Walt Disney World slashes park hours for fall

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Guests wave to Sulley of Monsters, Inc. during a pop-up appearance of Pixar characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World, on the second day of the park's re-opening on July 16. - Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS

ORLANDO, Fla. — Walt Disney World will cut its theme-park operating hours this fall, with Epcot closing two hours earlier than normal despite hosting the Taste of Epcot Food & Wine Festival.

This week, Disney announced the coronavirus shutdown had cost the company $2 billion.

The theme-park giant generally reduces its operating hours as tourism slows after the busier summer months, but this year has been far from the normal pattern. Since reopening in July after a monthslong shutdown because of the pandemic, the parks have been admitting only a small percentage of the usual number of visitors. Those guests are now required to make reservations in advance that indicate which of Disney’s four parks they plan to visit, and they may only visit one park on any given day.

Under the new fall hours, which begin Sept. 8 after the Labor Day holiday weekend, Epcot will be open 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., reducing the chance for evening dining and drinking at its popular outdoor festival.

The Magic Kingdom, which had been closing at 7, will end its day an hour earlier, operating from 9 a.m.-6 p.m.

Despite being the most difficult park to obtain a reservation for, Disney’s Hollywood Studios also will close an hour earlier than before. Its new schedule will be 10 a.m.-7 p.m. The Studios park is still riding a wave of interest in its new Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge land, particularly Rise of the Resistance, its latest attraction.

Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance, which opened in December, remains so popular that guests have to compete on their cellphones for a boarding time — with no guarantee they will be able to get on the ride before the park closes. The online system for gaining access to the attraction also serves as a coronavirus-prevention measure, keeping guests from spending hours queued together.

Disney’s Animal Kingdom will shave an hour from both sides of its summer schedule, opening later and closing earlier. It will run 9 a.m.-5 p.m. beginning Sept. 8.

The earlier closing times won’t cause a reduction in Disney’s signature nighttime entertainment. To prevent people congregating, Disney already has been forgoing such high-profile offerings as the “Happily Ever After” fireworks at Magic Kingdom and the “Fantasmic!” amphitheater show at Hollywood Studios.

The evening concert series at Epcot that usually accompanies that park’s festivals have also been canceled.

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©2020 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)

Ferry boats and monorails operate during the official re-opening day of the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World on July 11, 2020. - Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS