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Everything but the Parks
All you can do without visiting the theme parks
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Sue Holland

Night Life, Part 1

What to do when the parks close early

Friday, January 9, 2004
By Sue Holland, staff writer. Photos by Sue Holland, unless otherwise noted.

Photo by Sue Holland, copyright MousePlanet.
Fultons at sunset.

During months when the number of visitors to Walt Disney World is expected to be low, three of the four main theme parks are likely to close much earlier than during busier seasons. Epcot is the only park that consistently stays open until at least 9:00 p.m. with Illuminations being held nightly. The other parks may close between 5:00 and 6:00 p.m.

One significant advantage to visiting during these periods is the fact that attractions can generally be seen with little or no wait, so overall it takes less time to see everything planned in a particular park. That said, after spending money for airfare, park passes, lodging, and food for a week or more, one thing people do not want to find on their vacation is idle time when they are unable to have fun after the parks close in the early evening.

Have no fear—Walt Disney World has many options for people to enjoy after hours. Some of them have an additional cost attached, but others are either free or included in the vacation budget already.

There's always the option of having dinner, watching television and getting to bed early in anticipation of the next day. After all, being at your park of choice right when it opens ensures at least a couple of hours to enjoy the popular attractions before many other guests arrive. For those looking for something a little more entertaining than television and sleeping, following are several options to consider.

Get wet

Go for a swim at one of your resort's pools. The water is always headed to at least 80 degrees, and while you won't find many Florida residents in the pool when the air temperature drops below the mid-70s, many visitors from up north don't seem to mind. There's an added element of fun when the steam from the heated water rises into the chilly air. Just be sure to bring towels or a robe for that dash back to your room.

Many of the resorts also have one or more Jacuzzi tubs, which are popular year-round. Keep in mind that each resorts' pools are for the use of guests registered at those resorts (and Disney Vacation Club members in most cases), so it is not permissible to use the pool at the Contemporary if you are staying elsewhere.

Photo by Sue Holland, copyright MousePlanet.
Disney movies and singing around the campfire are nightly fare at Fort Wilderness.

S'mores and more

At Fort Wilderness they have an excellent campfire program. This is free of charge, and open to all Disney resort guests. Each night a different animated movie is projected onto a large screen, with a large outdoor seating area. Chip and Dale frequently stop by, and visitors are led in a sing-along around the campfire. Ingredients to make s'mores are available for sale for $2 at the Chuck Wagon, but people can also bring their own. The movie is shown following the singing. It's wise to bring a jacket or blanket, as it can get chilly after dark. The activities begin at 7:00 p.m. unless sunset calls for a later start time.

Also at Fort Wilderness, they conduct Hay Rides nightly. Leaving Pioneer Hall at 7:00 and 9:30 p.m., these excursions cost $8 per adult and $4 per child. Reservations are not necessary, and during certain periods guests might also see the fireworks at Magic Kingdom while on the ride.

Photo by Sue Holland, copyright MousePlanet.
Part of the talented Hoop-De-Doo Revue cast entertains during dinner. Photo by Leesa Brown.

The most popular dinner show is held three times nightly in Pioneer Hall at Fort Wilderness. The Hoop-De-Doo Revue has been entertaining Disney guests for decades, and the timeless show has changed little since I first attended in the 1970s. Held at 5:00, 7:15 and 9:30 each night, reservations are required and can be made up to two years in advance. Tickets currently cost approximately $50 per adult and $25 per child.

An all-you-can-eat dinner consisting of salad, fried chicken, barbecue ribs, corn, baked beans and strawberry shortcake is served during pauses in the entertainment. The food is delicious, but the real attraction is the show. A cast of six (three men and three women) sing, dance, tell corny jokes, and generally win the audience over very quickly. The humor is extremely corny and appropriate for all ages, but even teenagers seem to enjoy the silliness of it all.

Dancers perform the traditional Maori poi ball dance, in which they must continually twirl balls on a string without losing balance, timing, or getting the strings snarled together. Photo by Mark Fendrick. [Click here to read Mark's review of the updated version of the luau.]

There are also two other dinner shows available. The Polynesian Luau has been revamped and renamed to Disney's Spirit of Aloha, held at the Polynesian Resort. Held Tuesday through Saturday evenings at 5:15 and 8:00, the dinner consists of roasted chicken and barbecue ribs. Several variations on the hula dance are performed, but the highlight for many people is the performer who juggles fire. Tickets can be reserved up to two years in advance, and also cost $50 per adult and $25 per child.

During busy seasons there is a Mickey's Backyard BBQ held at Fort Wilderness, but chances are if the parks close early, the season is not “busy” enough for this show to be held. Featuring baked chicken, ribs and hot dogs, this dinner is priced a bit lower at $39 per adult and $25 per child. Entertainment consists of line dancing and singing country songs, and does include character appearances.

That's entertainment

Just because you are away from home doesn't mean you can't enjoy simple pleasures like going to the movies. The AMC Theater in Downtown Disney has 24 screens, and features stadium seating for the best possible view. Box offices are located on either end of the building, which helps keep any lines moving fairly swiftly.

These theaters are modern, clean and comfortable, featuring the latest movie releases. Prices before 6:00 p.m. are $5.50 per child and $6.50 for everyone else. After 6:00 p.m. it's $8.50 per adult, $5.50 per child, and $6.50 per student (age 13+ with student identification) or senior (age 55+). If you are staying at a Disney resort, be sure to inquire about any additional discount.

Photo by Sue Holland, copyright MousePlanet.
DisneyQuest in Downtown Disney is a video game lover's dream.

Also at Downtown Disney, DisneyQuest is a popular place for anyone who enjoys arcades and video games. As you might expect, Disney takes the concept of an arcade to a new level, with five floors of interactive games and several virtual reality attractions that can be as entertaining as an attraction in the theme parks! DisneyQuest is generally open until at least 11:00 p.m., with later hours more likely on the weekend. Admission is included on certain park passes, and the single-day ticket price is $27 per adult and $21 per child. Once in a while they offer a discount for the last few hours of the night, but that's not something that can be predicted or guaranteed during any particular trip.

Food at DisneyQuest is among the best offered at any counter-service location. Operated by the Cheesecake Factory, portions tend to be large and everything is freshly prepared and very tasty. Unfortunately, it is not possible to eat here without paying the admission fee.

To get to DisneyQuest via Disney transportation, take the Downtown Disney bus and get off at the Pleasure Island stop. From there, walk to the West Side and DisneyQuest will be near the far end on your left.

Cirque du Soleil is another option, and like all of their shows, La Nouba is very impressive. The large white theater is hard to miss (located next to DisneyQuest), and between the music, costumes, and sheer strength of the performers it is a show to be remembered. Performances are held at 6:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday nights, with tickets ranging from $77-87 per adult and $45-52 per child.

This is the type of show you can see more than once, as there is so much happening on stage it is impossible to absorb it all in one show. Tickets are sold six months in advance, with leftover seats available at the box office. Due to the layout of the theater, every seat offers an impressive view, although the very best seats are the first sold.

Walt Disney World is a big place, with something to please everyone. Since we barely scratched the surface, we'll continue our look at options in Part 2. See you then!


Sue has been hooked on Walt Disney World since her first visit in 1972 with her parents and younger brother. She kept returning more frequently until she moved to Florida in 1986.

After joining the Disney Vacation Club (DVC) in 1997, she now visits almost monthly. She also spends time at the DVC's non-WDW locations, and is experienced with the Disney cruise ships.

She takes many of these trips on her own, but she's also toured WDW with large groups of people, including families, the elderly, and people with disabilities.

She works as the Administrative Services Division Head for a large residential facility administered by the Florida Department of Children and Families. She currently resides in Southwest Florida with her teenage son.

Sue is one of our most prolific trip report writers. Read her trip report archive here.

You can contact Sue here.

Get the latest info about the resort at “Park Update: Walt Disney World.”


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