There’s good and bad news on the Walt Disney World entertainment front, as one stage show returns to Hollywood Studios while another is cut, and with it a 32-year run by a beloved orchestra comes to an end. In this post, we’ll cover what’s ending, what’s returning, timelines, the likely motivation for the changes, plus extensive commentary.
Let’s start with the good news. “For the First Time in Forever: A Frozen Sing-Along Celebration,” is returning to Disney’s Hollywood Studios on October 5, 2020. The Royal Historians of Arendelle will once again deliver their comedic retelling of their kingdom, including a sing-along from Disney’s “Frozen” and special appearances by Anna, Elsa and Kristoff. It’ll be the same show as pre-closure, albeit with adjustments to staging and audience seating to allow for appropriate physical distancing.
Given the recent high attendance levels at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, something is definitely needed to help soak up crowds. In all likelihood, several stage shows need to return to DHS to round out the day, but this is at least a start. Unfortunately, it’s one step forward, one step backwards with this announcement…
From their announcement: “It’s hard to find the words but, sadly, our days at the Grand Floridian are over. In fact, as of Oct 3, 2020, our days at WDW will come to an end as well…So after 32 years of playing together and playing music we love… we’re done. We are so thankful for the opportunity to play in a beautiful setting for the hotel guests and friends we have met & made over the years. We’ll never forget you and how wonderful you’ve made us feel. We will miss you! Thank you-thank you- thank you!”
You might’ve missed it in the chaotic news cycle, but right before Walt Disney World closed in March, the company terminated its relationship with numerous other contract entertainment acts. EPCOT was hit particularly hard at that time, with the following all being cut:
Matsuriza, the drummers in the Japan pavilion
British Revolution, the band in the United Kingdom pavilion
Serveur Amusant, the stacking-chair acrobats in the France pavilion,
Master Juggler Sergio, the juggling clown act in the Italy pavilion.
Keep in mind, these are just the entertainment acts that were notified in advance that they would not be brought back. Countless other performers simply have their statuses in limbo (literally too many to list here), and have not returned to Walt Disney World.
It’s likely the only reason we know the Grand Floridian Society Orchestra’s time with Walt Disney World is coming to an end is because the company brought them back for the interim show at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. If not, they’d be among the many other entertainment acts that are indefinitely on ‘temporary hiatus’, unaware they’ve already performed for the last time at Walt Disney World.
While we’re disappointed about the Grand Floridian Society Orchestra news, we’re not surprised. It’s easy to point to the exorbitant rack rate at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa or the almost laughable drink prices at Enchanted Rose Lounge and say, “X of these per day could easily cover the cost of the orchestra.” X wouldn’t even be a high number in either case.
The problem is that Walt Disney World is increasingly less concerned with delivering commensurate value for money, and more preoccupied with increasing profit margins. So much has been removed from the post-reopening park and resort experiences with minimal attempts at replacements, but still largely comparable price points. With a guest-first mentality, continuing cuts don’t occur at a time when prices are mostly static.
With a profits-first perspective, the company looks at reduced hotel occupancy and park attendance levels, and justifies further cuts on those bases. The focus is a quantitative one of costs versus revenue, rather than a qualitative examination of the individual experience of those guests who do show up–and pay full price or close to it for the Walt Disney World experience.
This is nothing new, and Walt Disney World leadership is not suddenly going to have an epiphany and change its approach. We saw largely the same scenario play out while Disney’s Hollywood Studios was a veritable construction zone a few years ago, yet Disney further cut entertainment and held or increased ticket prices. (Heck, we’re now seeing exactly that again at EPCOT!)
We’ve written largely this same editorial several times, including last year when Muppets Present Great Moments in American History and more were cut from Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom. Our commentary commonly fixates on the dangers of Disney cutting too much fat from budgets to the point where they “hit bone.”
When it comes to cuts and their justifications or lack thereof, our thesis statement of sorts is that Walt Disney World is more than the sum of its parts. It’s the little moments, the ambiance, the live musicians, the way everything just feels alive that, cumulatively, defines a trip even if you don’t actively notice at the time.
In past years, we’ve expressed significant concern that Walt Disney World would make such aggressive cuts at times of record attendance growth and profits. If that is how Disney reacted to unprecedented prosperity, how bad would things get when the country entered a recession and Disney felt an actual “need” to further reduce costs to meet profit targets?
In my wildest dreams, I never imagined the recession taking its current form and travel being hit particularly hard, but here we are. So I’m not exactly surprised that Disney is acting in a manner completely consistent with its moves of the last decade.
This may sound overly bleak or fatalist, but there’s good news here. Consumers can vote with their wallets and cancel their trips–the overwhelming majority have done exactly that when it comes to the post-reopening “product” that Walt Disney World is selling. Even though attendance has increased in the last month or so, it’s still well less than half of normal levels. Current visitors are also disproportionately locals, which is not Walt Disney World’s “preferred” demographic.
Now, there are myriad reasons for tourists to cancel their trips right now. We won’t pretend that reduced entertainment is the sole or even main cause of cancellation–it’s just one of countless reasons. However, judging from the chorus of comments, if you could theoretically return everything else to normal except the entertainment cuts, Walt Disney World attendance would still be down 15-25%.
That may seem insignificant, but every single percentage point matters to Disney’s bottom line. Even a 5% drop would be utterly unacceptable in normal times–heads would roll. Moreover, the cost of restoring that entertainment pales in comparison to the revenue to be earned from it. On top of those who would return directly due to the entertainment, its presence would increase guest satisfaction and other important metrics among all guests.
While I can offer a ballpark range of guests who cancelled specifically due to the missing entertainment, Walt Disney World has a much more precise number thanks to their cancellation questioning and guest surveys. And unlike in normal times when Disney can frame queries or obfuscate to get the feedback results they’re seeking (to support preordained decisions), there’s no concealing the actual impact of the current cuts. There are too many of them and they’re glaringly obvious in totality.
Unfortunately, there’s also no ability to theoretically return everything else to normal at Walt Disney World right now in order to see entertainment restored. Capacity is going to remain reduced. Tourists will remain reticent to travel and visit theme parks. The hampered economy and ongoing recession will prevent others from visiting. Health safety protocol–no matter what that is or is not–will alienate and keep some guests away.
As such, there’s no end in sight to the scaled-back slate of entertainment at Walt Disney World. In the near-term, we’re going to see more of this–or at least not have all acts brought back anytime soon. That’s disappointing, and I truly wish Walt Disney World had more foresight and were willing to endure a few lackluster quarters for the sake of the guest experience, and to ensure a swifter recovery and engender fan loyalty.
The silver lining is that it’s abundantly clear Disney will have to bring back all of this entertainment (and likely do more) if the company wants a full recovery. Locals turning out at EPCOT in full force on the weekends to buy booze might be a short-term life raft, but it’s not a viable long-term strategy with (literally) tens of thousands of hotel rooms sitting empty. For the next several years, the travel industry is going to be increasingly competitive and less of a seller’s market. If Walt Disney World wants its slice of the pie, it’ll need to do more, not less.
What do you think of these Walt Disney World entertainment cuts and additions? Are you optimistic or pessimistic about WDW restoring more stage shows and other acts that are currently on hiatus? Are you worried that it might be a while before Walt Disney World is back to normal in terms of its offerings? 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!