When Walt Disney World Closes at Maximum Capacity: 5 Tips to Remember

Polka Dots and Pixie Dust

It may seem strange that Walt Disney World closes when it reaches maximum capacity, but keep in mind that, without the magic, it's still just a theme park and has to adhere to fire code regulations. With everything happening at Walt Disney World and a slew of 50 new things before the 50th Anniversary beginning 2021, there will likely be times that the parks hit capacity and turn away guests. And now that Disney Parks have capacity limits due to safety and health regulations, we'll see more of this. So, if you're visiting Walt Disney World anytime in the next few years, here are 5 tips to make sure you DON'T GET LOCKED OUT! And a few reasons why Disney Still Feels Crowded at Reduced Capacity.

2021 Walt Disney World Capacity is Increasing

Disney CEO, Bob Chapek, had previously announced that Walt Disney World’s Capacity was at 35% and would remain so through the end of the year, but in a recent earnings call, he divulged that capacity is increasing steadily to meet the need. The biggest issues right now are in-building and in-close quarters capacity. Places like restaurants, theater attractions, buses, and other Disney transportation may all continue to have certain capacity limitations even as the park's overall capacity increases.

"In terms of the parks, and when we’re going to sort of be able to raise our capacity limits, we’ve actually already started that, given the guidance that just came today, from the CDC, and earlier guidance that we got from the governor of Florida, we’ve already started to increase our capacities, those obviously today’s guidance that we got from the CDC in terms of those that were vaccinated do not necessarily need to wear masks anymore, both outdoors and indoors." - Bob Chapek

Walt Disney World Closes at Maximum Capacity?

Yes, Walt Disney World does close when it gets too full. Contrary to popular belief, you actually have some control here. Unlike the hours before the hard-ticketed party events, Disney Cast Members will not go through the parks and kick you out.

Whether it's about adjusting how you plan your vacation or altering your plans for the day you do have a say and some actions you can take to make sure you're on the right side of the gate when the park reaches capacity.

Note: Capacity issues usually happen at Magic Kingdom FIRST.

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What are the Capacity Limits at Walt Disney World?

We cover who is allowed into the parks in each Disney Capacity phase below. So if you're looking for something specific to your situation, scroll down. Keep in mind that these 5 tips are foolproof. It won't matter if you're a Disney resort guest if you didn't get there early enough to get in before they closed for the maximum capacity. See Tip #1. It really is sort of a first-come, first-serve situation. Before we get started, here are the capacity limits for each Disney World Park. Note: The acreage limits do not correlate with the fire capacity at Disney World parks, as physical space, ride space, restaurant seating, etc. for the public is what determines capacity. The capacity shown here is Guests Per Day.

  • Magic Kingdom: Walt Disney World's smallest park, Magic Kingdom is 142 acres and accommodates 90,000 people.
  • EPCOT: At 300 acres, the second biggest park, EPCOT accommodates 110,000 people
  • Animal Kingdom: Animal Kingdom park is the biggest Disney Park at 500 acres and accommodates 60,000 people
  • Hollywood Studios: One of the smaller parks, Hollywood Studios is 154 acres and can accommodate 60,000 people

What is Capacity at Walt Disney World during COVID?

So, how will these capacity limits affect your vacation? Remember that capacity will be very controlled via the Disney Parks Pass system Reservation app. This is in place until at least 2023. You must have both a ticket and a reservation to get into the parks. Resort guests will not have guaranteed entry to the parks. Everyone will need both a ticket and a reservation. Knowing this capacity is helpful, but in real life, won't matter if you haven't gotten the ticket and reservation. Disney CEO Bob Chapek, announced in MAy 2021 that Walt Disney World is increasing capacity slowly up from 35%. Shown below are the percentage caps in each Disney Park.

At 35% capacity levels, the number of people for each Disney Park is as follows.

  • Magic Kingdom: 31,500 people.
  • EPCOT: 38,500 people
  • Animal Kingdom: 21,000 people
  • Hollywood Studios: 21,000 people

At 50% capacity, the number of people for each Disney Park is as follows.

  • Magic Kingdom: 45,000 people.
  • EPCOT: 55,000 people
  • Animal Kingdom: 30,000 people
  • Hollywood Studios: 30,000 people

At 75% capacity, the number of people for each Disney Park is as follows.

  • Magic Kingdom: 67,500 people.
  • EPCOT: 82,500 people
  • Animal Kingdom: 45,000 people
  • Hollywood Studios: 45,000 people

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Why does Disney Still Feel So Crowded at Reduced Capacity?

We're gonna be honest here. At 35% capacity, it FEELS CROWDED! Like really crowded. While we don't have exact answers on this one we can give you some musings on why we think it feels crowded. As a disclaimer, we've been going to Walt Disney World annually since 2013 and have been out-of-state Annual Passholders for a bulk of that time, so we've seen it ebb and flow. That said, we're going to break this down with a ton of guesses! Enjoy!

You Don't Know What Full Capacity Feels Like

Have you ever experienced Disney at Full Capacity? While many Disney Vacationers can often feel the weight of the crowds, unless you have been there on Christmas Day you probably have never felt it at Full Capacity. So who's to say that you haven't been experiencing Disney all this time at 60% capacity, and now 35% feels like too much?

Many Things are Still Closed

BEFORE, many guests could be found spending time in restaurants, the gift shops, and all their favorite rides. NOW, some restaurants aren't even open and for restaurants still, open there is limited seating and limited hours. Some rides also aren't open or have limited capacity, so fewer people are on rides. Character Meet and Greets aren't even happening, so those 30 people that used to be in line to see Cinderella, are now out in the midway, searching for their next thing to do. Or crowding the sidewalk for the next Character Cavalcade. Gift Shops now have six-foot distancing requirements and more staff than ever monitoring this. So what used to be a lovely browse is now a game of frogger trying to find that jersey and get the heck out of there.

Less Open Hours

Shorter hours and loss of magic hours, both in the morning and evenings can be contributing. Each park's hours are up in the air almost daily. And without anchor events like the fireworks, parades, or parties to pull in crowds only at certain times, the "general crowds" are happening all throughout the day making things feel generally congested.

Fewer Areas Open

FEWER SPACES ARE OPEN. Much like we see at random Magic Kingdom parties when spaces get closed in the park, people all gravitate towards the same areas. So you will naturally see more crowds. For example, Magic Kingdom's Big Top Souvenir's was closed when we went last, this pulls huge family crowds away from the Dumbo section of the park and into other sections instead. In EPCOT, Future World is still under construction- so entire spaces are literally taken away from the previously large park footprint, forcing guests into areas that are open.

Lines Appear Longer and Crowd the Midway

Lines at Walt Disney World still include 3-foot distancing. As a result, gone are the days of smashing together inside the It's a Small World Ride. Now, lines fill quickly and spill over into the very visible midway areas. This gives the impression that there are crowds, when in fact you may just be seeing more people.

Buildings Are Minimally Used

Buildings are NOT BEING USED like they used to. Remember the good old days when you'd head to the Land building for your Soarin' FastPass, stop by Living with the Land and grab food at Sunshine Seasons so you could check out the cupcakes in the pastry case? Buildings even have stricter requirements regarding capacity, so your time in these spaces is hurried, pushing you back into the crowds.

You're in a Smaller Park

Are you feeling crowded at Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios? As Walt Disney World's SMALLEST Parks, they naturally fill up faster than the other parks. With substantially less stomping ground and rides that are off-limited due to their indoor nature, you will likely feel the crowds here first.

People's Park Time is Spent Differently

While the Disney Park Pass Reservations system is generally a good thing, people are hyper-aware now that getting into a park, potentially staying in the park, and making the most of their time at that park is necessary. Where previous Disney vacations may have included breaks at the resorts, or late mornings or early evenings, today's park atmosphere is not filled with leisure. Previously long lunches, strolling with your coffee, or having a 20-minute break in an indoor experience like Philharmagic or Mickey Shorts Theater, don't really feel safe, and some of these experiences aren't available anyway. Many things are no longer part of the Disney Park experience- at least not right now.

You're More Aware of Your Personal Space

You're more "Aware" of the Crowds. While this may sound like a cop-out answer, we can't tell you how much we felt the weight of the crowds when we last visited Walt Disney World. Between being aware of 3-foot distancing, trying to make sure our restaurant table was far enough away from others, and finding random corners to stop and take a drink, the day gets exhausting. And of course, making sure our hands didn't touch anything, and saving bathroom stops for the ones we knew were less crowded definitely took its toll! While previous Disney Trips regularly included people bumping into us, strollers everywhere, and people smashed together in lines, everyone is avoiding these types of interactions.

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5 Tips to Remember when Disney World hits Maximum Capacity

Withstanding the Park Pass required reservation system in place these 5 tips are the MOST IMPORTANT to remember. Tips #1 and #2 are very HIGH PRIORITY. If you do nothing else to plan your vacation these are the big ones. High Capacity times are typical during holidays, starting around Thanksgiving, and new attraction openings. Consider October 2021, the arrival of Disney World 50th Anniversary as a time when you will need these tips.

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TIP #1: GET THERE EARLY

When Walt Disney World Closes at Maximum Capacity this tip is the most common sense. And the most in your control. And the absolute easiest!!! So you've booked a vacation at Walt Disney World around busy times? The best way to make sure you don't get turned away at the gate is to get there right when the gate opens. The monorail starts running at 6:30 am and the parking lots tend to open 1.5 hours before the park opens that day. So if there are early magic hours at 8 am the lots are usually open by 6:30 am. Keep in mind though that if the park doesn't open until 9 am, you won't be able to get in the parking lot until 7:30 am. So check out park hours ahead of time. Animal Kingdom usually has later opening hours so the lots may open closer to 8:30 am there.

Ways to maximize this early morning time with the new rope drop ceremony is to book an early breakfast at Crystal Palace or Be Our Guest. That way it will still feel fun, you won't "waste" precious time and you'll beat the crowds. Check out the app for park hours or the calendar on the Disney website for daily times.

Note: Keep in mind most everyone on the planet shows up at Disney between 10-11 am, so getting there before then is key.

TIP #2: DON'T LEAVE

This second common sense tip for when Walt Disney World Closes at Maximum Capacity helps you out even if you ignore all the rest of our tips. True, we always condone visiting the resorts for everything from relaxation time to dining to shopping. BUT, physically leaving the park to go somewhere else is not in your best interest on days that may get busy. The exception to this is IF you have the park hopper ticket. They will let you in again to re-enter the park all the way through the phase 2 closing process. But after that, you would be out of luck. So our advice is to just stay.

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TIP #3: BOOK SOMETHING, ANYTHING

Through Phase 3 both dining and special appointments reservations are honored. This is a major plus! If you're traveling with a Make Your Way package you already have a multi-day ticket, are staying at a Disney resort, and most likely using Disney transportation. So you're already in the clear and most likely won't be turned away. If you however don't have any of those things, a dining reservation, which can be made at any time, may be your saving grace! When Walt Disney World Closes at Maximum Capacity having a restaurant reservation, a boutique reservation, or any special experience tours booked will get you access to the park through phase 3.

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TIP #4: STAY AT A WALT DISNEY WORLD RESORT OR THE SWAN AND DOLPHIN

This is a no-brainer if you're traveling to Disney during busy times. Mainly because the Orlando traffic alone may kill you. So you will want to be as close to the action as possible and not on the Orlando roads. That said, know that Disney transportation will be packed to the max! While you can take the Disney Skyliner, monorail, and buses, you can't guarantee timely arrival on busy days. So, you may want to spring for Lyft or Uber to drive you into the parks to avoid waiting in lines at the bus stop. Being a guest at the Disney Resorts will also ensure you're still able to get in the parks through Phase 3. This does include the Swan and Dolphin which is definitely one of the best options if you're looking for a nearby resort without the transportation nightmares.

TIP #5: HAVE A MULTI-DAY TICKET WITH PARK HOPPER

We wouldn't recommend park hopping during busy times at Disney. Mainly, because tips #1 and #2 are absolutely our best advice. But a park hopper ticket may be your only chance to get into the parks through Phase 1 and 2 when Walt Disney World Closes at Maximum Capacity. Especially if you've ignored tips 1-4.

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Maximum Capacity Closing Phases at Walt Disney World

Walt Disney World Closes in phases. Disney has everyone's best interest at heart. They do put vacationing guests first and assume these folks have booked a make-your-way package, are staying on-site, and are using Disney transportation... hence the ability for these folks to get into the park through closing phases. If you however are playing it cheap, not staying on-site, and just want a day ticket, you will be the first to get turned away.

People in the biggest trouble as the park starts getting close to capacity are Guests:

With One Day, Single Park Tickets
Using Cast Member Passes
Staying Off-site
Without Reservations
Without Park Hopper

Note: If you've driven in you will be turned away at the gate, as you will be unable to park. If the parks get full after you park, you'll be turned away at security.

In Phase 1 you CAN enter the park IF you...

  • Have a Premium or Annual passholder or carrying a WDW premier passport.
  • Have a multi-park or multi-day ticket.
  • Staying at a Walt Disney World Resort, The Four Seasons, The Swan and Dolphin, Shades of Green, or staying at any of the Disney Springs Resorts arriving by bus: Best Western Lake Buena Vista Resort Hotel, The Buena Vista Palace, DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Hotel, B Resort, Wyndham Lake Buena Vista Resort, Hilton.
  • Are re-entering the park that day.
  • Arrived via Disney Transportation (busses, magical express, Minnie van)
  • Are a Golden Oak resident with registered guests.
  • Are Park Hopping
  • Have an Advanced Dining Reservation (ADR) for a restaurant in the park.
  • Schedule an appointment at Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, Pirates League or the Harmony Barber Shop.
  • Purchase Memory Maker.
  • Already have Fast Passes scheduled.

Note: The only change between Phase 1 and Phase 2 is that it won't matter if you have a fast pass scheduled or a memory maker.

In Phase 2 you CAN enter the park IF you...

  • Have a Premium or Annual passholder or carrying a WDW premier passport.
  • Have a multi-park or multi-day ticket.
  • Staying at a Walt Disney World Resort, The Four Seasons, The Swan and Dolphin, Shades of Green, or staying at any of the Disney Springs Resorts arriving by bus: Best Western Lake Buena Vista Resort Hotel, The Buena Vista Palace, DoubleTree Suites by Hilton Hotel, B Resort, Wyndham Lake Buena Vista Resort, Hilton.
  • Are re-entering the park that day.
  • Arrived via Disney Transportation (busses, magical express, Minnie van)
  • Are a Golden Oak resident with registered guests.
  • Are Park Hopping
  • Get an Advanced Dining Reservation (ADR) for a restaurant in the park.
  • Have an appointment at Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, Pirates League, or the Harmony Barber Shop.

In Phase 3 you CAN enter the park IF you...

  • Are a Premium or Annual Passholder
  • Are staying at a Disney Resort including the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin
  • Book an Advanced Dining Reservation (ADR) for a restaurant in the park.
  • Make an appointment at Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique, Pirates League or the Harmony Barber Shop.

In Phase 4 the Parks Are CLOSED to All Guests

In Phase 4 Disney enacts the one-to-one rule. The 1:1 Rule means when one person leaves the park, one person is allowed to enter. This is usually at their discretion and definitely doesn't happen immediately. As they need to build a little cushion regarding the capacity levels and will mean you can get split up from your party if you're adamant about getting in.

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Why is Walt Disney World so busy?

Disney has been losing its off-season for a few years by adding deals to get more guests to come during slower times. This, as a result, just makes all times busy. Remember that while Walt Disney World closings are somewhat rare, the activities and openings over the next few years gearing up for 2021 are so vast that many many people are planning to book their vacations during these times to get the most bang for their buck. Vacation packages open up to be booked in June the year prior to when you plan to visit. We're not expecting the momentum to slow down anytime soon, so if you're visiting be prepared for the crowds.

What Else Do I Need to know?

For a quick education on when the parks have closed and prevented guests from entering check-out touring plans.

To know in the moment if the parks are open and allowing guests in double-check the My Experience App. The info usually updates there first. Checking Disney social media accounts like Facebook and Twitter would also have the up-to-date info if you need it.

Hopefully, this post has given you a good foundation for understanding the closing phases that Disney goes through during their busiest times. Know that you do have some power over the situation if you plan and prepare ahead of time.

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We are Rochelle and Melanie. Sisters and Travelers. Sharing Disney Vacation Planning Tips, News, Resort, and Restaurants Reviews. Covering Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Disney Cruise, Disney Aulani, and more.

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