours access to Disney World. In our case, our Disney World After Hours experience was at Hollywood Studios.

Disney After Hours at Disney’s Hollywood Studios is a “hard ticket event.” That means that even if you’re in Hollywood Studios on an After Hours day, if you don’t have an After Hours ticket, you must leave the park early.

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How much does Disney After Hours cost?

At Hollywood Studios, an After Hours ticket is $125 per person, plus tax, if you buy ahead of time. If a particular evening isn’t sold out, you can purchase a ticket at the park for $129 per person. For a family of four, that means an investment of more than $500 for up to four hours of park fun.

Our family experienced slightly less wallet pain using our Annual Passholder discount to drop the price to $95 per ticket. I’ll admit that $400 is still a steep price to pay, but was it worth it for our family? Read on.

Magic at night?

We arrived at 7 p.m. for our evening of After Hours magic. There were plenty of folks leaving the park, but there was also a steady stream of people making their way in. The lines for security and entry were short enough. We were inside the park a few minutes after 7 p.m.

The event doesn’t technically start until 8 p.m., but you can get in early and sneak in a few rides or some shopping prior to the time when the park should start to empty out.

(Photo by Ed Pizzarello / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Ed Pizzarello / The Points Guy)

The next step was to walk partway down Hollywood Boulevard and stand in line for a special armband. We expected this step from other reviews and from Mommy Points’ experience with Early Morning Magic. This process took about 10 minutes, after which we made our way to Toy Story Land. Woody beckoned us from the dark, inviting us into his toy box.

I’m sure there are folks who have other reasons to purchase a Disney After Hours ticket, but the vast majority are there for Slinky Dog Dash the coolest new kids’ roller coaster. I rode Slinky Dog when I did my crazy fundraiser for Give Kids the World the previous year and it was awesome. I couldn’t wait for my family to experience it. The everyday lines usually last three hours, so we were looking forward to something much shorter. We envisioned, at most, a 15-minute wait, and hoped for no line based on other reviews we had read.

(Photo by Ed Pizzarello / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Ed Pizzarello / The Points Guy)

The time was 7:20 p.m. and the line for Slinky Dog Dash was more than 80 minutes long. My wife asked me a great question: Were we going to have to wait for all of the people in the standby line in order to get our opportunity to ride Slinky Dog? I honestly didn’t know the answer, but I was confident Disney would just route people with wristbands over to the empty FastPass line and weave us in with the standby line. That’s what would make the most sense, right? Right? That was most definitely not what they did.

Instead, we were instructed to line up in the standby line. That sounded like a pretty bad proposition, given that we only had three hours. We decided that we’d rather ride Toy Story Midway Mania and see what Slinky Dog looked like after that. The line for Midway Mania was listed at 10 minutes but by the time we made our way through the empty queue, we walked right on.

(Photo by Ed Pizzarello / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Ed Pizzarello / The Points Guy)

Midway Mania is one of my favorite rides. Unfortunately, the ride malfunctioned during the final scoring scene. I still retained my title as high scorer in the family but it wasn’t a record-setting score. Still, we all had fun and were ready for Slinky Dog. We headed there to find the posted wait time had dropped to 25 minutes. We asked a few folks who had just gotten off and they told us they had waited more than 30 minutes. Once again, Slinky Dog would have to wait.

(Photo by Ed Pizzarello / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Ed Pizzarello / The Points Guy)

We decided to ride Alien Swirling Saucers, the other new ride in Toy Story Land. As at Midway Mania, there was no line. I’d ridden Swirling Saucers before as well. It was fine, but nothing I needed to ride again. I decided to take pictures of the family while they spun around in their saucers.

(Photo by Ed Pizzarello / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Ed Pizzarello / The Points Guy)

The time was 8:30 p.m. and the line for Slinky Dog was stubbornly hanging at 25 minutes. While we fretted about the line, we were saluted by the green army men.

(Photo by Ed Pizzarello / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Ed Pizzarello / The Points Guy)

At this point, it was almost 8:45 p.m. We had read that families got free snacks during After Hours, including popcorn and ice cream bars. As it turns out, the park doesn’t keep that many food stands open during After Hours. Considering that most of the people were in Toy Story Land, one could reasonably expect a food stand open there. They did have the retail stands open (shocker!), but there was no free food to be seen.

(Photo by Ed Pizzarello / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Ed Pizzarello / The Points Guy)

We decided to bite the bullet and wait in the Slinky Dog Line. The signs indicated that the wait had dropped to 20 minutes. In reality, we waited 28 minutes. It wasn’t that bad because the standby queue is quite entertaining. We even found a few Hidden Mickeys along the way. It’s not the sort of thing that would be entertaining for a long time like the queue for the new Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run in the new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland and Disney World. But it was perfectly fine for a first-time rider.

Hidden Mickeys! (Photo by Ed Pizzarello / The Points Guy)
Hidden Mickeys! (Photo by Ed Pizzarello / The Points Guy)

It was even fine the second time — we rode again after waiting another 25 minutes. After two times on Slinky Dog, my wife and son were content to go elsewhere. Woody, Bo Peep and Buzz were all hanging out for pictures. We decided to go visit Buzz Lightyear. After that, my wife and son set off for Star Tours.

(Photo by Ed Pizzarello / The Points Guy)
(Photo by Ed Pizzarello / The Points Guy)

While my wife and son were able to walk right onto Star Tours, my daughter and I agreed we’d ride Toy Story Mania one more time, followed by Slinky Dog Dash for a third time. Again, we found no line at Toy Story Mania. And again we found a posted wait time of 20 minutes at Slinky Dog Dash.

My daughter didn’t feel like another 20-minute-plus wait even though she enjoyed Slinky Dog. Instead, we wandered out to find the rest of the family. Along the way out of Toy Story Land, we stumbled upon the only ice cream stand we found open during our visit. In an effort to get the full experience, we of course indulged in “free” Mickey ice cream bars. We also found two popcorn stands open on either side of Center Stage at the top of Hollywood Boulevard.

Our evening ended with a visit to our friend Mickey Mouse. Normally an attraction with a wait time of 45 minutes or longer, Mickey was ready to see us with no line. By the time we got done visiting with Mickey, the kids were pretty tired. It wasn’t quite 10:30 p.m. but neither of our children wanted to trek somewhere else to squeeze in another ride.

Bottom line

Our night ended a bit earlier than I expected, thanks to a combination of sleepy kids and a longer line for Slinky Dog than we anticipated. Disney’s Hollywood Studios has the fewest attractions with long waits of the four theme parks, at least until its version of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens on August 29. That meant most of the people joining us for Disney After Hours were also shooting for Slinky Dog Dash. That might not have been as big an issue if it weren’t for the long standby line.

I suspected our kids might have had a tough time keeping their energy level until 11 p.m. when we decided to buy Disney After Hours tickets. If you think that your kids might not make it that late, consider Early Morning Magic at Disney’s Hollywood Studios instead. The early-morning version would also eliminate that long standby line at Slinky Dog, since you’d be the first people in the park.

Many of the rides at Hollywood Studios are easy to get FastPasses for, or have shorter standby lines. Even Toy Story Midway Mania has calmed down a bit with the addition of Slinky Dog Dash. Once Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opens up at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, there may be enough popular attractions to warrant the extra cost of Disney After Hours tickets. Until that time, Disney After Hours at Hollywood Studios doesn’t really pack the value of the early-morning versions.

Read on to learn more about maximizing your time, points and money at Disney World:

Featured image by Matt Stroshane/Walt Disney World Resort

Edward Pizzarello covers family travel for TPG Family and also blogs at Pizza in Motion. You can find him podcasting at Miles to Go and eating doughnuts on Twitter and Instagram.

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