Disney World Reopening Update: Hotels Not Opening, Cast Callbacks & Universal Crowds

In this Walt Disney World closure & reopening update, we’ll share the latest news about restaurant, resort, and park operations. This includes details about the NBA & MLS coming to WDW, a surprising potential resort closure, which restaurants are recalling Cast Members, and a preliminary look at crowds from Universal Orlando’s first days of being open.

Let’s start with professional sports at Walt Disney World. Major League Soccer players have approved a revised collective bargaining agreement, clearing the way for MLS to become the first major professional sports league in the United States to return to play. The players agreed to substantial financial concessions, including salary cuts and a reduction in bonuses.

This deal allows the MLS to move forward with its plans for a tournament at the ESPN Wide World of Sports, which will begin in early July. All 26 teams will play three group-stage games, with the top two team in each group advancing to the elimination rounds. Only the group-play games would count in the regular-season standings. As with the NBA, there will be no spectators, but games will be televised…

Walt Disney World will host Major League Soccer players and staff, with roughly 1,000 people housed in a Disney resort (rumored to be Coronado Springs or Animal Kingdom Lodge) for up to 35 days beginning in the final week of June. Plans call for each team to play three games apiece in Orlando, with 16 advancing to knockout stage.

Everyone inside Major League Soccer’s “closed environment” at Walt Disney World will undergo regular testing, paid for by MLS. A wave of new infections would force MLS to end the tournament prematurely. This plan should be officially confirmed and announced sometime next week.

Next up, the NBA. It’s not worth a separate article since the details are exactly the rumors shared in our recent post: Coronado Springs Likely Host Resort for NBA at Disney World Starting in July. This week, the NBPA has now approved the return to play scenario “near Orlando,” with 22 teams resuming the regular season and playoffs beginning July 31, 2020 and concluding, at the latest, on October 12, 2020.

Other details still need to be worked out by the NBA and Players Association before an official announcement comes next week. Per ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the NBA plans to keep 1,600 people in bubble site at any given time. Player families will be allowed to arrive after first-round of playoffs, likely three members at a time, as other players leave the bubble.

NBPA sources also stated that it is mandatory for players to stay on the Walt Disney World campus during play. Additionally, players will not be allowed to visit the theme parks during play, nor will the family members that join them. (In several amusing tongue-in-cheek tweets, Disney super-fan Robin Lopez expressed that he’s not too keen on that.)

As we’ve previously covered, Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort & Gran Destino Tower will almost certainly host the NBA. Recent rumors have suggested this is the only resort they’ll need, which is a surprise to us given all of the staff and employees necessary to support operations and broadcast games.

Nevertheless, this rules out Coronado Springs being open to regular guests until at least mid-October 2020. However, we should (once again) reiterate that Coronado Springs probably was not going to reopen to regular guests during that timeframe regardless.

Coronado Springs is Walt Disney World’s primary convention resort, and those have all been cancelled for the fall season. Without that business, it’s simply not practical to reopen the resort–it’s easier to relocate guests booked for Coronado Springs to a different Moderate or Deluxe Resort.

Even though the NBA will only be using Coronado Springs until mid-October, we wouldn’t be surprised to see the resort remain closed to the public until 2021. Perhaps Gran Destino Tower alone will reopen in time for Christmas 2020.

In other posts, we’ve mentioned that other resorts might not reopen, with likely candidates being Animal Kingdom Lodge – Jambo House, the Port Orleans Resorts, and the All Star Resorts. We’ve been speculating about some hotels not reopening right away, which Disney CEO Bob Chapek confirmed in an interview with CNBC last week.

Our list of possibilities is entirely speculative, based on transportation utilized, lack of Disney Vacation Club villas, special events the resorts host, and past precedent. In the case of past precedent, Port Orleans French Quarter closed entirely for ~6 months after 9/11, and Port Orleans Riverside operated a small fraction of its rooms.

The oddball here is Animal Kingdom Lodge – Jambo House. While this hotel only offers bus transportation to the parks, it’s not a big host of special events. Most importantly, it has ~200 Disney Vacation Club rooms.

This is not a huge inventory of rooms, but it’s more units than the Villas at Grand Floridian (VGF). Plus, as identified in our DVC Point Pool Problem post, Disney Vacation Club is going to need all the capacity it can get for the next couple of years due to the prolonged closure.

Intuitively, it thus does not make sense for Animal Kingdom Lodge – Jambo House to be closed. We’re truly puzzled by this, and as such are still treating this with a good amount of skepticism. However, right now you cannot book any Animal Kingdom Lodge – Jambo House DVC villas between now and the end of December 2020.

By contrast, even resorts that are historically much more popular have a lot of availability in late June and July, plus scattered availability throughout the year. (There are some days when literally all room categories are available for the VGF.)

Originally, it was rumored that Major League Soccer would be using Animal Kingdom Lodge for its accommodations. That’s still a possibility, but a tournament in July wouldn’t explain the lack of availability through December 2020.

On top of the availability issue, Cast Members have not been called back to work at Jambo House restaurants, so there’s no sign they’ll be operating in any capacity (with the odd exception of the Mara at breakfast–that could be kitchen support for Kidani Village, which is opening).

We have no concrete reason to believe that Animal Kingdom Lodge – Jambo House will not reopen–perhaps Disney is waiting to release DVC reservations for some reason? In other words, we’re still highly skeptical about this, but where there’s smoke…

When it comes to resort restaurants reopening, the Local 737 Union for housekeeping and food & beverage Cast Members has shared a list of restaurants & resorts to which Cast Members are being called back.

At these locations, Cast Members will begin working on June 14, 2020. You can see the full list for yourself on that Facebook post, but they’re all locations at Disney Vacation Club resorts and their sister properties (notably, Yacht Club is included) plus Fort Wilderness.

Continuing with news from local union leaders, Unite Here Local 362 revealed that most of its members will report back over the next few weeks, with some being shuffled around and given the option of transferring to help with voids created by the lack of Cultural Representatives at Epcot and College Program participants. (As well as moving from locations that won’t be operating to ones that will.)

Eric Clinton, who leads Local 362, gave an interview to the Orlando Sentinel in which he stated that Walt Disney World doesn’t plan to bring back seasonal workers or resume the Disney College Program immediately. “If anyone thinks that college program workers are coming back anytime soon, they are mistaken,” Clinton said.

Regardless of the park, around 8,000 Cast Members will be called back June 14-21, 2020. Some degree of retraining and pre-opening prep-work will be necessary, including cleaning and installing social distancing markers, signage, and other health safety infrastructure.

Nevertheless, the early callback date range has us wondering how early soft openings will begin at Walt Disney World. The end of June doesn’t seem out of the question, which would be a big win for those with DVC reservations prior to the parks officially opening.

On the topic of soft openings, Universal Orlando held its Annual Passholder previews earlier this week and had its official public reopening yesterday. After seeing photos of congestion and crowds during the AP previews, we opted to stay home yesterday out of an abundance of caution. Instead, we watched from the sidelines, somewhat regretting the decision.

By all accounts, both Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure were dead yesterday. It shouldn’t come as a huge surprise that AP previews would see disproportionate crowds, as the chance at being first plus the perception of exclusivity is a strong draw for theme park fans. Still, it appeared to be a pretty stark contrast.

We’ve been saying for a while that claims of pent-up demand are overblown. Theme parks that cost money to attend and have a reputation for lines/crowds are very different from (free and open-air) beaches or (free and open air) public parks. However, even we didn’t expect pent-up demand to be this low on day one of being open to the general public. The greater test might come this weekend, when most locals are off work. (It’s still early, but thus far things don’t look busy today, either.)

In fairness, some local schools are still in session; crowds could pick up in the coming weeks once all students in Florida are out of session for the summer. Moreover, attendance could increase once Walt Disney World reopens. On the other hand, more competition for the local audience may have the opposite effect, too.

The question really comes down to when tourists will start to return to Orlando. We’ve offered a ton of thoughts and speculation on this (most recently in the Dawn of a New Disney Era). Suffice to say, we don’t think it’s going to be a matter of flipping a switch come July–or even this fall.

The best case scenario is crowds starting to return to some semblance of normal by the holiday season. More likely, it’ll take much longer than that (see our recent Post-Reopening Crowds & Discounts post) for both Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World to see crowds even close to what they were last year.

If you have questions about the closure, including policy changes and what we know thus far, please consult our Walt Disney World Reopening FAQ & Info, which should answer most inquiries. If you’re planning a Walt Disney World trip, 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 the NBA and MLS playing at Walt Disney World? Thoughts on resorts that might remain closed this summer and fall? Think Jambo House actually will remain closed, or is that some sort of error/oversight? Have you been to Universal Orlando yet? Do you agree or disagree with our speculation? Other thoughts or concerns? 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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