We have more news & rumors from Walt Disney World, as it’s been a busy few days since our last roundup. This time, we have Project Nugget at Magic Kingdom, more restaurants & entertainment reopening, and changes to an Annual Pass. We’ll start with Disney’s standoff with one union, which just took an odd twist and is (seemingly?) now resolved.
The State of Florida announced a new public testing site at the “Maingate Complex” in Kissimmee, which is near Animal Kingdom in an office park on Walt Disney World property that begins operating today. As with other testing sites in Florida, this is a public-private partnership operated by eTrueNorth.
Following that announcement, the Actors’ Equity Association sent out a press release with a timeline of past negotiations with Walt Disney World. There was also this quote: “We have been consistent that testing is an important part of ensuring a safe workplace for Equity performers, and today, I’m pleased to see that Disney World has agreed. With the news that Disney will make testing available for Equity performers and others in the park, I’m happy to announce that Equity’s executive committee has signed a memorandum of understanding with Disney for Equity performers to return,” said Kate Shindle, President of Actors’ Equity Association.
Within a couple of hours, Walt Disney World issued another statement: “We have offered the location to help with community testing. The Florida Division of Emergency Management will operate the location, which is available to Cast Members and their immediate families as well as Florida residents. Any suggestion that this has been done as a result of any one union is unfounded. Our actions support all cast and our community at large.”
It’s tough to reconcile these statements and actions while treating all of this as true. But here’s our speculation as to how this all likely played out. Walt Disney World offered the Maingate Complex space to Florida and eTrueNorth as a mutually beneficial and convenient location; it’d facilitate easier tests for Cast Members and reduce the burden on other locations. Disney then notified Cast Members it would be an option for them and their families (while perhaps omitting that it would also be available to the general public?).
It’s possible that the union saw their window of opportunity closing and sentiment turning against the union among its membership. Consequently, the Actors’ Equity Association could’ve seized on this otherwise unrelated news, finding a way to spin it as a concession offered by Walt Disney World to its demands.
In parsing the language of the Actors’ Equity Association’s press release, there’s not an express agreement between the parties. There’s the suggestion that Disney implicitly agreed with the union’s sentiment, and in a separate sentence, the union acted in response to the news of the testing site. The latter didn’t necessarily cause the former. It’s also worth noting that this does not address any previous demands by the union.
Following said news of the testing site, the Actors’ Equity Association signed a memorandum of understanding for Equity performers to return. This is what’s tougher to reconcile, but our guess is that the union signed something that was already on the table, or acted unilaterally–perhaps they’re mischaracterizing a letter of intent. In any case, it’s difficult to imagine that a new agreement was reached in a span of hours, but that Disney would then so quickly issue a statement brushing back the union.
Again, all of this is completely speculative on our part. We are not privy to any inside information here; this is predicated entirely on the statements issued by each party and their subtext, using the backdrop of what has happened thus far to further contextualize things. As we’ve said before, our reaction has been that this isn’t going to end well for the union–they’ve overplayed their hand.
What remains to be seen is what this means in terms of callbacks for Walt Disney World performers, as well as the return of some shows. It’s unfortunate and disappointing that Cast Members have been put in the middle of this, and we’re hopeful that these shows will return soon so they can get back to work. However, with park hours and other costs already being cut, I’m not overly optimistic that will happen immediately.
Speaking of Walt Disney World park hours cuts (which we discuss in greater detail here), the “EPCOT After 4” Annual Pass will temporarily become the “EPCOT After 2” (not in name, just in practice) Annual Pass starting September 8.
Annual Passholders with the “EPCOT After 4” AP will be able to enter the park as early as 2:00 pm from that date through October 31, 2020. This is a change due to the park hours being reduced by two hours, with EPCOT closing at 7 pm in September and October.
Note that Disney Park Pass reservations will still be required, and those are presently tough to come by for Annual Passholders–even at EPCOT! What we’d love to see happen is for EPCOT to simply drop the requirement for reservations after 2 pm. This could be easily accommodated in terms of park capacity, as Epcot is a ghost town in the afternoons and evenings.
This move would also have upside for both guests and Walt Disney World. It would increase the number of locals in EPCOT, helping bump up merchandise and food & beverage numbers. It’d help with the reportedly anemic Taste of EPCOT Food & Wine Festival sales, and might even make it viable for additional World Showcase restaurants to reopen.
It continues to confound us that Walt Disney World has not reallocated surplus Park Pass capacity to APs–this would be a quick fix to whatever issues exist in that system, and one with minimal downside and tremendous upside.
Next, some reopening news as more venues resume operations at Disney Springs. The Edison, Maria & Enzo’s Ristorante, and Enzo’s Hideaway are all now open for dinner service beginning at 5 pm daily. These restaurants are all operated by Patina Group, which continues to slowly ramp back up (notably, Patina is also behind Space 220 Restaurant at EPCOT).
There is unquestionably the demand for more dining at Disney Springs. We’re overdue for a report from the complex, but we’ve been a couple of times in recent weeks and it has been bonkers (definitely no longer a “ghost town” as was the case during our visits prior to the parks reopening). We can’t speak to viability with the capacity reductions, but there’s definitely no longer a shortage of guests at Disney Springs.
In other Disney Springs news, an email was sent to A-List members detailing AMC Theaters’ plans for reopening. Starting August 20, AMC plans to reopen more than 100 theaters, including the Disney Springs location. AMC plans to screen Disney’s The New Mutants starting August 28, Christopher Nolan’s Tenet starting September 3, and a range of legacy titles (at discounted rates).
As part of its new safety measures, AMC will require all staff and customers to wear masks at all times, there will be continuous extra cleaning and disinfecting of high traffic areas, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes will be widely available, and AMC will significantly limit seating capacity in our auditoriums. Additionally, AMC will use “high-tech HEPA vacuums” and “increased fresh air handling and use of upgraded MERV 13 air filters wherever possible.”
We really want to see Tenet in theaters, but not this much. The use of air filters is intriguing and potentially promising, but still not enough to convince us to return to a movie theater anytime soon. Definitely cancelling our A-List memberships, sadly. Nevertheless, we wish AMC Theaters the best. Hopefully they truly are committed to safety and this goes smoothly–we don’t want to see movie theaters disappear.
Finally, Walt Disney World has filed a couple of new permits for “Project Nugget” at Magic Kingdom’s fireworks launch point (credit to danlb_2000 on WDWMagic, the main source for permits in the Walt Disney World fan community). The prospect of Project Nugget had me pretty excited…initially.
After all, Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary is right around the corner and “nugget” seems like a typically oblique reference to something for that golden milestone. Moreover, project status is something frequently bestowed on larger and more involved additions, like new attractions, hotels, or nighttime spectaculars. Installation of a new HVAC system or lighting package isn’t typically given the project moniker.
Unfortunately, a wet blanket was quickly thrown on all of my excitement. Walt Disney World insider Martin responded in the permits thread that Project Nugget is infrastructure work, “finishing something that needed finishing.” He’s a highly credible source giving a frank and direct statement, and there’s no reason to doubt that. I wish there were!
While it would seem that Project Nugget is nothing noteworthy from a guest-facing perspective, we maintain that Walt Disney World Should Go Big for the 50th Anniversary. With economic and travel recovery years away, it’s the perfect opportunity to entice longtime fans to return to bolster numbers. At this point, the best option for that is via entertainment. In the nearer term, Disney might want to consider a temporary replacement for Happily Ever After if nighttime spectaculars cannot run by next spring. Something along the lines of the Tree of Life Awakenings–unscheduled, brief projection interludes that offer a satisfying end to the day, but don’t run the risk of attracting large congregations of people on Main Street for prolonged periods of time.
What do you think of this Walt Disney World news? Speculation of your own about the ‘backstory’ on the Maingate Complex testing center and continued back and forth between Disney and the union? Hopeful that insiders are wrong and Project Nugget actually is something big? What about the EPCOT After 4 changes, or the idea of that park not requiring reservations? Thoughts on more Disney Springs restaurants or AMC Theaters reopening? 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!