Disney World Park Closing Stages

Ever wonder what happens when the four major Disney theme parks get near their guest capacity? Well, a very sophisticated – and silent – system goes into effect, triggered by theme park management when crowd levels, both actual and anticipated, are reached.

The park most likely to close is the Magic Kingdom although the procedure is in place at all of them. The times of year that most often see park closures are usually the Easter week, July Fourth, and Christmas week periods including New Year's Eve although it can happen to varying degrees at other times of the year or for certain special events.

Contrary to public perception, there is no set attendance figure that triggers the closure. Rather it depends on many factors. Disney doesn't release official attendance figures but it is generally accepted that in normal operating times, the average daily attendance at the Magic Kingdom is in the 35,000 to 45,000 range. It is very difficult to pinpoint a figure at which the park becomes in danger of being overcrowded. Things that factor in the decision are whether or not all the attractions are open and operating and whether the park has enough CM's to handle the load that each attraction will bear. Some days in slow seasons, having 40,000 in the park will seem to be very crowded but on others, 65,000 can seem very manageable. There have been times in recent history that the Magic Kingdom exceeded 70,000 people and the gates did not close. This is the exception however. Informed sources indicate that the Magic Kingdom went to Phase 4 (closed) at just over 60,000 during Christmas week 2003.

There are really two systems that are used simultaneously. A four phase system is used for alerting the CM's while a seven step system is used by management to oversee the control of the crowds.

Different CM's may very well be in different levels of alert due to their job assignment. For example, stage two is an official phase for the CMs that work the ticket booths but is not used by the CMs dealing with transportation. Stages 4, 5, and 6 are pretty much the same phase (includes checking tickets before boarding Disney transportation) for transportation CMs but is ignored by ticket sales. The phases are often referred to as normal, alert, and closed.

The actual closed phase has been happening a lot more frequently in recent times as Disney continues to add more resorts. Most times the closing lasts only a few hours and is then returned to a phase 3 situation where Disney resort guests including the Downtown Disney Resorts, Swan, Dolphin and Shades of Green are once again allowed in. Once a park has reached the phase 4 closed status, it is unlikely for an off site guest to be able to get in any time that day.

At one time, you were guaranteed admission to any park when you stayed at a Disney resort. There used to be a balance between park capacity and resort capacity that allowed Disney to do that. That policy was dropped in 1998 but after receiving many complaints from guests having to stay in the park all day in the July 4th heat, it was revamped
for New Year's Eve 1999 when huge crowds were expected and has been in practice ever since. Management now declares a stage 5 at 85%-95% of park capacity to allow for returning guests and on-property guests to enter the park almost anytime. But should the park reach phase 4 (closed), even Disney resort guests will be turned away.

It's important to remember that these phases are done generally. The park managers keep readjusting admission based on actual movement within the park, not gate count. It should be noted that capacity is NOT controlled on a "one person leaves and one person is allowed to enter" basis. Once the park reaches any stage, it will stay in that phase until park management deems it safe to lower it. If you do not qualify for admittance in the current Stage/Phase, no amount of begging, pleading, or crying will get you in at that time, not even confirmed meal reservations at a location in the park. You may have to wait for several hours before they start readmitting people if they do at all.

During busy holiday weeks, it's not uncommon to reach the 3rd stage. During this stage, guests will be asked to show Disney Resort ID's when boarding any Disney transportation. (Monorail, Bus, or Watercraft)

During Christmas and Easter week and on the Fourth of July, it's not unheard of to reach the 4th stage. Typically this will happen sometime in the late morning and will extend to the early afternoon. Usually by mid-afternoon, enough people have left so that they will go down in levels.

Night times are typically less crowded but still remain VERY crowded overall. For New Years Eve, the advice to find a park and stick with it is usually correct. On this particular day, parks will reach capacity and stay there. Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom and Epcot will usually fill to capacity while Disney-MGM Studios might still stay open.

The chart below outlines the various phases and stages.

CM Phase: Management Stage: Effect Who's Admitted and Who Isn't
0 (Normal) 0 Normal operations Admitted: Everyone
Not Admitted: No one
  1 Currently used for security alerts  
1 (Pre-alert) 2 Parking lot closes. Guests are diverted to another parking lot. Arriving guests must be using Disney Transportation. Admitted: Everyone
Not Admitted: No one
2 3 Ticket sales alerted not to sell for today's entry. Automated ticket vending machines turned off. Admitted: Any ticket except single-day (but re-entries allowed), Guest comps, Park hopping re-entries
Not Admitted: Cast member Comps, Guests without Tix, Single-Day tix
(except re-entries)
  4 Ticket restriction 1 Admitted: On-Property Resort Guest (includes Hotel Plaza Blvd,
Swan, Dolphin and Shades of Green Guests), VIP Guests, AP holders

Not Admitted: Cast member Comps, Guests without Tix, Single-Day tix
(except re-entries), Multi-Day tix (except re-entries), Guest Comps (except re-entries)
3 (Alert) 5 Ticket restriction 2 – Park is closed off to all except Disney Resort Guests. (Also called Yellow Flag) Admitted: park hopping guests, all re-entering guests & resort guests only
Not Admitted: Everyone else
  6 Ticket restriction 3 Admitted: re-entering guests only
4 (Closed) 7 Park closed to all. (Also called Red Flag) Admitted: No one
Not Admitted: Everyone

Remember that even if the Magic Kingdom lets you in under a Stage 5/Phase 3 alert, the park will be wall-to-wall people. If that is something that will cause you any discomfort, please consider going to a different park for that day.

Because the implementation of the park closing stages is subjective and does not automatically kick in at a pre-determined point, the ticket holders admitted at the various levels are always subject to change without notice as is the entire park closing policy.