Disney Parks and Resorts Coronavirus Update: March 28th

Sharing statue empty pre park opening at Magic Kingdom Disney World

The Walt Disney Company just announced the inevitable. The parks will not re-open on April 1. Instead, the company has taken a more patient approach. Let’s take a look at what’s happened in the latest Disney Vacation Club park closure update.

The Statement

“While there is still much uncertainty with respect to the impacts of COVID-19, the safety and well-being of our guests and employees remains The Walt Disney Company’s top priority.

As a result of this unprecedented pandemic and in line with direction provided by health experts and government officials, Disneyland Resort and Walt Disney World Resort will remain closed until further notice.

The Walt Disney Company has been paying its cast members since the closure of the parks, and in light of this ongoing and increasingly complex crisis, we have made the decision to extend paying hourly parks and resorts cast members through April 18.”

Why Disney Just Delayed Its Return

Disney didn’t have much choice with its decision. Its two American theme parks reside in California and Florida. The governor of California published an indefinite stay-at-home mandate on March 19. The company would have had to ignore that directive to re-open Disneyland Resort.

Similarly, Disney faced governmental rulings in Florida as well. The Walt Disney World campus primarily covers two counties: Orange and Osceola. Both local authorities requested citizens to remain inside until the first wave of the infection ends. This directive lasts until April 9.

So, the theme parks weren’t opening before April 10, no matter what. Disney would have opened itself up to second-guessing, bad PR, and potentially even legal liability. While everyone hates this announcement, it was the right thing to do logistically and ethically.

Infections have more than quadrupled since the most recent update. The United States has become the country with the largest number of confirmed cases. Worldwide, the number of cases has tripled in eight days. So, everyone can and should take the matter seriously. Disney would have done its fans a disservice by allowing them to return to the parks.

About Cast Members

We had a hint that the delays were inevitable when cast members made an unusual request. Members of Workers United Local 50, a union of nearly 8,000 Disney employees, asked for clarity about upcoming work schedules.

These workers wanted to know why Disney hadn’t posted schedules for return dates. Employees in supervisory positions had hinted at a soft re-opening by the end of March. Cast members understandably wanted more information and asked for it in writing. We now know why Disney hadn’t acted. Park officials knew that an additional delay was coming.

The positive for cast members is that Disney will pay them through April 18. The news could have been worse, as a historic number of furloughed employees claimed unemployment over the past week. SeaWorld actually laid off over 90 percent of its workforce. While third-party vendors at Disney Springs eliminated their staff, Disney stood behind its cast members, which is commendable.

The Disney Week That Was—Overseas Edition

Overall, Disney suffered through another bad week, just like the rest of us. For starters, Tokyo Disneyland has confirmed that it will remain closed until April 20. As a reminder, that park shut down on February 28, several days before American parks did.

Cinderella Castle at Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom

Photo Courtesy of DisneyTouristBlog.com

Overseas, Disney couldn’t catch a break this week. Chinese movie theaters re-opened, and Disney excitedly announced that it would re-release five blockbusters to celebrate. Avatar and all four official Avengers movies were on the schedule.

I say “were” because Chinese government officials feared a second outbreak of Coronavirus. They closed theaters again after less than a week. Of course, part of the reason probably involved low attendance. Variety reports that each film screening averaged attendance of less than one person. So, any hope Disney had about earning box office revenue that way has vanished.

At Shanghai Disneyland, Lumiere’s Kitchen did manage to re-open and is serving two daily meals. It’s one of several restaurants and shops that are back in operation. However, Chinese officials have understandably taken an unusual precaution. Guests receive temperature checks before they can enter the park campus. Anyone with a fever gets denied access.

The Disney Week That Was—American Edition

In North America, Disney and its third-party vendors have taken some hits, too. A few non-Disney resorts at Disney Springs have confirmed that they will remain closed through April 30. This information might suggest an even longer timeline for park closures, although Disney’s statement about April 18 keeps hope alive for now.

Meanwhile, Disney has refused the reasonable requests of annual passholders to stop payments. At the moment, a yearly park pass doesn’t help any of us. Disney will still bill guests who have chosen the monthly payment plan, though.

A recently furloughed person pointed out the questionable decision, and others have complained. To date, Disney hasn’t reversed its policy. I suspect that it will recant in the face of public pressure, but that’s pure speculation. The company’s current position is that it will address each annual passholder complaint on an individual basis. So, if you need a break on your payments, call your friends at Disney and explain your situation.

On a scarier note, five different TSA agents from Orlando International Airport have now tested positive for COVID-19.  And a man claims that he had Coronavirus while visiting Walt Disney World. He was misdiagnosed for bronchitis but later learned he had been contagious during his Disney trip.

In other less than ideal news, the California ruling also applies to construction projects. So, all Disneyland construction plans are on hold. And this could feasibly force a delayed debut for Avengers Campus, which received an official launch date only days before the world caught fire. The currently scheduled date is July 18, but it’s very much in doubt now.

Disneyland has already delayed Dapper Day. Everyone’s favorite dress-up event will now take place on June 20–21. Its original dates had been April 18–19. Further west, Aulani, A Disney Resort & Spa has finally closed, meaning that none of the company’s DVC resorts are currently in operation. It closed on March 24. Also, most Adventures by Disney trips are now canceled through May.

Disney/DVC Miscellany

Due to all of the turmoil, Disney executives scraped up some more cash. The company sold another banknote to gain $1.3 billion in liquidity. For whatever reason, Disney made this debt exchange in Canada. And yes, it came on the heels of a similar $6 billion transaction last week. Like many other companies, Disney has taken advantage of the credit market to improve its short-term cash flow.

Finally, right after last week’s update went to press, DVC updated its cancellation policy. You should be aware of the current status:

“We will automatically cancel any reservation scheduled for arrival during any closure. You do not need to cancel the reservation online or contact Member Services.

To make the process of changing reservations as smooth as possible, Disney Vacation Club has lifted the close-in reservation cancellation restrictions and will return any of your Points back as Vacation Points or Reservation Points without placing them into holding. Borrowed Points returned due to a cancellation of a Disney Vacation Club Resort reservation will not be placed in holding and will be returned to the Use Year they were borrowed from.

At this time, we have not made any changes to our Points banking or expiration policy due the impact this could have on future inventory availability. We understand this is of particular concern for Members with reservations affected by closures and/or the COVID-19 situation who may be toward the end of their Use Year. We are, however, currently evaluating various options to assist Members in this situation, but will need to delay any decisions until we better understand how long COVID-19 will impact our operations.”

I think we’ve all shared the same concern about an influx of points hitting the market for 2021 since they won’t all be used in 2020. Clearly, Disney is aware of the problem and contemplating solutions. Alas, the company cannot define a policy until it knows how many days that the parks remain closed. So, we’ll all have to stay tuned.

That’s everything for this week. Please stay safe and respectful of other people’s personal boundaries, everyone!

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