Pay More to Wait Less: Disney's Toy Story Land Early Morning Magic
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A one-day adult ticket to Walt Disney World costs between $109 and $159. Sure, there are discount strategies, annual passes and more to shave a bit off those numbers, but it costs a lot just to get in the gates. Multiply those prices for a whole family and the numbers get scary. So if it is pricey just to get in Mickey's door, why would a family spend even more money for expanded access to the same rides?
The best $69 I ever spent at Disney World was on an early-morning package at the Magic Kingdom. It got us (and a few hundred other people buying the same tickets) into Fantasyland 75 minutes before the gates opened to everyone else. We got to enjoy Disney as Walt probably intended: no crowds, no pushing, no rushing, no long waits. (That Magic Kingdom early-morning package has now changed a bit -- here's a more recent review.)
When a similar early-access package was introduced for Toy Story Land at Disney's Hollywood Studios, we had to try it out. Since opening last summer, Toy Story Land is still attracting big crowds and waits can drag on for hours at some attractions. Plus, there's shockingly little shade while you wait.
There are two early-access packages available at Hollywood Studios -- one early in the morning and one late at night. The Early Morning Magic package includes special access to Toy Story Land from 7:30am-9am and a breakfast served until 10am at the Backlot Express within Hollywood Studios. The price is $79 per adult, $69 for kids (3 - 9) and those under 3 are free. You must also have valid admission to the park for that day. The available rides with Early Morning Magic include:
- Slinky Dog Dash
- Alien Swirling Saucers
- Toy Story Mania!
- Character meetings with Buzz, Woody and Jessie
Night owls can opt for the Disney After Hours package that is $129 per person ($95 if you have an annual pass or are a Disney Vacation Club member). This event runs for three hours (often 9pm-midnight) and includes after-hours access to the rides in Toy Story Land, but also Star Tours, Tower of Terror and Rock 'n' Roller Coaster. There's no meal included in that package, but they do throw in popcorn, ice cream and drinks available around the parks at no extra fee. You can enter as early as 7pm for that event without a separate park admission. TPG will be doing a separate review on that nighttime offering soon, but the late hours made it a bad choice for my young crew and there are still regular park guests in line for at least the first hour of that package.
Is the Toy Story Early Morning Magic Package Worth It?
We tried the Toy Story Land early-morning package, knowing that arriving to the parks with my family by 7:15am was going to be painful, but not impossible. (The alarm shouldn't have to go off at 6am on vacation.)
The perk to arriving early means everything is logistically easy once the kids are out of bed. We left Disney's Wilderness Lodge at 6:53am and parked in one of the first few rows in the parking lot at Hollywood Studios around 7:10am.
There was no wait at the entrance, no problem getting our early morning wristbands, no delay getting a stroller and no crowds as we walked into the park at dawn.
However, there were several hundred people lined up within the park to be released to Toy Story Land and I immediately worried that the event had grown too large to be worth the added cost.
We entered Toy Story Land at precisely 7:29am with the rest of the early risers with extra access and made a calculated choice to head anywhere but Slinky Dog Dash. From reading other reports of this package, I knew that most would head straight there, creating the longest lines of the morning. Note that if you are heading to Toy Story Land when the park first officially opens in the morning, you should make a beeline to Slinky, but not during early-morning access as the demand will lessen over the next 90 minutes.
Instead, we entered Toy Story Mania! and were boarding our vehicle by 7:34am. We lost a few minutes as the ride had a mechanical issue, but by 7:49 we were strolling onto Alien Swirling Saucers. This ride had vehicles going out empty. At our 3-year-old's insistence, we rode twice in a row. There was never a wait for this ride at any point in the morning.
At 7:57am, the sun was starting to shine brighter, and it was time to grab coffee that is included with the early-access pass and get in line for Slinky. The posted wait time was 20 minutes, but our wait was only 15. Compared to the two-hour wait in the middle of the day the last time I rode Slinky, this was glorious. That said, some people complain about paying extra to wait in line for 15 - 20 minutes for one ride when the entire morning event is just 90 minutes long.
Personally, I liked the 15-minute delay between rides to enjoy my coffee. Once on board, all four of us loved Slinky Dog Dash so much that we got right back in line. At 8:27am we were taking off again, with the wait around 12-13 minutes the second time around.
I didn't need a third trip around the tracks, but my husband and 9-year-old took a final lap. By that time, 8:30 am, the posted wait time was just 5 minutes so the wait for Slinky truly does shrink as the early-morning package goes on.
During that time, the littlest and I went for a final spin around Alien Saucers, which was still operating with empty vehicles.
I'm not sure where the crowd had gone, but we had Toy Story Land to ourselves by this point. Naturally, that meant posing for selfies and more photos in an almost empty park.
There were Toy Story characters available if you wanted to meet them, but those waits seemed to grow as the early morning went on.
With 10 or 15 minutes left, none of us wanted another ride, so we grabbed another round of coffee and water and enjoyed the calm of the park for a few moments.
We already felt good about our decision to get up early and spend the extra cash to experience Toy Story at our leisure. And we soon got definitive proof that the money was well spent.
As we left Toy Story Land at 8:52am to position ourselves to ride Star Tours as Hollywood Studios officially opened at 9am (we had FastPasses for everything not included in the early-morning package), this is what we saw marching toward Toy Story.
The line on a spring break week went around the park as far as your eye could see, easily thousands of people. Disney should have been playing the Star Wars Imperial March song as the vacationing army marched in.
I don't know exactly what time these folks were unleashed on Woody and friends, but I can say that my husband and daughter walked right on Star Tours in another part of the park at 9:01am with zero wait.
As for me and the littlest? We were right next door to Star Tours at the Backlot Express ordering breakfast for everyone, already up for three hours. While breakfast wasn't a highlight of the early-morning package at Magic Kingdom last year, it was surprisingly good in Hollywood Studios.
With the Early Morning Magic package, you can order as much food as you want and it is all included. Crowds were very light at breakfast just a few minutes after 9am, but got busier toward 10am.
On the menu is a charcuterie platter (the least appetizing item in the lineup), smashed avocado toast, shrimp and grits, a Mexican bowl, a cinnamon-sugar donut bowl with fried chicken and some kid meals largely comprised of the same items on a smaller plate.
There's also a continental bar with pastries, yogurts, fruit, etc.
We dug into the honey-glazed chicken/donut bowl, the Mexican bowl and the shrimp and grits. We shouldn't have eaten again the whole day. You could easily get away with a smaller-than-usual lunch if you time this meal between 9:30am - 10am. They serve it starting at 7:30am, but I would wait until at least 9am to maximize your time on the rides.
As our special access ended, we easily met characters who were just arriving to their stations at 9:30am and then started through our pre-scheduled FastPasses for popular rides like Tower of Terror. By lunch we had done everything we could have possibly wanted to do at Hollywood Studios and never felt rushed, even on a spring break week.
So is that worth getting up early and spending an extra $69 - $79 per person? To us, yes, especially because my husband can be an early riser but doesn't like crushing crowds.
However, if you don't have the extra cash to invest in this experience, you can still check off the rides in Toy Story Land by getting to Hollywood Studios to line up well before the official opening rope drop and quickly going from Slinky Dog to Toy Story Mania! and then Aliens. This is exactly what I did on the day that TPG contributor Ed Pizzarello and I tried to ride every ride at Disney World across all four parks. We came up a little short on that goal, but had ridden everything Hollywood Studios by 9:55am with no special access or packages. However, that agenda included lots of running, off-peak travel dates, no children, no crowd-resistant husbands and a subsequent bout of motion sickness.
Unlike lots of Disney tickets, the early-morning purchase did code as travel on my Chase Sapphire Reserve and triggered the $300 annual travel credit to cover most of the charge. The small portion of the package I was left to pay with the card earned 3 points per dollar as a travel charge. Again, this is unusual for Disney tickets, but it worked this time for this specific package.
If you want to reduce stress, feel like you have Toy Story Land to yourself and save your FastPasses for other rides in Hollywood Studios, then the Early Morning Magic package is worth it. This is especially true during busy travel dates. The package is not offered on every single date and does sell out, so don't delay in purchasing if it sounds right for you. Also note that Disney is currently not selling this package for dates beyond late August when Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge opens at Hollywood Studios.
Without this package, getting to the park before opening to quickly enjoy all the rides in Toy Story Land worked great for us on another trip in the middle of the week in late September, but I don't think it would have been as successful on this particular date with the spring-break army that marched toward Slinky and friends as we were leaving the area.
Plus -- enjoying sunrise over the coaster isn't a bad way to start a day.
To help your family maximize time at Disney World, here are some articles to get you on your way.
- How to Use Points to Buy Disney Tickets
- How to Ride Every Disney World Ride in One Day
- Eating Healthy at Disney World
- Renting Disney Vacation Club Points: Saving Money at Disney
- 10 Best Disney Thrill Rides Around the World
- The Best Points Hotels Near Disney World in 2018
- TPG’s Ultimate Guide to Disney World