One of the most common questions you’ll see on any Disney discussion board is, “Who can you trust for Disney World theme park hours?” The confusion over the operating schedule stems from the fact that many different “fan sites” try to keep an accurate schedule and many of them don’t agree with each other. See, Disney doesn’t operate like a common mall or store. Theme parks can have radically different schedules from one day to the next and from one week to the next. The Magic Kingdom can be open anywhere from 8am to 1am to 9am to 6pm, not including Extra Magic Hours. Animal Kingdom can be open anywhere from 8am – 9pm to 9am – 5pm. On top of that, Disney tinkers with Park hours throughout the year (more on this later). In some cases, the schedule Disney initially releases doesn’t even resemble the final copy.
Introduction to the Primary Sources
There are basically two “primary sources” for Disney World theme park hours that are available to the public. There is a third “internal calendar” available to those who have access to “The Hub,” a website for Disney theme park employees. The first source is DisneyWorld.com, often referred to as “the official site.” The calendar is available in two places on DisneyWorld.com. Mouse over the Parks tab at the top and click on Park Hours for a list of the opening/closing times at each theme park over a ten day period of your choosing. Alternatively (and preferably in most cases), you can mouse over the Parks tab and select one of the theme parks from the dropdown menu. From here, click on “Calendar” on the left hand side. Just above the calendar is another dropdown menu to select the month. Here, you can see the Park hours for any day of the month and you can also click on an individual day and it will tell you the times of various activities and events like the Parades, Fantasmic, etc.
The second “primary source” is the Travel Agents Calendar. This calendar is often misunderstood. The Travel Agents Calendar is prepared by the Walt Disney Company for the use of its many independent travel agents (and anyone else who knows the links). It is not prepared by a travel agent nor is it based off of what you would find at DisneyWorld.com. The Travel Agents Calendar is accessible only via direct links. Here’s a link to each month:
Note the year in the top right corner. The link stays the same every year, but the new documents are uploaded as they become available. This means that the link may take you to last year’s calendar rather than this year’s. Also note that each calendar is dated with the time it was updated. You can find this information on the lower left hand corner of each page. This makes it much more obvious if anything has changed since you last checked. When you click these links, always hit the “refresh” button on your browser. Some browsers won’t load new versions of documents with the same name automatically.
The obvious benefit to the Travel Agents Calendar is that it’s much easier to see all of the pertinent information. What might take you 35 clicks on DisneyWorld.com is accessible in just one document, with the popular Parade and show times clearly laid out. It’s also a great way to get a lot of information on easily printable pages.
When Does Disney Release Park Hours?
Disney usually releases the operating schedule about six and a half months before the start of a given month. For example, October’s schedule will be available on or around March 14th. The operating schedule is almost always available on the Disney Travel Agent Calendar/Web Content site before DisneyWorld.com. It’s not uncommon for the coming month’s schedule to be available on the Travel Agent site two weeks prior to the same information appearing at DisneyWorld.com. The Travel Agent Calendar is usually updated on Fridays or Mondays.
When Does Disney Make Updates to the Calendar? When is the Schedule Finalized?
Disney usually makes one large update to each month’s schedule. This is made about two weeks prior to the start of the month. A new month’s Park schedule is also released at the same time. For example, we can expect a major update to April’s operating schedule on or around Monday March 14th (when October’s schedule will also be released). In almost all cases, the updated schedule will be available on the Travel Agent site before it will be available at DisneyWorld.com. This is the major source of confusion over which site can be “trusted” for accurate hours. The Travel Agent site is updated first, which means the hours you see there are usually the most current. The calendar on DisneyWorld.com is updated later and will eventually match what you find on the Travel Agent site. It usually takes Disney about a week to update their site with the new changes.
However (and here’s where it gets really confusing), the Travel Agent site is not usually updated with “last minute” changes to the schedule. While Disney makes one major update about two weeks prior to the start of a month, they may also make minor changes all the way up to the date in question. These changes are usually made to DisneyWorld.com, but not updated on the Travel Agent Calendar. Last minute changes are much more common when the overall crowd level is high for holidays. For example, on December 23rd, Disney may decide to open Epcot at 8am rather than 9am on December 24th. This change would most likely appear at DisneyWorld.com, but would not be updated at DisneyWebContent.com
In short, the Travel Agent site is the most up to date calendar in most scenarios. However, DisneyWorld.com does get its act together sooner or later and is generally the most accurate calendar once your vacation is about a week away.
What’s Usually Updated?
It’s fairly easy to guess what updates Disney will make for a particular month, but there are always surprises too. Disney has been very conservative with theme park hours in their initial schedule release. For example, Disney had the Magic Kingdom open from just 9am to 11pm over Christmas Week, the single busiest week of the year when they first announced the schedule. By the time they were ultimately done making changes, the Magic Kingdom was open from 8am to 12am or 8am to 1am on numerous days. We can assume Disney does this so that they don’t have to take anything away. People are much happier to see Fantasmic and Parades added than they are to see them removed. Being able to accurately predict the final operating schedule has allowed me to be more accurate with my crowd predictions, rather than relying on Disney to make their schedule updates. It’s very rare that I’ll need to change the crowd predictions by any more than one number either way.
At Hollywood Studios, the most common addition is a second Fantasmic on nights that currently have one Fantasmic scheduled and Hollywood Studios is expected to be busier. Now that Fantasmic is scheduled most nights, Disney has been adding a second Fantasmic when overall crowds are high or Hollywood Studios in particular is expected to be busy. Typically, a second Fantasmic is added when morning or evening extra magic hours are scheduled, even when overall crowds are low.
Magic Kingdom operating hours are also commonly extended and a second Main Street Electrical Parade is sometimes added when crowds are expected to be heavier. The addition of a second Mainstreet Electrical Parade is more common on Monday and Saturday nights. Like Fantasmic, the Main Street Electrical Parade can be added on nights that did not originally have one scheduled. Occasionally, the Magic Kingdom will open at 8am to all guests, but that only happens when crowds are expected to be very heavy or there is something else going on that closes the Magic Kingdom early on other days. You might see 8am openings in early December due to Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party closing the Magic Kingdom at 7pm on multiple days.
Epcot’s hours are almost always 9am to 9pm (or 9:30pm when the Candlelight Processional is scheduled in November and December). Only during extremely busy times will you see 8am to 9pm (or 9:30pm) hours. Changes to Epcot’s operating schedule are the most rare because IllumiNations is scheduled every night and the operating hours almost never change.
Animal Kingdom’s hours are also commonly extended, usually by just one hour in the evening. You might see the hours change from 9am – 6pm to 9am – 7pm. 8am openings for the general public also occur at Animal Kingdom, but they are reserved for extremely busy times like Christmas.
Changes to the Extra Magic Hours Schedule
The Extra Magic Hours schedule does not usually change. Over the past year, I can only think of two instances where Extra Magic Hour days were changed. The starting time can certainly change, but the days that they are scheduled rarely do. For example, evening Extra Magic Hours might change from 10pm – 1am to 11pm – 2am if the Magic Kingdom’s regular hours of operation change, but evening Extra Magic Hours at Magic Kingdom won’t be moved from Sunday to Tuesday.
What About Fan Sites? What About the Schedule I See Here?
There is really no reason to rely on a calendar that you see anywhere other than DisneyWebContent.com or DisneyWorld.com. All of these websites simply take what they see from one of the primary sources and copy it to host on their own site. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that, but the information can’t be any more accurate than what you would find at one of the primary sources. The only exception is Steve Soares’ site, http://www.wdwent.com. Here, you’ll find the operating schedule and entertainment schedule that is printed on Disney’s own Times Guide. However, you will only find the upcoming week’s schedule because that’s the only schedule that is printed and available.
The Park hours you see on this site are taken primarily from the Travel Agent website. As explained, this is the most up to date calendar available. I also use DisneyWorld.com for updates as it gets closer to a given date to make sure there haven’t been any last minute changes. .
Yes, It’s A Hassle
Unfortunately, deciphering the correct Disney World operating schedule is more difficult than it should be. Changes can also affect a vacation and it is extremely annoying that Disney waits so long to make changes. For example, that 8am breakfast at Crystal Palace isn’t so ideal if Disney decides that the Magic Kingdom will open at 8am. The Fantasmic Dining Package may not be necessary after Disney adds a second Fantasmic. The Magic Kingdom may end up being busier due to an added Main Street Electrical Parade. All of these things can affect vacation planning.
Luckily, this site is on top of these sorts of changes. Check back to make sure there aren’t any changes to the schedule as your vacation dates approach.