Disney World Delays Bookings Another Month

Walt Disney World has likely pushed back the reopening of resort hotels for at least another month, with new reservations now only officially available for July 1, 2020 and later. In this post, we’ll share details about the changes, plus commentary on how to reconcile this with other recent announcements and progress towards reopening. (Updated May 9, 2020.)

As with Disneyland earlier this week and Walt Disney World a little over a month ago, hotel reservations have been pushed back for another month, with no new bookings or modifications possible for travel dates before July 1, 2020. While it wasn’t when we originally published this news, the “Temporary Closure & Operational Update” bulletin on Disneyworld.com has now been updated yet to reflect this new date.

Additionally, resort and vacation package cancellations will occur on a rolling basis (as has happened week by week for May) for June 2020 travel dates. For those looking to rebook for late Summer 2020, the Sun & Fun Room Discount offer is still available. However, Walt Disney World has ended the Free Dining Recovery Deal early…

For starters, there has already been speculation that this is happening because Walt Disney World already has enough bookings for June in a limited reopening scenario. This is possible, but we highly doubt it for a number of reasons.

First, as of yesterday afternoon, there was ample availability when we spot-checked various dates for resort bookings. For plenty of options to be available yesterday and nothing today suggests a repeat of what happened in late March with Walt Disney World cutting off new bookings for May.

Second, even assuming every single hotel room is booked with an average number of guests, that still only accounts for ~25% of Walt Disney World’s total capacity. (And as we noted above, there was plenty of availability as of yesterday, so every hotel was not booked. We’d personally be shocked if occupancy levels were above 50% for June.)

Much ado is made about Walt Disney World having too many on-site hotels and those causing overcrowding, but the reality is that the majority of theme park guests visiting Walt Disney World on any given day are from off-site. On a tangential note, the notion that Disney will be limiting the parks to hotel guests upon reopening is preposterous–even with locals and off-site guests, attendance is going to be low for a while. The travel industry is in for a long road to recovery.

With all of that said, the announcement that Walt Disney World is not accepting reservations until July 2020 might seem ostensibly difficult to square with yesterday’s announcement that Disney Springs Will Start Phased Opening on May 20, 2020. However, there are a few key differences. First and foremost is that Disney Springs is essentially a fancy mall and place to get dinner for a lot of Central Floridians (heresy among some reading this, I know) and can thrive without any out of state tourists.

Additionally, at this point the only venues that will be opening at Disney Springs are third party tenants. As we pointed out with the Disney Springs announcement, it’s possible that Walt Disney World is not ready to reopen its company-owned venues. Instead, it’s reopening Disney Springs to avoid contractual conflict with third party tenants.

Assuming the reopening of Disney Springs goes smoothly and Walt Disney World opts to open its own restaurants and shops, there’s also the fact that date for the first phase of the Disney Springs reopening is less than two weeks after the previous revised booking window that opened June 1, 2020.

Even under an accelerated timeline, it’s unlikely that Disney Springs will be fully operational by the beginning of June. It’s also unlikely that Walt Disney World will have gleaned everything they’d like to from modified operations at Disney Springs during that time. That amount of time is insufficient for testing and adjusting health protocol and other policies at Disney Springs such that they can be modified and deployed at dozens of hotels, plus busy theme parks.

Although Shanghai Disney Resort is obviously very different than Walt Disney World, it’s at least instructive. Shanghai’s Disneytown complex reopened on March 8–over two months before Shanghai Disneyland is resuming operations. For what it’s worth, Disneytown also reopened faster after its closure, welcoming guests after a little over one month of downtime.

Disney Springs will have been closed for roughly two months when it reopens. It’s impossible to say whether Walt Disney World will move on a faster or slower reopening trajectory, but the reality is that the Florida Project is a vastly more complex machine. It could take some time to gain momentum and get fully powered up.

With the exception of Disney Springs, Walt Disney World is also much more dependent upon tourists. As we previously remarked when the earliest booking date moved to June 1, Walt Disney World needs to keep accepting new bookings even for travel dates that are uncertain. (You can gloss over the next few paragraphs if you’ve been reading our Disney Closure & Reopening Updates, as we’ve said this same thing a time or six.)

Walt Disney World needs to accept hotel reservations now in order to meet minimum occupancy thresholds that are a necessary prerequisite for operating the hotels. Without a certain number of bookings, opening those resorts is not practicable. Since the average guest books a Walt Disney World vacation at least 5 months in advance, Disney needs a rolling slate of bookings. 

Stated differently, Walt Disney World needs to accept reservations now in order to even have the potential possibility for the resorts to be up and running by July 1, 2020. If you have a reservation for July 4, 2020 or even mid or late July, don’t think this means that you’re now in the clear and the hotels will definitely be back up and running by then.

The updated date is not a signifier that the resorts will definitely reopen on July 1, 2020. To the contrary, all this should be viewed as is evidence that the hotels almost certainly will not be operational before July 1, 2020.

Now, this is not to say that the theme parks couldn’t open before then. Just as there is pent-up demand and a sufficient number of Central Floridians to sustain Disney Springs indefinitely, so too is there enough of a local audience to make reduced capacity theme parks viable…for at least a period of time.

While Walt Disney World is certainly no Disneyland in this regard, if the theme parks are going to have staggered openings anyway (which we believe is highly likely), this approach could make sense. It would be entirely plausible for Magic Kingdom to open one week, followed by Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios the next two weeks, and Epcot in the final week. All without any hotels.

The resort hotels could gradually begin operations after this, as bookings and occupancy levels dictate. With fewer out of state or international tourists initially, it’s also probable not all Walt Disney World hotels will need to reopen right away. For the reasons identified in Disney Vacation Club’s Point Pool Problem, properties with DVC villas will probably be the first to reopen, likely all at once (or close to it).

Otherwise, given the complexity of opening two dozen-plus hotels simultaneously, it’s easier for Walt Disney World to not reopen them all at once. Consolidating some of the Port Orleans bookings, moving guests from Coronado Springs to Caribbean Beach or Animal Kingdom Lodge, etc., are all options. Suffice to say, everything returning in phases seems likely.

In our Potential Plans for Phased Reopening of Walt Disney World, we discussed how the Governor’s Reopen Florida Task Force proposed plans for a gradual and careful reopening that entailed first reopening to Florida residents, then national visitors, followed by international guests.

While that’s the stated plan of the task force, our suspicion is that this is more a “de facto” course of action than a rule-driven one. Which is to say that practical realities of demand and travel (people will first be most comfortable traveling locally by car than by air, out-of-state quarantine rules might be in effect, etc.) may necessitate the approach.

In other words, we don’t expect Walt Disney World to be checking IDs at the gates. However, if hotels aren’t open and fewer flights are scheduled…the crowd will be disproportionately local.

This approach has benefits for Walt Disney World. It allows the parks to stagger attendance and more easily stay within capacity caps by letting pent-up demand among locals with cabin fever fizzle out before out of state tourists return. Locals and Annual Passholders are also going to be more forgiving of missing entertainment, allowing Disney to ramp that up as health and safety allow.

As we’ve said before several times, no one knows when the Walt Disney World theme parks and resorts will reopen. Not us, not analysts, not the governor, and not even Disney leadership. There are internal projections and goals, but the existence of timelines doesn’t mean they’ll be met. Everything is tentative at this point and predicated upon a range of externalities.

Previously, we viewed June as a realistic timeframe for beginning Walt Disney World’s reopening process. Setting aside Disney Springs, which will begin before then, we’re now starting to view June as the more optimistic month. July is probably the more reasonable month–and that’s just the start of the process, which will likely be drawn out over the course of several subsequent months. It’s still possible we’ll see Magic Kingdom and perhaps one other park open some point in June, but that’s not even an educated guess–it’s just a guess based upon what we think are relevant considerations.

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!

YOUR THOUGHTS

Do you think Walt Disney World’s hotels will reopen by July 1, 2020? 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!


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