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Grab those binoculars! Or Magic 8 ball. The choice is yours! We’re taking a look into the future at the potential impact the Coronavirus could have on Walt Disney World. First and foremost, the most important thing is the health and safety of everyone around the world. There is no doubt the impact the Coronavirus (COVID-19) is already having on a global scale. It’s an unprecedented time for us all. We send our best to everyone and know our thoughts are with you. During this time we will continue to provide content as we always do, sarcasm and dad jokes included. With that said, let’s see how it could change the long-term plans for the Walt Disney World parks.

Hyperion Wharf concept art

History Tell Us

As they say, we can learn a lot from our past! When it comes to outside factors impacting the overall direction of the Walt Disney World parks we don’t have to look too far back. We may not need those binoculars after all. The last time something on this scale occurred was back in 2008. In 2008 it was the financial crisis that affected the global economy.

Prior to 2008 Walt Disney World had plans for a variety of updates. Within these updates were two continually talked, never forgot projects in the Monsters, Inc Scream coaster (replacing Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster) and Hyperion Wharf (later became Disney Springs). Neither of these projects were blue-sky ideas, as Disney release concept art for both, with the Monsters, Inc Scream coaster only be shown to cast members. Both of these projects were filed away in the infamous Walt Disney Imagineering filing cabinet. Yes, that same cabinet we mentioned in our Galaxy’s Edge Restaurant. They were both filed away as the financial crisis impacted the Walt Disney Company on many levels and in an effort to “right the ship” Disney moved away from many known and unannounced projects.

Passholder Insights: Hyperion Wharf would have been located where the Boat House and Morimoto Asia are located at Disney Springs.

Mountain at DisneySea

Current State

At the moment, all of the Disney Parks around the world are at different levels of closure. With the parks themselves all being closed. It is the first time in the history of the company that all the parks are closed at the same time. How Disney is handling the situation is, to say the least, spectacular. All cast members will be paid during the closures, additionally, they’ve addressed the guest experience on all levels. From annual pass extensions to waiving all change/cancellations fees, and providing future credits for park tickets that are either not used or partially used. For all the details please reference the following information.

Each of the parks closed on the following days:

  • Shanghai Disneyland – January 25, 2020
  • Hong Kong Disneyland – January 26, 2020
  • Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea – March 1, 2020
  • Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure – March 14, 2020
  • Disneyland Paris – March 16, 2020
  • Walt Disney World – March 16, 2020

There are aspects of the parks in China reopening within the region. On March 9, 2020, Shanghai Disneyland reopened its Downtown Disney section of the park. On March 11, 2020, Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea extended their closure from March 16, 2020, to an undetermined date in early April 2020.

The Disney parks in the US are projected to reopen on April 1, 2020, based on the current announcements from Disney. Please note we would not be surprised to see this date pushed further into April if not May, similar to how Tokyo Disneyland readjusted their opening date. Additionally, Disney will also be closing all Disney operated stores within their Downtown and Disney Springs areas on March 17, 2020. The closures continue with all Disney World resorts in the continental US either closing or they are already closed. All of the Disneyland Resort will be closed effective March 16, 2020. Walt Disney World resorts, Disney Vero Beach Resort, and Disney Hilton Head Resort closed on March 20, 2020. Disney’s Aulani Resort will be closing on March 24, 2020, at 5 pm local time. All resorts are projected to be closed through March 31, 2020.

On Friday, March 20, 2020, runDisney official announced the 2020 Star Wars Rival Run weekend would be canceled. The event was scheduled to take place from April 16th to 19th. All races will be refunded within six weeks of the announcement. For more details please see the following notice from runDisney.

UPDATE: On Friday, March 27, 2020, Disney announced they were extending the closure of Walt Disney World Resort and Disneyland Resort for the foreseeable future. All cast members will continue to be paid through April 18, 2020.

UPDATE: As of Friday, March 27, 2020, Disney’s Aulani Resort, Hilton Head Resort, and Vero Beach have all shifted to closed until further notice. Our assumption is they will follow local regulations as it relates to essential businesses.

UPDATE: As of Saturday, March 28, 2020, Disney has offered a Free Dining Plan at Walt Disney World to any guest whose reservation was canceled due to Coronavirus (between the dates of March 16, 2020, to May 31, 2020). The offer is for is available for travel between June 1, 2020, and September 30, 2020. Additionally, Disney is only taking resort reservations for trips that begin on June 1, 2020, for all guests.

The Fine Print For Free Dining:

  • Cannot be combined with any other discount or promotion.
  • Advance reservation required.
  • Length of stay is 2 nights – 14 nights
  • Ticket requirements: 2-day minimum; all ticket types included (i.e., Base, Park Hopper, Water Park & Sports, Park Hopper Plus
  • Offer excludes the following room types: campsites
  • Children ages 3 to 9 must choose from the children’s menu, if available.
  • Gratuities are not included.
  • Theme park admission is required for some dining locations
  • This offer is subject to availability. Everyone in the same room must be on the same package. Theme park tickets valid for admission beginning on the date of check-in and must be used within a limited number of days, depending on the length of stay and ticket.

UPDATE: On April 11, 2020, Walt Disney World finalized negotiations with all Disney unions to furlough employees effective April 19, 2020. During the furlough period, all cast members within the unions will receive health insurance, 100% covered by Disney for up to 12 months. Additionally, cast members within the 90-day probation period will be able to apply for health insurance that will also be 100% covered by Disney, at the end of the probation period. For the full details around the agreement please reference the following article.

UPDATE: On April 21, 2020, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis had the following to say regarding Disney World and the ability for the resort to reopen, in a Fox News interview:

“It’s amazing the ideas that the businesses are already thinking about. They’ve been thinking deeply about this for weeks and weeks… there’s a lot of great ideas that I’ve already seen put on the table. I’m in discussions with places like Disney. They are so far ahead of the curve, and I think everyone wants to make sure we do it safely.

In addition, Josh D’Amaro, President of Walt Disney World is part of the Florida task force for reopening the state of Florida. Among the other task force members are other government officials, and business leaders from Publix, Universal Orlando, and many others. At the moment, Florida’s stay at home order runs through May 2, 2020.

UPDATE: On April 22, 2020, the task force for reopening on the parks met for the first time. The call included John Sprouls, CEO of the Universal Orlando Resort and Executive Vice President of Universal Parks & Resorts, as well as Josh D’Amaro. The following information was discussed on the call:

  • Actions will be guided by Local Officials and Health Officers
  • Theme parks are different than sports venues by their ability to social distance guests and pace their movement through the parks and resorts
  • Screening of every Team Member (employee) daily
  • Allowing or encouraging face coverings for guests
  • Enhance their overnight cleaning and clean throughout the day
  • Make cleaning visible to guests to help them feel safe
  • Utilize technology such as mobile ordering for contactless transactions
  • Expand Virtual Queues to more attractions
  • Utilize more outdoor queues vs indoor queues
  • Staggered seating for attractions and shows, perhaps only filling every other seat or row
  • Putting limits on park attendance to encourage social distancing
  • Reconfiguring queues to ensure social distancing in all directions

It should be noted that Josh D’Amaro did not speak on this call. These ideas were presented by John Sprouls. It’s unknown if Walt Disney World would follow suit. According to reports, Governor Ron DeSantis has set Friday, April 24, 2020, as the deadline for the task force to provide recommendations on how the tourism industry within Florida can reopen.

UPDATE: On April 28, 2020, the French government extended the restrictions around large gatherings (excess of 5,000 people) from the middle of July to September. It could be assumed the Disneyland Paris Resort area would remain closed through September.

UPDATE: On April 28, 2020, the first draft of the guidelines and mandates for reopening the Florida theme parks was released by the Orange County task force. For information on the draft please see the following article.

UPDATE: On May 5, 2020, during the quarterly earning call Bob Iger announced Shanghai Disneyland would begin reopening on May 11, 2020. Shortly after the earning call Disney Parks released an announcement around the reopening of Disney Parks around the globe. The article did not contain any specific dates but it did give us some insight into the new procedures. For details around the procedures please see the following article.

UPDATE: On May 7, 2020, Disney Parks announced that Disney Springs would begin its phased reopening on May 20, 2020. The initial phase of reopening will limit capacity, parking, and operating hours and a select number of shopping and dining experiences will open, while everything begins to ramp back up. As part of the opening, all cast members and guests will be required to wear masks. Additionally, safety and cleaning measures will be put into place for everyone’s safety.

UPDATE: On May 14, 2020, Disney World began canceling reservations through June 6, 2020. Additionally, park hours have been removed from their website through June 6, 2020. One thing to note is Disney World is not accepting any new reservations prior to July 1, 2020, at this time. It could mean one of two things, first being they’ve reached projected capacity for June or the parks and resorts may not be opening until July 2020. Nothing has been announced by Disney.

UPDATE: On May 16, 2020, Disney Parks released information around what to expect when Disney Springs reopens on May 20, 2020. Below is a breakdown of the guidelines:

  • Parking and Entrances: During this initial phase, guests will be directed to self-park in the Orange and Lime Garages. All surface lots will be closed. We will also reduce the number of entrances for Disney Springs to four locations: Orange and Lime Garages, along with the Hotel Plaza Boulevard pedestrian bridge and ride share location.
  • Appropriate Face Coverings: All guests 3 years of age and older, along with cast members and third-party operating-participant employees, will be required to wear an appropriate face covering while visiting Disney Springs. This is an important part of protecting both our guests and our cast. Please be sure you have an ample amount of face coverings for yourself and your party before you arrive, as you’ll need to wear them over your nose and mouth at all times (except when sitting at a dining table).
  • Temperature Screenings: Once you arrive at Disney Springs, you and your party will be required to undergo temperature screenings. Based on guidance from health authorities, anyone displaying a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher will be directed to an additional location for rescreening and assistance; those who again measure 100.4 degrees or higher will not be allowed entry, nor will those in their party. I encourage you to check temperatures of yourself and your party prior to leaving home, as an extra layer of precaution.  
  • Physical Distancing and Capacity Measures: To maintain appropriate physical distancing throughout Disney Springs during this initial phase, we will limit the number of guests visiting the property, as well as within each location. In addition, ground markings will help promote proper distancing when queuing is necessary. We will also add physical barriers in select places where it’s difficult to maintain physical distancing. 
  • Cleanliness: We’ve increased cleaning and disinfection procedures in high-traffic areas such as elevators and escalators, handrails, benches, tables, handles, restrooms and more. We will also have hand-washing stations and hand sanitizer available, and encourage you to use these frequently.
  • Cashless Transactions: We’re recommending you use cashless payment options whenever possible during your visit to Disney Springs, including debit cards, credit cards, Disney gift cards, etc. You can also opt for contactless payment options or use cash to purchase a Disney gift card at the Welcome Center and select merchandise locations. 

Additionally, within the release, Disney Parks announced that World of Disney, D-Luxe Burger (mobile order), and the Market Co-Op would be reopening on May 27, 2020.

Walt Disney World has not released an official statement regarding an opening timeframe for the resort. Well known insiders, are hinting at June 12, 2020, as the potential first day. Disney has not announced when the parks could reopen. At the moment, this should be treated as a rumor as it relates to an opening date.

Early Impact

Walt Disney World is already seeing the impact of the Coronavirus. According to Len Testa of Touring Plans, Disney took a proactive approach with reducing costs at the parks with the removal of certain experiences. One of the experiences effected is The Muppets Present: Great Moments of American History which was located in Liberty Square of the Magic Kingdom. The original plan called for the popular show to continue after its return for the holiday season. However, Disney removed the show once it heard the early reports around the Coronavirus in Asia.

Additionally, performers around Epcot’s World Showcase including the British Revolution in the UK Pavilion and Matsuriza (drummers) in the Japan Pavilion have performed for the last time. It is unknown at this moment if they will return when the parks reopen or not.

UPDATE: On March 17, 2020, it was confirmed that all construction around Walt Disney World has been halted. According to a report from the Orlando Business Journal, Walt Disney World shut down all construction sites to compile with CDC recommendation that we should have groups of 10 or more people. The source for the Orlando Business Journal article is Mark Wylie, president, and CEO of the Central Florida chapter of Associated Builders & Contractors, Inc. It’s unknown when construction would resume. At the moment, there has been no comment from the Walt Disney Company.

With the delays in construction, it could be assumed the opening date for Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure will be pushed back from the projected May opening. It’s believed the attraction has about 8 weeks of work left to complete the project.

Long Term Impact

The time has come! At the time of writing, it is still unknown the total financial impact the Coronavirus will have on the Walt Disney Company. The financial implications span from all the parks to the reduction of revenue from merchandise and of course from movie studios. Looking back at history it’s fair to say the loss of revenue from the parks will impact the attractions and experiences slated to be coming to Walt Disney World, as well as other parks. More than likely it will not impact the projects currently underway from being completed.

So what could be impacted?

According to Jim Hill of Jim Hill Media, the project most likely to change is the Mary Poppins attraction for Epcot’s United Kingdom pavilion. Similar to Monsters Inc. Scream Coaster we could see this attraction put on hold.

Beyond Mary Poppins, many of the attractions that could be impacted are anything associated with Phase 3 or Phase 4 at Epcot. We’re looking at you Imagination Pavilion and World Showcase. World Showcase? Yes, World Showcase. Let’s just say in the DVC Duo house we believe this could impact the addition of another country to the area.

The one attraction in the “gray” area on how it could be impacted is Spaceship Earth. As we discussed in the following article, behind the scenes there is chatter on which direction Disney would go with the update, major overhaul (18+ months) or breaking the project into two mini-updates. In the DVC Duo house, we believe this unexpected global crisis could have a larger impact on how Disney could update Spaceship Earth in the form of downsizing the project.

Outside of Florida, we’re hearing talks of the Quinjet attraction slated as the Phase 2 of Disney’s California Adventure Avengers Campus could be impacted. No decisions have been made and a lot will depend on the months to come. Phase 1 of the California Adventure is going forward as planned with the Spiderman attraction and the Pym test kitchen. There could be changes to the opening date and what to expect. For more details about how the Marvel Campus at Disneyland, please check out the following article.

For resort related projects, check out the following article where we go in-depth on all current hotel projects at both Disneyland and Walt Disney World.

Our Thoughts

It’s not if, but more like how much will the Coronavirus change the scope of the Walt Disney World and all Disney park projects. With Disney more than likely to see a large financial impact from the outbreak, they will have to scale back somewhere. It will be some time before we get the full view of the overall impact of the Coronavirus. Our first insight will come at the next Disney quarterly earnings call estimated to be May 13, 2020. Ultimately, the most important thing is the health and safety of everyone.

We will continue to update this article as more information becomes available.

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