Park hours are one of the many things that factor into our Walt Disney World Crowd Calendar calculations. We have found over the years that park hours are decent indicators of crowd size (although they are far from the only indicators). The reasoning is simple: Disney has longer operating days when they think they’ll be busy and shorter when they don’t.
I have personally been collecting Walt Disney World park hours for 4 years now, since July 1, 2011 and I have compiled some overall statistics that I find interesting, and therefore think you may find interesting as well. Be warned, there are a lot of numbers in this post so geek out everyone!
If you are unfamiliar with how Disney releases their Disney World park hours, I wrote a blog post about the process several years ago and most of that info holds up. The main difference between now and then is that Disney doesn’t always release hours to Travel Agents first anymore, but that doesn’t really change anything about the process. If you don’t want to go back and read that, here are the Cliff’s Notes:
1. The initial park hours are released about 6 months in advance. For instance, the December 2015 hours were just released on May 12, 2015.
2. At some point Disney may change these hours (almost always extending them). This change used to happen regularly around mid-month, but now may happen anywhere between 6 months and 1 week prior to the month in question.
As you can see, this flexible scheduling method can make planning a bit tricky. Sure, for most people, whether the Magic Kingdom closes at 10 P.M. or midnight is not a big deal, but it can be for some. And for the serious planner (like us here at TouringPlans), just not knowing is a bit of an unscratchable itch.
With all of that in mind, how likely are the Disney World park hours to change? When you look at those December 2015 hours today, will they end up being what’s posted now? If you are planning a trip for 5 months from now, will all the closing times be different when you finally get there? Let’s answer these questions.
I’m going to go park-by-park from least to most changes so the numbers are a little easier to absorb. Remember that I’m only speaking of changes between the park hours’ original assignments (about 6 months in advance) versus their final, day-of hours. None of this analysis speaks of the actual length of a park day, just the changes.
Epcot is the easiest park to predict when it comes to park hours — they almost never change. The closing time only changes from that initial assignment 0.3% of the time. That means that if you see a closing time of 9:00 PM (by far the most common time), it will stay at 9:00 PM 99.7% of the time. So lock those Epcot times in.
Epcot is also the outlier here in that its opening time is more likely to change than its closing time, even though it’s highly unlikely to change. Epcot’s opening time will only be adjusted from its initial assignment 2.1% of the time. In the case of that 2.1%, every single change was from 9:00 AM to 8:00 AM. So, if you see an opening time of 9:00 AM, it will stay there 97.9% of the time, but if it changes it will change to 8:00 AM.
Hopefully you’ve absorbed some of the lingo from Epcot, because it’s going to start getting more involved here. Disney’s Hollywood Studios changes its hours more than Epcot, but still less than the other two parks. Its opening time will only change 6.6% of the time, with all of those changes being from 9:00 AM to 8:00 AM.
The closing time for Hollywood Studios changes 20% of the time. In this case, the changes are easier to explain in a table, so here comes one:
So here’s how to read that thing: The times in the left hand column (actually second from left) are the originally assigned closing times, the ones that are published 6 months out. The percentage to their left is the percentage that each time is used (so 7:30 PM is the most commonly assigned, 32.3% of the time).
Across the top are the Final Closing Times, or the times as they end up on the actual park day. Across the bottom is the percentage that each time happens (so 10:00 PM is the most common at 38.1%). All the percentages in the middle represent the matrix of changes, with the red numbers being times that do not change. For example, to see how often the Hollywood Studios closing time changes from 8:00 PM to 9:00 PM, find 8:00 PM on the left, and follow that row until you hit the column where 9:00 PM is the header: the answer is 18.8%.
The far-right column is the frequency of changes (so 100 minus the red number). So to see the total percentage of 7:00 PM closings that change, follow the 7:00 PM row all the way to the right, where you will see that it changes 43.7% of the time.
Okay, so what do we get from all that? Well, 8:30 PM closing times will change many more times than not (82%) and the time they are most likely to end up at is 10:00 PM, with 80% of those 8:30 PM times becoming 10:00 PM. In fact, the only times that are unlikely to change are those odd 4:00 PM times (used for special events) and the times like 9:30 PM and later. Although both 7:00 PM and 8:00 PM closings change less than 50% of the time, they are infrequently used (assigned 0.2% and 3.1% respectively).
This isn’t going to get less complicated here. Disney’s Animal Kingdom actually changes its times more often than Hollywood Studios does, although it doesn’t feel like it. While the opening time doesn’t change a lot, it still changes 10.4% of the time, once again always from 9:00 AM to 8:00 AM. The closing time is where a lot of the changes come…so here comes another table:
As you can see in the bottom-right, the closing time for Animal Kingdom changes almost half the time (47.3% to be exact). Also, much like Hollywood Studios, the only times that infrequently change are those that are infrequently assigned initially: 5:00 PM, 6:00 PM, and 7:00 PM closing times will change about half of the time.
Here’s the big one with the most changes and the latest hours, the Magic Kingdom.
Like all the other parks, the opening time for the Magic Kingdom rarely changes. In fact, it only changes 17.3% of the time, and almost always from 9:00 AM to 8:00 AM, just like the rest. The only exceptions to this are when the opening is changed to 6:00 AM, which only happens once per year.
And here we go with the closing time chart:
The initial closing time changes more than half the time, with a somewhat surprising 56.6% change rate, and that includes all those 7:00 PM times that almost never change (those are the hard-ticket parties). Are you looking at a day in the future with a closing of 10:00 PM? Don’t get used to it! There’s an 80.9% chance it will change, most likely to either 11:00 PM or midnight. In fact, if we except the party days and their 7:00 PM closings, 11:00 PM is the only closing time that is below a 50% change rate (and just barely).
As I mentioned above, all of these stats are over the past 4 years. I also looked at just the past year (July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2015) to see how these numbers were moving, and what I found was that they are indeed moving.
Most regular visitors to Walt Disney World agree that the parks are busier now than they were in the past few years, and the park hour trends indicate that as well. Here are some of the highlights (Note: Epcot is the same):
- Opening times changed 11.5% in the past year (up 4.9%)
- Closing times changed 35.6% in the past year (up 15.6%)
- 8:30 PM closings changed even more, up to 91.4%, and every single one of them changed to 10:00 PM
- 9:00 PM was not once used as an initial closing time in the past year and only occurred 8% of the time as a final closing time
- 9:30 PM was instituted as a closing time and was used on 17.9% of days. 10:00 PM was used about 9% less often and 7:00 PM and 8:00 PM closings went down about 5% each.
- Opening times changed 12.6% in the past year (up 2.4%)
- Closing times changed 53.3% in the past year (up 6%)
- 5:00 PM closings changed much more, up to 65.7% (from 48.5%), with 21% of those jumping all the way to 8:00 PM
- Overall in the past year, 5:00 PM closings were less common, as were 9:00 PM times, but both 6:00 PM and 7:00 PM closings were more common
- Closing times changed a whopping 79.3% in the past year (up 22.7%)
- There have been 27 days in the last year that started out with a closing time of 11:00 PM. All 27 of them ultimately changed to 1:00 AM
- 11:00 PM was still a common final closing time at 28.1% (up 1.8%), although 12:00 AM has been the most common at 36.8% (up 17.7%). 1:00 AM closings also rose 6.4% last year to 20.1% and all other times predictably fell off.
What all of these numbers say to me is that the hours are changing more and that closing times are getting later, especially at Magic Kingdom. In the past year, 80% of Magic Kingdom park days end at 11:00 PM or later, up from 59.1% when looking at the past four years combined. In short, if you see a closing time on a park…don’t get used to it.
Please ask any questions because I know this is complicated. Thanks for reading!