Walt Disney World has reduced park hours for Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Epcot and Hollywood Studios, with later openings and earlier closings between July and October 2020. In this post, we’ll cover the shorter hours, offer thoughts on special events, and why this is likely happening.
The obvious backdrop for this change is the announcement that Walt Disney World Will Officially Reopen Beginning in July 2020. As covered there, Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom will debut first, followed shortly thereafter by Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. These changes to park hours correspond with those dates.
It feels odd to be doing a park hours update that covers a reduction of park hours; every month following the debut of Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance was seeing regular extensions. Of course, nothing is normal right now. It’s not even remotely surprising that Walt Disney World is reducing park hours for the coming months given the circumstances…
In addition to park hours being condensed for July through October 2020, the calendar on DisneyWorld.com for June 2020 and all dates prior to July 11, 2020 has been removed entirely. Again, no surprise there given the official opening announcement. However, it is worth noting that this does not account for the soft opening preview periods, but we’re not expecting those to show up on the official public-facing calendar, anyway.
Let’s start with a look at the calendar of park hours for July 2020 at Walt Disney World:
For August, September, and October 2020, park hours follow the same pattern:
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
The schedule of morning and evening Extra Magic Hours has likewise been adjusted to match with the earlier closings or later openings. Additionally, the Early Morning Magic and Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party hard ticket events both still appear on the calendar.
In the case of Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party, the regular Magic Kingdom park closing time has actually been extended from 6 pm to 7 pm on event nights. This is an interesting change that raises a red (or at least yellow) flag. (More on that a bit later in the post.)
One thing we always note when it comes to the initial release of their monthly calendars is that it’s commonplace for Walt Disney World to release boilerplate hours prior to a final calendar. This practice was implemented following complaints about guests having to book Advance Dining Reservations when Walt Disney World hadn’t even set its calendar.
Normally, it’s a valid complaint. Walt Disney World expects guests to have their days planned half a year in advance, but the parks can’t be bothered to do the same? Of course, the new practice doesn’t really resolve that complaint. These template calendars are fairly predictable based upon previous years, and often the final hours differ significantly from what DisneyWorld.com initially posts. (But I digress.)
In this case, the boilerplate calendars are certainly more understandable as Walt Disney World leaders don’t know what operations or hours will look like in October 2020. This is a totally unprecedented situation, and like everyone else, Disney is figuring this out as they go.
Decisions are being made dynamically and on the fly, with Disney itself scrambling to strike the right balance. For proof of this, look no further than Walt Disney World suspending new ticket sales, hotel bookings, etc. a few hours after the reopening announcement was made.
With that said, at least for the month of July, these hours are probably more or less accurate as-is. The July 2020 calendar is similar to Shanghai Disneyland’s operating hours for its first few weeks, and is likely a byproduct of attendance caps and reduced demand.
It’s worth noting that at Shanghai Disneyland, even with reduced capacity on attractions, wait times have been minimal. Attractions are peaking below half their norms, which means that even with reduced hours guests can still accomplish as much or more than previously. That’s not to say the same will hold true at Walt Disney World, but it is one explanation. (Another obvious explanation is that Walt Disney World needs to reduce labor and operating expenses while the parks are running at a fraction of normal capacity.)
There are a number of variables at play that will influence the final park hours for late summer and fall. What will attendance have been like in July? What operational adjustments will need to be made based upon guest feedback and what works/doesn’t? Will any entertainment be able to resume? What about projections for fall hotel bookings and park ticket sales? Will safe capacity for the parks have increased? Is it feasible to host entertainment-heavy special events?
These are just some relevant considerations–there are undoubtedly more, and no one can answer these questions right now.
Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party still appearing on the calendar for August, September, and October 2020 dovetails with all of these questions. Bluntly, there is no way Walt Disney World can know today whether this event–which begins less than one month after Magic Kingdom reopens (yes, you read that correctly)–can be held in 2020.
On a normal night, Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party requires an attendance cap. In recent years, this has been a major problem (we covered this in our Is Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party Too Crowded?post). It’ll be an even bigger issue in 2020. This is in part because of the event’s lineup, which consists of entertainment that is temporarily suspended. It’s also because the marquee entertainment occurs in quick succession in a guest-dense area of Magic Kingdom, where physical distancing is impossible.
Attendance would need to be capped significantly lower (at which point the party probably runs at a loss) or the event will need to be cancelled or restrictions on entertainment/crowds will need to be loosened by August. (Or a combination of the three–earlier dates could be cancelled, the attendance cap modestly lowered for mid-September through October, and some entertainment modified to get guests out of the Central Plaza.)
The presence of Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Part on the August 2020 calendar should be indicative of what these fall hours represent: placeholders reflecting current intent that can still be heavily influenced by future events/circumstances changing.
It’s entirely possible that the normal park hours and events will remain totally unchanged between now and October 2020. It’s also possible they will change radically. As always, the closer the dates, the less likely there will be change. The more remote, the greater likelihood they’ll be modified.
That doesn’t make them accurate or inaccurate right now–basically, the fall hours are instructive, albeit inconclusive.
Editorializing a bit more, this could also be a matter of reseting guest expectations for the foreseeable future. It’s going to be a rough few months for Walt Disney World, and fully apprising potential visitors of the compromises they’ll have to make if visiting in the near future is a savvy move.
Judging by online reactions, a lot of people are still expecting the normal Disney experience in the midst of a pandemic, which is patently unreasonable. Walt Disney World needs to get people to cancel or adjust their patience, flexibility, and tolerance pretty quickly.
To the former point, Walt Disney World is no doubt bracing for a deluge of trip cancellations. That’s inevitable and unavoidable. It’s inarguably better for Disney to be up front in presenting the complete picture (or even worst case scenario) in terms of the modified guest experience. That way, people can make a fully informed decision to cancel or postpone prior to their trip, rather than showing up, complaining, and Disney having to issue nonstop guest recovery or concessions.
All of this goes well beyond park hours, but those do play an important role in presenting a sobering view of the limitations and requirements guests who choose to go during the first phase of reopening will encounter. On the flip side, this also offers a unique opportunity for Walt Disney World to underpromise and overdeliver. By being transparent in presenting the worst case scenario and reducing the potential audience on that basis, Walt Disney World can potentially provide a superior experience to those who accept the compromises. That’s digressing quite a bit from park hours–and something we plan on discussing in greater detail in the near future.
Surprised by the reduced operating hours, or did you expect this? Will you be visiting Walt Disney World right away when the parks reopen in July or will you wait? Will shorter hours influence your decision to visit? Do you think Mickey’s Not So Scary Halloween Party will happen this year? A variety of viewpoints are welcomed here, but we will not tolerate insults, arguing, or politically-charged comments. Additionally, please do not debate the efficacy of health safety policies–all such comments (for, against, otherwise) will be deleted. Those arguments are played out and isn’t the appropriate forum for that. (Saying you will or will not visit in light of certain measures is fine.)