While almost every park at Walt Disney World saw decreased attendance this past summer for a variety of reasons, Disney’s Animal Kingdom was unfortunately hit particularly hard by this attendance downturn over the past few months. This development was especially disappointing as this park just began offering regular, nighttime hours starting in May. However, if you didn't get a chance to check out this park after dark over the past few months, we've got some bad news, as unfortunately, the depressed attendance at this park has had a rippling effect at this park, causing some unfortunate side effects that guests will be able to feel in the very near future.
1. Nighttime hours have been cut at Disney's Animal Kingdom for the foreseeable future
Once Labor Day weekend is over, a quick look at the daily calendar for Disney's Animal Kingdom reveals that nighttime hours have been cut substantially for the fall, with the park returning to an early evening close at 9:00PM for most nights in September, and then drawing down to 8:30PM in October, and then going back to the park's former 6:00PM closure in November, which is a far cry from the 11:00PM closes that we saw this past summer.
Now while this cut in hours can primarily can be attributed to the poor performance of this park after dark this past summer, it’s also worth remembering that budget cuts are also coming to all of the Walt Disney World parks, and one of the easiest ways that Disney can save money is by cutting hours, which is a strategy they’ve employed at the Magic Kingdom and Epcot before, most recently when Shanghai Disneyland cost overruns reportedly caused cuts in the US earlier this year.
However, aside from some of the more obvious reasons why this park would cut hours this fall there could be some other factors at work here, aside from slow attendance and the need for budget cuts.
2. Rivers of Light is still in a holding pattern, and there is no opening date in sight
Nearly four months after Rivers of Light was initially delayed, Disney still has yet to release any information about when exactly this long-in-development nighttime spectacular might debut, save for assuring guests that the show will be ready before the end of the year. Though insiders say that work to get this show ready for guests is ongoing, we still have no idea whether it will be weeks, months or perhaps even longer before Rivers of Light will be ready to go.
And while Disney has said they are still committed to bringing this show to Disney’s Animal Kingdom (so any fears of cancellation should be assuaged), it remains to be seen whether or not substantial alterations will be made to the finished product. Rumors suggest that the technical problems encountered by the show have led to potential cuts to some of the original planned effects for the show, and could result in a downsized experience that may not live up to what guests could be expecting.
So what does the delay of Rivers of Light have to do with the shrinking hours coming to Disney's Animal Kingdom this fall? Well we saw this summer that without a must-see nighttime spectacular (like Wishes at the Magic Kingdom or Fantasmic! at Disney's Hollywood Studios) guests simply won't stay in the park after the sun goes down. Though Disney tied to solve this problem with The Jungle Book: Alive With Magic, this show garnered such poor reviews that guests continued to decide to stay away this summer. Without Rivers of Light, Disney simply doesn't have a strong enough after-dark attractions lineup to keep this park open, which makes the decision to close the park early this fall an unfortunately easy one.