In this Walt Disney World reopening update, we’ll cover the latest meeting by the Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force (which includes a bombshell from Universal Orlando), what came from VP Pence’s meeting with Florida’s hospitality and tourism leaders, and more. It’s been a busy couple of days, so let’s get started!
This was the first meeting of the task force since Governor Ron DeSantis held his press conference last week announcing that Florida would enter “Full Phase 1” of reopening the state’s economy. At that time, DeSantis also indicated that theme parks in Florida could submit their detailed reopening plans (which would require a target opening date) for review and approval.
In the lead-up to today’s Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force meeting, a few Orlando journalists tweeted reports that Walt Disney World, Universal, and SeaWorld would all be presenting their plans, including proposed reopening dates. This was quickly picked up by CNBC and immediately caused a spike in share prices of the Walt Disney Company’s stock. A rep for Disney corrected this–but then further reports emerged that maybe they’d be presenting…
Suffice to say, yesterday was a whirlwind day. In addition to this roller coaster of reveals and walk-backs about whether Walt Disney World would present its target opening date and plans at the Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force meeting, there was also the successful reopening of Disney Springs, plus Vice President Pence’s meeting in Florida, which was attended by representatives from Disney.
Before we get to the good news, let’s start with the bad: more cancellations for Walt Disney World reservations. The second week of June 2020 is now officially out; park hours have been removed from the calendar and cancellation emails have now gone out to those with vacation arrival dates between June 7 and 13, 2020.
This is consistent with Walt Disney World’s standard practice of week by week rolling cancellations. As with all email notifications from Walt Disney World, it’s entirely possible not everyone impacted received one—either check your spam folder or attempt to view the reservation directly on My Disney Experience if you didn’t get an email but should have.
It also squares with Walt Disney World Delaying New Reservations Until July 1, 2020. At this point, it seems like all of the parks and resorts being operational in June is a long shot. It’s entirely possible we’ll see a phased reopening beginning next month given Universal’s bombshell announcement at today’s Orange County Economic Task Force meeting (see below), but the entirety of Walt Disney World being up and running before July still seems like a long-shot.
On the plus side, the reopening of Disney Springs was largely successful. While there were a couple of odd occurrences, the consensus of social media reports was that crowds were far lower than anticipated and the experience was generally pleasant and smooth (despite the heat and humidity).
We were actually shocked to see so many photos of Disney Springs almost entirely devoid of crowds. We expected pent-up demand to last through (at least) the holiday weekend, especially with no turnstiles acting as a monetary barrier to entry. As we noted previously, concerns about crowds were our main motivation for staying home.
Also yesterday was Vice President Mike Pence’s meeting with Governor Ron DeSantis and executives from Florida’s hospitality and tourism businesses. Per media reports, Walt Disney World advised the vice president that they are considering reopening the parks with a 20-30% cap on attendance.
If Disney Springs is any indication, organic demand may limit the number of guests at or below those levels. We’ve been pretty consistent in our belief that the parks would reopen to a short period of pent-up demand from locals before seeing a lull due to a lack of tourists (resulting from a mix of the lag between booking trips and actually traveling, unemployment & economic uncertainty, and lack of demand for a “compromised” guest experience).
The non-existent crowds at Disney Springs has us wondering whether even our pessimistic projections for Walt Disney World’s theme parks are inflated? Perhaps the safety measures and reduced entertainment will significantly suppress demand, even among locals?
Next, let’s jump to the Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force meeting (watch here), where John Sprouls, Chief Administrative Officer, and Rich Costales, Executive Vice President of Resort Operations at Universal Orlando presented the reopening plan for their theme parks, which will begin in early June 2020 in a phased soft opening.
Even if you have zero interest whatsoever in Universal, this is HUGE NEWS! The health protocol plans here are certain to be collaborative in nature between Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World. While some diehard fans of both companies project their own aspersions and view the competitors in an oddly adversarial light, that doesn’t reflect reality.
As you might’ve noticed, the reopening health screening procedures and policies at Universal’s CityWalk and Disney Springs were nearly identical–right down to policies and the specific verbiage on the on the liability disclaimer warnings at the two resorts. While CityWalk opened a week earlier than Disney Springs, we would expect similar timing and policies when it comes to the respective theme parks.
In other words, if Universal is opening at the beginning of June 2020, it’s almost certain that Walt Disney World will begin reopening around the same time or shortly thereafter. There are obviously other variables at play, but it’s not as if Universal’s parks will reopen in June 2020 and Walt Disney World will wait until January 2021. Early July for WDW is now the pessimistic prediction, with the more optimistic scenario being that Magic Kingdom (and maybe 1-2 other parks) opens a week or two after Universal.
Universal Orlando’s plan is to open Islands of Adventure, Universal Studios Florida, and Volcano Bay to team members on June 1 and 2, followed by Annual Passholders on June 3 and 4, and then to the general public on June 5, 2020.
During the presentation, Universal’s executives laid out a “guest journey” (above) that would stress the importance of communication, engaging guests and building confidence to encourage visitation.
Next up, Universal highlighted their preventative measures plan (above), which was put together with government and health official input, consumer research, competitive benchmarking, scenario planning, and demand modeling.
Significantly, Universal stated that masks will be required at all times for employees and guests. They indicated that if a guest arrives without a mask, Universal would provide a disposable mask free of charge.
Other modified practices are identified above, including the elimination of single rider lines, character meet & greets, and parades. Another noteworthy thing is that 3D attractions will still be operational (contrary to rumors), with glasses for those attractions handed out individually.
Universal indicated that social distancing signage and graphics have already been installed throughout both parks (above) so guests know where to stand and where to avoid.
This is similar to what can be found throughout CityWalk (Walt Disney World has a comparable version of the same at Disney Springs).
Following the presentation by the Universal executives, a presentation was made by local health officials who did a field inspection of Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida earlier today.
In summary, the Orange County health officials team had no concerns about Universal’s plan. From there, the full Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force voted on the plan (with Walt Disney World and other ‘conflicted’ members recusing themselves), approving the plan and essentially giving it the green light to proceed to Governor DeSantis.
Given that Governor DeSantis has repeatedly expressed an eagerness to reopen Florida’s theme parks and other attractions, it seems like a foregone conclusion that he will approve of these plans and the June reopening date. (In fact, it’s likely that Universal executives discussed this yesterday before publicly unveiling the plan.)
It’s also noteworthy that Universal Orlando’s plan only addressed the theme parks and not the resorts. However, it is possible to book hotel stays at Universal Orlando beginning June 2, 2020. It’s unclear whether that’s intentional and the hotels simply were not mentioned during the presentation, or an error.
As we’ve stated previously, we think it’s plausible for Walt Disney World’s theme parks to begin reopening before the hotels, which could then follow in waves. Central Florida locals can sustain theme parks (to a degree) and help get the ball rolling there, whereas they will not sustain two dozen-plus hotels. Tourists will take some time to return for a variety of reasons, the most noteworthy of which is that there’s a lag time between booking a trip and actually traveling.
Above is a look at the tentative reopening dates of other Central Florida attractions. Local health officials also conducted field inspections of most or all of these amusement parks and attractions today (May 21, 2020).
During the task force meeting, neither SeaWorld nor Walt Disney World presented reopening plans. It was previously reported that both parks (in addition to Universal) had prepared plans for the review of Mayor Demings, but he didn’t mention that on the call. Moreover, Walt Disney World’s (newly-promoted) President of Signature Experiences Thomas Mazloum did not speak on the call. Regardless, the news that Universal Orlando will be reopening at the beginning of June 2020, and we’re consequently now much more optimistic that Walt Disney World will begin greeting guests before July 2020!
Will you be visiting Universal Orlando when those two parks reopen in June, or will you wait? Surprised to see Universal’s three parks reopening at the same time Walt Disney World is cancelling vacation packages? Optimistic that the WDW parks and/or resorts will reopen in July? We welcome a variety of viewpoints here, and will not delete anything on opinion alone. However, we will not tolerate insults, arguing, or politically-charged comments. Don’t ruin a 95% fine comment with an unnecessary cheap shot—that 5% will get it deleted. Additionally, please do not incessantly harp on the same point across multiple comments. Respectfully share your opinion and move along.