Disney World Cuts Fall Park Hours
Walt Disney World has cut park hours for Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot, and Hollywood Studios, with later openings and earlier closings for September & October 2020. In this post, we’ll cover details with commentary on why Disney is reducing hours. (Updated September 8, 2020.)
For both July and August, all Walt Disney World theme parks operated for 10 hours per day. Opening and closing times were staggered, meaning that each opened at a different hour from 8 to 11 am, and each closed at a different hour from 6 to 9 pm. Logistically, this made sense in terms of resources (like buses) and physical distancing (guests returning to hotels at staggered time eased elevator burdens).
This is the second time that Walt Disney World has reduced operating hours for its first few months after reopening. Normally, Walt Disney World extends hours rather than cutting them back. Of course, nothing is normal right now. Given the circumstances and what we’ve observed, it’s not surprising that Walt Disney World is reducing park hours. It is concerning, but we’ll get to that in the commentary…
Here were Walt Disney World’s previous park hours, which are still valid through Labor Day:
- Magic Kingdom — 9 am to 7 pm
- Animal Kingdom — 8 am to 6 pm
- Epcot — 11 am to 9 pm
- Hollywood Studios — 10 am to 8 pm
Here are the reduced hours, beginning September 8, 2020:
- Magic Kingdom — 9 am to 6 pm
- Animal Kingdom — 9 am to 5 pm
- Epcot — 11 am to 7 pm
- Hollywood Studios — 10 am to 7 pm
As you can probably see, Magic Kingdom’s closing time moves forward by one hour, Epcot’s closing time jumps up 2 hours, Animal Kingdom opens an hour later and closes an hour earlier, and Hollywood Studios closes an hour earlier.
None of this is particularly surprising, and these reductions are no doubt made in light of guest attendance patterns. As we’ve observed and shared in our Walt Disney World reopening reports, the parks are least busy their last two hours of operation (plus right at park opening for Animal Kingdom) and guest utilization during those hours is really low.
September 8, 2020 Update: After a busy (but lighter than expected) Labor Day weekend, Walt Disney World’s reduced off-season hours begin today. Originally, this scaled-back schedule was slated to run through Halloween. However, Walt Disney World has since updated its calendar three times, each time extending the hours another week into November 2020.
At present, these cutbacks extend until November 21, 2020. With Thanksgiving, always a popular travel holiday for Walt Disney World, the following week, it’s possible regular hours will be restored the following week. It’s also entirely possible this schedule will continue beyond then, until Christmas.
On a positive note, at least Halloween Begins in Magic Kingdom next week!
As we discussed at length in Will Walt Disney World’s Low Crowds Continue?, September and October are likely to see some of the lowest crowds in Walt Disney World history. The weather is still uncomfortable then, schools are back in session, whatever pent-up demand exists among lower-tier APs will likely be exhausted, and Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Part has been cancelled.
September is always the slowest month of the year at Walt Disney World, and that’s likely to be especially pronounced this year. In fact, September 2020 will likely be the least busy month at Walt Disney World since September 2001, when people feared traveling in the aftermath of 9/11.
October is usually a different story, but so much of that is fueled by special events and school breaks. Those events are not occurring and there are a lot of unknowns about school breaks. Accordingly, October is likely to be a slightly busier version of September–but still not even remotely busy. Likely slower than both July and August.
Pretty much since reopening, we’ve been predicting that this fall would be really slow for Central Florida tourism. The likelihood of things being particularly rough was exacerbated when cases surged and parks cancelled Halloween events. Universal Orlando has also reduced hours, and we remain worried that some non-Disney parks will shift to seasonal operating schedules, potentially closing on weekdays. (It’s unlikely Walt Disney World would do this, as it’d be game over for attracting tourists.)
Consequently, this won’t necessarily have a big impact on your itinerary. (In terms of attractions, perhaps the biggest downside is one less hour for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance to operate.) You should still be able to knock out each park in a single day thanks to the short wait times and low crowds. You’ll just have less flexibility and latitude in your arrival time, and won’t be able to enjoy the ‘late arrival’ strategies we’ve been touting.
From our perspective, the most frustrating aspect of this change is that it means no parks will be open after sunset. September and October are still fairly hot and humid, and all of these parks are open during the “worst” hours of the day from that perspective. These early closures will also push more guests to Disney Springs, which has already seen a surge of crowds in recent weeks due to the shorter park hours. (So much so that we’ve stopped visiting Disney Springs.)
There are obvious negative ramifications for guests (and no corresponding price reduction on tickets!), but reducing park hours is also a risky move for Walt Disney World. Every cut sends a signal to guests with trips booked for this fall and holiday season–or those thinking about booking trips.
In part, Disney is a “victim” of its own success (heavy air quotes), as the feedback loop between its cuts and guest behavior appeared to be broken. Walt Disney World could raise prices, scale back entertainment, and reduce hours, and guests would be unfazed. Attendance would still increase.
It should go without saying, but such a disconnect is not normal. Reductions do not occur in a vacuum—even if that’s what Walt Disney World leadership might like to believe since their product has been so popular during the economic boom of the last decade that they’ve been able to make cuts and increase prices with impunity.
This is a new and totally different landscape, and we hope Walt Disney World leadership understands that. As we enter a recession and the guest experience has been fundamentally altered in so many ways (for the worse), potential guests are going to be much more responsive to negative changes, reductions to the experience, and perceptions of value for money. It is well established that consumers become more price sensitive and less brand loyal during recessions.
It doesn’t require a vivid imagination to envision a hypothetical guest with a trip booked in November and December who has been on the fence about cancelling their vacation. They’ve seen and are apprehensive about all of the temporary new rules, entertainment modifications, already reduced hours, and more. They’ve also been watching closely and are reassured by low crowds, the downward trend of new cases in Florida, safety measures, and the likelihood that Disney would do something for the holidays.
Now comes this reduction of park hours for September and October. While it does not directly impact their vacation, it does send a signal about Walt Disney World’s trajectory–cutting more instead of gradually restoring the normal experience. If we were tourists, I’d be worried about more targeted reductions on the horizon to specific attractions, entertainment, and restaurants. The move also calls into question whether Disney will even do the Cinderella Castle Holiday Dream Lights (if Magic Kingdom isn’t open after sunset, it doesn’t make much sense). Basically, it nudges those on the fence in the direction of “not worth it.”
Ultimately, a couple of hours per day during times when attendance is low might seem minor, but this is a big concern. (And one we also address at length in Why Walt Disney World Needs to Go Big for the 50th Anniversary.) Now is not the time that Walt Disney World can be fixated on the short term, trying to make the current quarter’s numbers look marginally better. In so doing, attendance woes will become a self-fulfilling property when coupled with cuts that are supposedly to help stem the bleeding.
When describing all of this, we’ve eschewed the term “new normal” in favor of “temporary abnormal.” However, the former term is apt for guest demand and attendance trends at Walt Disney World. It’s going to take several years for travel to fully recover–until 2025 if experts are to be believed. Hopefully Disney’s leaders realize this, and understand that the shenanigans they pulled during the strong economy of the last decade are not viable. The “new normal” here is that travel is a buyer’s market, and Disney will need to do more to entice guests to visit.
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!
Surprised by the reduced operating hours, or did you expect this? Do you expect Walt Disney World to make additional cuts for specific attractions, entertainment, restaurants, or anything else? Will you be visiting Walt Disney World in September or October? Will shorter hours influence your decision to visit later in 2020 or in early 2021? 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!
The hours are ridiculous!!! What is the point?? Being at Magic Kingdom after dark with the lights was my favorite! Fireworks, why can’t they do them, so we can walk and pass by everyone and stand in lines by every one but can’ t for fireworks. It’s all about greed!
Fireworks are an essential part of the experience for most of us. When i was in the DCP in 92, they spent over $200k per night. Today that’s well over a million dollars a day. It is expensive. A bigger problem is availability. Many Chinese factories have been closed. The death toll there is far above what they will admit to. And most professional display operators here are facing product shortages. Disney has more purchasing power than almost anyone else wanting pyro, but if there isn’t any product to buy…
I had thought of taking my son for a week and he could do his online schooling During the day and we could go into the parks in the afternoon but with these hours that really doesn’t work. Sigh
That’s exactly what I’d do if I had kids.
Fall at WDW and DL/DCA is probably my favorite time of the year, and the biggest fun factor for me is the different experience you get in the daytime vs after dark. At WDW, we typically go to the parks in the early morning, take a break and head back to the hotel midday (thank you Skyliner!) to avoid the heat, and come back around sunset (7pm in October). This model is impossible with the current hours. We’re also avid park hoppers and regularly do at least two parks each day (one morning, another evening). This is also not possible now. Had a trip planned for early October and cancelled. Halloween just isn’t the same to me without the “nighttime effect”. And not getting to see Pandora after dark is a huge experience loss. I don’t even want to think about Christmas without the lights. So until we can get some after dark hours we’ll be skipping Disney.
Tom, Your pictures are very well done. ~RTF
Any word on dining reservations? I was able to change my BOG reservation from 6:45 to 6:05, but technically both of those times are after the park closes. I guess I will wait and see if they cancel it. Dining hotline said ‘probably’ any reservation after 6pm would be auto canceled at some point.
Jam, I asked the 2 agents and they said we’d likely be able to keep our 6:45pm BOG even with the no 6pm close time. I keep looking and managed to snag a 6:20pm reservation to switch to. I feel pretty good they won’t cancel any reservations before 6:25pm but this is only speculation. I spoke to some other travel agents and they also said anything before 6:30 will likely be fine. The strange thing is when I checked Disney is still allowing reservations to be made up until 45 min after the new close times. I don’t know is that is a glitch but seems like they would have immediately cut the dining reservation times to the new park hours. Anyone else have any thoughts on that or knows more?
Sorry typo, even with the new 6pm close time.
Unfortunately, I think this may be the straw that broke the camel’s back for us. We have accepted a lot of changes, but after already trying to justify going with Florida’s numbers, this just makes it that much harder. Our late March trip was a no-go (for obvious reasons). We made adjustments, and accepted fewer hours and that our girls cannot stay in the royal rooms we booked a year ago and they had been so looking forward to. We understood that as well, and just modified our reservation last week. We are mask proponents (and would only go if masks are required and enforced). However, with 5 days planned in the park one week after they modify the hours, we miss out on almost a current full-day’s worth of park time opportunity. We had planned to take a fairly substantial break and return to the hotel to cool down/rest/swim each midday. This limits our options to some extent. Not even to have one park open after dark is a real issue for us. Epcot was a consolation prize not to get to enjoy Magic Kingdom during the evening. We were looking forward to some nice ambiance and plenty of time to explore World Showcase. If they were going from the “normal” hours to these after disappointing attendance, I could almost understand that more. But to cut 1 hour from each park (except Epcot, which is already opening hours later than usual), just rubs me the wrong way.
They’re taking away so much of the experience, they might as well shut it down until Florida’s covid numbers decrease.
Our trip is scheduled for mid-November and I was hanging on to hope that we would still go, but if there are going to be no nighttime strolls through the parks, among all the other things that make Disney magical that are currently canceled, I don’t really see the point. Plus, paying rack rate with no discounts and not getting the same amount of time in the parks..(basically paying the same amt of money and getting a fraction in return).
I feel the same, my trip is mid November and the shortened hours really seems unfair for the price. We go for the parks, to be there all day until dark, then wake up and do it all the next day. We’re waiting it out though, trying to stay hopeful.