Disney Parks and Resorts Update: April 11th
The United States has confirmed 50 percent more COVID-19 cases since this time last week. That’s the nightmarish news. The positive is that the rate of growth has slowed to single digits, an essential goal in controlling the spread. So, what happens next? Nobody’s sure, but here’s what we learned over the past week.
A Calendar Mistake or a Hint?
No, your eyes aren’t deceiving you. Walt Disney World displays park hours beginning on May 3rd. Does that mean that the park will re-open in early May? Nobody knows for sure.
This updated calendar likely reflects the end of the Florida stay-at-home order. May 3rd is the first day that Walt Disney World could re-open while still following the current state mandate.
A lingering question involves Disneyland and Walt Disney World in tandem. Will both parks return on the same day, or will one of them come back before the other?
This debate has newfound importance in the wake of the revelation that California Governor Gavin Newsom asked Disney to stop UFC from running an event. Meanwhile, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis recently garnered headlines for his willingness to restart schools, albeit while expressing a factually inaccurate rationale.
So, a return of Walt Disney World might be easier to achieve than one in California. Unfortunately, as I mentioned last week, Florida has suffered more infections per capita than California. So, both states still have hurdles to clear.
At the moment, the calendar update seems like wishful thinking, but there’s no harm in all of us hoping for an early resolution.
About the Competition
Perhaps the most realistic evaluation of what to expect comes from the competition. Universal Studios announced that its parks at Hollywood and Orlando would remain closed through May 31st.
This timeline suggests that everyone should expect a June 1st re-opening for theme parks. It would fit the current guidelines in place in California and Florida, and it would allow for the spread of the virus to slow.
You probably know that the projections for infections and deaths have thankfully decreased in recent days. The stay-at-home orders in place around the country have had the positive impact that medical experts had hoped. So, the situation appears much more positive than it did just a few weeks ago.
Still, theme parks represent high-risk spots for the spread of infection. Universal and Disney officials both understand that they can’t return until they have the means in place to stop the viral outbreak, something I’ll discuss more in the next section.
Universal also announced how it would address park employees. Part-time employees will receive furloughs beginning on May 3rd. Yes, that’s the same day that Walt Disney World lists a return date.
Full-time employees will take 20 percent pay cuts starting on April 20th. A small group of workers will keep their current pay, but it comes with a requirement. These people will continue to work in the parks.
You can compare how Universal and Disney are addressing the fallout from the Coronavirus pandemic. However, I’ll add that Orlando Weekly recently discussed the unique relationship between the Central Florida theme parks. Including SeaWorld, officials from these parks frequently liaise to decide plans for matters that impact all of them.
Given this knowledge, Universal’s decision to remain closed through May 31st likely applies to those parks as well. If not, one of them will split from the others, which is unprecedented in recent theme park history.
Iger Speaks to the Future
Robert Iger, the Executive Chairman of The Walt Disney Company, recently performed an interview with Barron’s. The conversation was enlightening in that Iger shot straight about the future of Disney theme parks. He commented on potentially permanent changes that could happen.
Iger referenced 9/11 and its impact on security measures at Disney theme parks. In the wake of the pandemic, the company may once again introduce new practices that become a standard part of Disney visits.
The former CEO specifically referenced Shanghai Disneyland’s recent decision to require temperature checks before admitting guests to the campus. Keep in mind that the park isn’t even open right now. Park officials do this before guests can visit stores and restaurants. Iger comments on the process this way:
“(Customers) will have to feel comfortable that they’re safe. Some of that could come in the form ultimately of a vaccine, but in the absence of that it could come from basically, more scrutiny, more restrictions. Just as we now do bag checks for everybody that goes into our parks, it could be that at some point we add a component of that that takes people’s temperatures, as a for-instance.”
The Disney executive later adds that Disney will “prepare for a world where our customers demand that we scrutinize everybody.” For better and worse, Iger is right about that. While none of us wants to think about such changes, they are necessary to safeguard public safety.
The depressing part of the interview isn’t even about safety causing park restrictions. Iger states his belief that Disney’s business will never return to what it had been as recently as last month. Instead, he keeps stressing the need to operate more efficiently. Reading between the lines, he certainly sounds like he believes Disney should have fewer employees in the future. Some of these furloughed cast members might not have jobs available when they return.
Other Disney News
Coronavirus has wreaked havoc with all our lives. At Disneyland and Walt Disney World, management teams are still working to find optimal solutions for cast members.
For weeks now, essential workers at the parks have requested the use of masks during job duties. For whatever reason, park officials didn’t allow this at first. Thankfully, Disney has come to its senses on this one.
Now, the kind people taking care of the parks can wear masks to protect themselves and their co-workers. Really, we can all learn from this. A mask doesn’t help the wearer as much as the people who come in contact with that person.
The most worrisome news comes from Japan. The government has declared a national state of emergency, which means that Tokyo Disneyland will stay closed through mid-May.
Japan’s COVID-19 numbers have caused a lot of envy since the country had avoided the brunt of infection…until now. Alas, its reported cases doubled from April 3rd through April 10th. I’m afraid that it looks like fears of a second wave have a basis in reality.
Not coincidentally, Disney Cruise Line has canceled all sailings through April 28th. The Disney Wonder will have a more extended break, as it will remain out of operation through June.
This decision comes on the heels of USA Today calling the Disney Wonder out as a possible source of infection. Of course, the primary reason Disney did this is that Canada banned all cruise ships from ports until July 1st.
The news is similar for Adventures by Disney. The company has canceled all river cruises through the end of July. So, all forms of Disney travel are unavailable right now and look to remain that way for the next few weeks, possibly even into the summer.
Finally, DVC Resale Market has released its latest update video, which you can watch on Facebook:
Stay safe and smart, everyone!