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.
As we discussed at length in Will Walt Disney World’s Low CrowdsContinue?, 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.
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!