Everything You Need to Know about Disney Park Operating Hours
You’re traveling to Walt Disney World, and you want to know how the place works.
You know the basics about the parks and resorts and have even read a few pro tips about maximizing your visit.
Alas, there’s one essential topic that you should understand before you arrive. It’ll allow you to plan your daily schedule.
Here’s everything you need to know about Disney’s operating hours.
Disney parks don’t run on the same schedule. The Orlando campus features four theme parks, and they all have their own quirks.
These places don’t work like a 9 to 5 job. You won’t find a set schedule of permanent park hours.
The time of year, time of the week, and other factors play into that determination.
To keep up with the schedule, you must monitor the official park calendar. You’ll notice that you can view it by day, month, or year.
Disney offers these options because it reflects the overall operating strategy.
The parks no longer qualify as seasonal, as Disney doesn’t have an offseason anymore.
Now, the crowds will remain roughly the same throughout the year, only varying slightly each day.
So, your early January or mid-September trip won’t look much different from your Spring Break vacation.
Yes, the latter visit will include slightly larger crowds, but you’ll never find the parks empty. Everything’s a matter of degrees.
For this reason, Disney has established a few tactics for its park operating hours.
The company changes the hours from time to time to encourage/discourage traffic.
In other words, Disney wants roughly the same number of people in the parks each day. It manages park hours to that end.
You’ll love that when you’re at the parks, and park officials know this from customer satisfaction surveys.
While planning your trip, you can also optimize your itinerary by reading the schedule.
You only need to understand a few basics. Generally, the parks open earlier and/or close later on weekends than weekdays.
Also, Disney operates with longer hours on holidays and during warm weather…which is most of the time in Florida and California.
Those are the main rules. Now, let’s discuss individual parks.
What to Expect at Magic Kingdom
Magic Kingdom claims the most daily and annual traffic of any theme park in the world.
Even compared to other Disney parks, only Disneyland and Tokyo Disneyland are currently close in attendance.
As such, Magic Kingdom must operate longer than other parks. Otherwise, guests would leave unhappy, the thing that cast members fear the most.
Your satisfaction matters, and that’s why Magic Kingdom stays open 12-15 hours on most days.
As I write this, Coronavirus remains a concern, perhaps limiting park hours somewhat.
Even allowing for that, Magic Kingdom will operate for 13 hours daily over the next week.
Before the pandemic, 9 a.m. opening followed by 10 p.m. closing time was the established standard.
On some days, the park closed early because Magic Kingdom sometimes hosts ticketed events. You should be aware of this when you visit.
While I recommend ticketed events as a rule, when you’re not going, a 7 p.m. closing time at Magic Kingdom might surprise you.
Magic Kingdom also stays open until 1 a.m. on some weekend nights throughout the year. Those times are always fantastic for night owls.
You’ll face minimal crowds during those final hours before closing.
Overall, you’ll rarely have issues with Magic Kingdom opening hours. Think of it as the Waffle House of Disney parks. It’s almost always open.
What to Expect at EPCOT
The next two parks have been impacted the most by Coronavirus.
EPCOT featured relatively standard park hours of 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
This approach allows Florida locals to get to EPCOT after work and enjoy the various festivals at the park.
Meanwhile, guests can get so much done during a 12-hour visit that longer operating hours become diminishing returns.
Guests rarely stay the whole time, leading to emptier crowds early in the morning and just before closing.
Even when EPCOT has offered extended hours, they usually lasted until 9:30 p.m. or 10 p.m. This park’s pretty static with its operations.
However, due to COVID-19, EPCOT switched tactics. The park didn’t open until 11 a.m. or sometimes even noon.
Then, EPCOT would close at 6 or 7 p.m. on those nights, offering 6-8 hours in operation.
Gradually, Disney expanded its hours as immunization spread. Currently, EPCOT opens at 11 a.m. and closes at 11 p.m.
That’s one of the latest closing times for this park in ages.
Again, park officials rely on Florida residents to visit and enjoy hanging out at EPCOT.
So, they’re enticing that behavior by extending park hours after dark.
I have no idea whether this will continue once we achieve herd immunity.
Still, Disney’s general practice here stems from satisfying locals. The park hours usually reflect this fact.
What to Expect at Disney’s Animal Kingdom
In recent years, Animal Kingdom committed to longer operating hours.
For nearly two decades, the park closed at night. Park officials took this approach to protect animals from having their habitats disrupted.
When Disney planned the expansion for Pandora – The World of Avatar, bioluminescent features proved integral.
At that point, Disney chose to do the previously unthinkable and leave Animal Kingdom open at night.
For a while, the park even hosted a nighttime presentation, albeit one that wouldn’t upset the animals.
Once Walt Disney World closed in March of 2020, executives reevaluated.
Upon reopening, Animal Kingdom offered shorter hours and skewed heavily to early birds.
On some days, the parks opened as early as 7 a.m. On most days, Animal Kingdom allowed guests in at 8 and then shut down the place at 5 p.m.
Thankfully, those days appear to be in the past or at least rare now.
Animal Kingdom has established a schedule of 8 a.m. opening and 8 p.m. closing. It should be similar for a while, but that’s the whole point here.
We can never say for sure because Disney can change operating hours at any point. That’s why you must keep checking the park calendar!
Generally speaking, Disney wants to keep Animal Kingdom open at night. That’s when Pandora seems the most impressive.
The only reason it’s closed earlier involves concessions to the pandemic. Presuming that the worst is over, a 12-hour day seems reasonable here.
What to Expect at Disney’s Hollywood Studios
Here’s the wild card in this discussion. A few years ago, critics derisively suggested that Hollywood Studios is a quarter-day park.
Ordinarily, people dismiss a place as a half-day park to drive home the point that there’s not enough to do. And Hollywood Studios couldn’t even reach that metric.
As I type this, Hollywood Studios is every bit as popular as Magic Kingdom, if not more.
Unfortunately, arguably the most popular attraction, Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, requires plenty of maintenance.
Because that ride is so technologically advanced and complex, it needs downtime for cast members to keep it in tip-top shape.
When Rise of the Resistance goes down, the ripple effects cause issues throughout the rest of the park.
So, Hollywood Studios was operating for only eight or nine hours each day during the latter half of 2020.
Thankfully, Disney has loosened up the park hours recently. Hollywood Studios opens at 9 a.m. and closes at 8 p.m. on most nights these days.
However, during the summer of 2019, park days of 12-14 hours weren’t unusual.
Hollywood Studios still has a bit more it can do in terms of extending park hours. It’s the place that’s not quite back to normal yet.
Overall, this park also feels the most crowded. You should plan to spend more time here when it’s open.
You’ll also get more out of your visit by arriving early or staying late or both.