Disney Parks and Resorts Update: April 25th

Walt Disney World's Pandora with a view of plants at night

Disney lovers remain in a holding pattern as everyone awaits word about the return of theme parks. This week, we received several positive updates, along with a couple of negative ones.

Also, Disney Vacation Club (DVC) members have learned more about the program concerning coronavirus-forced closures. Here’s the latest DVC update during the pandemic. It’s a lot more upbeat than the last two, I swear!

The Big DVC News This Week

To their credit, DVC officials have done a good job of communicating with members. DVC has emailed several updates about the impact of coronavirus on the program. While these messages haven’t answered all questions, they’ve helped a lot.

The most recent one arrived on Friday. Here’s a transcript:

“Dear Disney Vacation Club Member,

I hope you and your family are staying healthy and doing well during these trying times. The impacts of COVID-19 are testing us all in ways we never imagined, yet we continue to be inspired by stories of care and compassion in our local communities and around the world.

Our team at Disney Vacation Club is deeply appreciative of the patience and understanding shown by our Members—and the helpful feedback and kind thoughts shared with our Cast.

Looking ahead to better days, our team is committed to keeping you informed and providing flexibility in your membership given the unique circumstances of this crisis. Based on your feedback, we are taking additional actions beyond those we previously shared with you:

  • We know that some Members had reservations for Disney Vacation Club resort stays during the closure period using points that are set to expire. 2019 Use Year points for April and June that are set to expire in 2020 and that were used for these reservations will be extended for one year from the current expiration date. 2018 Use Year points for April and June that were banked into 2019 and used for these reservations will be extended for six months from their current expiration date. Please note this temporary policy only includes expiring points that were used to book a stay between March 12 and the end of the closure period and that involve a reservation cancelled after February 29. In addition, to better support Member availability, Disney Vacation Club will not extend the life of our expiring developer points.
  • In light of this and to help with resort availability in the coming year, beginning today Members who want to borrow points to complete a reservation will temporarily only be able to borrow up to 50 percent of their future Use Year points per contract, as permitted by your Home Rules and Regulations. Doing this will help manage inventory and accommodate more Members who want to schedule their vacations once the resorts reopen. Points already borrowed for a stay outside the closure period will be honored, even if they are above the 50 percent threshold. We will continue to monitor our inventory and re-evaluate, with the goal of returning to our standard policy as soon as it is appropriate to do so.
  • Finally, some Members have had questions about how the closure is affecting their association’s annual dues. While lower operating costs are anticipated for each condominium association because of the closures, there are many unknowns ahead as the resorts return to operation. Our commitment to Guest and Cast safety remains our top priority, and changes may be implemented to the way we operate, which may add some new costs. Given the unique circumstances of this situation, the proposal is to issue a credit to Members in mid-December as part of the distribution of Annual Dues Statements for 2021 if their association has an operating surplus (as opposed to rolling all surpluses into reserves).

These changes should provide helpful support to the entire membership as our team works toward making Disney magic for you and your loved ones just as soon as possible. We will continue to evaluate the situation, make changes to policies as they become necessary and keep you updated. More information on these policy changes can be found on our website, www.disneyvacationclub.com.

All of us at Disney Vacation Club are thinking of you and your families and can’t wait to welcome you home.”

Quick Thoughts About This Message

There’s a lot to unpack in this email, but I’ll cover the highlights. For starters, DVC is noncommittal about refunding 2020 maintenance fees.

This message points out that operating costs are lower now. Unfortunately, resorts may take on additional expenses to provide a safe environment during the rest of 2020.

Rather than promise refunds now, DVC will re-evaluate the situation at the end of the year. Presuming the membership association has a budget surplus, DVC will provide refunds then. I never expected a refund any sooner than that, if at all, but your mileage may vary.

The next topic is the borrowing of points. Please pay attention as this one may impact you dramatically. Since DVC members will have an unusually large number of points to spend over the next year, the program has adjusted its rules.

Disney's Cinderella castle lights at night

Photo Courtesy of DisneyTouristBlog.com

You may only borrow 50 percent of your points from your Use Year contract. Now, if you already borrowed points (like I did), you’re fine. Disney won’t take them away since that’s a sunk cost for them.

Instead, the people affected the most are the ones who haven’t booked trips yet. You won’t get to borrow your entire points allotment from our next Use Year, which may alter your vacation plans.

Finally, DVC has finalized its rules for previously canceled vacations. If you booked a trip any time from March 12 through the resort’s reopening date (to be determined), you’re receiving an extension of either six months or a year. The determinant is whether you used 2018 or 2019 banked points for your trip.

I realize that this email raises some questions while trying to answer others. As always, your best bet is to contact DVC directly if you have questions about the details of an impacted trip. Please understand that you will wait much longer than usual to speak with a DVC agent, though.

The Curve Is Flattening

The most divisive subject in America right now is when to reopen the country. Many states are preparing to do so while others are at least strategizing future steps.

For Disney fans, the two most important states are California and Florida, which are unfortunately two of the top ten places for coronavirus infections. The Golden State has suffered roughly 41,000 cases, while the Sunshine State is over 30,000.

However, the Orlando Sentinel points out that the number of confirmed cases has declined for four consecutive weeks. State officials believe that the worst is over, at least for now. The possibility of a secondary infection will remain until either someone develops a cure or herd immunity kicks in.

Since neither of those events appears imminent, healthcare officials must plot whether the best strategy is to remain inside or return to some semblance of normalcy. Disney has become an incidental epicenter in this discussion due to its prominence in society along with its COVID-19 concerns.

Nobody is sure whether teams will play football games this year, even presidents of Power Five football conferences. Disney theme parks receive tens of thousands of daily visits, making them hot spots for the spread of infection.

The company’s executives are currently planning the safest practices for when the parks return. In the interim, the governors of California and Florida have been at odds about when that should occur.

Recently, Florida’s governor stated, “Disney is so far ahead of the curve” in its path to reopening. Meanwhile, California’s governor has said that Disney won’t open anytime soon. The logical conclusion here is that Walt Disney World is likely to return sooner than Disneyland.

Still, I suspect that Bob Iger and Bob Chapek would prefer to open the parks on or around the same day.

Reading the Tea Leaves

One website that people are tracking is the official park hours page at Walt Disney World. It, perhaps optimistically, showed some operating hours for early May. Since then, Disney has modified the page twice.

According to the latest update, Disney lists park hours starting on May 17. That, too, seems ambitious. However, Orange County officials have recently revealed that the first case of coronavirus occurred. Some healthcare officials believe that this news is positive in that theme parks were still operating, yet an outbreak didn’t happen.

Because of these revelations, the support of Florida’s government, and the belief that the state has reached its pandemic peak, Walt Disney World is undeniably heading in the right direction. I presume that’s why Disney has left May operating hours on the calendar. I still don’t expect a May return, but I do think that early June remains a distinct possibility.

Even that belief suffered a setback this week. The forecast model for relaxed social distancing had indicated June 1 as the expected date. For reasons I can’t possibly explain, the model now suggests June 14 despite all the positives I just discussed.

This delay is the main reason why I don’t expect Walt Disney World to return in May. Walt Disney World’s status remains so fluid that it’s impossible to predict anything with certainty, though.

At Disneyland, the situation is murkier. The official site calendar is totally blank for May. Some of the pages actually list the park as closed. So, there’s not a lot of cause for optimism here, which is understandable. Southern California is one of the two most populated parts of the country, and everyone knows what has happened in the other similar metropolitan area, New York City.

So, that’s where we stand on the health front for this week. One interesting story is unfolding to the East, though.

Is Shanghai Disneyland Ready to Reopen?

The theme park that closed first might return soon. Disney has already restored some operations at Shanghai Disneyland. Now, testing is underway for updated safety measures at the park.

Presuming that these pandemic protection methods work, Shanghai Disneyland could return soon. And this is important because Disney officials will monitor everything that happens at its Chinese park. Disneyland and Walt Disney World managers will liaise with their counterparts in Shanghai to learn which practices prove effective.

Some social media users have posted pictures of new waiting areas for attractions. These images look similar to ones at some American grocery stores. Disney will expect its customers to maintain social distancing while standing in line, and they will apparently mark these spots with X’s so that everyone knows.

Disney's Magic Kingdom from afar

Photo Courtesy of DisneyTouristBlog.com

Shanghai Disneyland is also practicing social distancing with its parades. Cast members stand several feet apart during their routines. And castle image projection testing is underway, too.

The Shanghai government feels confident enough about its status that schools will reopen on April 27.  The prevailing belief is that Shanghai Disneyland will return soon afterward. At that point, DVC fans will know a lot more about what to expect from Disney parks when they reopen.

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