You can have your rope drop, your mad rush into the parks–I’ll sleep in, go later, and stay until closing. Sure it means I’ll miss out on getting a fastpass for certain attractions (although with the new Magic Bands coming, not for much longer), but visiting the parks at night is pure magic. I love that energized feeling you get after dinner when it’s cooler out and you’ve gotten your second wind. It’s always sweet to see sleepy families walking out of the park, happy and exhausted, holding hands. Nighttime in the parks offers a different kind of energy than what you see during the day and to me, it’s the best part of any Disney vacation.
My favorite park at night is Hollywood Studios. It isn’t the rides or the shows, it’s the lighting. It’s beautiful shining on the old-fashioned Art Deco buildings as you walk into the park, but even buildings as simple as those in Pixar Place get a festive glow from twinkle lights strung across the buildings and in the trees. Grab a carrot cake cookie–it’s practically mandatory that you stop in at The Writer’s Stop and get one while visiting–and find a bench and people watch.
In Disneyland, I love the look of these Chinese lanterns lit up at night. When I’m there I sometimes think of all the “date nights” they used to have out in Disneyland in the 50s and 60s and how those sweet young couples might have taken a spin in these teacups. I wonder how many couples were engaged here? Probably a lot.
Special mention has to be made of Disney California Adventure and specifically, Carsland. DCA is a beautifully lit park and it has great energy at night. World of Color, the huge light and water show here, should top your list of must-dos. Walk over to Carsland at dusk and wait for the neon signs to slowly light up in succession all the way down the main street in Radiator Springs. 50s music plays while dancers and cars from the movie slowly parade down the street. It will make your night.
I’ve saved what is probably everyone’s favorite for last: The Magic Kingdom. Nighttime parades light up the streets and fireworks explode every night, but the most festive area of the park at night is Tomorrowland, with splashes of bright neon framing buildings and signs and a raucous dance party most nights. It’s the same feeling as Carsland, but with a futuristic theme. Adventureland is the exact opposite: It’s dark, almost a little too dark. Try not to trip slip as you wind your way through Frontierland and over to Liberty Square. Once there, wait in the queue for the Haunted Mansion. I know it’s not real, but I get a little spooked at night all the same.
One of the best nighttime surprises is probably something you didn’t know existed: The kiss good-night. Each night about a half-hour after the Magic Kingdom closes, guests who linger in the park a bit longer get a special treat, a light show in front of the castle. Find a bench nearby and watch everyone else rush out of the park at closing. It’s a great time to sit and talk and reflect on the day. After the “kiss good-night,” head down Main Street, maybe shop a bit, and then catch your bus; they keep running well after park closing, but I try not to overstay my welcome because cast members need to get some rest too.
Do you have any special nighttime park rituals or tips you’d like to share? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.