Walt Disney World’s phased reopening is about to reach another significant milestone with the return of the Park Hopper park ticket option. This will allow Annual Passholders and guests who bought Park Hopper tickets for 2021 to visit multiple parks per day. In this post, we’ll share important dates, details, how it’ll work with Park Pass reservations, and the ripple effect it could have on crowds & more.
As a reminder, Park Hopping was temporarily suspended along with the Disney Dining Plan, FastPass+, Extra Magic Hours, character meet & greets, and a range of entertainment options back before the Disney Park Pass theme park reservation system was rolled out.
Some of these suspensions were due to physical distancing requirements. Others were due to the reality that reduced park capacity and demand meant lower attendance, making some less feasible or not financially viable. The Park Hopper ticket option was probably a bit of column B, but also some degree of difficulty integrating it into the Disney Park Pass reservation system.
It’s easy to forget now since the Disney Park Pass system has been relatively smooth sailing for several months now, but it originally had a rough rollout. Beyond just the normal day one “hiccups,” it had issues recognizing guest entitlements (e.g. when Annual Passholders booked resort stays) and more.
Even after most of those were resolved, there was the persistent problem of the Disney Park Pass system not having dynamic inventory. Remember early on when the Annual Passholder “bucket” had no reservations for weeks on end, but the other two were a sea of green–and attendance was artificially low as a result? The Park Hopper ticket option likely would’ve wreaked havoc there–or not worked at all. Fortunately, those are now distant memories.
The return of the Park Hopper option is not going to be totally surprising to many of you, as the option to purchase it for 2021 vacation packages and tickets is nothing new. It’s been there for a while now, meaning today’s news could be viewed as confirmation of what we already knew.
That’s one perspective, but not ours. Throughout all of this, Walt Disney World has taken reservations and bookings that ended up being cancelled. That has happened time and time again. Just because they hoped for something to happen did not mean it would. We’ve repeatedly reminded readers of this–that although the goal was to bring back Park Hopping as soon as possible, it’s not a done deal until it actually was announced. (Really, until it’s actually implemented and goes live.)
Anyway, beginning January 1, 2021, Annual Passholders and guests who purchase theme park tickets with Park Hopper benefits will be able to visit more than one park per day, with some new modifications as part of Walt Disney World’s ongoing focus on health safety and managing theme park capacity.
With the updated Park Hopper experience, guests must make a Disney Park Pass reservation for the first park they plan to visit AND enter that first park prior to visiting another. At this time, a park reservation is not required after the first park, however, reservation requirements are subject to change.
Additionally, Walt Disney World will set specific Park Hopper hours during which this option will be available. Park Hopper hours will start at 2 pm each day and end at the park’s scheduled close time.
Guests will soon be able to check DisneyWorld.com/ParkHours and the My Disney Experience app for the most up-to-date Park Hopper hours, as they could start earlier at a later date, depending on the day and park. That means Animal Kingdom might allow Park Hopping beginning at noon some days, whereas Disney’s Hollywood Studios could still be at 2 pm on the same day.
It’s all about managing attendance. (Just like right now when there are Cast Members counting guests in and out of shops.) These modifications are designed to help Walt Disney World continue managing attendance in a way that fosters physical distancing. Additionally, other enhanced health safety measures remain in effect, including the requirement that all guests ages two and up wear face masks.
Here’s a helpful graphic that should explain the process a bit better:
In the official announcement, Walt Disney World notes that the ability to visit another park will be subject to the park’s capacity limitations. Some of you are likely worried about what will happen if the park you want to visit hits capacity.
That’s probably not going to be much of a concern in reality, as this is debuting in January and February–which should return to being off-season without special events in 2021 to elevate crowds. By the time Easter and Spring Break 2021 crowds arrive, it’s likely that Walt Disney World will have increased capacity from 35% to help absorb crowds.
In the rare scenario that a park is limiting attendance after 2 pm, it will likely work in the same way that a phased capacity closure worked prior to this year. Meaning that guests with Advance Dining Reservations would still be allowed to enter in the initial phases, as would on-site resort guests and other categories of visitors.
However, we’d recommend not reading too much into the “subject to the park’s capacity limitations” line. That’s the kind of CYA language that Walt Disney World frequently uses in scenarios such as this. It’s highly unlikely they’d be restoring the Park Hopper option if this were going to be an actual issue. That’s the whole reason they rolled out Disney Park Pass instead of following Universal Orlando’s reopening approach.
In a separate press release, Disney indicates “capacity limits are not changing due to the Park Hopper Option.” However, it’s worth pointing out here that attendance caps have previously been increased before (from 25% to 35%) based upon Disney’s industrial engineering estimates.
If Park Hopping spreads out attendance throughout the day–and it almost certainly will–there’s absolutely no reason to expect capacity caps to stay the same going forward. Walt Disney World has been gradually increasing capacity limits as efficiency improvements allow, and this is an efficiency improvement.
Our reaction to this news is that we’re excited about it because we know many of you have been anxiously awaiting this return. It’s mostly a vicarious reaction. After FastPass+ (covered in What Will ReplaceFastPass+?) and the Disney Dining Plan (covered in When Will the Disney Dining Plan Return?), the return of Park Hopper is what readers ask about most.
Obviously, we don’t need to explain the appeal of being able to visit multiple parks per day. As tourists, we always loved starting at the park opening earliest and ending at the one closing latest. That’s undoubtedly true for many of you, too.
Selfishly, my first thought upon reading this news was that it would spell the end of low crowds the last couple hours of the day at each park. We’ve definitely taken advantage of that phenomenon frequently since July, popping in for the last few hours as the crowds start subsiding.
As the weather improves and crowds pick up, the end of day drop-off was likely to become less pronounced, anyway. With better weather, guests are less likely to succumb to “mask fatigue.” With higher attendance, wait times are increasing and fewer guests are able to “finish” the park before the end of the day.
With that said, there is a potential upside to Park Hopping normalizing crowds across the day: increased operating hours.
Park hours are not set arbitrarily–they’re the result of internal attendance forecasts and observed behavior trends. One of the big reasons hours were cut for the early fall was because attendance was lower than anticipated and even those guests visiting the parks were heading home well before closing time. Higher attendance and more guests sticking around later (or jumping to a second park later in the day) means extended hours. We’re totally on board with that!
The less obvious upside to this is the potential positive impact on in-park restaurants at Walt Disney World. Pre-closure, many guests Park Hopped for dinner, with EPCOT being the most common destination thanks to its wealth of dining options in World Showcase.
Table service restaurants are now starting to book up faster, but despite that, many locations in World Showcase have still not reopened. That’s likely in part because the capacity numbers don’t make them viable, but also in part because EPCOT isn’t as much of a dinner draw as in the past. Hopefully, this will start to change that.
The other result of this will likely be the return of the EPCOT monorail service. Perhaps not immediately, as January and February will probably be slow months, but March seems like a reasonable timeframe. (The good news is that the monorail beams have been cleaned during the downtime and are looking fantastic!)
Why the EPCOT monorail line is not running has been a common question, and “lack of demand” is the answer. Park Hopping between Magic Kingdom and EPCOT should provide the added traffic, beyond just monorail resort guests, needed to justify operating the Highway in the Sky over just using buses between the hotels and two parks.
Ultimately, we’re really excited for the return of Park Hopper. That’s even with the understanding that this will normalize crowds throughout the day and spell the end of our leisurely “late” nights at Walt Disney World. We’ve been fortunate to enjoy many of those, and will have at least a few more chances the next couple of months.
The bigger thing for us is a return to normalcy, which we are desperately craving. We’ve been highlighting every incremental step towards that, noting that each little development on that is positive as it’s going to be a long process. Bringing back the Park Hopper ticket option isn’t just a minor move towards that–it’s a colossal leap. Now we anxiously await updates on FastPass+ (or whatever they end up calling the next virtual queue system) and the Disney Dining Plan.
Are you excited for the Park Hopper ticket option to return? If you’ve been postponing a trip to Walt Disney World, does this move the needle for you, or do you still need more ‘temporarily suspended’ offerings back? Think this will have a ripple effect on anything else at Walt Disney World? What do you expect to come back next/ 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!