All Construction Has Stopped at Disney World
All construction has stopped at Disney World according to the head of the region’s top construction trade organization (via Orlando Business Journal). In this post, we’ll cover details of the shutdown, plus speculation about how specific projects will be impacted.
In our past posts about Walt Disney World closing, many readers have wondered whether the shutdown of the parks means that construction and refurbishments can be accelerated without guests in the way. It’s not a totally outlandish idea in theory–some work done primarily overnight could be done out in the open during daytime hours.
This has actually been such a common question that we specifically addressed both fixing the Expedition Everest Yeti and Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance reliability in our Walt Disney World Closure FAQ. Our answer to both: don’t count on it. Now, we have confirmation of that…
In a statement to the Orlando Business Journal, Mark Wylie, president and CEO of the Central Florida chapter of Associated Builders & Contractors Inc. indicated that all construction projects have been halted at Walt Disney World. It wasn’t known if construction workers will be paid or when construction operations will resume in the parks.
Construction has been booming in Central Florida, but Wylie expects other construction sites in the region to shut down, as well. “They’re going to be closing a lot of construction sites,” Wylie said of the Central Florida region. “It’s already having a terrific impact on the economy.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now deferring to the President’s Guidelines for America — 15 Days to Slow the Spread, which recommends events of 10 or more people be canceled or postponed. It’s not immediately clear if this is the impetus for Walt Disney World shutting down construction sites, or if it’s a matter of cutting costs with the parks closed and a looming recession. (Or both.)
In our area near Walt Disney World, residential construction has continued on new homes and expanding roadways (as I type this, I can literally hear the work outside). It remains to be seen whether this will continue–both in light of the new recommendations/restrictions and due to an anticipated fall in demand. Sadly, it’s already getting tough out there for a lot of people.
No matter how quickly the situation is resolved, there’s likely to be fallout in the tourism sector that extends beyond the end of this year. In the long-term, Walt Disney World will be fine, but the short to mid-term ramifications could be significant. (The perception of WDW as overpriced, which people laughed off with #BROKE or Most Expensive Day Ever shirts, could be difficult to overcome.)
In the days before the parks closed, entertainment cutbacks began occurring. That’s likely just the beginning. We’ve previously touched upon the possibility that Walt Disney World would adjust timelines, scale back projects, or halt them indefinitely depending upon how long the parks are closed and the economic fallout of the pandemic.
This would not be unprecedented. Disney’s Pop Century: The Legendary Years is the most notable recent example, which is the second-phase of a resort announced at the beginning of the new millennium. During its construction, 9/11 happened and tourism to Florida plummeted.
The first phase of Pop Century (obviously) eventually opened, but it was delayed over a year. Across Hourglass Lake and Generation Gap Bridge, the half-finished “abandoned” resort was plainly visible, and sat that way for nearly a decade. Above is a photo I captured about a decade ago (pardon the old-timey film processing…I was going through a phase.)
That’s when Walt Disney World announced Art of Animation Resort, which used the existing lobby and motel-style buildings that had already been constructed. (If you ever wondered why the Little Mermaid rooms are so different, now you have your answer.)
Here are the projects we anticipate are most likely to be impacted this time around…
Reflections — A Disney Lakeside Lodge – This has yet to go vertical, meaning it’s not even as far along as the Legendary Years was when that project hit the pause button for nearly a decade. In my view, Reflections Lodge is the project most likely to be outright cancelled or at least postponed indefinitely. At minimum, I’d be surprised if Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge opens before 2023.
Disney Vacation Club already has a lot of unsold points, and a recession would make those more difficult to sell. On top of that, there’s a strong possibility that foreclosures will outpace new sales, meaning that DVC’s point inventory will start increasing. On top of that, there’s the possibility that they will need to exercise right of first refusal to buoy resale values.
Star Wars Galactic Starcruiser Resort – This project is much further along, with exterior construction nearly complete. We anticipate this hotel opening more or less as planned, but perhaps with a modified scale. There are several big questions here. How much of an investment has already been made in terms of research and development? How much capex remains to be spent? What will the operational costs/profit margin be for the existing concept?
All of these are relevant considerations in judging whether Star Wars Galactic Starcruiser Resort retains its current scope and ambition. If most of the money has already been spent and operational costs aren’t prohibitive, there’s no reason to adjust plans. If lowering nightly rates would kill margins, don’t be surprised if cuts are made.
Epcot Festival Center – The architectural centerpiece of the core redesign of Epcot is the unnamed festival center. Innoventions is pretty much fully demolished and the central spine of Epcot is a mess, so this project will proceed in some form.
Moreover, the festival center is (presumably) going to directly generate revenue. Food and alcohol will be sold inside, and it’s safe to assume some sort of rooftop dessert party will be offered. Cutting the multi-story project entirely thus seems unlikely. Making it less architecturally ambitious does not.
Spaceship Earth Reimagining – The bold move here would be to plow forward with this reimagining as scheduled, even if it means the last guests have already experienced this incarnation of the attraction. Attendance is likely to drop in the near-term even once the parks reopen, so now is the perfect time to get as much done as possible at Epcot with lighter crowds.
The easier route is to release a statement beginning with the words, “due to guest demand…” and indicating the project has been postponed so guests who had trips cancelled or postponed can say their goodbyes. Our money is on the latter, but we’re hopeful for the former.
Play Pavilion – There has been speculation that the Play Pavilion, which has an official opening of “in time for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary,” could open late this year if park attendance and lack of other things to do in Epcot necessitates it. The emphasis here is on speculation–virtually no rumors have leaked about the actual progress on this pavilion.
This likely pushes the opening of the Play Pavilion back, closer to the official start of Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary. That’s both due to the construction delays that’ll occur due to this stoppage, and the lack of demand/need.
That’s more or less with where other projects like Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, Tron Lightcycle Run, Harmonious, Space 220 Restaurant, and other additions stand.
They’ll be impacted to the extent that construction is not actively occurring, but there’s not even a remote danger of those projects being shelved. They’re simply too far along and Walt Disney World will need splashy additions to entice guests to visit post-recession.
Beyond what we’ve listed here, the biggest impacts will likely occur to expansion plans that have not yet been announced or commenced work. Expect pretty much all of that to be shelved, at least in the near to mid-term. Don’t be surprised in the next D23 Expo is very light on announcements, and mostly reveals new details about existing projects.
There is a silver lining, as all of this likely means a return to aggressive discounting. Some readers have feared that Walt Disney World will continue to raise prices to compensate for the parks being closed. That’s not how this works. As always, Disney charges what the market will bear…and when the parks reopen, Walt Disney World will simply not bear its previous pricing. On another positive note, Disney could use entertainment as a less expensive way to lure guests back to Walt Disney World. It’s obviously way too early to say, but this could mean new fireworks, parades–maybe even a night parade–for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary…
Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!
Do you anticipate a long-term impact on projects around Walt Disney World? Anything you expect to be outright cancelled or postponed indefinitely? Things you do not expect to be impacted? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!
Best thing Disney could do in place of Reflections is put in a DVC campground. It’s almost impossible to get into Fort Wilderness using DVC points
Thanks for all the information you provide in your posts. I never get tired of reading them. I was born and raised near the Orlando/Kissimmee/Davenport area, but now live in Texas. I only get to Disney when I’m visiting family. But have been going since in the early 1970s. My grandfather was one of the head Carpenters at Disney, helping to build Cinderella’s Castle, Tiki Birds, Pirates of the Caribbean, and the Swiss Family Robinson Tree House.
I believe Disney could perform health checks every morning at each
Resort and clear people before entering a park. Hours of operation may need to change to accommodate this. Also only us citizens for while this is taking place and only people staying in a resort could enter a park
That’s a good idea. It would cut down on time clearance at the parks. Every bit helps.
People are not going to show a passport to go ride Big Thunder Mountain. I have a Florida Resident Platinum AP and I will demand a refund if I have to pay for an AP I can’t use unless I also have a hotel room. That’s ridiculous.
It’s interesting to see how the construction will play out. Every state currently handling this differently. It’s all how they are defining area and people count. Some a whole site, while others is just a specific area of the building. KS has made a big push not to shut down sites trying to offset the aircraft industry coming to a complete stop. Our sites in WA and CO have been stopped though. Interest rates are so low now it will be interesting to see how fast construction/economy start back up.
Thank you for all your wonderful advice while we were planning our trip with five grandchildren, two daughters and son-in-laws, and my husband and I. Your information was so valuable and I learned a lot about making the trip perfect. Unfortunately our April 2020 vacation is not going to happen. We are going to rebook for Spring 2021 and will continue to read every email you send out.
This sounds like a perfectly reasonable forecast, Tom. I’ve never been busier at work, and my whole week has been dedicated to analyzing the risks associated with my client’s numerous in-stream construction projects. I already know that next week will be about analyzing which planned capex projects can be modified, cancelled or delayed. I’m guessing Mary Poppins may be reduced to a character meet, and the longed for Brazil announcement may be pushed to Epcot’s 50th anniversary. I’m just grateful that Galaxy’s Edge and Mickey & Minnie were completed before this! I’m not going to lie – as sad as a lot of this post is to me, I perked up considerably at the thought of a nighttime parade!!
What about the Cove, the extension to The Swan and Dolphin?
I saw construction photos recently (which looked like it’s only just starting to go vertical). Ambitiously the opening was slated as March 2021 but I cannot see that happening.
That’s a good question–I don’t even have an educated guess there.
It seems like a property that could be competitively positioned price-wise, but who knows what how its owners and Marriott will come out of this.
Construction workers were all furloughed without pay. They’ve been told they can file for unemployment. At 275/wk in Florida that’s not enough to support their households. It sucks.
We have a WDW vacation planned july 7-14 at Pop Century. Are we at risk of having to postpone?
Do you think there is any chance that ticket prices would decrease once they open back up?
More likely they’d discount hotels and longer ticket packages. 10-day tickets and that kind of thing.
We have a WDW vacation planned july 7-14 at Pop Century. Are we at risk of having to postpone?
I don’t think anyone can tell you about July. I hope it will be open, but it’s unknowable at this point.
I’ve read the business journal article, and I don’t believe it. There’s no comment from Disney, and it talks about people not getting paid. It sounds like the author is writing an opinion piece for clicks.
The contract language for a work stoppage is very strict, and, in this specific situation, is still being interpreted by legal experts.
It sounds speculative, at best, to me. Do you have any other sources?
I don’t think Tom is presenting this as “official news” at all – he writes in the first paragraph that this post will include “speculation about how specific projects will be impacted.” Critiquing an obvious opinion piece for lacking sources or being, well, an opinion piece is pretty silly. Not trying to be argumentative, I just appreciate Tom’s speculative posts and don’t want him to be discouraged!
I’m not questioning anyone’s opinion…I’m saying the Business Journal article is speculative, specifically.
I was merely asking if there is another source or his first hand experience.
Maybe I missed it, but can you give some insight on potential for construction stoppage at Disneyland? I’m specifically wondering about Avenger’s Campus. They released the opening date but then only a few days later had to close their doors. We have a trip planned for the first week in August (who knows if the earth will be turning again by then!) and I was happy to see it would be open when we were there, but now I’m guessing it may get delayed. So just wondering if you have any insight?
Following the logic that Tom applies across the WDW projects, I’d say Avengers Campus stands an excellent chance of completing as designed. It will, obviously, have to be delayed. California is “sheltering in place,” so there will be no progress made for a while. The project was so close to its opening date, though, it would be more expensive to make changes than to proceed as planned.
I’m not surprised that construction has come to a halt. Health and budgetary concerns have made it necessary. Although this is not the kind of recession we expected, we knew something was going to happen that would adversely affect the stock market and by extension, Disney World.
Many people are already experiencing financial issues from the unexpected shutdowns. By the time this is over and we return to life as usual, I have to wonder if the average person will even have enough (if any) discretionary income to dedicate to an expensive Disney vacation.
Guess we’ll have to wait and see what construction goes forward and what is canceled or put on the back burner. We’ll also have to see what Disney offers in the way of discounts and incentives to entice us to come back. This is just as bad, or maybe even worse, than after 9/11. As for now, all we do is hunker down, stay safe and healthy and hope the economy makes a quick recovery. Priorities are priorities after all.
Barbara, I agree. The financial damages from 9/11 were more localized, and impacted fewer industries. Travel, in particular, was hard hit after that event, but there was no period where virtually all of the lodging category was without any revenue for an extended period. I also expect health concerns to impact travel for far longer than it impacts retail, construction, services, etc. What we’re all doing now is “flattening the curve,” but, by and large, experts are not predicting that the virus will be gone by summer. Anyone traveling in the next 3-6 months will have to be prepared to be treated and/or quarantined away from home. I believe the travel industry will remain impacted by the virus, and not just the related recession, long after retailers and other businesses have begun to recover.
I believe now is the time to do construction, repairs, etc. No people around to get in way. Beef it up and go, get it done. Besides Disney suppose to take this time to do extra cleaning of hand rails, rides handles., etc. Take advantage of this time.
They can’t; a construction crew of more than 10 people is prohibited.
Thanks Tom! Not the best of news but always great hearing your views. It’s completely understandable that all things come to a halt now that everyone realizes this is not the flu. Everyone must be safe and waiting awhile for that to happen is best for everyone. I do hope all the workers are getting some type of compensation.
It’s important to remember that the actual laborers on construction projects are likely to be two steps removed from Disney. Disney likely hires either a project management company (PJM) or general contractor (GC). (A project management company would, in turn, hire a general contractor.) The general contractor then hires the individual trades,, or subcontractors, i.e. plumbing, electrical, etc.. Big companies like Disney usually put net worth requirements on their PJMs and GCs, in order to protect themselves from having a consultant go bankrupt in the middle of a construction project, or running into issues with sub-contractors demanding payments directly from Disney. The individual trades, however, are usually smaller companies that will price well for the GCs. All this to say, the actual laborers are likely employees of smaller companies, and are at high risk for being unemployed right now.
The cast member on the UK line yesterday (which connects through to the US) said that they were carrying on with the work and that projects they had planned months for could now be finished in week – he specifically mentioned the castle and tron ride (which he said was now likely to open early and may be open for our replanned trip next april)