This story is still breaking, and thus far all we have is an official statement from Disney that was released via the company’s subsidiary ABC News:
“In an abundance of caution and in the best interest of our guests and employees, we are proceeding with the closure of our theme parks at Walt Disney World Resort in Florida and Disneyland Paris Resort, beginning at the close of business on Sunday, March 15, through the end of the month.
Disney Cruise Line will suspend all new departures beginning Saturday, March 14, through the end of the month.
The Walt Disney Company will pay its Cast Members during that closure period.
The hotels at both Walt Disney World and Disneyland Paris will remain open until further notice. The retail and dining complexes, Disney Springs at Walt Disney World and Disney Village at Disneyland Paris, will remain open.
Domestic Walt Disney Company employees who are able to work from home are being asked to do so, including those at the Walt Disney Studios, Walt Disney Television, ESPN, Direct-to-Consumer, and Parks, Experiences and Products.
We will continue to stay in close contact with appropriate officials and health experts.”
Let’s start with the silver lining here, which is that Walt Disney World will continue to pay Cast Members while the parks are closed. As the largest single-site employer in the entire United States, it would’ve been devastating to many families in Central Florida to have to ride out the closure without income.
Between closures and cancellations, this is already going to take a heavy economic toll on Central Florida, and one that will ripple far beyond just the parks. The entire tourism industry will be impacted, including a number of smaller businesses that cannot sustain a prolonged hit the way Disney can. (On a tangential note, we’d expect all other Florida theme and amusement parks to follow Disney’s lead and announce their own closures within the next day.)
At least Cast Members are being paid during the downtime. Huge kudos to Walt Disney World for that.
You might notice that the rest of the announcement is incredibly vague, with a lot of details still to be determined. It wouldn’t surprise us if this closure mandate came from on high in Burbank, with leadership in Florida blindsided and left scrambling to figure out how to pick up the pieces.
Suffice to say, right now the phone lines are totally jammed and even if you do get through, you might speak with a Cast Member who isn’t totally sure of what’s going on. If you’re not traveling within the next 2-3 days, we’d encourage patience. Walt Disney World will release more details as they’re ironed out. Take a deep breath, be patient, and save yourself the headache of being on hold over the phone for hours.
The move to close Walt Disney World follows a press conference during which Florida Governor Ron DeSantis strongly recommended all mass gatherings be postponed, saying he did not have the authority to require them to be canceled. Health officials say they currently consider mass gatherings to be more than 250 people.
After previously declaring a state of emergency, Governor Ron DeSantis strongly advised municipalities and businesses to limit or postpone events and limit non-essential travel as concerns spiked over the new coronavirus, which stood at 27 cases statewide including a man testing positive at a Palm Beach airport.
At the news conference, Govern Ron DeSantis stated, “I am recommending to local municipalities and private entities to strongly considering limiting or postponing mass gatherings…I think taking proactive measures will help us flatten the curve of this as people get exposed.”
Once Walt Disney World and Disneyland Paris close, no Disney theme parks will be operating anywhere in the world. Shanghai Disneyland is in the process of resuming operations, but the park itself has not yet reopened.
As we’ve noted with previous closures, the current end date for Walt Disney World’s closure is very much tentative. Do not expect the parks to reopen at the beginning of April 2020, in time for Easter, or whatever your Spring 2020 travel dates might be.
Walt Disney World and Disneyland are both taking an incremental approach to these closures, announcing something near-term with the intention of reevaluating the coronavirus situation in a couple of weeks and making a determination about reopening then. We’ve already seen the closure of Tokyo Disney Resort extended, and there’s absolutely no reason to believe Walt Disney World will be different.
In terms of commentary beyond that…we really don’t have much to offer. This will have a bunch of long-term ramifications, ranging from crowd calendars to construction…and much more. However, those are a range of topics for another day.
Right now, we’re honestly still sitting here in shock. (Even though the source was ABC News, I triple-checked to confirm this was legit.) Despite Disneyland closing earlier today and the belief that Walt Disney World closing was an inevitability at that point, we didn’t expect this to come so soon.
It’s a bold move, but Disney along with other businesses deserve credit for prioritizing public health above profits. Even in the last couple of days, Walt Disney World has not seen any attendance downturn. The company probably could’ve hesitated on closing Walt Disney World for another week–perhaps more–without facing public backlash or negative press if a coronavirus case emerged that was tied to the theme parks. While this will undoubtedly leave a lot of disappointed and upset guests, it’s hard to fault Walt Disney World for making this difficult decision.
Are you surprised that Walt Disney World is closing due to the coronavirus pandemic, or do you think it’s overdue? Will this impact your spring break or other vacation plans? Did you cancel your WDW trip prior to this announcement, or were you in ‘wait and see’ mode? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? Any questions? 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!