Walt Disney World has cranked up an After Hours special event at Animal Kingdom theme park. The idea is to sell a limited amount of tickets to create an exclusive feel after regular park hours.
My standard for special events is straightforward: I want to be made to feel special. And I include a bang-for buck factor. In this case, Disney charges $125 per person, and the event officially runs from 8:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.
More on the economics side later.
After Hours at Animal Kingdom had a dark, downright eerie atmosphere to the first night of the event this week. I’d generously call it “sparsely populated,” but that’s part of the idea/charm. It was almost like the rapture had happened and you’ve been left behind. Or like your gal pal Oprah Winfrey bought out the place for the night. So, yeah, that feels special. We arrived early – Disney allows the After Hours people in with the rest of the visitors at 7 p.m. – and it felt crowded. Then, after 8 or so, deserted.
So most of the available rides were walk-on. The queue for Na’Vi River Journey was completely empty as we went through. If you wanted to do Flight of Passage over and over and over again, this was the time. As we approached the Expedition Everest roller coaster, a cast member told us “Sit wherever you want.”
And so we did. One trip in the very back row and a second round in the very front. On the latter, right where the rail, er, derails, we could see toward Orlando, including the big, lit-up attractions along International Drive. That was fun, although it disrupted the famed Disney storytelling more than a motionless Yeti. (But, with the right timing, you could do that without paying an After Hours premium.)
The event does not include the entire park. The bulk of the stores and restaurants are shut-up tight. (I’m sure they’d open for Oprah.) The attractions we could experience were It’s Tough to Be a Bug, Tricera Top Spin, Dinosaur, Na’Vi River Journey, Flight of Passage and Dino-Riffic Dance Party. There also were a production of “Rivers of Light,” three appearances of the Pandora drummers and repeated Tree of Life Awakenings projections.
Closed was all of the park’s Africa area, including the Kilimanjaro Safaris, which has had some nighttime rounds in the past.
There are snacks provided – three ice-cream choices, popcorn, soft drinks – and a few items for sale (we saw hot dogs, chips, adult beverages). The snack intake isn’t really monitored, but how many Mickey bars would you have to take to make a profit? (Answer: 22, although that doesn’t factor in the ensuing emergency room visit co-payment.)
I was surprised there weren’t more characters out and about (only Dino Chip and Dale) or entertainment, but with limited attendance I imagine it’s not sound economic sense. Another conspicuous absence: Real animals at Animal Kingdom.
But the most glaring absence is the lack of people, and sometimes that’s a good thing. Getting from place to place was a breeze, and you’d be able to hit all open attractions in the time allotted easily. Plus, it was nice to stop and admire the Tree of Life Awakenings without jockeying for position and without clamor from fellow guests. I could have done a cartwheel without hitting a double-wide stroller.
One of my least favorite questions to answer is “Is it worth the money?” Money matters are so subjective. For instance, I was less wigged out about the Disney parking fee going up $3 than I was about Mickey bars going up 75 cents. (In my defense, the ice cream percentage increase was greater.) So what’s a good use of your $125? Florida residents can spend any day in the park – for more hours, too – in December for between $114 and $129. But if you really only had one day and really wanted to experience those Pandora rides – famed for hours-long waits — at Animal Kingdom, After Hours could be a worthy option.
It’s also good for loners or major Animal Kingdom fans. I’d say animal lovers should stick to the daylight options.
Meanwhile, Disney’s Hollywood Studios After Hours also begins this week. Its dates are Dec. 8, Dec. 15, Dec. 22, Jan. 5, Jan. 12, Jan. 19, Feb. 2, Feb. 9, Feb. 16, March 2, March 9, March 16, March 23, March 30, April 6 and April 13. (Side note: The website lists a handful of characters at DHSAH.)
Remaining dates for Animal Kingdom one are Dec. 12, Dec. 18, Jan. 8, Jan. 16, Jan. 22, Jan. 31, Feb. 5, Feb. 6, Feb. 12, Feb. 13, Feb 10, Feb. 26, March 5, March 20, March 27 and April 3.
And upcoming After Hours events for Magic Kingdom are scheduled for Feb. 21, March 21, March 28, April 4 and April 11.
For more information, check out Disneyworld.com/afterhours. For reservations, call 407-939-7795.