It’s time for another Walt Disney World news round-up! We have construction tidbits from Magic Kingdom, resort restaurant features, a mask mandate update, and an extension of Cast Member furloughs. Let’s start on a positive note, with what’s becoming a weekly look at new case numbers in Orange County and Florida.
Once again, the state as a whole continues to improve. Florida reported 2,673 more cases on Tuesday, the third straight day with numbers under 3,000. For anyone doubting Florida’s numbers–which receive an A grade–on the basis of less testing being done, positivity rates, hospitalizations, and deaths are also plummeting.
Walt Disney World’s home, Orange County, is showing only a 5.8% positivity rate over the last 14 days, including several days under 5%. These are the best results since early June, with steady declines since late July for both the county and the state. Orange County’s numbers are below the Florida average despite Orlando being more population-dense and the county being home to numerous theme parks and tourist attractions.
When addressing this news during the latest Orange County Government Update, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings indicated that he’s received many questions about relaxing the mask mandate in light of the positive developments. He stated that he did not, and intended to leave it in place for the “foreseeable future” due to masks “playing a significant role in reducing the spread.”
This is more non-news than anything, but it’s also a question we frequently receive with regard to Walt Disney World. As a business operating primarily in Orange County, the earliest Disney can rescind its rule is when the county lifts the mandate. Dr. Raul Pino has previously credited the mask mandate for Orange County’s turnaround, going on record that masks are likely to be around through Spring 2021, or “until we have a vaccine.”
Next, some bad news. Walt Disney World and Disneyland have sent out emails to Cast Members who have not yet been called back to work, notifying them that they will remain on furlough until further notice. The message indicates that the furlough is still temporary, but will continue due to the “evolving and unpredictable nature” of doing business right now amidst these “difficult and uncertain times.”
The email sent to Cast Members also essentially reiterates the ongoing and indefinite nature of the furlough, and is a formality to convey that it will likely extend beyond 6 months. This would put callbacks into October or November, and is purportedly due to business circumstances that Disney could not have foreseen. The message expresses hope that the parks will recover and the furlough will “remain temporary.”
The language is mostly similar to that originally used when Cast Members were first notified of the indefinite furlough back in April. The move was and is in lieu of a permanent layoff, allowing employees to potentially resume their positions at some point in the future. Ironically, the email’s language is also similar to that used when executives were notified of their pay cuts, which have since been restored.
Apparently, there has been a “substantive recovery” in business for executives…but not frontline Cast Members. Unfortunately, there has not actually been substantive recovery for either. As we wrote in our previous coverage of restoring executive salaries, that is really bad optics. That move coupled with this email is going to further hurt morale among Cast Members who are now surviving on ~$275 per week of unemployment.
The executive salary restoration is also not supported by reality. Per the company’s most recent quarterly earnings call, Walt Disney World is covering its variable costs and making a positive net contribution towards fixed costs. However, operations are not profitable. Basically, that means Walt Disney World is currently losing less money by being open than the parks & resorts would lose by being closed.
At this point, roughly half of Walt Disney World’s workforce remains furloughed. The exact number is undisclosed, but it’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 30,000 Cast Members if estimates provided by the unions and extrapolated from there are accurate. One silver lining, at least, is that the Walt Disney Company continues to pay all health insurance costs during the furlough.
Otherwise, this is pretty tough news. Our hearts go out to all the Cast Members and the families of those who are impacted. This is why we’re rooting for a swift recovery at Walt Disney World, and have savored every positive development in terms of Florida’s case numbers, the economy, and the current guest experience. It seems like a lot of people don’t understand the stakes here, thinking that Walt Disney World doing poorly doesn’t matter because it’s a multi-billion dollar company that can survive this. (And that part is true–the Walt Disney Company can survive this.)
The unfortunate reality is that the negative ramifications of Walt Disney World struggling are disproportionately felt by frontline Cast Members. Not only that, but Disney’s decisions ripple throughout Central Florida, making success especially crucial right now. Low crowds are certainly enjoyable, but there is such a thing as too low. As such, we really hope Disney leaders right the ship and attendance picks up.
Switching gears, Walt Disney World has expanded its Walk-Up List via My Disney Experience. This allows you to check estimated wait times at select resort restaurants and remotely add your party to the restaurant’s waitlist, pending availability and proximity (I was sitting at home when I checked for the screenshot above, hence no availability).
This feature has been expanded to California Grill, Chef Mickey’s, the Wave, Beaches & Cream, and Ale & Compass Restaurant. It was previously available at Kona Cafe, Topolino’s Terrace, Sanaa, and Whispering Canyon Cafe. (We would love to see it added at Geyser Point, which has gotten much busier in the last few weeks!) To check this new My Disney Experience feature out for yourself, search dining availability for “now” in the app.
Next, some quick construction notes from Magic Kingdom. Work continues on the aesthetic reboot of Tomorrowland, with the latest development being the removal of the Stitch’s Great Escape signage. This actually happened a couple of weeks ago, but I forgot to include it in our last Magic Kingdom update, so here ya go!
In more exciting news, the pace of work on TRON Lightcycle Run has gained momentum. The swooping canopy that will cover the exterior loop of the roller coaster track is being constructed on the ground and temporary support columns are being erected adjacent to the track.
If you’ve been concerned about the large grey and white gravity building being visible from Tomorrowland, this is the solution to that. If Shanghai Disneyland’s version of this attraction is any indication, the canopy will conceal the blocky building from within Tomorrowland (but not from this side angle in Storybook Circus).
It’s good to see construction moving along on TRON Lightcycle Run, which leaves us wondering when it’ll be finished. As you might recall, this was one of several projects announced as being ready “in time for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary in 2021.”
For a while, Magic Kingdom’s version of the attraction seemed ahead of schedule, as compared to the construction timeline for the Shanghai version. Our assumption was thus that it could conceivably open before October 2021–perhaps in time for next year’s Spring Break. While that early completion is now out the window, it does still seem plausible that TRON Lightcycle Run could still debut in 2021. We’re not saying that’s what will happen–as Disney could still slow the pace of work to spread costs over additional fiscal years. Unlike a couple of other projects previously slated for 2021 that are now undoubtedly going to be pushed to 2022 or beyond, it’s still within the realm of possibility that TRON Lightcycle Run opens next year.
What do you think of this Walt Disney World news? Think TRON Lightcycle Run will debut by October 1, 2021? How do you feel about the ongoing Cast Member furlough? Optimistic by Florida’s falling case numbers? Hopeful that things will turn around for Walt Disney World soon? Do you agree or disagree with our assessments? 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!