You may recall that Animal Kingdom’s operating hours were extended on many dates from November 2011 through March 2012. Like most operating schedule changes, the updated hours have not been posted on DisneyWorld.com yet. This is almost always the case. For more information about how Disney releases and updates its operating schedule, please see this post: https://www.easywdw.com/uncategorized/figuring-out-disney-world-theme-park-hours/. It explains why the updated hours have not hit DisneyWorld.com and discusses “who you can trust” for the most up to date operating schedule (hint: it’s not always DisneyWorld.com).
One of the most common misconceptions about “crowd prediction” is that an extension of the operating hours means that Disney is expecting heavier crowds. Factually, this is 100% false. It’s not uncommon for Disney to lower the number of people it’s expecting and also extend the hours. How or why is this possible? Disney has been extremely conservative in the initial release of its operating schedule for most months. Let’s have a look at November’s operating schedule: http://media.disneywebcontent.com/StaticFiles/DTA-Domestic/pdf/ParkHours/WDW_Operating_Calendar_nov.pdf. Scroll down to page four for November 20 – 26. This is Thanksgiving Week. Disney has very high expectations for Thanksgiving Week, yet the operating hours are still very short at Magic Kingdom, considering the number of people they’re expecting. Disney will extend the operating hours and add additional evening entertainment at Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios when they update the November schedule in a couple of weeks. However, they may very well lower the number of people they are expecting to visit. In other words, the fact that the operating hours at Magic Kingdom are just 9am – 10pm with only one Main Street Electrical Parade is not at all indicative that Disney is expecting low crowds over Thanksgiving. The extension of hours is not indicative that Disney is expecting more people. Most likely, Disney will extend the operating hours and reiterate a similar or slightly lower number of people that it’s expecting to visit.
Why did Disney extend the hours only at Animal Kingdom? I’ve spent the last four days trying to get a straight, consistent answer without any luck. They actually did something similar last year, when they extended Animal Kingdom’s operating hours over three months inexplicably without any changes to the other parks. What I can tell you is that the extension doesn’t mean Animal Kingdom is expected to be more crowded on certain dates or Disney is expecting heavier crowds over the next six months. It doesn’t have anything to do with Avatar. No one outside of the hardcore Disney fanbase is going to care about that for years and it certainly hasn’t sparked some sort of new interest in Animal Kingdom. Attendance is going to be flat and remain flat for the foreseeable future (years).
Because Disney is going to extend hours and add additional evening entertainment at the other theme parks as we approach each new month, there is no reason to change the recommended Parks at this point. While a 9am – 7pm day at Animal Kingdom might seem attractive on a Saturday in December when Magic Kingdom is only open until 10pm and Hollywood Studios is only open until 8pm with one Fantasmic, the fact of the matter is that we’re going to see extended hours at Magic Kingdom and a second Fantasmic at Hollywood Studios on those Saturdays as we approach December. When that happens, I would just change Animal Kingdom back to being recommended if I were to switch it over to “not recommended” now.
In fact, in most cases we can use the extra hours to our advantage. With a 9am – 7pm day at Animal Kingdom, the morning is even less crowded because more casual vacationers sleep in and arrive later in the morning. It also makes the end of the day better because so many people that arrived earlier in the day end up leaving after they’ve completed everything they think they want to do. Thus, 6pm to 7pm is almost always an excellent time to tour with much shorter lines than the afternoon. This is just one example – the same is usually true at Magic Kingdom when the hours are extended.
So, the point is that you shouldn’t be concerned over the extended hours at Animal Kingdom. We’ll see how it plays out moving forward, but there’s no reason to change your plans or be concerned that crowds are going to be higher than we’re currently expecting.