Disney World Extends Holiday Hours & Adds New 2021 Dates

Walt Disney World has added new hours through January 9, 2021 for Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, EPCOT, and Hollywood Studios, while also extending hours for peak holiday season dates in December 2020. In this post, we’ll share the new calendar dates, extended hours for Christmas week, plus commentary on best & worst days of the week for each park.

The good news is that this continues the trend of restoring (and even extending) the Walt Disney World reduced fall hours. As you might recall, post-reopening park hours were initially limited, then further cut due to low attendance (especially the last ~2 hours of the day) and subsequently added back due to soaring guest numbers in the last month-plus.

Helping fuel the extensions, Walt Disney World Announced Christmas Entertainment that required nighttime operating hours. In the last several weeks, the calendar has been adjusted accordingly with each new release of park hours for the holiday season. Notably, EPCOT’s hours shifted to 12 pm until 8 pm and Magic Kingdom expanded its hours to 9 am until 7 pm…

This go-round, we have both extensions for the Christmas 2020 season and new dates added to the calendar in January 2020. Not a ton of either, but extending upon the familiar trends from 200+ Park Hours Added to Walt Disney World’s Calendar Through Christmas 2020 that occurred two weeks ago and the New January 2021 Hours released last week.

Anyway, here’s what was just posted to the calendar on DisneyWorld.com for January 3-9, 2021…

Added hours are the same for all dates that week through January 9, 2021:

  • Magic Kingdom: 9 am to 6 pm
  • EPCOT: 12 pm to 8 pm
  • Hollywood Studios: 10 am to 7 pm
  • Animal Kingdom: 9 am to 5 pm

Walt Disney World has returned to its normal, pre-closure practice of releasing boilerplate hours in advance before extending those based on attendance and hotel occupancy projections closer to the dates. The only difference to these hours is that Magic Kingdom is closing at 6 pm instead of 7 pm like during the previous week.

However, these initial “lorem ipsum” Walt Disney World park hours are simply a placeholder, and serve as a minimum baseline for what the ultimate hours will end up being, with hours only extended and not reduced. Prior to the closure, Walt Disney World released these hours ~6 months in advance, with there being seasonal trends and holiday variations based upon past precedent.

In short, the initially weekly releases of new hours does not account for crowd trends, special events, holidays–literally anything. It’s a copy & paste job from the new template established for the holiday season.

As we pointed out last week, there is a 0.07% chance that the hours for New Year’s Eve will end up being shorter than the hours for November 19, 2020, absent aliens invading Magic Kingdom again.

Note that those shorter park hours are still showing for New Year’s Eve despite this week’s announcement that the 2020 Taste of EPCOT International Festival of the Holidays will end on December 30, 2020, potentially clearing space for crowd flow of guests wanting to ring in the New Year at EPCOT.

Also announced this week is that the 2021 Taste of EPCOT International Festival of the Arts will begin on January 8, 2021. While we’ve been questioning whether January & February 2021 crowds would be lower than in the recent past due to a lack of conventions, runDisney, and youth sporting events, that weekend will unquestionably be busy. Accordingly, those hours are unlikely to be accurate.

Next, we have the extensions. The big weeks changing this time are the weeks leading up to Christmas and New Year’s Eve (December 20-30, 2020), and it’s a curiously uniform change:

  • Magic Kingdom: 8 am to 10 pm
  • EPCOT: 10 am to 9 pm
  • Hollywood Studios: 9 am to 8 pm
  • Animal Kingdom: 7 am to 7 pm

For comparison, here were last year’s Christmas week park hours

  • Magic Kingdom: 8 am to 12 am
  • EPCOT: 9 am to 9:30 pm
  • Hollywood Studios: 8 am to 10 pm
  • Animal Kingdom: 9 am to 9 pm

Note that last year, each park had longer hours on December 25 and thereafter. Additionally, there were slight variances due to Extra Magic Hours and Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party running later than normal. However, those were the norms.

In addition to extended hours for Christmas week, Magic Kingdom will now be closing at 9 pm all Fridays through Sundays in November 2020. Previously, the park was closing at 8 pm the first three weekends of the month.

EPCOT is receiving an hour closing time extension for those same November weekends, now closing at 10 pm instead of 9 pm. Animal Kingdom is also adding one hour, closing at 7 pm instead of 6 pm, but only for the first two weekends of the month. No changes at DHS for any of those dates.

Two things are interesting to me with this year’s Christmas week operating schedule, which still may not be the final hours.

First, every date has the same schedule. This wouldn’t make sense in a normal year since Christmas day is more popular than the week leading up to it. However, it does make sense in this capacity-constrained year.

There’s a very good chance that all four parks are going to have their Disney Park Pass reservations fully booked well before those dates arrive, and be at 100% of their reduced capacity that entire week.

While in the recent past, Walt Disney World has adjusted hours, restaurants, retail, etc. to “create” more capacity, they’re probably pulling out all the stops for the entirety of Christmas week. The upper limit on capacity and attendance will be reached every single day that week. Meaning there is no reason for differing hours…and also that every single day in every park will be equal(ly bad) from a crowd calendar perspective.

The other surprise is that 7 am opening time for Animal Kingdom during Christmas week. We remarked on this when Animal Kingdom moved to a 7 am opening time for Halloween. It’s a tad surprising that Walt Disney World would make that same, rather bold adjustment for Christmas week without first seeing how Halloween played out.

In our extensive experience doing those crack of dawn park openings over the last several years, we’ve found that very few guests will get up that early to visit the parks. That’s true no matter how busy things are predicted to be later in the day. This is doubly true with a predominantly local audience that has visited countless times and doesn’t have the same motivation as one in a lifetime guests. Not that we’re complaining–we’ll take advantage of those sunrise hours, cool weather, and low crowds at Animal Kingdom!

The same “all parks will be equally bad” prediction almost certainly will apply to Thanksgiving week, as that’s another period of the calendar with uniformly long park hours across the board. Several of you have asked for ‘best/worst day’ advice for that week; our response has typically been to do Magic Kingdom earlier in the week, but it probably doesn’t really matter.

The same will almost certainly hold true for the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. On the plus side, if you’re an annual visitor during these weeks, you should still benefit from a pronounced reduction in crowds relative to that same week in a normal year. This is a contrast to what guests are experiencing right now, but that’s entirely because normal demand for October is significantly lower than it is for peak holiday dates.

If you’re planning for non-peak dates in November or December, you’ll want to keep an eye on our Walt Disney World Park Reports. We have a Disney’s Hollywood Studios report coming tomorrow or Monday that’s…not great. We’ll also have other new reports for Magic Kingdom and EPCOT this coming week.

Although CEO Bob Chapek claims Walt Disney World Capacity Is Still Capped at 25%, that’s disingenuous and misleading. The low crowds from the summer are now a thing of the past, as attendance levels are now increasing every single week and “feels like” crowds are worse right now than in a normal October.

When it comes to best & worst days to visit, our top recommendation is to avoid Walt Disney World on weekends, federal holidays, and Southern school breaks. Guests right now are disproportionately from Florida and other nearby states, so you basically want to avoid any time they’re off work or school.

That advice will not change for the remainder of 2020. Regardless of which day you’re visiting, we’d advise following the steps in our Post-Reopening Walt Disney World Itineraries. Those are optimized for moderate or lower days, but the same steps are applicable for busier times–you just won’t get everything done.

If your Walt Disney World trip encompasses a weekend, schedule Disney’s Hollywood Studios for least one of those days. The park now hits or comes close to hitting capacity every single day of the week. Accordingly, there is almost no difference in crowds there on weekdays v. weekends. Consequently, DHS feels very busy every single day of the week instead of just weekends.

If Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance is a must-do for you, schedule DHS both of those days. This is because Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance has essentially become a de facto lottery. It turns out of boarding passes immediately at both 10 am and 2 pm–even if you’re quick to the draw using My Disney Experience, luck dictates whether you’ll score spots in the virtual queue.

EPCOT is the worst choice on weekends. Our EPCOT Photo Report: Stay Away on Weekends is essential reading. It’s arguably the most important piece of advice for families visiting in the next few months (perhaps beyond).

Mondays through Wednesdays are all equally good for EPCOT. We’ve noticed a slight uptick in crowds on Thursdays, and a more significant one on Fridays. Still, not nearly as bad as Saturday or Sunday.

As for the your other weekend choice, we’re starting to lean towards Animal Kingdom–and that’s even more true if you’re visiting from early November 2020 on, when Magic Kingdom shifts to closing after sunset on weekdays. Animal Kingdom is attractive on weekends thanks to the earlier 8 am opening time and later 6 pm closing.

Most locals will not get up that early, so you can still accomplish an efficient itinerary solely by virtue of arriving early–or even staying late. Our Awesome Afternoon in Animal Kingdom for a rundown of everything we recently accomplished there, including actual v. posted wait times.

Crowd-wise, Magic Kingdom is a good pick Monday through Thursday, with Wednesday being the best day of the week there from an objective perspective. You’ll get more done those days, even with the park being open for one less hour.

With Magic Kingdom now closing after sunset on a regular basis, it’s not necessary to do the park on a weekend. However, you will get more time in Magic Kingdom after dark Fridays through Sundays, and that does have undeniable subjective appeal.

Ultimately, Walt Disney World crowds are getting worse with each passing week. Midday wait times have been bad and lines are lengthy, but it’s possible to beat the crowds with efficient strategy. Arriving early, doing a midday break, and staying late is the best tactic–familiar advice for longtime fans that proves even while virtually everything is in flux, some things never change.

Visiting Walt Disney World exclusively on weekdays will be the best low crowds experience, even if it means shorter hours. How you order the parks Mondays through Thursdays matters less, but we’d recommend doing Magic Kingdom on Wednesday or Thursday and EPCOT earlier in the week, but that’s really it.

If you’re visiting Walt Disney World for a long weekend, do Magic Kingdom on Friday, Disney’s Hollywood Studios on Saturday, DHS again or Animal Kingdom on Sunday, and EPCOT on Monday. The longer hours can be worth the higher crowd levels, especially if you value sunset and dusk in the parks and are able to avoid the middle of the day. As always, things continue to ‘evolve’ so we’ll keep you posted as to how this strategy changes over the coming weeks and months.

Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!

YOUR THOUGHTS

What are your thoughts about the latest Walt Disney World calendar additions? Think crowds will be “equally bad” for the duration of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve weeks? Do you agree that more park hours between Christmas and New Year’s Eve will be extended? Will you be visiting Walt Disney World for the holiday season? Concerned about the ever-increasing crowds at Walt Disney World? Does the 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!


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