Walt Disney World has added new hours for the start of the 50th Anniversary at Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios & Animal Kingdom, extended hours between now and September 2021, and changed fireworks times. In this post, we’ll share the refreshed calendar, new hours for the start of the World’s Most Magical Celebration, plus commentary about the extensions and updated advice on best & worst days of the week.
What a difference a year makes. Last year around this time, the parks had just reopened and were seeing surprisingly low attendance, which was the harbinger of further cutbacks. In early August of last year, Walt Disney World slashed fall hours for September and October. For several consecutive months, not a single park at Walt Disney World was open after sunset. Despite that, you could still easily accomplish everything in a single day due to the lack of crowds and low wait times.
Fast forward almost a full year. Disney Park Pass reservations have been refilled several times in the few weeks, but demand continues to exceed supply. The last few days have been particularly busy, with “feels like” crowds and wait times getting pretty close to normal. Epcot has felt busier than any summer in recent memory. Now, park hours are following suit, with more extensions for August and September 2021…
Here’s the latest update to the Walt Disney World park hours calendar, with changes for the rest of this month plus August through early October 2021.
New Park Hours
We first have new hours for all four of Walt Disney World’s parks. The calendar was previously posted through September 25, 2021—ending just prior to the week before the World’s Most Magical Celebration begins, which is also the start of what’s forecast to be a busy 3-month stretch.
We now have times for the week leading up to Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary, through and including October 2, 2021. Those hoping that these hours would be longer from the get-go are going to be disappointed, as these new hours reflect the same hours as the weeks before in the fall off-season. Here’s a look:
When looking at these new hours, it’s important to understand that Walt Disney World’s normal practice is releasing boilerplate hours before extending those based on attendance and hotel occupancy projections. This initial release serves as a minimum baseline for what the ultimate hours will end up being, with hours only extended and not reduced.
The good news is that there’s almost no chance these will be the final hours. We won’t say 0% chance, because we’ve learned enough from the last year-plus to never be so bold, but it’s less than 1%. If current trends hold true, October will be one of Walt Disney World’s busiest months ever, and park hours will reflect that. Accordingly, it should be obvious that the final hours for October 2021 will be longer than those during the pre-50th off-season slump in early to mid-September.
New Fireworks Hours
Happily Ever After is currently show at 9:15 pm nightly, which is approximately 45 minutes after the current sunset time. That’s about how long it takes before it’s sufficiently dark as dusk falls. The days continue to get shorter, so Walt Disney World is moving forward fireworks times for both Happily Ever After and Epcot Forever–as is normal this time of year.
Happily Ever After Times:
July 17 to August 9, 2021: 9:15 pm
August 10-31, 2021: 8:45 pm
September 1 & Beyond: TBD
In general, the larger gap between Happily Ever After and Magic Kingdom closing time, the better. The time buffer facilitates a more gradual flow of guests towards the exit–and onto transportation–between the end of fireworks and end of operating hours.
Epcot Forever Times:
July 17 to August 1, 2021: 10 pm
August 2-5, 9-12, 16-19, 23-26, 30: 9 pm
August 6-8, 13-15, 20-22, 27-29: 10 pm
September 1 & Beyond: TBD
This tracks with extensions to park hours (see below), which will see Epcot closing later Friday through Sunday nights during the 2021 Epcot Food & Wine Festival.
It’s been a while since Walt Disney World released a big extension of park hours. Previously, there has been a weekend or small scattering of dates getting extensions.
Well, those hoping for a more comprehensive calendar update have gotten their wish this week! Here are the newly-expanded park hours for August and September 2021…
Magic Kingdom (9 am to 10 pm)
August 1-9, 2021 (previously 9 am to 9 pm)
Epcot (11 am to 10 pm)
August 1, 6-8, 13-15, 20-22 & 27-29 (previously 11 am to 9 pm)
July 26-30: Park hours extended to 8 am – 8 pm (previously 8 am to 7 pm)
August 1-31, 2021: Park hours extended to 8 am – 7 pm (previously 8 am to 6 pm)
September 1-25, 2021: Park hours extended to 8 am – 7 pm (previously 8 am to 6 pm)
Hollywood Studios (9 am to 9 pm)
August 29-31, 2021 (previously 9 am to 8 pm)
September 1-10, 12-14, 16-25 (previously 9 am to 8 pm)
Now let’s turn to commentary. In our view, the most notable change is at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Last week, hours were extended for the entirety of August, except for August 26 and 29-31. Now, those dates have been extended (minus 8/26, oddly) along with pretty much the entirety of September.
We’re always in favor of longer park hours, but what makes this interesting is that there’s no need to extend the current hours at DHS unless something else changes. Without shows or a nighttime spectacular returning, most guests won’t be able to fill an entire day at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Plus, fewer guests are Park Hopping to DHS since it’s impossible to access Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance that way. None of this is anything new–wait time trends bear this out, and have for the entire year. Point being, Disney is well aware of this dynamic and wouldn’t be “arbitrarily” extending hours at DHS.
It thus stands to reason that more entertainment is likely returning to Disney’s Hollywood Studios in August. Beauty and the Beast: Live on Stage already began casting last month, and it’ll likely be ready to return by next month. That alone would help guests extend their day at DHS.
We’ve also heard a rumor that projection and pyro shows will be brought back in the near future, and extending the hours of Disney’s Hollywood Studios until after sunset is a necessary prerequisite to that happening. I don’t have any insight into which one (or ones) will return, but my guess would be Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular.
I have not heard anything about Fantasmic in a long time. All signs point to that being nowhere ready to return, with extensive work being done to the amphitheater. October 2021 seems like the absolute best case scenario for Fantasmic, and even that is probably a long shot. It may not return until next year.
All of the other park hours extensions are fairly unremarkable, and seem more driven by demand and attendance levels rather than anything else. Epcot is the best example of this, with that park moving to 10 pm closings Fridays through Sundays in August. This is due to the 2021 Epcot Food & Wine Festival, which is already drawing huge crowds.
Speaking of which, we don’t have any strong day of the week recommendations for 3 of the 4 parks. That’s because Disney Park Pass reservation availability is all over the place due to the refills, and that’s really messing with forecasting. We expect attendance patterns to normalize soon as supply starts exceeding demand, but that has not happened yet. In the near term, luck influences day-to-day wait time anomalies more than anything else (and by luck, we largely mean weather and ride downtime).
Going forward, it is easily foreseeable that Epcot will be the lone exception to this. We know this because the exact same scenario plays out every single year. Feels like crowds spike considerably in Epcot with the start of Food & Wine, which is often not reflected on crowd calendars. This happens because there are many more people in the park, but many are there primarily to eat and drink, not to do attractions. With that in mind, we highly recommend avoiding Epcot on Fridays through Sundays–even with the longer hours.
If you want to be ahead of the curve with your late summer or early fall Walt Disney World planning, also consider avoiding Magic Kingdom on weekends–do it on Wednesday or Thursday. It still makes no difference whatsoever when you do Disney’s Hollywood Studios, which is why it remains a good option for Saturday or Sunday if your trip encompasses a weekend. In the near future, we’d expect a return to conventional ‘best day of the week’ wisdom for Walt Disney World. We’ll keep you posted!
What are your thoughts about the latest Walt Disney World calendar changes? Happy to see hours extended for August and September 2021? Concerned that this means crowd forecasts will continue to increase? Or that Walt Disney World intends to keep upping the attendance limits? Will you be visiting Walt Disney World for the start of the 50th Anniversary? Does this extended schedule influence your decision to visit or not? Do you agree or disagree with our advice and commentary? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!