Walt Disney World has announced that the 2 p.m. Park Hopping rule will be retired and all-day Park Hopper benefits will be restored in 2024. This post covers the full details about the change, plus a recap of other guest-friendly changes taking effect around the same time and our commentary about why Walt Disney World is doing this now.
Beginning January 9, 2024, guests with a ticket with Park Hopper benefits or an Annual Pass will be able to once again visit another Walt Disney World theme park at ANY TIME OF DAY during park hours. As a reminder, since returning in 2021, Park Hopper access has only been available after 2 p.m. each day. Now, there will be no more waiting!
The only limit going forward will be capacity limitations. This means that, in theory, you could get turned away upon arrival if your destination is already hit its attendance limit–but that was true even with the 2 p.m. Park Hopping rule. To my recollection, this has only ever been an issue once in the post-reopening era–on Magic Kingdom for a few hours on October 1, on the 50th Anniversary.
Otherwise, Park Hopping has not once been restricted, including on incredibly busy days, like New Year’s Eve, Christmas, or Thanksgiving. It’s important to stress this reality because getting turned away is a common concern among readers, but it just has not been happening aside from the actual 50th Anniversary day, and even then, Park Hopping resumed after only a few hours of being paused.
We’d expect this to remain the case going forward with the return of all-day Park Hopping at Walt Disney World. Although the fear will likely continue, the actual ‘threat’ only exists during the aforementioned peak weeks and anniversary dates. Even then, Walt Disney World uses capacity closures and prioritizes on-site guests for admission. (You really don’t want to be there for a capacity closure, regardless.)
Turning back to the official details of this news, Walt Disney World has shared that on days when theme park reservations are required for Annual Passholders and certain non-dated tickets, Passholders and guests will be able to take advantage of the updates to Park Hopper access after visiting their first park. For example, if a Passholder has a reservation at EPCOT and enters the park at 9 a.m. for a quick ride or two, they can then head to another park right after.
There’s more good news for Annual Passholders: “Good-to-go days” will begin sometime in January 2024. With “good-to-go days,” the theme park reservation calendar will be updated periodically and will show Passholders select days when they may visit a Disney World theme park without needing a theme park reservation (blockout dates will continue to apply like they do today).
There have been a lot of recently restored perks and upcoming changes to the guest experience at Walt Disney World, so let’s quickly recap before turning to the commentary:
Now Available at Walt Disney World
Complimentary self-parking is back for Disney Resort hotel stays
Annual Passholders may visit the parks after 2 p.m. without needing a theme park reservation, except on Saturdays and Sundays at Magic Kingdom
Digital downloads of select PhotoPass attraction photos taken in the park on the day of visit now included in the purchase of Genie+ service
Parking trams returned to all four Walt Disney World theme parks
Coming January 9, 2024
Bringing back all-day Park Hopper access during park hours
Theme park reservations no longer required for date-based tickets (our standard ticket option)
Disney Dining Plans available once again for Disney Resort hotel guests as part of a package
Those recap lists are via Walt Disney World, and I’m providing them both as a good reminder of what has or will changed and also to highlight what’s missing: advance-booking of Lightning Lanes. In this week’s update to our Guide Genie+ at Walt Disney World & Lightning Lanes FAQ, we discussed the likelihood that pre-booking Lightning Lanes might not start until later in the year.
Although today’s news is not conclusive and certainly doesn’t confirm anything, it does strongly suggest to us that Walt Disney World still has not firmed up the specifics on advance-booking of Lightning Lanes. No real surprise to us, and we would recommend reading something into this.
Suffice to say, if you’re planning a trip to Walt Disney World in early 2024 in anticipation of pre-arrival ride reservations…you might want to adjust expectations or that or delay until after Spring Break. (I don’t have any insight into an actual date, but I’d be absolutely shocked if they ‘stress tested’ a new system when crowds are heavy. But they do like money and there’s more of it to be made during March, so who knows!)
Turning to commentary about the all-day Park Hopper news, it’s about time.
Since Walt Disney World announced that the Park Pass reservations are being retired for most guests in January 2024, we’ve been hopeful that the same would happen with Park Hopping rules. It wouldn’t have made sense for the change to occur prior to then, as that would’ve effectively rendered reservations meaningless from a capacity and crowd management perspective, as guests could’ve circumvented the system via Park Hopping.
Nevertheless, with each passing month that a rollback of Park Hopping rules was not announced, our fears have increased that it wouldn’t happen. That’s because there’s another big reason for retaining reservations–to “force” people to spend a full day at Animal Kingdom. Already, there’s a mass exodus at around 1 pm. If Park Hopping rules ended, that would move forward to 11 am and a non-negligible number of guests would combine EPCOT and Animal Kingdom into a single day.
It might seem far-fetched for Walt Disney World to retain Park Hopping rules for that specific scenario, but it wouldn’t be without precedent. Last year, Walt Disney World experimented with using park reservations to push people towards Animal Kingdom and EPCOT. They did this by limiting reservations for Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios even during the off-season, thereby leaving EPCOT and Animal Kingdom as the only open options.
It’s unclear to what extent this worked, but our guess is not very well. As we pointed out at the time, the average potential single day visitor to Walt Disney World is not going to view “The Big Golf Ball Park” or “The Zoo with Rides and Blue Aliens” as comparable alternatives to the iconic castle park or “The One with Star Trek Wars and Toy Story.” Given that Disney dropped this and park reservations for single day tickets pretty quickly, it’s safe to say it was counterproductive. Zero surprise there.
People not wanting to dedicate full days at EPCOT or Animal Kingdom is a problem of Disney’s own doing. If people don’t want to spend a full day at Animal Kingdom, the solution isn’t to force them to do so. Just as the solution last year wasn’t to artificially restrict reservation availability to “nudge” crowds towards EPCOT and Animal Kingdom.
The solution is to build more rides, restore entertainment, and create a new nighttime spectacular. EPCOT has done a much better job of that, but it’s a somewhat similar story there and the sea of construction walls. (So the “solution” there would’ve been building faster and filling in the Giant EPCOT Dirt Pit™️ years ago!)
With that mini-rant out of the way, the restoration of all-day Park Hopping is obviously good–even if overdue–news. There’s probably no need to explain the why of this, as many Walt Disney World fans have been clamoring for a return of full Park Hopper privileges for the last few years. It seems to be one of those topics about which some fans are very passionate and others could not care less, as they either never Park Hop or seldom do so early in the day.
We fall on the “aggressive Park Hopper” end of the spectrum. We love to switch parks when we hit a wall in one after riding the rope drop wave of crowds, for Advance Dining Reservations, or for a variety of other strategic purposes. So it’ll be nice for us to once again resume doing all of this.
Pre-closure, one of the big things we had been testing was a plan for doing Disney’s Hollywood Studios at the crack of dawn for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance and then racing over to EPCOT for rope drop. Obviously, that’s been rendered obsolete by a number of changes, including but not limited to the end of the virtual queue for that ride and opening times for both parks.
While there’s nothing that extreme I can think of when all-day Park Hopping returns in January 2024, bouncing between Disney’s Hollywood Studios and EPCOT will once again be the biggest, non-obvious strategic use case. (The most obvious option is above–leaving Animal Kingdom around 11 am and picking up EPCOT after that.)
There are a few different reasons for this. The first is that, on a good day, you can accomplish a ton at Disney’s Hollywood Studios in the first few hours of the day, especially if you’re one of the first thousand or so people through the turnstiles for Early Entry. I Did Every Ride at Disney’s Hollywood Studios Before 11am Via Standby Lines offers a very unrepresentative but nevertheless illustrative example of this.
Those are good “companion” pieces to one another that illustrate the range of outcomes during Early Entry and rope drop at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. That’s helpful in both setting expectations and showing you how to pivot and make lemonade out of lemons when things don’t go your way to start the day.
The reason pivoting can be smart in both circumstances is because Disney’s Hollywood Studios typically sees its wait times peak by mid-morning. So whether you accomplish a little or a lot, you’re more likely to hit a wall at DHS than the other parks. And unless it’s a really slow day, you might really hit that wall hard–with wait times skyrocketing to the point that they’re discouraging.
The silver lining in this has been, and will likely continue to be, that mid-morning crowds at Disney’s Hollywood Studios are discouraging for everyone, not just you. As a result, we’ve seen a fairly early exodus from DHS that has (somewhat surprisingly) continued even after Fantasmic has returned. It’s not nearly as bad as Animal Kingdom, but the end result is still that wait times are noticeably lower in the late afternoon and evening at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Prior to the restoration of all-day Park Hopping, your options to take advantage of this dynamic were to arrive early and take a midday pool/nap/what break and return in the late afternoon, to stack Genie+ ride reservations for the middle of the day, or to focus on stage shows during those busy hours. All workable approaches, but the restoration of all-day Park Hopping adds another option to your toolkit: bouncing over to the International Gateway entrance of EPCOT and spending the late morning and afternoon exploring World Showcase.
Another advantage that this offers that’s paradoxically obvious and underrated is with difficult Advance Dining Reservations. This is obvious because so many people already make their Walt Disney World vacation plans around tough ADRs. Restoring full-day Park Hopping opens up more possibilities for doing ‘difficult’ lunches in other parks–or just building your itineraries around restaurant preferences. There are a ton of fans who do precisely this, and that includes us.
This is potentially underrated because Advance Dining Reservations have been significantly easier over the last several months so this has become less of a pressing priority…but that likely won’t last. As we’ve discussed elsewhere, the return of the Disney Dining Plan in 2024 is likely going to make many ADRs suddenly become much more competitive.
Our strong suspicion is that this dynamic will be most pronounced at character dining experiences–such as Akershus Royal Banquet Hall and Minnie’s Seasonal Dine–for a number of different reasons beyond the scope of this post. (See our Top 10 Tips for Difficult ADRs at Walt Disney World.)
Obviously, there are many other scenarios where bouncing around earlier in the day can be useful. Everyone who is a Park Hopping Power User probably has their own specific use cases–and this includes us–but they’re mostly pretty niche. The big ones are ‘accomplishing’ Animal Kingdom early and doing another park the rest of the day or bouncing between Disney’s Hollywood Studios and EPCOT for a variety of reasons.
It also helps that transportation between DHS and EPCOT is far and away the easiest of any two parks at Walt Disney World. This is thanks to the Skyliner gondolas, boat service, and walkway–making these two parks the perfect pair! That’s especially true for repeat visitors; we could easily see doing the two parks over the course of 2-3 days, and not once spending 11 am to 3 pm at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Are you excited for the return of all-day Park Hopping once again at Walt Disney World? Does this move the needle for you, or would you not change parks before 2 p.m. (or at all) regardless? If you’re a Park Hopping Power User, what’s your ideal or niche use case for aggressively changing parks at Walt Disney World? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? 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!