Disney World News: Characters Return, Hours Change, Iger & Chapek Pay Doubles

It’s time for another Walt Disney World news roundup! This one covers the latest changes to park hours & Extended Evening Hours, this weekend’s water park closure, more returning characters, executive compensation for the Bobs, and more.

As usual, we’ll start with the latest release of new and modified operating schedules. All four theme parks have had hours for another week added to DisneyWorld.com’s park hours, and the current calendar now runs through April 3, 2022. Here are the hours for most dates that are newly-added for Spring 2022:

  • Magic Kingdom: 9 am to 9 pm
  • Epcot: 10 am to 9 pm
  • Hollywood Studios: 9 am to 9 pm
  • Animal Kingdom: 9 am to 7 pm
  • Disney Springs: 10 am to 11 pm (11:30 pm on Fridays & Saturdays)

In addition to these boilerplate hours for March and early April 2022, there are also extensions to park hours for several dates over the course of the next couple months. The most notable new change is that Epcot will open at 9 am on a handful of weekends in February. Magic Kingdom also has later weekend closings, but most of those aren’t new. Additionally, Magic Kingdom’s 8 pm closing from mid-February through March will probably be extended.

In other park hours news–or rather, lack thereof–Typhoon Lagoon water park will be closed again today (January 22, 2022) and tomorrow due to low temperatures.

It’s currently 52 degrees and rainy around Walt Disney World, which most Midwesterners would consider t-shirt and shorts weather…but not swimming season, I guess. Typhoon Lagoon has been closed several days since reopening earlier this month. That’s not uncommon for this time of year, but it does seem like there have been more cold days than normal.

Another change is happening with Extended Evening Hours, with Magic Kingdom offering the Deluxe/DVC resort perk on Tuesday, March 29 instead of the following Wednesday, pursuant to the normal pattern. Other days seeing a shift are February 21 and 23, but neither of those are new developments.

As a general matter, you’ll want to review your specific travel dates—ideally right before you visit—for actual current park hours. For the most part, the parks are sticking to their standard schedules for winter dates.

In positive news, more character meet & greetings (err…sightings) are returning to Epcot this weekend. In Future World at Journey into Imagination, Vanellope and Joy are back in the ImageWorks post-show area (which can also be accessed through the exit without riding). Donald Duck is back at the Mexico pavilion, appearing in the outdoor meet & greet location tucked away to the right of the pyramid. (The non-distanced photo above is an archive image.)

Like the other recently-returning sightings at Walt Disney World, these will offer individualized time indoors for selfies and posed photos, but will be physically-distanced–meaning no hugs or autographs. Additionally, these offerings will occur alongside pop-up cavalcades, motorcades, flotillas, and spontaneous sightings.

I’ll repeat my common refrain: any incremental step towards normalcy is progress—moving in the right direction is great to see, even if it doesn’t appeal to me. My only complaint about these character sightings is that all the ones we’ve done (so far) haven’t had PhotoPass photographers and the resulting photos have been bad. (The lighting at dedicated meet & greets really needs fill flash to be even.) We haven’t done these ones yet, but at least the Donald Duck one should be good.

Finally, the skyrocketing salaries of Disney CEO Bob Chapek and Executive Chairman Bob Iger, per Disney’s proxy filing with the SEC. Chapek’s compensation package for the company’s fiscal 2021 year was $32.5 million, more than double the $14.2 million he took home the previous year.

Chapek’s base salary for FY2021 was $2.5 million (up from $1.8 million in FY2020), with his compensation also including $10.2 million in stock awards, $3.75 million in stock options, and a $14.3 million cash bonus.

Iger’s total compensation package neared $46 million, as compared to $21 million the year prior. Again, more than double. He received $3 million in salary for FY2021, with his compensation also including a $22.9 million cash bonus, plus $9.5 million in Disney stock, and $9.3 million in stock options.

That total does not include stock Iger was contractually entitled to receive when his tenure with the Walt Disney Company concluded, with that being worth a total of $231 million as of October 1, 2021.

For fiscal year 2021, Disney posted revenue of $67.4 billion (up 3%) and net income of $2.0 billion, versus a net loss of $2.8 billion in FY2020. Perhaps most crucially to the company’s strategic goals, it reported 179 million streaming subscribers worldwide, including 118.1 million for the key Disney+ service.

You might recall that in fiscal 2020, no top Disney executives received performance-based bonuses and most had their salaries reduced (Iger declined his entirely) amid the economic fallout of the pandemic. If you’re curious as to Disney’s rationales for the compensation amounts, you can find those in Disney’s SEC filing. They’re more or less what you’d expect if you listen to earnings calls or read our recaps, though.

I don’t think you really need my commentary on this. Read the room, guys. This isn’t just poor optics, it’s also a reflection of the chasm between the company’s top “leaders” and frontline Cast Members and customers.

The latter two groups had another tough year. For guests, I probably don’t need to recap the laundry list of cuts, price increases, and ways the experience was diminished. When it comes to Cast Members, morale is still incredibly low, employees are overworked due to staffing shortages, and there are continued tensions between Cast Members and guests due to the decisions and policy choices of those aforementioned leaders. To be sure, things are better than the previous year, but hardly back to normal.

Beyond that, my analysis is unlikely to satisfy anyone. I feel like this is one of those loaded and polarizing topics, where anything short of “eat the rich” or “executives deserve every penny for their high stakes jobs” is bound to be unpopular. I don’t agree with either perspective, so now might be the time to close out this browser tab if you ardently do.

As with so many issues, executive compensation is more complicated and nuanced than that. I don’t think that multi-million dollar pay is categorically bad, but it should be predicated on real world results (not just stock price at a time when valuations were skyrocketing, speculative, and arguably divorced from fundamentals–see yesterday) and delivering unique success that few others could have accomplished.

In another likely unpopular take, I believe Chapek is almost certainly highly talented. Failing upwards is definitely a thing, but not to that extent. While I can’t say I’m a fan of what he has done to Parks & Resorts, he delivered real results in other roles.

His biggest problem is that he’s a terrible communicator, and lacks the charm and affability of Iger or Eisner. Those traits arguably don’t matter for the position of CEO generally, but they absolutely do matter for the Walt Disney Company’s CEO. It’s a very public-facing role, and just having a bit of charisma could go a long way.

From my perspective, the trouble with Chapek’s compensation last year is that it’s not based on anything tangible or special performance at a high level. When it comes to Parks & Resorts, he has essentially been a hatchet man thus far–that requires skill, but not CEO-caliber acumen and savvy. He has not built or grown the business in a meaningful, substantive way–improving per caps by raising prices and cutting costs doesn’t count.

When it comes to everything for which he’s praised on the DTC side of the business, it’s almost entirely speculative. For all of the talk about the success of Disney+, it’s important to remember that the streaming service is not profitable, and isn’t forecast to reach that point until FY2024 at the earliest. “Success” is measured in subscribers, market share, and stock price–and that last one is susceptible to the rising and falling fortunes of streaming’s outlook as a whole (again, see yesterday).

In my view, an example of an executive accomplishing unique success would be Bob Iger repairing the relationship with Pixar, completing that acquisition along with those of Marvel and Star Wars, and rebuilding the latter two into the powerhouses they are today. Those transactions took exceptional finesse to consummate, and Iger’s subsequent stewardship of those brands and their output was likewise deftly managed. That was all high-risk, high-reward.

The case could be made that whatever success Disney+ enjoys going forward is due to the strength of that intellectual property, along with the infrastructure and tech deals Iger made to build the DTC platforms, and the successful launch of Disney+ while Iger was at the helm. This isn’t to say the streaming service is on autopilot, just that the fruits of Iger’s positioning Disney as a media company will be enjoyed for decades to come. If anyone is deserving of “excessive” compensation, it’s Bob Iger. His exit stock wouldn’t have been worth $231 million but for the decisions and risks Iger took.

With all of that said, there is something unsettling about these levels of compensation, in general. CEO pay is now exponentially higher than that of the average worker, with that gap exploding in recent decades. I’m a firm believer in the American dream, free markets, etc., but there are ways this feels like a perversion of all that.

Outside of founders, it’s hard to say that any executive is an unparalleled visionary who is irreplaceable. Few people at the top of corporate America are once-in-a-generation talents. Upper echelon, sure. They are immensely skilled and trained, but there are still thousands of other individuals who could occupy those positions and likely enjoy similar success. No company has Tom Brady or Serena Williams as its CEO.

To summarize, my perspective is that no executive at the Walt Disney Company should have received current-year compensation last year over $20 million for a couple of reasons. The first is optics, as the family-friendly company’s customers and employees were still struggling and various business units were making cutbacks and operating as if they were in survival mode. You don’t repeatedly hammer on the challenges and slow road to recovery while paying leaders as if the company is enjoying unprecedented success. That’s a bad look.

It’s also not a look that accurately reflects reality. Multiple business units at Disney are still struggling, including theme parks. Whatever successes Disney+ is enjoying, they’re not yet financial. It would be one thing if Disney’s recovery were occurring at an unprecedented pace, the company had navigated around the supply chain or labor woes facing so many other businesses, or Chapek was outmaneuvering competitors in positioning for the future. That might qualify as unique success that deserves to be compensated accordingly. From the outside, none of that appears to be the case.

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

What do you think about all this Walt Disney World news? Excited for anything that’s returning to the parks this month? Thoughts on the FY2021 compensation of the Bobs? Do you agree or disagree with our commentary? 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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