Disney Parks and Resorts Update: April 18th
Hello again. I trust that everyone remains safe and well during these uncertain times. We’re another week into the stay-at-home directive that has shut down Disney parks around the world.
You’re probably wondering whether there’s any light at the end of the tunnel. This question isn’t easy to answer, but I’ll do my best in the latest DVC Coronavirus update.
Who’s the Boss?
Let’s start with the news that came across my desk at 9 p.m. on Easter Sunday. The New York Times dropped a bombshell when it revealed that Bob Iger has resumed duties as the head of The Walt Disney Company. Bob Chapek infamously took over on February 25th, only for the world to collapse immediately afterward.
Rather than leave Chapek holding the bag, Iger has resumed leadership duties, which he never technically ceded anyway. Iger assumed the title of Executive Chairman, which he still holds.
Meanwhile, Chapek remains the CEO for now, at least in terms of job title. In fact, The Walt Disney Company just added Chapek to the Board of Directors. So, that’s a thoughtful and much-needed sign of support during a catastrophic start to his tenure as CEO.
As for Iger, he just became a power player in the restoration of the California economy. The state’s governor, Gavin Newsom, has appointed Iger to join the business recovery task force. This group will help California overcome the devastating financial crisis caused by Coronavirus.
Similarly, another Disney official will do the same in Orlando, Florida. Orange County mayor, Jerry L. Demings, has created the Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force to help Central Florida in its time of need.
You’ve likely heard that Orlando’s unemployment numbers have skyrocketed, and those totals will spike even more once Disney and Universal furloughs begin on April 19th. So, Thomas Mazloum, Senior Vice President of Resort & Transportation Operations, will act as Disney’s representative on the task force.
The presence of Iger and Mazloum on these task forces will help the economies in both areas. Just as importantly for Disney, it will allow the company to build strong relationships with the local governments during a difficult time.
When Will Disney Parks Re-Open
Here’s the only question that matters right now, and I still don’t have a great answer for you. Mixed messages abound, as politics have become impactful in all discussions.
In California, a blue state with a Democratic governor, public health is the overriding concern. Governor Gavin Newsom recently suggested that mass gatherings are unlikely in California until the end of August.
For Disneyland fans, this could theoretically mean no visits to the Happiest Place on Earth this entire summer. However, Iger’s relationship with Newsom, along with Disney’s respect within the community, could alter that position.
It’s possible that Iger could persuade him that Disney can operate safely by adding specific security procedures. As previously mentioned, Shanghai Disneyland requires temperature checks before entering. That system could feasibly work in Anaheim.
Meanwhile, the state of Florida is purple with a Republican governor who is more business minded, Ron DeSantis. Given the importance of tourism to the Florida economy, DeSantis is in lockstep with those who want the country to re-open. He also just re-opened some public beaches in Florida on April 17th.
So, I’m not going out on a limb to say that Walt Disney World will have an easier time getting governmental approval to return than Disneyland will.
What We Learned This Week
Even after stating this, I must backtrack a bit. The Surgeon General for Florida, Scott Rivkees, disagrees with DeSantis on pretty much everything.
Rivkees believes that gatherings of 10 or more people are problematic for at least a year. He recommends that everyone in Florida wear masks until a COVID-19 cure is available. You can watch the comments in this tweet:
This is Florida's Surgeon General being removed from a #COVID19 briefing by @GovRonDeSantis staff right after saying we'll need to social distance until there is a vaccine. https://t.co/3pBOV7dMP5 pic.twitter.com/czp7dTqfdT
— Kevin Cate (@KevinCate) April 13, 2020
You can do the math on how those philosophies would impact Walt Disney World. If the Surgeon General is correct, the parks will face difficulties in returning, and guests must take extra steps like wearing masks during the visit.
For its part, Disney has provided hints about the timeline. Last week, I mentioned that the official site had posted park hours for early May. Since then, Disney has updated to show park operating hours beginning on May 10th.
Don’t get too excited, though! Disney has also quietly canceled reservations for guests who had planned to visit in early May. Reports suggest that May 16th is the current cutoff date for such cancellations.
So, Disney is teasing a May return, just not until May 17th. Even that may prove ambitious. Currently, most insiders believe that June 1st is the likeliest restart date. I want to stress that this is mere speculation, though. Even the cancellation reports are anecdotal rather than systemic.
The news could be much worse, though. In France, President Emmanuel Macron has issued a stay-at-home directive that lasts through May 11th. He has also canceled the Tour de France, one of the most recognizable sporting events in the world.
Based on these decisions, the prevailing belief is that Disneyland Paris might not return until mid-July. Folks, that’s three full months from now.
The Most Surprising News
The strangest news item this week directly relates to DVC. The next property in the lineup, Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge, is currently under construction.
While the Walt Disney World campus makes do with only a few hundred essential employees, construction continues on this hotel. You may wonder how this is possible. The explanation involves the people doing the work.
Disney hired a construction company, Balfour Beatty Construction LLC, for this project. They need to have a 900-room resort ready by 2022. To make that deadline, Balfour’s team believes that it can’t sit idly by during the stay-at-home directive.
So, this construction crew has managed to qualify its work as essential. The company claims that it’s maintaining strict safety precautions to prevent a COVID-19 outbreak among employees.
I should add that this isn’t the only construction happening on/near the Disney campus. A crew is working on the Cove Hotel at the Swan and Dolphin as we speak.
Similarly, Virgin Trains is still hard at work on the expansion that will connect South Florida to Orlando, including a Walt Disney World station. Out of the three projects listed here, this is the one that’s probably closest to being accurately described as essential.
Virgin Trains officials have acknowledged that the pandemic has forced procedural changes. However, the addition is allegedly still on schedule for opening in December of 2022.
I do find it strange that 2022 projects are still under construction, while ones for 2020/2021 are currently shut down. I suspect this inconsistency demonstrates everyone’s confusion about how to proceed in the wake of Coronavirus.
A Final Note about Annual Passes
I realize that some of you might face unexpected financial struggles right now. If you’re a Disney annual passholder, check your email. Park officials have provided details on the steps for reimbursement.
If you’re unsure you’ll revisit Disneyland or Walt Disney World before your pass expires, you should consider requesting a partial refund.
I’m a Disney fanatic who still intends to return to Magic Kingdom this year. So, I’m not doing this. However, I’ll use my situation as an example. My annual pass renewed on Halloween like usual. So, I’m almost halfway through my year.
Since the parks have been closed for a month, Disney would credit that part back, though. That means I’m entitled to roughly 60 percent of my annual passholder money back for my wife and me, which is more than $1,000. If you’re in a similar position, the extra cash might make a difference in your life right now.
I’ll end this week’s update with a cut-and-paste of the email Disney sent for Walt Disney World passholders. The Disneyland version looks similar.
“Dear Valued Annual Passholder, This is a truly unprecedented time for all of us, and we want to thank you for your patience as we work through the many details related to the temporary closure of the theme parks. We recognize this may be a challenging time, so we wanted to share how we will assist our Annual Passholders. Active Walt Disney World Resort Annual Passes that have been paid in full will be extended for the number of days the parks are closed. The new expiration date will be reflected on the Annual Passholder’s account prior to the re-opening of the theme parks. As an alternative, and in lieu of an extension of their passes, Passholders who have paid in full may choose to receive a partial refund for the theme park closure period. To request this alternative option, we ask that you contact V.I.PASSHOLDER Support at (407) 939-7277. We do anticipate heavy call volume and appreciate your patience as we answer all inquiries. Our Annual Passholders are some of our most loyal guests, and we stand ready to help during this incredibly uncertain time. If you have any questions, please contact V.I.PASSHOLDER Support at (407) 939-7277. Walt Disney World Resort”