Following Walt Disney World’s announcement that Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Hollywood Studios, and Animal Kingdom theme parks will remain closed indefinitely, hotel and dining reservations were suspended for the months of April and May 2020.
While we don’t yet have any official word as to when the parks or resorts will reopen, but yet another update to DisneyWorld.com’s operational update/travel advisory (the pop-up alert that appears at the top of the site) offers some insight into Walt Disney World’s tentative plans.
In this post, we’ll share the full text of the changes to the information about booking future trips, plus our speculation about what this means in terms of a reopening date, as well as the likelihood of discounts in light of Walt Disney World’s Summer Free Dining Recovery Deal that also went live over the weekend…
In pertinent part, here’s what the updated travel advisory on DisneyWorld.com states:
“For Guests who are interested in modifying their existing travel dates or making a new reservation for a future vacation, reservations are currently available for travel dates June 1 and later. As always, Guests are able to modify these bookings if Walt Disney World Resort opens before or after that time.”
This means that you cannot presently book hotel or dining reservations for travel dates this month, next month, or even in May 2020.
We spot checked dates in each of those months–right up to Memorial Day weekend, and there was nothing. Every room at every resort showed up as “unavailable for the dates selected.”
Ultimately, people are going to read into Walt Disney World’s updated travel advisory what they want to believe. It’s like a Rorschach test, but everything is Mickey ears.
Optimists will point to the last sentence, which leaves the door open for Walt Disney World to open at some indefinite date well before June. It could very well still be sometime in early May and still comport with that travel advisory.
Pessimists (we prefer the term realists) could point out that Walt Disney World has previously continued to accept reservations and modifications for dates that ended up being encompassed in the closure extension.
For example, just last Friday morning I could’ve made a hotel or dining reservation for April 1. This was even after Osceola and Orange County issued stay at home orders that effectively extended the closures that rendered the parks and resorts being open on that date impossible.
Though many people don’t view Walt Disney World this way, the resort complex is a colossal hotel business with theme parks being almost ancillary to that. After a decade of nonstop construction, Walt Disney World has dozens of resorts on property and tens of thousands of hotel rooms in its inventory.
Walt Disney World needs to accept hotel reservations now in order to meet minimum occupancy thresholds that are a necessary prerequisite. Without a certain number of bookings, opening those resorts is not practicable. (That doesn’t foreclose the possibility of reopening the parks, but it certainly makes it less lucrative for Disney if relying almost exclusively on the local Central Florida population.)
Typically, people plan Walt Disney World vacations over 5 months in advance. For many, less time is not practical from a budgeting or planning perspective.
In other words, in order to get even some of the resorts up and running by June 1, 2020, Walt Disney World needs to accept reservations now. From our perspective, the updated date is not a signifier that the resorts will definitely reopen on June 1, 2020. Rather, it’s evidence that they almost certainly will not reopen before then.
A few weeks’ notice is not realistic. There’s no way Walt Disney World can announce on May 1 that the resorts will reopen on May 14, 2020. The vast majority of tourists cannot book airfare, hotel reservations, and make other plans in that short of a timeframe.
Again, the turnaround time for locals is obviously significantly shorter, but they are not Walt Disney World’s core/coveted demographic. (One of several reasons why this is all so much easier for Disneyland.) This is why Walt Disney World needs to accept reservations now even for dates that might end up being cancelled or modified later.
We’ve already heard from many readers who are now concerned that June and July will be slammed with “wall to wall people now.” If you’ve read online comments from people rebooking trips, you’d have ample basis for this belief.
We highly doubt that will be the case. It’s important to remember that there’s a huge amount of selection bias on sites like this one and Walt Disney World social media circles. People commenting in these places are in no way representative of the general public. We’re much more likely to be diehard fans who move heaven and earth to make a trip happen.
It should go without saying, but the general public is not so Disney-obsessed. While a vocal minority (extreme emphasis on both words) will be back at Walt Disney World as soon as possible, that’s unlikely to be the case for most park-goers, especially those who are not so enamored with Disney. Many will be reticent to get on airplanes or go into crowded places.
There are also the practical realities. Even assuming more people will be eager to get out of the house and go somewhere (probably a safe bet), we’d anticipate the biggest beneficiaries of this desire will be regional attractions like state parks or local amusement parks. Fewer people will be able to book long and lavish vacations due to a combination of financial circumstances, employment uncertainty, or simply needing to get things back to normal in other facets of life.
In all likelihood, many of these deals will come once there’s more certainty about both an actual reopening date and the circumstances. (E.g. will all parks be open? Which resorts will resume operations at first? Which sister properties will be consolidated? What entertainment and attractions will go ‘seasonal’?)
That last part is critical because it allows Walt Disney World to dump rooms for massive discounts without bringing it to the attention of the general public, and thus increasing expectations of future deals of that nature.
We’d also expect some of the best deals in a decade for Annual Passholders and Florida residents. Generally speaking, these are also guests better situated to book closer to travel dates, and these also are available to a more limited audience.
Expect to likewise see more general public deals. The first and easiest ones will likely come in the form of extensions (something we’ve already seen with the Sun & Fun Room-Only Discount) and reissued past deals. It would surprise us if the Summer Free Dining Deal (which is currently being offered only in “recovery” form) is not re-released for the general public in a few weeks. Following that, a second wave of new Free Dining dates seems all but inevitable.
Ultimately, no one knows when the parks and resorts will reopen–not even leadership at Walt Disney World. There are obviously internal projections and tentative timelines, but those necessarily make assumptions about containment and other variables that are very much unknowns at this point.
We’ve stated many times that we’re hopeful for May 2020, but view June as more realistic. That’s not even an educated guess–it’s just a guess based upon what we think are relevant considerations. There have been a lot of definitive proclamations about when everything will or will not reopen. The reality is that we do not know–and neither do you.
Many people are eager to plan upcoming trips, both as a matter of practicality and as a mental escape from what’s going on in the real world right now. That’s perfectly understandable and frankly healthy. However, we’d stress patience and flexibility. (And if you’re going to comment here, a dash of humility and empathy for other readers who may feel differently than you.)
When will you return to Walt Disney World after the parks reopen? Will you be back in the first week, first month, a specific month, sometime within 2020, sometime within 2021, or does it remain to be seen depending upon your personal circumstances, discounts, etc? Do you agree or disagree with our advice? 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!