Disney World News: Park Hours Extended, Resort Reopens & Muppet Mystery

It’s time for another Walt Disney World news and rumor round-up. For this addition, we have the usual updates on Park Pass reservation availability and theme park hours (another extension!) plus an interesting mystery about the Muppets–with big names from Walt Disney Imagineering potentially cooking up something new!

We’ll start with a bit of minor but good news: Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa reopened yesterday. This happened as scheduled and without the new walkway to Magic Kingdom opening with it. As such, it may not seem like anything noteworthy, but just keep in mind how many resort reopenings have already been pushed back.

Aside from the Disney Vacation Club properties and hotels that reopening early-on when attendance and occupancy forecasts were much higher, everything with a later reopening date has been pushed back…aside from the hotels used by the NBA. That’s not a coincidence.

When Coronado Springs reopens as scheduled after the NBA vacates the resort in October, it should become abundantly clear that the only thing that kept the reopenings of those hotels on track was the fact that they were already in use by the NBA. It’s easier to transition to regular guest operations than to undergo the process of shutting down followed by the process of reopening again later.

We mention this because many of you were extremely critical of Walt Disney World’s plans to host the NBA bubble, erroneously assuming those hotels would’ve instead reopened for “paying guests” in the absence of the NBA. (Never mind the fact that the NBA is paying over $150 million, and that’s before factoring in the benefits to ESPN and free marketing to Walt Disney World.) It’s okay to admit when you were wrong. I do it all the time.

Let’s switch gears and try to solve a fun mystery. The Muppets have launched an enigmatic new social media campaign called the #RainbowConnectionChallenge that mentions two of Disney’s top Imagineers. The tweet above (plus one other) mentions Walt Disney Imagineering President Bob Weis and Imagineering Portfolio Creative Executive & Vice President Joe Rohde by name.

In the past, Disney has tried with varying degrees of success to leverage the Muppets in viral social media campaigns. It’s thus unsurprising that many Disney fans on social media are already speculating as to what this means for the parks.

It’s perfectly reasonable to assume this is foreshadowing an announcement for Walt Disney World or Disneyland, or leaving breadcrumbs about a future Imagineering project. There’s no reason to believe that Weis and Rohde have any connection to non-parks projects involving the Muppets.

Moreover, Disney is very calculating and methodical when it comes to social media. There is literally zero chance that a rogue social media manager and Muppet performers got together and quickly cooked up this campaign to give haphazard “shout outs” to Rohde and Weis without regard for the ensuing speculation and rumor-mongering. Disney is the epitome of a corporate bureaucracy, and these tweets each probably went through a dozen meetings and just as many layers of approval.

With that said, you can still color me skeptical about this amounting to anything in Walt Disney World or Disneyland. In normal times, I’m hesitant about rumors until they’re officially announced. In current times, I’ll remain skeptical until construction goes vertical (looking at you, Reflections Lakeside Lodge) or work actively commences on a refurbishment or reimagining (and at you, Splash Mountain).

I’m a diehard Muppets fan. I’d love to see plans for the Great Muppet Movie Ride or any number of unbuilt Muppet projects finally come to fruition. Given Disney’s repeated bungling of the Muppets style and tone (save for the since-retired show “The Muppets Present…Great Moments in American History”) and the characters’ waning popularity, I don’t have high hopes for anything big.

Despite that, a small part of me can’t help but be foolhardily optimistic. The fact that these tweets were posted suggests something is on the horizon. The fact that the Muppets have been given chance after chance further suggests to me they have a powerful fan high within the ranks of Disney who is willing to gamble repeatedly on them.

As for what this project could be, the obvious guess is a MuppetVision replacement. I don’t see that happening. The popularity ‘ceiling’ on 3D films is pretty low at this point, MuppetVision is beloved by audiences that do see it, and has aged incredibly well. Updating it would be high-risk, low-reward.

If forced to guess, I’d say the most logical option is something in Liberty Square. The “Great Moments” show works as proof of concept for something and is the best exemplar of the Muppets done right.

Big names like Weis and Rohde being attached hints that this is higher profile. Not necessarily in terms of budget, but in visibility. Perhaps something that will be controversial. In particular, Joe Rohde is beloved among Disney fans, and has acted as a good “shield” for projects that Disney has expected would be unpopular with fans.

Given all of that, a Hall of Presidents Muppet takeover makes the most sense to me. (It’s literally the only thing that passes the smell test.) Not only was Hall of Presidents rumored to be replaced over the summer, but it’s the only attraction redo that would have a “ticking clock” on an announcement.

Making the announcement ahead of a polarizing election removes any legitimate gripes about bias. It avoids the inevitable general public controversy that would accompany another refurbishment if one of the candidates wins–controversies that will accompany every single election for the foreseeable future. Better to rip the band aid off now than have this relatively unpopular attraction be an ongoing expense and source of frustration.

Among Disney fans, injecting the Muppets into Hall of Presidents would likely be well-received. Even though we enjoy Hall of Presidents, it’s a liability in these divided times and is hardly popular among the general public. Unlike the previous Lin Manuel Miranda and Weird Al Yankovic Hall of Presidents overhaul rumor, there aren’t (or at least shouldn’t be) any partisan concerns about the Muppets in Hall of Presidents.

Among serious people, adding puppets to a robot show is unlikely to draw complaints about Disney “rewriting history.” Moreover, the Muppets are distinctly patriotic, and their show in Liberty Square was a good reflection of that. (So much so that a couple of lines were actually ‘toned down’ after complaints from British guests!)

Even with all of that said…I’ll believe it when I see it.

In much less interesting news, you can now receive 20% off select menu items at 20 dining locations throughout Disney Springs. These offers will be available Monday-Thursday through October 29, 2020. A full rundown of the locations and discounts can be found here.

It’s a good idea in theory because there are a lot of restaurants at Disney Springs and weekdays are still pretty slow, but the 20% off only applies to a handful of items or has certain requirements (i.e. purchase of a drink at Blaze Pizza). Nevertheless, some good deals–including some where Tables in Wonderland, Annual Passes, or other discounts would not apply.

Next, Walt Disney World has once again extended park hours, with a longer schedule for all 4 parks this weekend. These extensions apply to Friday, September 25 through Sunday, September 27, 2020. Amusingly, these are the same ‘Shorter’ Reopening Walt Disney World Park Hours that were introduced back in July and used through Labor Day weekend.

It would seem the pent-up demand and attendance projections pre-reopening have started to materialize, as Walt Disney World has seen growing crowds the last few weeks. We covered this trend in last week’s Crowds Continue Rising at Walt Disney World commentary–that is already due for another update as attendance increases have accelerated.

Consequently, all four parks will push back their closing times Friday through Sunday. Magic Kingdom will now close at 7 pm instead of 6 pm. Disney’s Hollywood Studios will close at 8 pm rather than 7 pm.

You can see the current/normal operating hours on Thursday and Monday on the 5-day view calendars above and below.

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.) As we’ve noted in a couple of posts, most recently yesterday’s EPCOT ‘Crowd Contrast’ Update, it’s now resembling a normal ‘festival season’ in EPCOT, with sharp attendance upticks over the weekends as compared to weekdays.

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.

While hours have not yet been extended for other weekends beyond this coming one, we would expect that to occur soon. It’s also possible that Walt Disney World will continue the week-by-week last minute extensions. The current crowd levels more than justify longer operating hours, and if Disney Park Pass inventory is any indication, this trend will not abate any time in the next two months.

If at all possible, we would recommend avoiding Walt Disney World on the weekends. While these extended hours might be alluring, the cost is dramatically elevated crowds as compared to weekdays in 3 of the parks. Wait times are over 40% higher on weekends, so the increase in operating hours by 10-20% is insufficient to offset that.

If your visit encompasses a weekend, our strong recommendation would be to 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 less of a pronounced difference between the two.

EPCOT is the worst pick on weekends for the exact opposite reason. Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom are fairly comparable, but we’d probably take Animal Kingdom thanks solely to the 8 am opening time.

While we’re on the topic, Disney Park Pass reservation availability is scant this weekend.

For theme park ticket holders and resort guests, only Animal Kingdom is available on Saturday. On Sunday, only EPCOT is available for those same groups. On Saturday and Sunday, nothing remains for Annual Passholders.

It will be interesting to see whether Disney Park Pass inventory is replenished in the coming days. It’s become commonplace for an inventory dump on Thursday afternoon, although last week it occurred earlier.

Recently, it appears that Walt Disney World has been using extensions of park hours to justify adding more Disney Park Pass availability. If what we’ve observed the last couple of weekends is any indication, hours need to be increased and actual in-park capacity needs to be increased if that’s going to happen. Shows and entertainment cannot return quickly enough at this point. We’ll keep you posted on how this weekend goes, and what happens next.

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 on a Hall of Presidents Muppet takeover? Happy that Grand Floridian has reopened? Plan on taking advantage of dining discounts at Disney Springs? Will you visit Walt Disney World this week or weekend? If you’ve been recently, what did you think of the crowds? Thoughts on weekdays v. weekend levels? Do you agree or disagree with anything in our report? 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!

66 Responses to “Disney World News: Park Hours Extended, Resort Reopens & Muppet Mystery”
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