Last month I wrote an article about how park hours for September 2009 were the biggest cut in park hours, relative to past Septembers, in the last 6 years. Of course, it's easy to point to a very slow month historically to call out Disney for cutting park hours, so it had me thinking after I posted the article. What about the busier times of the year? In fact, how about the busiest time of the year? Surely Disney would not significantly cut park hours during the upcoming holiday season relative to the past few years, right? I thought that too.
I decided to look at the park hours for the last week of December, which includes the major holidays of Christmas and New Years and compare 2009 going back to 2003 to see the hours. This week in 2009 features Hollywood Studios opening every morning at 9am and closing at 8pm from December 23 through December 30th and closing at midnight on December 31. Looking back at 2008 (last year), we see the cuts have already occurred somewhat (as we'll see later) but even so, there were 4 days where the Studios closed at 10pm (27-30). By December 2008, the economy had really taken a hit already so Disney was looking at these cut backs. Even so, during the busiest time of the year, Hollywood Studios will close at 8pm during Christmas week (keep in mind there are a few days in the middle of October this week when the Studios will close at 9pm!).
When you look back before 2008, you really see some major differences. In 2007, the Studios closed at 10pm or later starting December 23rd and each year before that going back to 2003, we find the last week of December the park closing no earlier than 10pm. In fact, during this set of years, we also find on New Years the park closing at 1am, as opposed to where the regular park hours this year close at midnight.
Aside from less time to enjoy the attractions at the Studios, there is an additional problem that wasn't present when we looked at the park hours for September. The Osborne Lights, one of the best holiday attractions at Disney World, turns on at 6pm. If you've seen the lights, then you know how crowded it gets to see them and if Hollywood Studios closes at 8pm, that leaves you just two hours to see the lights during a time of year where crowds will be unparalleled compared to the rest of the year.
How about Fantasmic!? Well, there's good news and there's bad news. The good news is there is a showing of Fantasmic! once a day between December 24 through 31st. The bad news is there is just one showing of Fantasmic! each night. As if it isn't difficult enough these days to see Fantasmic!, when crowds will be the highest all year long, there will just be one showing of Fantasmic! each night. Let's compare it once again to this week, where there are 4 days that have two showings of Fantasmic! each night it's shown.
So has Disney totally lost it? Have they completely lost touch with the demand the Studios has? No, let's not get carried away. Disney has gotten in the habit recently of releasing park hours with slim hours and then adjusting them up as needed. In my heart of hearts, I truly believe that we will see the park hours ramp up between now and when that last week of December rolls around. Of course, that's my educated guess and technically the park hours we see today are the park hours we can expect until further notice. Once again, the problem is it totally handicaps anyone trying to plan their trip to Disney World now. It becomes a real hassle to try to plan your day now and try to grab dining reservations in the narrower window of time than we are historically accustomed to and even if Disney keeps the Studios open until 10pm at some point, nonetheless, it creates a very inconvenient situation for its' guests now.
I really have a hard time believing that Disney thinks it's going to be dire straights in December, especially during Christmas week. My own opinion happens to be that park hours likely will go up between today and the actual dates, but it really is insulting to read Disney publishing these park hours for this time of the year. One way Disney forecasts crowd levels is by the park hours it sets and based on these park hours, it appears as if Disney is expecting September/October type crowds, which of course is absurd. Just like the cutting of Fantasmic!, the park guest ends up suffering because it inconveniences everyone. If you are planning on going during Christmas week, you'll need to keep tabs on the park hours web page to see if/when Disney increases the hours and hopefully manage a decent plan for the week.