Theme Park Personality – Day Versus Night

| February 14, 2013 | 6 Replies

The sun rises early in the AM on a day when you jump out of bed and an entire theme park day is ahead of you.  You make your way to your theme park of choice before the park opens.  Excitement and anticipation is in the air while you wait at the front gate for Cast Members to welcome you into the park.  The sun is rising and hitting the plant life, the buildings, and park icons in a way that reminds you a great day is ahead.  Continue reading and let’s look at how a theme park transforms its personality from a daytime park to a nighttime park and what that means to its guests.

The Magic Kingdom – Nostalgia by Day, Excitement by Night 

Picture this:  You’re in the Magic Kingdom during the day boarding your train on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad (Howdy partners!).  As your train goes in and out of the tunnels you can see the entire Magic Kingdom, the crowds of people, all of the buildings in full daylight, and the sun hitting your train as you lean from side-to-side from the ride’s G-forces.  Now consider this:  You’re walking in front of Cinderella Castle and all of a sudden you hear music that grabs your attention and tells you a show is about to start.  The daytime castle forecourt show is about to start.  Crowds begin to gather and children sit on their parents’ shoulders.  During the show you look to the right, left, and behind you as you see in full light Tomorrowland, Adventureland, and Main St. USA.

As day transitions to night in the Magic Kingdom you pull out your Fastpass, or MyMagic + wristband and jump back on Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.  This time as you race in and out of the tunnels you don’t see as much.  Instead you see Cinderella Castle in the distance all decked out in a purple light and lamps that dimly light up Frontierland.  You also see the dim lighting around the Thunder Mountain attraction instead of it all lit up by daylight.  After you’ve finished your evening ride you realize how different it was than your daytime ride.  The evening ride provided you with a totally different experience than during the daytime.  Back over to Main St USA you are shocked to see the many lights outlining the buildings.  The lights are so bright you almost need to hold your hand over your eyes.  Your sunglasses are now on your head because the sun has gone down for the day.  But, Main St. USA looks very different than it did 6 hours ago.  The same holds true throughout the rest of the park.  Even the parades are different between day and night.  The 3PM parade and the evening light parade feel so much different.  It’s almost as if you are experiencing 2 different parks in one day.  There’s that much of a change between the daytime park experience versus the night time experience.

The Daytime Hustle and Evening Bustle of Hollywood Studios

Over at Disney’s Hollywood Studios it’s 1:00PM in the afternoon and you find yourself at the corner of Hollywood and Sunset Blvd.  A crowd has gathered to catch the latest Citizens of Hollywood skit.  Guests are caught up in laughter as the COH act has gone to humorous levels.   You continue down Sunset Blvd until you run into an ominous foe – The Hollywood Tower of Terror.  You decided to take a ride.  As your elevator rises to the top of the tower and your doors open you are greeted by the hot sun and daytime landscape of Hollywood Studios.  The doors close and back down you go.  Up and down, up and down!  Thankfully the ride is over.  Back on Hollywood Blvd loud music is heard because Disney Channel Rocks has set up their stage for an afternoon show and dance party.  The sounds along Hollywood Blvd have gone from earlier laughter to all out music and excitement.

As the sun goes down you decide to grab a bite at the ABC Commissary.  The setting sun is hitting the buildings along Commissary Lane telling you night time is not too far away.  As you leave the Commissary nightfall has set in.  Back on Hollywood Blvd the iconic sorcerer’s hat is lit up and looking down the street all of the souvenir shops are all lit up.  Pluto is at the top of Mickey’s of Hollywood lit up in his usual gold coat wagging his tail.  Despite just eating you head back for another helping of the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror.  As you head up in your elevator you sort of feel different.  Is it possible the ride is darker on the inside despite how pitch dark everything is already?  Maybe it’s just a mind trick.  As your elevator drops and rises the elevator doors open to reveal a much different scene.  This time your view of Hollywood Studios is much different.  It’s dark out and you can see the park lit up and it’s difficult to make out guests walking along Sunset Blvd.  The attraction has taken on a spookier element to it (if that’s possible).  Near Sunset Blvd the Hollywood Hills Theater has opened for an evening Fantasmic! show.  Guests and children with their illuminated light sabers begin to pour into the theater to see Mickey Mouse battle evil.  Let me end the suspense.  Mickey ends up winning (thankfully) and we decide to not to press our luck and call it an evening.

A Bright Future Gives Way to World Elegance at EPCOT

As you enter EPCOT you can’t help but notice the huge geodesic sphere that is Spaceship Earth.  The sun is shining and reflecting off of this huge sliver ball.  As you make your way to Future World Plaza, The Fountain of Nations is showing off its power by blasting water 50 feet in the air.  Standing in the center of the plaza you have a choice to make – left or right.  Today we’ll head left and check out the newly updated Test Track.  After all, a 65MPH early morning wake-up call is just what the doctor ordered.  Since you’re hitting Test Track early the wait isn’t bad at all.  Before you know it you’re in your self-designed test car and “getting your seat belt checked around the corner.”  As you swerve your way through the attraction you’ve come upon the most thrilling part of the attraction – the outdoor loop.  The doors open and suddenly you’re outside in the hot Central Florida sun.  But, it’s not too hot because the wind is hitting you and your hair is flying in the air (well, maybe).  A blue sky is above you, but you really can’t see much of EPCOT.  It’s almost as if Disney Imagineers were trying to hide something because the track blocks a lot of your view of EPCOT and the backstage area.  But who cares really.  The 65MPH thrill is just as exciting.

The rest of your day is spent going through Future World.  As the sun sets you grab dinner at the Electric Umbrella and get a table near the windows.  As you enjoy your food you look out over Future World Plaza and people watch.  Surprisingly, you notice the lights start to turn on throughout the plaza including the lights in and around the Fountain of Nations.  The fountains show off again by powering water into the air synchronized to music, but this time the lights give the show a different perspective as they change from purple to pink to blue.

After you eat you decide to circle around World Showcase.  Your stroll includes stops at France (for dessert of course), Japan (frozen beer), and Italy (shopping & wine).  You stop to take a rest, but as you turn your head you notice Spaceship Earth across the World Showcase Lagoon.  Its presence is stunning!  It’s all lit up for the evening in a purplish hue (thankfully they took the wand off years ago).  It looks great!  Almost calling to you to take a ride.  You press on and begin to notice the wonderful lighting around the World Showcase pavilions.  You’re stuffed so eating is not possible, but you do find room for a hand-made original frozen margarita at La Cava De Tequila inside the Mexico pavilion.

As 9:00PM fast approaches you have to get one more ride on Test Track.  The wait is about 45 minutes, but you take your chances and jump into the standby line.  After a 30 minute wait it’s your turn.  After making your way through the attraction you’re back on the high speed loop.  However, it’s much different.  This time it’s dark outside.  You see bluish lighting along the track and the darkness somehow makes you feel like you’re going faster than 65MPH.  Once again, you can’t really see past the track, but the evening has given the high speed loop a different perspective and you love it!

As you make your way out of the park you hear a huge bang and music.  You turn your head and look over your shoulder to see fireworks over the World Showcase Lagoon.  Illuminations has started, but you decide to keep making your way out of the park despite your love of the show.  You walk under Spaceship Earth and you notice the Photo store is packed with guests who want their Photopass shots from earlier in the day.  You get one last look at the park entrance topiaries that are all lit up because they sort of look different with a colored spotlight versus a strong sunlight.

A Quick Note about the Animal Kingdom

Although the Animal Kingdom is not usually open after dark, there are a few days when it stays open past sundown.  I highly recommend seeing the Animal Kingdom at night if you have the opportunity.  The low-level lighting is well done.  The Tree of Life is very well lit and dominates the evening landscape.  Also, the ride on Expedition Everest is completely different at night versus the day.  The high speed train at night appears to move much faster up, down, and around the hills.  Make sure to give it a try if you find yourself in the Animal Kingdom after dark.


If you are a park-hopper like me you can really get creative with your theme park touring schedule between the daytime and nighttime.  I’ve often visited one park during the day and another park at night to get a very different theme park experience.  Heck!  I’ve even visited the Magic Kingdom during the day and Universal’s Islands of Adventure at night.  But, quite honestly, you don’t really need to go from park-to-park because the same theme park really becomes a different experience and provides a different personality from day to night.

If you are minus the park hopper option on your theme park tickets don’t fret.  Visit a theme park during the day, head back to your resort for an afternoon break, and then go back to the same theme park at night.  Although it’s the same park you’ll be surprised and amazed at how that park will feel different.  The attractions, the shows, the lighting, and even the dining will feel a lot different to you when the sun goes down.  Don’t overlook one of the best secrets at the theme parks and be sure to enjoy them by day then by night.  Shhh!  Don’t tell Disney, but it’s almost like getting a free park-hopper option.  Well, the change may not be that extreme, but you get the point.

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Category: Disney World

  • HoustonSooner

    Yes, this is so true. I love the parks at night, its like you are at a different park sometimes!

  • Mike Doyle

    This is definitely part of the magic when you hit a park in the morning (early entry or rope drop), then take a break in the afternoon. Come back in early evening, and the park is already beginning its nighttime transformation. I love this experience at Disneyland. Can’t wait to have the opportunity (hopefully this year) at Magic Kingdom.

  • Jan

    What a great article. . . so descriptive and draws you right into the magic of Disney. Keep up the wonderful posts and pictures that are so informative to all who love Disney.

  • Michael Stapf

    what’s even more beautiful than seeing the theme parks lit up at night?, the magic kingdom in itself is just amazing, main street USA is lit up in classic Disney style, where Tomorrowland is futuristic, i just think it’s magical to see the way they look when it’s dark

  • Otis Driftwood

    My wife and I have a ritual when we go to WDW. We usually arrive in the late afternoon (takes half day of flying to get to Orlando) and check in to Shades. We have dinner at the Poly or Floridian, and by then the sun has set and night time WDW has awaken. We hop the monorail and if we time it right we see the fireworks at the Magic Kingdom, then hop over to the Epcot monorail to see the World Showcase light up. After a long day of travel it’s a nice way to wind down and see the parks. The foot traffic on the monorails is light at that time so it’s a perfect way to enjoy the evening.

  • Beverly Moran

    To me, the nighttime at the parks is when the real magic starts. Specially the Magic Kingdom. What we really love is the extra magic hours so we can stay later. The crowds thin out and it feels like the park is ours. I have 2 grandkids ages 9 and 5 and they love the night life in the parks. Sleep is only a necessity and even though the little one always falls asleep on the bus back to the resort, she wouldn’t hear of leaving before the park closes. It doesn’t matter what the time is on the day we arrive, we hit the Magic Kingdom and stay until closing, even if it’s 1 AM. When we visited in January, we were walking down Main Street on our way out and she said (quite seriously) “can’t we stay and help them sweep the streets?” We laughed and noticed they had already started sweeping up and she wanted to stay. Of course the minute we got on the bus she passed out, probably with dreams of sweeping the streets of her WDW.