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Monday, June 24, 2019

moonlight magic booking experience: animal kingdom dates 2019

Heeellooo there.  Welcome to our little trans-dimensional post about my experience reserving my family's tickets for a Moonlight Magic event at Disney's Animal Kingdom Park!

Let's go get that dino.

It's that time of year again.  I'm back on my summer camp's payroll, I've painted three canvases, and we're gearing up for another amazing summer vacation at Walt Disney World Resort!  Our ADRs and FP+ are all booked!  Our plans are nearly set in stone for this trip except for one hard-to-book but must-have ADR that's playing hide-and-seek with me.

When you visit WDW every year, it can be hard to find new experiences to keep trips fresh and exciting.  Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party was on the table from the get-go.  The hard-ticket Magic Kingdom party was main reason we opted to book a mid-August vacation this year.  We booked our trip this year at the 11-month mark, so we made our reservation before MNSSHP dates were actually announced, but with ample room to change the date in case things didn't work out.

I will speak more on this in the upcoming weeks when I post my official trip planning log, but in short: before MNSSHP dates were released, Moonlight Magic dates were released.  There were two dates at Animal Kingdom this year that we could feasibly mold our trip around-- one on August 8, and one on August 22.  We decided we would push our trip back to the week of August 18-24, in hopes that we would be able to reserve tickets the latter event.

Before we go any further, I'm sure there are some of you who are probably wondering what Moonlight Magic is.  Moonlight Magic is a hard-ticket event hosted by the Disney Vacation Club, where DVC members are given special access to a theme park or water park after the park has officially closed to day guests.  These events include low wait times for attractions, free food and ice cream treats, special character meet & greets, special entertainment, and event-exclusive merchandise.  Above all, these events are completely free.

(Well, maybe free isn't the best word.  It's worth noting that you can only reserve Moonlight Magic tickets if you are a Disney Vacation Club direct buyer.  Resale members are not eligible for Moonlight Magic.  So while you can attend the event at no extra charge, it's really covered as part of your direct DVC member dues.)

Throughout the year, DVC will offer multiple dates for each theme park.  To give you an idea of what these events are like, The WDW Couple has an amazing vlog from last year's MM event at Animal Kingdom!  I'll drop it here for you:

Since these events began in 2016, DVC members have lauded the exclusive characters, free food, and chance to visit the parks with less people around.  Most reports indicate that during certain events, the parks are so empty that you're able to walk onto most rides, even the E-Ticket attractions that see wait times of 90 minutes or more during the day.

Naturally, these events have become extremely popular within the DVC community, which makes the process of reserving tickets somewhat stressful.  This post is about what that process entails, and my personal experience going through it.

The Process

The online Moonlight Magic reservation process is simple enough on paper.  The dates for this year's events were:

Disneyland Park- January 31
Magic Kingdom- February 5 and 12
Hollywood Studios- March 20 and 27
Epcot- May 13 and 20  
Disney's Animal Kingdom- July 18, August 8 and 22
Disney's Typhoon Lagoon Water Park- September 18, October 16

Tickets are released and reserved months in advance on a park by park basis.  So for parks that have multiple Moonlight Magic events, tickets are released for all the events at one time.  This is done in two separate rounds per park, with both rounds adhering to the same "virtual queue" style of distribution.  You can only book tickets for one MM event for each park.

The first round of tickets is reserved for DVC members with existing resort reservations.  This is where the largest number of tickets is released-- could be thousands, depending on the park.  

The second round of tickets is open to any DVC direct member, including those with resort reservations who were unable to book tickets during the first round.  This round is much more competitive, and very few tickets are released during this round.

One thing to note is that there is a cut-off date that you have to have your resort reservation booked by in order for it to qualify for the first round of tickets.  However, I considered the cut-off they give to be extremely reasonable: your resort has to be booked at least two days before that first round starts.  By this point, you're likely at the 1 month mark from the first Moonlight Magic event of the booking period.  With the current state of DVC resort availability, most people will have their resorts booked by the 6 month mark.  Unless you're praying for a last-minute wait list request to come through, you've had your vacations locked down for months before this cut-off date.

The official process goes like this:

  1. The night before Moonlight Magic booking is set to begin, you'll receive an email with a link to the page where you'll join the virtual queue the next morning.  Booking opens at 9 AM EST the day of each round.  If you click on the link to this page before 9 AM EST, you'll see a countdown to the time booking opens.  
  2. At 9 AM, the page will refresh and give you a number-- this number is your place in the "queue," and it tells you how many people are in front of you.  This number is assigned completely randomly, despite how early you've been on the page.  On extremely rare occasions, you might find that your initial number is so low that you're brought right to the page where you actually reserve your tickets.
  3. Now you wait.  Your number will update every few seconds as more and more people in front of you book their own tickets.  At certain points, Disney will give you updates with what percent of inventory is booked and which dates are sold out.
  4. Once you reach the "front of the queue," the page will refresh and bring you to the registration form.  After entering your DVC Membership number, you'll be able to select your preferred date and register.

Unfortunately, not every member will be able to reserve tickets through this process.  If your random number is high enough, you run the risk of your date being sold out by the time it's your turn to register.  There are several things you can do to increase your chances: some people wear by using multiple browsers or devices, which is how I got my tickets.  Some people swear that the earlier you get to the link, the lower your number will be, despite the fact that Disney claims all numbers are completely random.

My Experience

Disney's Animal Kingdom is notorious for playing hard-to-get when it comes to MM.  Don't be fooled by it's appearance: DAK actually has the smallest capacity for MM guests out of the four WDW theme parks, therefore, the least amount of tickets are released for these events.  Booking for the DAK MM events opened on June 5 at 9 AM.

Disney sent the email out that had the link to register for MM at 5 PM the night before it was open.  Some people don't get these emails, despite being DVC members, so I was relieved to see that I got my link!

The next morning, I was up at around 8 AM.  I decided to use 5 devices in order to have the best results: Two laptops, the family desktop computer, my iPad, and my iPhone.  I clicked the link that would put me into the queue on all of these devices around 8:30, and the countdown began!

One of the laptops I used froze about 30 seconds before 9, so that was out of commission and we ended up with only 4 devices that actually put us into the queue.  Finally the moment arrived, and each device refreshed to reveal where in the queue I was for every device.  My prediction was that my laptop would get me to the front of the line first, but I was wrong!

My laptop actually gave me the highest random number, which was 7050.  Imagine having 7049 people ahead of you in line?  The desktop computer was next, with 6500.  Both of those odds were not in my favor for today.  My iPhone was in second place, with 3500.  Thankfully, my iPad came in with great odds: 1300!  I was so relieved to see such a low number on at least one of my devices.

Naturally, my iPad won the race.  When my number on the iPad was down to around 600, Disney updated me to let me know that my odds were looking great, and that 70% of tickets were still available.  20 minutes after the line opened, the iPad redirected me to the page where I registered for Moonlight Magic!  We are all set to go on August 22!

Final Thoughts and Tips

I thought that Disney made this process as efficient as possible given the amount of people who want to book Moonlight Magic.  Of course, I'm slightly biased as one of the lucky people who were successful in registering during the first round, but the randomized online queue just seems like the best way to level the playing field for everyone involved, and it's much easier than calling DVC when the phone lines open, which I gather was one of the older ways this was done.

After convening on the DISboards with other members, the general consensus is that for some reason, touch-screen, WiFi enabled devices like iPads, iPhones, and other tablets/smartphones gave most of us a better place in the queue for whatever reason.  Remember-- my laptop was all the way in the 7000s while our iPad was down at 1300!

Of course, using multiple devices is the best way to increase your odds.  Time to borrow your sister's phone, the family tablet-- heck, I'd even try your Smart TV if you have one!  Having multiple devices seems to be the best way to ensure you'll be able to register for Moonlight Magic.

As we prepare for our amazing evening with DVC, I need to know: if you've been to a MM event before, what are some of the things we can't miss?  Let me know in the comments!


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