We’re back with another Walt Disney World news roundup! In this post, we’ll share the latest on the company’s financial woes, Splash Mountain’s sinking Sunday, Two Caballeros becoming Three once again, Orange County’s improving case numbers, and the likelihood that masks will be required at Walt Disney World until at least Spring 2021.
Let’s start with the Disney’s rough third quarter. In case you’re unaware, the Walt Disney Company will release its fiscal third quarter 2020 financial results for April through June via an audio webcast beginning at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, August 4, 2020. We’ll be listening live and reporting the major results and you can do the same here. We’re anxiously awaiting this earnings call for guidance and perspective as to Disney’s outlook going forward.
Ahead of this, Reuters is reporting that Disney’s theme parks division is expected to take a big hit. The unit is forecast to report a $2 billion quarterly loss, compared with a $1.7 billion profit a year earlier, according to Refinitiv data. This will likely be the roughest quarter of the year–and ever–for the company, as Walt Disney World, Disneyland, and Disneyland Paris were closed the entire quarter, and there were no theatrical film releases. Hopefully, the worst is already behind Disney…
Next, Splash Mountain’s rough week. Eyes were glued on the attraction when Magic Kingdom reopened, but there was nothing newsworthy about Splash Mountain itself, just the eBay pirates stockpiling plushes for some reason. However, last week the ride has experienced extensive downtime, closing for two days in the process. Splash Mountain was drained as maintenance crews worked on something (we have no clue what) before uneventfully reopening a couple days later.
About two hours before Magic Kingdom closed yesterday, Splash Mountain once again went down. Scattered reports emerged of an evacuation, but nothing particularly noteworthy at first–attractions are evac’d from time to time. Then came word that a ride vehicle completely sunk, but without visual evidence. And on the internet, “pics or it didn’t happen.”
While a timeline has yet to be announced for that, our understanding is that work won’t even begin in the coming fiscal year. Given Disney’s current financial woes, most projects that have not yet commenced construction are being delayed or cancelled. Those that are proceeding are having their timeframes adjusted.
However, if issues persist with Splash Mountain, we’re wondering if the ride will just close. This is purely speculation, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility for Walt Disney World to close the current incarnation of the attraction to save operational expenses and avoid its annual winter maintenance, but not start work immediately on the replacement.
In the meantime, Splash Mountain reopened today after some downtime this morning and appears to be operating smoothly. It has had the longest lines in Magic Kingdom the last few weeks, which is likely attributable to a mix of its popularity, guests not knowing when it’ll close and wanting to get in their “last rides,” and the incredibly hot and humid weather.
It’s been a rough few weeks for Walt Disney World attractions, with the Tomorrowland Transit Authority PeopleMover, Carousel of Progress, and Gran Fiesta Tour each having their own issues. Speaking of which, a couple of weeks ago the Jose Carioca Audio-Animatronic in the Mexico pavilion’s Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Three Caballeros fell down while operating.
Jose was subsequently removed for about a week, making it the Gran Fiesta Tour Starring The Two Caballeros. At that point, we cynically figured he’d be gone for a while. With all of Walt Disney World’s other issues (and EPCOT in particular), it seemed like a low-priority problem with a low-priority attraction. To the maintenance team’s credit, Jose Carioca is now back and looks as good as ever!
Finally, some good news with regard to local case numbers. In looking at the Orange County dashboard and Florida Department of Health County by County numbers, key metrics have declined over the past few weeks in the county Walt Disney World calls home. Positivity rates have dropped from weekly highs of 16.8% in late June to 8.2% in the last two weeks–and are even better in the last few days. Hospitalizations are also on the decline, as are overall new cases.
To be clear, Florida’s numbers on the whole are still bad and the state remains a global epicenter. However, there are early signs that Florida as a whole might be turning the corner. The state has reported fewer than 10,000 daily positive cases for over the last week and the statewide positivity rate has been under 15% for over two weeks. This follows several record-high daily reports in mid-July, including a United States-record 15,300 new cases the day after Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom reopened.
The unfortunate timing of that record with the reopening of Walt Disney World resulted in a barrage of unflattering headlines and photos of Cinderella Castle being paired with coverage of Florida’s hotspot status. Given the incubation period, Disney’s reopening obviously did not cause the spike, but that didn’t matter. It was bad optics regardless of the logic.
It’s unlikely we’ll see headlines now attributing Florida’s turnaround to Disney, which is fine because it’d also be illogical. We’re still in the early innings of this–while a brief pause for optimism is in order, declaring victory is not. Virtually every locality, state, country, etc. that has proclaimed itself a “success story” has been bitten in the rear shortly thereafter by the premature victory lap.
We’re hopeful that Walt Disney World’s approach ends up being vindicated when this crisis is viewed in retrospect, but it’s way too early to say. Thanks to their strictly-enforced rules and safety measures, local theme parks do deserve some credit for offering less risky ways for Floridians to socialize as compared to bars, house parties, indoor alligator wrestling tournaments, and so forth.
Ultimately, it’s Orange County leadership that deserves praise for the progress. On June 20, Mayor Jerry Demings issued a mask order requiring face coverings in all public places, and cases thereafter slowly began declining. Orange County public leaders and health officials like Dr. Raul Pino have also been highly effective at communicating and reinforcing a consistent message regarding safety measures and risk avoidance.
To that point, Dr. Raul Pino indicated in an interview with the Orlando Sentinel that locals should be prepared to wear masks and adhere to other restrictions for at least the rest of the year, maybe through Spring 2021, or “until we have a vaccine.”
Pino has repeatedly credited Orange County’s face-covering requirements with helping to contain a spike in infections that followed Memorial Day, attributing the drop in positivity and hospitalizations with the area being ahead of the curve on a mask order. Pino believes that increased compliance with the mask mandate has “slowly but surely” brought Orange County’s numbers down.
This should not come as a huge surprise, but is worth sharing. Many readers have indicated that they’re hoping Walt Disney World will lift the mask rule by this holiday season or early next year, but such an accelerated timeline is increasingly unlikely. Even with promising developments on the vaccine front, that probably will not be produced and widely distributed by Spring 2021. If you’re waiting for no masks before planning your next Walt Disney World trip, you might want to target Fall 2021.
Given that masks have proven highly effective for both Orange County and Walt Disney World, it seems highly unlikely that either or both would arbitrarily drop the requirement. That’s both good and bad news. On the plus side, the current approach is yielding good results that will hopefully continue (and improve!). On the downside, that means masks, physical distancing, and other safety requirements are likely to persist for at least the next six months. Some of that has been and will be unpleasant, but once we make it past September, the worst should be behind us. Wearing a mask during the winter months should be nothing as compared to the last few brutal summer weeks.
What do you think of this Walt Disney World news roundup? Optimistic about Florida’s and Orange County’s improvements? Worried about Disney’s financial future? Concerned you won’t have a chance to ride Splash Mountain again before its closure? Do you agree or disagree with our thoughts and 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!