Disney World Extends & Adds Park Hours in October & December 2020
Walt Disney World has added hours to its calendar through December 19, 2020 for Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, EPCOT, and Hollywood Studios, which includes even more extensions on weekends in October. In this post, we’ll share details, why it’s happening, offer predictions for Halloween, and strategy for which park to visit each day of the week.
Let’s begin with a brief recap of the recent park hours changes. This started with Walt Disney World dramatically cutting fall hours up until Halloween. That was an unpopular decision among fans, and didn’t make a ton of sense in terms of guest demographics, but was justified at the time by Walt Disney World’s low post-reopening numbers.
More recently, Walt Disney World Released Early December 2020 Park Hours, which tweaked that approach and gave two parks more nighttime hours (necessary since some Walt Disney World Christmas Entertainment requires darkness). That coupled with weekly extensions to park hours has resulted in a more sensible calendar in light of guest behavior and visitation patterns…
Turning to the latest park hours additions, we first have new hours for all parks. The calendar was previously posted through December 12, 2020–now times are posted through December 19, 2020.
The new dates reflect the same shift at EPCOT and extension at Magic Kingdom that were made for Thanksgiving and early December. With that said, the most important part of the calendar below is in the bottom left corner: “Operating Hours Subject to Change.”
Walt Disney World has returned to its normal practice of releasing boilerplate hours “far” in advance before extending those based on attendance and hotel occupancy projections a couple of weeks before the dates. This initial release serves as a minimum baseline for what the ultimate hours will end up being, with hours (usually) only extended and not reduced.
The inevitable extension for some of these dates is a double-edged sword. The downside is that every single time that Walt Disney World has increased hours, new Disney Park Pass inventory has also been released. As a case in point, we accurately “predicted” the latest hours extension yesterday before it happened because earlier in the morning reservations had been replenished.
Higher crowd levels for the dates that are extended is probably something few of you planning trips want to hear. As we covered recently, the days of ‘ghost town’ post-reopening days are over: Wait Times Increased 40% at Walt Disney World Last Month.
However, the full story there is not as bad as the headline suggests. It’s also important to point out that wait time increases and higher crowd levels are relative to the record lows of July. In objective or historical terms, numbers are still low to moderate.
The upside is that with each passing week, more and more returns to Walt Disney World–restaurants, snack stands, stores, entertainment, and so on.
Last weekend, about a half-dozen counter service locations, bakeries, and snack spots reopened at EPCOT. Yesterday, two more Taste of Food & Wine Festival booths debuted. (Magic Kingdom could really use a few more snack spots.)
The next really big thing should be some stage shows. The standoff between Disney and the union representing equity performers in stage shows (and more) has ended. We’re getting to the point where crowds in Disney’s Hollywood Studios necessitate the return of some stage shows.
Already we have “For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration” returning this week to Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Unfortunately, that’s not a “pure” addition as “The Disney Society Orchestra” at the Theater of the Stars will be retired over the weekend. Our hope is that Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular (ideally) or Beauty and the Beast: Live on Stage is next to return.
Anyway, Walt Disney World has once again extended park hours for weekends in October. This was previously done for this weekend as well as the Columbus Day/Indigenous Peoples’ Day holiday weekend of October 9-12, 2020.
Now, the same is occurring for October 16-19, 2020. A few noteworthy things about what has (and has not) changed…
For that weekend, three of the four parks will push back their closing times. Magic Kingdom will now close at 8 pm instead of 6 pm. EPCOT will close at 9 pm, which is actually a two hour extension from the current 7 pm closing times. (Restoring a two hour cut.)
Animal Kingdom will open at 8 am from Friday through Sunday, which is an hour before its current 9 am opening. The park will also close at 6 pm, which is an hour later than weekdays right now. However, Disney’s Hollywood Studios will not have its closing extended to 8 pm, which is an interesting wrinkle here…
For this current weekend, Disney’s Hollywood Studios had its hours extended to 8 pm. However, neither the holiday weekend nor the following one have seen this same change. It’s possible this weekend is a “trial balloon” for adding an extra hour and increasing Disney Park Pass capacity, and subsequent weekends will be extended if that’s successful.
The reason it may not be successful is because it’s already rather difficult to score a Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance boarding group at 10 am, and added hours plus higher attendance may create more problems with that. We’ll be closely monitoring this, as there’s really no explanation for DHS to have longer hours this weekend and not those thereafter, which will undoubtedly be busier at Walt Disney World as a whole.
Looking at the current Disney Park Pass inventory for Annual Passholders should give us a pretty good idea of where and for what dates the next park hours increases will occur. Unsurprisingly, weekends are the most in-demand dates.
While October 23-25, 2020 is the next logical park hours increase (probably mirroring that of the weekend before it–although Magic Kingdom could be open even later), we’re turning our sights on Halloween weekend.
Unsurprisingly, there was a lot of early demand for those dates. With some Central Florida communities rethinking trick or treating, many will want to visit Walt Disney World.
Magic Kingdom could easily justify releasing another batch of Disney Park Pass reservations and closing at 9 pm or even 10 pm that weekend. There’s still a ton of unsatisfied demand that extended hours could help meet. We’re anxiously awaiting those final hours, because that will set the tone and precedent for the Christmas season at Walt Disney World.
It’s likely that Walt Disney World will continue to extend weekend park hours beyond these dates for November and December 2020. The current crowd levels more than justify longer operating hours, and if Disney Park Pass inventory is any indication, this trend will not abate for the rest of the year.
If high crowds and longer waits are your top concern, we’ll reiterate our recommendation to avoid Walt Disney World on the weekends. These extended hours are attractive, but the cost is elevated crowds as compared to weekdays in 3 of the parks. Wait times are ~40% higher on weekends, so the increase in operating hours by 10-20% doesn’t offset that. Simply put, you can get more done in less time on weekdays.
If your visit encompasses a weekend, do Disney’s Hollywood Studios at least one of those days. Since DHS is hitting capacity or coming close to it on weekdays as well as weekends, there is almost no difference in crowds there among the days of the week. (To be clear, that means it feels busy there every day instead of just weekends like the other parks.)
EPCOT is the worst pick on weekends for the exact opposite reason. Our recent EPCOT Photo Report: Stay Away on Weekends flew under the radar, but that should be essential reading. It’s arguably the most important piece of advice for families visiting in the next few months (perhaps beyond).
As for the your other weekend choice, it’s sort of a toss-up between Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom. We recently did the former on a Friday, and covered it in our Magic Kingdom Weekend Report: Beating Heavier Crowds & Higher Waits. That was a solid experience, with the best part being covered in Our Enjoyable Evening in Magic Kingdom. In fact, we had such a ‘tranquil twilight’ in Magic Kingdom last week that we returned again last night.
On the other hand, Animal Kingdom is attractive thanks to the 8 am opening time. Most locals–the primary demographic on weekends–are not going to get up that early, so you can still accomplish an efficient itinerary solely by virtue of arriving early–or even staying late.
Ultimately, crowds are still entirely manageable if you properly strategize no matter which day of the week you visit. Midday wait times have been bad and lines are lengthy, but it’s still entirely possible to beat the crowds. Our top recommendation would be to visit entirely on weekdays. That’s going to be the best low crowds experience, and avoid the heavier crowds. How you order the parks Mondays through Fridays matters a lot less–we’d recommend doing Magic Kingdom on Wednesday or Thursday and EPCOT on any day but Friday, but that’s about it.
If your Walt Disney World trip must encompass a weekend, we’d do Magic Kingdom on Friday, Disney’s Hollywood Studios on Saturday, and Animal Kingdom on Sunday. In testing a variety of approaches, that’s the one with which we’ve been the happiest. The longer hours arguably are worth the higher crowd levels, especially if you value sunset and dusk in the parks. Again, the most important thing is avoiding EPCOT on weekends. Of course, that’s our advice right now. Things keep changing, and so too could day of week strategy.
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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 late 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!
What are the current park capacity levels? I heard that it’s only 30%?