Walt Disney World has extended park hours for opening weekend of Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance at Hollywood Studios. Additionally, hours at Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, and Epcot are now longer for December 2019 & January 2020, with earlier openings and later closings. In this post, we’ll cover the longer hours, offer background info, and what to expect crowd-wise.
Walt Disney World typically releases boilerplate hours around six months in advance, and then refines those hours a couple months before the months arrive. The boilerplate hours are always conservative likely for the sake of guests who are making ADRs, with the final hours reflecting operational realities and crowd levels of each month.
We covered all of that (with extended commentary) when increased park hours increased for this month and December 2019. This is a second increase for some of these dates, reflecting a mix of high attendance projections plus crowd manipulation efforts for the opening weekend of Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, the flagship attraction of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge…
For both December 2019 and January 2020, park hours have been extended for many dates, particularly in late December and early January. This includes several nights with Extra Magic Hours, which has caused those to be pushed back an hour to accommodate the longer operating hours for the general public. (Everyone wins!)
We won’t go through these of all as pretty much every park has seen its hours change (in all cases, these changes are extensions of an hour or more to operating hours), and the increased operating hours impact over half of December 2019. You’ll want to consult DisneyWorld.com’s December 2019 Park Hours Calendar for that.
Some noteworthy extensions worth mentioning are that Magic Kingdom will now be opening at 8 am and closing at midnight (previously 9 am to 10 pm) for the busy Christmas week of December 23 to 29, 2019. Also at Magic Kingdom, gone are the 8 pm closings of January 1-4, 2020, replaced with 10 or 11 pm closings. Other parks have also seen extensions for those same early January dates. Don’t expect there to be any early January 2020 lull, at least not until after the Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend. (Perhaps not even then.)
On December 5, Disney’s Hollywood Studios will now be opening at 8 am and closing at 10 pm. The park will not have Extra Magic Hours and even this expanded schedule seems pretty meager for the debut day of what has been hyped as one of Imagineering’s most ambitious projects, ever. We’ll circle back to the “why” on these hours.
Over at Epcot and Animal Kingdom hours have been extended, with both parks now offering 7 am Extra Magic Hours and 8 am normal park openings. Unfortunately, Magic Kingdom’s hours are not being extended in either direction, which is due to that being a Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party night (scheduled months before the opening of Rise of the Resistance was finalized).
Now for some theorizing. It’s pretty obvious that the early openings of Epcot and Animal Kingdom on December 5, 2019 are being used to lure guests away from Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Many guests (perhaps even a majority) are blissfully unaware that Walt Disney World will be debuting a blockbuster attraction on that date, and this is a subtle way of nudging them away from encountering unexpected chaos at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Then there’s Disney’s Hollywood Studios itself, which still has fairly modest operating hours. There’s nothing wild here or even aggressive, like a midnight closing time or Extra Magic Hours. This is likely by design, as Disney has learned its lesson from this summer with Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland. The goal here is not to scare crowds away by signaling that they’re expecting insanity.
Nevertheless, our expectation with Disney’s Hollywood Studios, which is supported by past precedent, is a quiet opening of the park by at least 6 am. Earlier is entirely possible and would be unsurprising. (Unless we receive reason to believe otherwise between now and then, we plan on being there before 5 am.) The same-day announcement of a later closing time is also possible, but we’d bet against it.
The time that transportation will start operating from the resorts that morning will be indicative of Disney’s Hollywood Studios’ actual opening time, so be sure to ask Cast Members at your resort (or look for a sign) the night before. If transportation begins at 3 or 4 am, DHS will open even earlier–Disney isn’t going to let a line for bag check extend all the way to the BoardWalk.
An unpublished early opening time functions as a great release valve on crowds for getting diehard fans willing to camp out overnight or be up at the crack of dawn cycled through Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance. By not publishing the actual opening time, it both limits crowds to a manageable level and doesn’t scare regular guests away.
After a surplus of reports about low opening day/week/month/season crowds at Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge on both coasts, Disney undoubtedly wants to find the happy medium here. Photos and video of huge crowds and a multi-hour line for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance…but also reports of a smooth experience and execution.
This positions Disney for a ‘best of both worlds’ response in terms of attendance levels and guest satisfaction. Whether that scenario plays out depends entirely on whether crowds materialize, the uptime of Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, and the flow of guests through Disney’s Hollywood Studios that day.
In general, we’re still expecting December to be very busy. Even without Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance opening that day, Disney’s Hollywood Studios would see ‘healthy’ crowds, and the new attraction should cause at least a fair spike to that baseline. Because it’s the heart of holiday season and less is being done to actively discourage potentially reticent guests from visiting, we’d expect December 5 to be significantly busier than August 29.
If you’ll be visiting Walt Disney World on December 5, there are a couple of approaches we’d recommend. The first is going all-in on the Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance opening hoopla. Get to DHS hours before sunrise and embrace the palpable excitement of the ride’s debut–even if that means being stuck in huge crowds and long lines. There’s truly something to be said for this type of experience, but it’s definitely not for everyone. We love it, and plan on logging one long and exhausting day on December 5, 2019.
The alternative is to avoid Disney’s Hollywood Studios entirely (certainly don’t arrive at 9 am or during the middle of the day). Perhaps begin with Epcot for that rare early opening before park hopping to Magic Kingdom for what should be a low crowds day there before hopping over to Animal Kingdom for the evening. Or maybe monitor wait times and get to DHS at the very end of the night, and jump into line for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance just before park closing. Whatever you do, it’ll be a good weekend to have park hopper tickets at Walt Disney World–being nimble and riding the ‘wave’ of crowds from park to park will definitely help you see and do more, while avoiding the worst wait times.
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What is your plan for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance’s opening weekend? Will you be avoiding DHS that day or fully embracing the crowd/lines/whatever as part of the debut day experience? What do you think of the expanded park hours for December 2019 and January 2020 at Walt Disney World? Do you agree or disagree with our 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!