New Disney World Park Hours Into 2021

Travel

Walt Disney World has added new hours through January 2, 2021 for Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, EPCOT, and Hollywood Studios, including New Year’s Eve. In this post, we’ll share the updated calendar for the busiest week of the year, plus commentary on best & worst days of the week for each park.

This is a continuation of Walt Disney World’s roller coaster approach to hours. This saga began with Walt Disney World cutting fall hours through Halloween. A few weeks after that, Walt Disney World Announced Christmas Entertainment that required nighttime operating hours.

In the ensuing weeks, the calendar has been adjusted accordingly with each new release of park hours for the holiday season. Notably, EPCOT’s hours shifted to 12 pm until 8 pm and Magic Kingdom expanded its hours to 9 am until 7 pm. Then came a slew of additional extensions for Halloween through Christmas that mostly restored and even expanded upon the pre-cut hours…

Before we tackle the new hours for December 26, 2020 through January 2, 2021, let’s start with the bad news–no new extensions to Walt Disney World park hours this week. This isn’t a huge surprise after last week’s 200+ Park Hours Added to Walt Disney World’s Calendar Through Christmas 2020.

That was unprecedented in the post-reopening era at Walt Disney World (not that there’s a ton of post reopening precedent). Prior to that, extensions had only been happening a few weeks in advance at most once Disney Park Pass reservations had filled up.

Anyway, here’s what was just posted to the calendar on DisneyWorld.com for December 2020 and January 2021…

Added hours are the same for all dates:

  • Magic Kingdom: 9 am to 7 pm
  • EPCOT: 12 pm to 8 pm
  • Hollywood Studios: 10 am to 7 pm
  • Animal Kingdom: 9 am to 5 pm

That’s right–those are Walt Disney World’s announced hours for the week between Christmas and New Year’s, including New Year’s Eve.

Before you freak out about those short hours, keep in mind that Walt Disney World has returned to its normal, pre-closure practice of releasing boilerplate hours in advance before extending those based on attendance and hotel occupancy projections closer to the dates.

The initial release serves as a minimum baseline for what the ultimate hours will end up being, with hours only extended and not reduced. Prior to the closure, Walt Disney World released these hours ~6 months in advance, with there being seasonal trends and holiday variations based upon past precedent.

Now, it appears there is no thought put into the weekly releases of new hours. It’s a simple copy and paste from the new template established for the holiday season beginning in early November 2020, with no regard for day of the week or holidays.

This means that the weekly releases of new hours are totally worthless at this point. There is a 0.07% chance that the hours for New Year’s Eve will end up being shorter than the hours for November 10, 2020. The only reason the percentage is that “high” is because it has been a wild and crazy year already, and I’m putting UFO invasion odds at 0.07%. If “aliens attacking Magic Kingdom (again)” is not on your 2020 bingo card, you’re being foolishly optimistic at this point.

This isn’t to say Walt Disney World is going to have gala celebrations with live music, fireworks, and 1 am park closures the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. I don’t see that happening. However, there also certainly will not be 7 pm and 8 pm closures that week, either.

In short, what matters now are the Walt Disney World park hour calendar extensions and not the additions. The latter are totally meaningless–let’s call them the “lorem ipsum” Walt Disney World park hours. The former are worth watching, because even though they could be extended again, they’re much more likely to be the final hours.

Using those final hours, we’ll break down the best and worst days to visit each of the Walt Disney World theme parks. Note that there’s a ton of fluidity to things right now–if you’re planning for November or December, you’ll want to keep an eye on our Walt Disney World Park Reports.

We didn’t share any new park reports this week, but did do Magic Kingdom and EPCOT. While we didn’t spend the entire day in either park, these were the busiest mid-week visits to both parks we’ve experienced since reopening. Although CEO Bob Chapek claims Walt Disney World Capacity Is Still Capped at 25%, that’s disingenuous and misleading. We’ll have more park reports next week, but you need to be aware that low crowds from the summer are now a thing of the past. Attendance seems to increase every single week.

With that said, let’s turn to our best & worst days of the week recommendations. We’ll preface these by warning that their reliability decreases the further away your travel dates.

If you’re visiting in October through mid-November 2020, these are probably pretty solid. Beyond that, things get dicey. Don’t even bother if you’re not visiting until 2021. There is so much fluidity to operations right now with trends and patterns changing by the month.

Long term, our top recommendation is to avoid Walt Disney World on weekends, federal holidays, and Southern school breaks. Guests right now are disproportionately from Florida and other nearby states, so you basically want to avoid any time they’re off work or school.

That advice is unlikely to change for the remainder of 2020. (We’re working on combing school calendars from major districts to flag specific dates to avoid.) Regardless of which day you’re visiting, we’d advise following the steps in our Post-Reopening Walt Disney World Itineraries.

One giveaway right now is that Walt Disney World has already extended hours on weekends and holidays. The longer the hours, the higher attendance levels Disney is internally forecasting.

These longer hours might be attractive, but the cost is elevated crowds as compared to weekdays in 3 of the parks. Right now, wait times are ~40% higher on weekends, so you want to see an increase in operating hours by at least 30% to choose one of those dates. Some days only are seeing increases by 10-20%, which shouldn’t be enough to entice you.

If your visit encompasses a weekend, you should initially schedule Disney’s Hollywood Studios for least one of those days. If Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance is a must-do for you, schedule DHS both of those days.

This is because Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance has essentially become a de facto lottery. It turns out of boarding passes immediately at both 10 am and 2 pm–even if you’re quick to the draw using My Disney Experience, luck dictates whether you’ll score spots in the virtual queue.

The reason we recommend booking Disney’s Hollywood Studios for Saturday and/or Sunday is because the park now hits or comes close to hitting capacity every single day of the week. Accordingly, there is almost no difference in crowds there on weekdays v. weekends.

Consequently, DHS feels “very busy” every single day of the week instead of just weekends. If you’re able to score a spot in the virtual queue for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance on your first visit, you can always change your second Disney Park Pass reservation. (We recommend this approach because it’s much harder to change to DHS from another park than from DHS to another park.)

EPCOT is the worst choice on weekends. Our EPCOT Photo Report: Stay Away on Weekends is essential reading. It’s arguably the most important piece of advice for families visiting in the next few months (perhaps beyond).

Mondays through Wednesdays are all equally good for EPCOT. We’ve noticed a slight uptick in crowds on Thursdays, and a more significant one on Fridays. Still, not nearly as bad as Saturday or Sunday.

As for the your other weekend choice, it’s a toss-up between Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom.

We’re starting to lean towards Animal Kingdom–and that’s even more true if you’re visiting from early November 2020 on, when Magic Kingdom shifts to closing after sunset on weekdays.

Animal Kingdom is attractive on weekends thanks to the earlier 8 am opening time and later 6 pm closing. Most locals–the primary demographic on weekends–are not going to get up that early, so you can still accomplish an efficient itinerary solely by virtue of arriving early–or even staying late.

We visited Animal Kingdom last Friday to take advantage of the later closing. Read Our Awesome Afternoon in Animal Kingdom for a rundown of everything we accomplished, including actual v. posted wait times. Even with higher attendance, you can still beat the crowds at Animal Kingdom with savvy strategy like what’s described there.

As for Magic Kingdom, we cover the weekend experience in our Magic Kingdom Weekend Report: Beating Heavier Crowds & Higher Waits. The best aspect of that is detailed in Our Enjoyable Evening in Magic Kingdom.

Crowd-wise, Magic Kingdom is a good pick Monday through Thursday, with Wednesday being the best day of the week there from an objective perspective. From a subjective perspective, we do like those later closing on Fridays. Again, if you’re visiting on November 6, 2020 or beyond, you’ll get that every night of the week.

Ultimately, Walt Disney World crowds are getting worse with each passing week, but still doable if you properly strategize, especially with your days of the week. Midday wait times have been bad and lines are lengthy, but it’s possible to beat the crowds. Arriving early, doing a midday break, and staying late is the best tactic–familiar advice for longtime fans that proves even while virtually everything is in flux, some things never change.

Visiting Walt Disney World exclusively on weekdays will be the best low crowds experience, even if it means shorter hours. How you order the parks Mondays through Thursdays matters less, but we’d recommend doing Magic Kingdom on Wednesday or Thursday and EPCOT earlier in the week, but that’s really it.

If you’re visiting Walt Disney World for a long weekend, do Magic Kingdom on Friday, Disney’s Hollywood Studios on Saturday, DHS again or Animal Kingdom on Sunday, and EPCOT on Monday. In testing a variety of approaches, that’s the one with which we’ve been the happiest. The longer hours can be worth the higher crowd levels, especially if you value sunset and dusk in the parks and are able to avoid the middle of the day. As always, things continue to ‘evolve’ so we’ll keep you posted as to how this strategy changes over the coming weeks and months.

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!

YOUR THOUGHTS

What are your thoughts about the latest Walt Disney World calendar additions? Do you agree that park hours between Christmas and New Year’s Eve are going to be extended, or are you betting on an alien invasion? Will you be visiting Walt Disney World for the holiday season? Concerned about the ever-increasing crowds at Walt Disney World? Does the schedule influence your decision to visit or not? 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!

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