Walt Disney World has released its early December 2020 calendar for Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, EPCOT, and Hollywood Studios, while extending September and October hours at some parks on weekends. In this post, we’ll share details, cover why this is happening, and offer commentary on what to expect going forward.
Let’s start with a brief recap of the park hours roller coaster, which began with Walt Disney World dramatically cutting fall park hours post-Labor Day up until Halloween. That was an unpopular decision among fans, but it was arguably vindicated by Walt Disney World’s abysmal attendance post-reopening.
Following that, Walt Disney World began releasing hours week by week for November 2020 that maintained the status quo of the reduced fall schedule. That continued through Veterans Day and approaching Thanksgiving week. Then Walt Disney World Announced Christmas Entertainment a couple of weeks ago, calling the previous schedule into question. Some of that entertainment required nighttime hours, which were not previously present on the calendar…
Last week, Walt Disney World Released New November 2020 Park Hours, changing and extending a slew of dates previously released. Most notably, Walt Disney World extended park hours for Magic Kingdom beginning November 6, which were previously 9 am until 6 pm. The updated hours reflecting the Christmas-time entertainment are 9 am until 7 pm.
These new hours were necessary to give guests around an hour of the operating day to capture photos of the Cinderella Castle Christmas projections. Previously, Magic Kingdom was closing around 30 minutes after official sunset time, which was too early for lighting effects on Cinderella Castle to be visible.
EPCOT’s hours were also adjusted, with a shift in park hours beginning November 27, 2020. Prior to that date, EPCOT’s hours are 11 am until 7 pm. On that date and thereafter, the park’s hours become 12 pm until 8 pm.
It’s the same length of time (8 hours) but it’s another step in the right direction. As a popular park among local Annual Passholders, this move makes sense. It’s also being done for the start of the EPCOT International Festival of the Holidays beginning. Beyond the food booths, it’s not clear what that event will entail.
Moving on to the latest changes and additions, we first have new hours for all parks. The calendar was previously posted through November 28, 2020–now it’s posted through December 5, 2020.
The new dates reflect the same shift at EPCOT and extension at Magic Kingdom as identified above for their respective holiday seasons.
Next, another park hours extension at Animal Kingdom. Earlier this week, Walt Disney World extended park hours there by one hour on September 20, 2020. Previously, Animal Kingdom was open from 9 am until 5 pm. Now, it’s open from 9 am until 6 pm.
The same extension has now also been made for September 27, 2020.
Finally, park hours have been extended at EPCOT, with the park now closing at 8 pm on the first two Saturdays in October 2020 (10/3 and 10/10). Previously, EPCOT closed at 7 pm on both evenings.
The good news here is that EPCOT still has Disney Park Pass availability for all three buckets on both dates, so this is a proactive rather than reactive move.
There are a number of viable explanations for this that are discussed in that post. The biggest is that Walt Disney World has quietly increased capacity.
This has become very evident in the last couple of weeks, as Disney Park Pass availability has increased with Annual Passholder inventory replenished on previously ‘unavailable’ dates. APs now often have same-day availability for EPCOT, and they are starting to take advantage of this.
We’ve spent the last two days at EPCOT, and the park has been seeing heavier crowds the second half of the day than the first half.
We’ll have more in a full EPCOT update tomorrow, but the crowd trends are really interesting. Wait times have not been dramatically higher, but crowds have been. Right now, 7:30 pm feels busier in World Showcase than it did back at the end of July. Keep in mind that 7:30 pm is 30 minutes after park closing now, whereas it would’ve been 90 minutes before park closing then.
Heavier ‘feels like’ crowd levels are typical for EPCOT’s Food & Wine Festival season, as locals focus more on grazing booths than riding attractions. It isn’t uncommon for Soarin’ Around the World to have minimal waits (that are well below average) while World Showcase feels like it’s a peak day in terms of congestion levels. Thankfully, we’re not at the latter point yet, but the walkways are no longer deserted like they were two months ago.
Ultimately, the latest weekday trends are a promising development (excluding Disney’s Hollywood Studios, which has its own set of unique problems). Crowd levels appear to be growing at a level disproportionate to wait times. While the first month-plus of ‘ghost town’ crowds at Walt Disney World were enjoyable, they were also unsustainable. What we’re observing now is better for Disney and guests, as it inches things back to normalcy.
If this pattern holds, we’d expect park hours to continue being extended, with more food booths and restaurants reopening. Perhaps more entertainment or shows returning, as well. While increased crowds might be concerning for those of you planning Walt Disney World trips for later this year, the dynamic here is win-win-win. Locals win because they can enter the park to eat. Tourists win because attraction wait times (at least on weekdays) are still relatively low. Disney wins because park profitability increases–that also ends up being a win for guests, as it reverses the cost-cutting spiral we all derided when fall hours were reduced.
What are your thoughts about the latest Walt Disney World calendar changes? Happy to see hours extended, or concerned about the accompanying crowds? Do you anticipate Walt Disney World will make additional extensions if demand picks up? Or will ‘fine tune’ operating hours—extending, reducing, or shifting as appropriate? Will you be visiting Walt Disney World in November or December 2020? Does this modified schedule influence your decision to visit this holiday season? 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!