News Roundup: Reorganization & Disney World Capacity Still Capped at 25%?!
We’re back for another Walt Disney World news round-up! This one begins with a handful of smaller topics, including the delayed reopening of Coronado Springs Resort, an AP pop-up shop, and restaurant closure. From there, we turn to the ‘main event’ which is Disney’s corporate reorganization and CEO Bob Chapek’s ensuing television interviews that touched upon Walt Disney World park capacity.
First up, Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort has had its reopening delayed from today until Friday (October 16, 2020). We assume this is either a matter of removing the NBA infrastructure or low weekday occupancy the first few days the hotel is open. In any case, we’d expect it to open for the weekend, when Walt Disney World hotels tend to be busier. The few dozen guests with check-ins today or tomorrow will probably be relocated to Caribbean Beach or upgraded to Deluxe Resorts if they push for it.
Next, a new Annual Passholder pop-up shop has opened at Der Teddybar in the Germany pavilion of EPCOT’s World Showcase. The AP pop-up shop will be open Mondays to Fridays from 11:30 a.m. to park close through November 17, 2020. It opened today to long lines and a virtual queue, but we’d expect some of that to die down over time…
This pop-up shop is exclusively for Annual Passholders and you will need to show your annual pass card and government-issued photo ID to enter. Once inside, Passholders will discover exclusive merchandise, new World Showcase products, and more. (There are already reports that a lot of this merchandise is 50% off.)
Annual Passholders should check the Walt Disney World AP Specials page for additional info. Walt Disney World also extended the 30% discount until October 29, so that should make for some good deals. (It seems likely that discount will be extended again into the holiday shopping season.)
As one thing pops up, another long run comes to an end. Wolfgang Puck Express has permanently closed at Disney Springs, after a long run that saw the location go from one of the few operating restaurants at Downtown Disney to one of dozens at Disney Springs.
We’ve praised Wolfgang Puck Express as a great value-for-money (or Disney Dining Plan credits) option, and also called it a hidden gem due to its tucked away location. Unfortunately, it would seem that proved a bit too literal; as development shifted away from the Marketplace side, the district’s dining scene was largely congregated on the exact opposite side of Disney Springs.
Next, the Walt Disney Company announced a broad structural reorganization of its media and entertainment businesses, in a move to ramp up and streamline its direct-to-consumer strategy. This involves the creation of the new Media and Entertainment Distribution group, which will oversee content monetization and streaming operations. It will also have sole profit & loss accountability for Disney’s media and entertainment businesses.
In addition to the new Media & Entertainment Distribution group, there will also be three creative groups responsible for producing content for film, television, and streaming services: studios, general entertainment, and sports. Under the reorganization, the top leadership at studios, general entertainment, and sports still remains the same.
Also remaining the same is Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, which is the theme parks division. It will continue to operate under its existing structure, led by Josh D’Amaro, who continues to report to CEO Bob Chapek. The broader implications for theme parks is potentially being deemphasized, but that wasn’t an explicit statement in the announcement.
“Given the incredible success of Disney+ and our plans to accelerate our direct-to-consumer business, we are strategically positioning our Company to more effectively support our growth strategy and increase shareholder value,” said Disney CEO Bob Chapek in a statement announcing the reorganization.
“Managing content creation distinct from distribution will allow us to be more effective and nimble in making the content consumers want most, delivered in the way they prefer to consume it. Our creative teams will concentrate on what they do best–making world-class, franchise-based content–while our newly centralized global distribution team will focus on delivering and monetizing that content in the most optimal way across all platforms, including Disney+, Hulu, ESPN+ and the coming Star international streaming service.”
The impact seems to be more in separating monetization from creative responsibilities, consolidation, and emphasis than anything else. It’s essentially Disney signaling the importance of its streaming and other media businesses, and indicating further efforts will be taken by the new group in terms of distribution, sales, advertising, data, and technology functions for all of Disney’s content engines.
Thus far, Disney+ has been exceptional in terms of growth, but there are still questions about long-term profitability in the evolving media landscape. This has been underscored by the PVOD release of Mulan and upcoming regular Disney+ release of Soul. There are also lingering concerns about consumer retention; activist investor Dan Loebs called for Disney to divert the company’s annual $3 billion dividend to new Disney+ content creation.
I find the so-called streaming wars fascinating. I also really don’t think there’s much of a war at this point. There’s Netflix in a league of its own, Amazon buoyed by its Prime subscribers, and Hulu rounding out the big three. Pretty much everything else is niche. People reading this niche blog may disagree that Disney+ is a niche streaming service, but it is. At least, for now.
I worry about Disney focusing too much on streaming. I say this not just as a theme park fan who does not want those forgotten, but also as a long-time Disney fan who has witnessed spectacular boondoggles when the company emphasizes technology. From Go.com to Disney Interactive Studios to My Disney Experience, it’s been one costly failure after another. Disney+ obviously will not be a boondoggle, but it’s still concerning that a legacy media company with many successful divisions is putting so many of its eggs in the basket of a nascent streaming service.
Like the vast majority of American households, we watch more hours of Netflix than anything else. HBO Max would be next, although their stubborn refusal to release an app on the Fire Stick means we only watch that upstairs on the Playstation 4. Prime and Hulu follow that. After forgetting we even had it for approximately 7 months, Apple TV+ recently reemerged in the #5 slot for us thanks to Ted Lasso (highly recommended). We haven’t even opened Disney+ in over two months.
Ironically, pretty much the only content we watch on Disney+ is the stuff that literally could not be made right now without movie theaters: blockbuster action movies. There will undoubtedly be attrition in the movie theater industry, some of which was always inevitable and some of which is being accelerated by current events, but the simple truth is that Disney’s tentpole strategy is only viable with theaters plus streaming.
So either Disney will need to revisit its current approach and focus more on “singles and doubles” like during the Eisner-Katzenberg regime, find a way to coexist with theaters, or create more Disney+ original series. Literally all of these approaches are fine by us. We enjoy blockbusters but not to their current outsized extent, we prefer budget-friendly story-driven films, and like binge-watching shows on streaming services.
Speaking of which, we are looking forward to the Mandalorian and WandaVision, but otherwise the Disney+ original programming slate is significantly lacking. Keep in mind that those are only two (potentially) good shows in the span of a year–or half of what Netflix offers any given week. Perhaps that helps explain the restructuring?
Shortly after this announcement, Disney CEO Bob Chapek appeared on CNBC to discuss the reorganization. During that segment, he was asked about theme park attendance and capacity at Walt Disney World.
Chapek stated that Disney has kept attendance at Walt Disney World capped at 25% of total capacity in lieu of physical distancing requirements. He went on to indicate that this number has not and would not be increased, and these limitations will exist until the CDC and other health experts indicated that they were no longer necessary.
This is a bit disingenuous, but not surprising. Outside of CNBC interviews, Walt Disney World has denied that park capacity has been increased over the course of the last several months. Claiming that instead capacity had been reallocated from resort and theme park guests to Annual Passholders and Cast Members. Early on, this was definitely true.
In July and August, there was a ton of surplus capacity for theme park ticket holders and resort guests that went unused because capacity was not reallocated to APs. If Walt Disney World is at 25% of capacity now, it was probably at 10-15% most weekdays back then.
However, there have been dates in September and October when some parks were previously unavailable across all three categories of guests, and then became widely available. That couldn’t have been a reallocation–it was a refill. We crunched the numbers and, come to find out, if you have zero apples in your bucket, you cannot give any apples to someone else!
It’s unclear what kind of semantics shenanigans Walt Disney World is pulling to deny that park capacity limits have been increased. One thing is undeniable: a higher number of guests are entering all four parks this month than in July, August, or even September.
As is emphasized in our 40% Crowd Increase at Walt Disney World analysis or September, wait times and attendance were up across the board. While there is a disparity between posted and actual wait times, both are up. One way or another, attendance is up and has only further increased in October.
Even if you take Chapek at his word for some reason, it’s also worth pointing out that the statement about a 25% cap on attendance is pretty meaningless without additional information.
We don’t know if that 25% is of the pre-closure theoretical park capacity, or based upon post-reopening operational realities. It’s entirely possible that attendance is limited to 25% of pre-closure number, using the same attendance levels to determine phased closures that sometimes occur between Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
There are some significant differences between a normal New Year’s Eve and right now. For one, a lot of things are not operating. Countless shows, restaurants, stores, play areas, meet & greets, and more all remain closed. Those would be a factor in determining a park’s normal capacity, but should be excluded now.
For another thing, attractions are operating at a fraction of their normal hourly throughput. Same goes for restaurants, stores, and more. This means that even what’s open has a lower capacity than normal. In short, EPCOT’s normal ‘full’ capacity might be 100,000 guests, but its current ‘full’ capacity might be 50,000 guests. Is the 25% limit of the former or the latter?
We don’t know the answer to that and never will, but my guess is that the math is fuzzy. Walt Disney World has reopened more restaurants and shops in recent weeks to help soak up the crowds, and each time that or a park hours extension occurs, more Disney Park Pass availability it released.
The bottom line is that the number of guests entering the parks has gone up each month since reopening. How Walt Disney World is justifying that while claiming capacity caps are the same is somewhat immaterial; they’re never going to pull back the curtain on those calculations. What’s important is that you know crowd levels and wait times have not remained static. They’ve gone up and will likely continue increasing until we reach a point where there is truly no ‘available space’ left to accommodate physical distancing. If you’ve visited recently on a busy weekend, you might argue that point has already been reached.
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Thoughts on the closure of Wolfgang Puck Express, delay of Coronado Springs Resort’s reopening, or the pop-up AP store? What about the organizational changes to the Walt Disney Company? Concerned that this could mean stagnation for the theme parks, or think it’s a non-factor? Happy with Disney+ or wish more would be invested in content growth? Thoughts on the 25% capacity cap on attendance at Walt Disney World? Do you anticipate Walt Disney World will further ‘fine tune’ park capacity as appropriate? Will you be visiting Walt Disney World in late 2020? Do you agree or disagree with our advice 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!
We are supposed to visit over Thanksgiving week. I spoke to a cast member and they are not allowed to reveal capacity information. It sure does seem that capacity is going up by the month.
Our family is at HS today (Tuesday 10/20) and it’s terrible. They opened about a half hour early, unannounced (9:30 vs 10:00)
Too many people and everything is 1-2 hour wait already at 10:30. Didn’t get ROR at 10am so we will try again at 2pm. Slinky dog was a 45-minute wait 20 minutes before 10am opening time.
They closed the line for the Millennium Falcon at 10:15 (15 minutes after park opening) due to social distancing issues.
It’s a complete mess for sure.
Magic Kingdom was a little better yesterday.
I would not plan a trip here for sure right now. Just long lines and a lot of frustration.
We are experienced Disney folks so we did everything as well as we could but it’s not enough during these times.
And Smuggler’s Run is almost at 3 hours right now. Three hours!!
I’d avoid the Disney parks until this whole thing goes away. Not worth it given these circumstances. The lines are so amazingly long, it’s depressing. Won’t be back for a very long time.
We have tickets for the week of Thanksgiving and have had trouble reserving Hollywood Studios, it apparently is at capacity for the days we would like to go and I’m not sure we will even able to get into this park. The frustrating thing is there was no mention of having to reserve the parks on our tickets we just happened to find out while trying to make restaurant reservations, of which there are none and that is ok. What I would like to know is what would have happened if we showed up having not made park reservations? Disney needs to have a better way of communicating in my opinion. Or have people reserve the parks when they purchase their tickets that way they are aware if there is a park they can’t get into. Its put a damper on our trip for sure.
Having just come back from a trip to Disneyworld, I whole heartedly agree, they have allowed more than 25% capacity at the parks. So much so, that it felt more like 50%-75%. You could see the difference in crowd levels, ride lines and just overall walking around & coincidentally, one of the parks whose reservations were supposedly
full, were selling tickets! So, what’s that all about?!
We saw them selling tickets at DHS too, even though the park was supposedly “at capacity”. Yet still no shows. We can only surmise its all about the money.
The crowds in all parks were ridiculous, plus the lines were very long for popular rides and stayed that way all day up to closing time. The bellman at Riviera told us the resort was 95% full yet their restaurant menu is still limited.
Trip now is less than 1 month away and getting very nervous about crowd. Am concerned because there is no breakfast anyplace in MK.
I think they’ve increased the total number in the parks but I also have to say parts of the parks are completely empty. They aren’t moving people well without people eaters like big shows.
There’s a 0 minute wait for Dumbo, Tiki Birds, Peter Pan line is much improved without FastPass. The hub is empty. Behind the castle is empty. There isn’t a clog of people in Frontier land across from Tom Sawyer island. Behind liberty square always has open tables. This is not the case during a normal year at this time. They limited something. As far as moving the crowd they suck at that. Now is an ideal time to visit with young children. They are low risk for Covid, the lines for their rides are short, you can be completely lax with the schedule without FastPass. They don’t need to wear masks for photo pass photos and the photographers aren’t busy. CMs wipe everything down at Baby Care after you use it. There is actually stroller parking. There’s room to maneuver a stroller because people aren’t shoulder to shoulder.
If they could break the crowd up by demographics instead of capacity they would see a better distribution of the crowd. Say 20% of people who like thrill rides and 20% kids under 8. I don’t know how they would do it. It’s like the rest of the park guests are competing for the same things and we have a separate little kids park that has a crowd level of 1.
That said I want the splash pads reopened. The one in our city is open and people can use it responsibly with their kids. Also the little pay area with slides and things by Splash and in Winnie the Pooh.
It’s ABSULUTELY ridiculous that Disney laid off 28, 000 people, when they themselves have the ability to make more money, they just choose not too. Don’t complain “Disney”, when you are capped at 25% ( btw, nobody believes that !), when you can go up to 100%. Don’t complain when you cut the park hours, or only allow guests to go to one park a day. Don’t complain when you have resteraunts, resorts, etc, shut down. Disney ..you are your own worst enemy! They have a chance to make an extraordinary amount of money yet they choose not to, and then make the Cast Members pay the price. WHY open up Disneyland? It’s pointless if you can’t even control/manage your “prime” park. OPEN things back up!!! Fast passes!!!! Resorts!!!! Food!!!!! Entertainment!!!!! Stop whining. Bring the Cast Members back and OPEN!!!!! You can still use social distancing, and let’s be real, your social distancing as of NOW, blows. It’s way too packed. Spread the guests out, let them park hop. It’s not rocket science!! Extend the hours! Do SOMETHING.
Agree 100%! Well said!
California types are probably making the operational rules for Florida. Even if they let more guests in and opened more places in the parks, the California bosses won’t let them. If DLR can’t open, WDW can’t open up fully. Plus I’d bet Orange County gov’t is holding them back. Then they have the various unions to contend with, as well no College Program or Interntational program.
We were in the MK on Wed and got in line for Buzz Lightyear, The wait time was 30 minutes, but we walked the entire line and rode in under 15 minutes. They were stretched out to the Laugh Floor waiting spaces. We did Philharmagic as well, and they were only seating about 1/4 of the auditorium. Every other row was blocked off and a pattern of five seats were blocked with four seats open. They had big circles in the waiting area right outside the auditorium for groups to stand in. But once the doors opened, everyone just stormed in. Less than 15 minutes of close contact though. If you were a group larger than four, you had to break up into more than one seating space. We checked out Peter Pan, but the line was out down past Columbia Harbor House entrance, including all the switchbacks in the line. Space Mt was out past the bathrooms behind the stage in Tomorrowland.
As long as they are setting rules for covid, there won’t be fast passes since all that space is being used to stretch out the lines. And it was really nice not having FP+ cutting into the line (even though that is what they are supposed to do). What they really need is more carts selling cold drinks. At Epcot, you could get a bottle of water at every outdoor kitchen. At MK and AK, it was hard to find a bottle of water to purchase. So many of the carts and counter service places were closed. Maybe they are open on weekends, but they weren’t during the week. Even if you bring your own, you run out of it quickly. We must have purchase at least a dozen bottles of water over our four days in the parks.
Are they offering free cancelation for 2001 at this time? I want to book a trip for July but we’re afraid of what will happen with the pandemic.
Go ahead and book. If this insanity is still going by July, we’ll all have a lot bigger problems to worry about, like finding food to eat.
The one benefit for our family about Disney Plus is that there are more movies for the “tweens”! We have two boys 10 and 12 and trying to find a movie on Netflix is ridiculous! They are mostly geared for small children or adults. Even searching for one can be a problem because we have to search on our account in order to find the PG 13 movies all the while the restricted ones are playing their trailers (which are not appropriate for kids)! We often tell the kids to leave the room until we find one.
I have definitely seen much more than a 25% increase in the capacity of the parks since the parks re-opened. They started very good for social distancing back in June through September with park capacities it was the best time to go as an Annual Passholder eventhough they were limiting us and giving preference to resort guests.. But now in October you can tell they have opened the flood gates. You can see the have doubled the amount of guests entering the parks, ride lines have gone from a 20-30 minute lines to over 1 hour in every park, lines are very long since they have to maintain the 6 feet apart rule. Which I personally like compared to have people right on your back in the lines. Disney sent me an email they would extent my annual contract for two more months instead of renewing and locking into a whole year, but they want to keep charging me the Platinum Plus cost for those additional months eventhough the water parks are still closed. What’s up with that? But with the parks getting so much more crowded and another spike in the cases of Covid, I don’t think I want to renew my Annual pass for another year, but should I pay Platinum Plus prices for another two months to see what happens? It’s a dilemma for me right now.
Tom…am curious about 25% figure…is that ALL the parks combined? MK and HS are VERY busy while EPCOT and AK are low. Or are each park held at 25% separately? That way MK and HS can have huge crowds! Probably obvious but want it clarified! Thanks…love your emails!!
We were there a couple of weeks ago. The boarding groups for, Rise of the Resistance were impossible to get. The lines were extremely long. Without single rider lines and fastpass+ lines it makes the regular lines longer! We are going to Universal our next trip. I think Disney always tries to make everything seem full for marketing purposes. They really need to open the single rider and fastpass + lines.
We were at Magic Kingdom yesterday…WOW, it was packed with people! We entered MK at 9:15, 7 Dwarfs was already 50 min wait time…not that unusual but it was never less time all day. Massive crowds in Fantasyland all day, long lines winding all over outside in places I’ve never seen at Pirates and Jungle Cruise. Restaurants were at capacity everywhere. I agree…it seems WAY above 25%. Cast members are more strict about masks and social distancing, which is hard to do since crowds seem as busy as they were pre-covid! We still had a great time but shudder to think of crowds over 25%!!
Disney+ is a nightmare to watch on our PS4. Every show pauses so many times. Hoping the coming PS5 will fix that issue. The Mandalorian and Hamilton were the two highlights since it was launched, with the shorts, kids’ animated shows and the classic animated movies also being an exciting offering. But, with the lack of new content that interests us, we watch it far less than Prime now–and that’s been for months.
Tom, I’m with you on your increased capacity theory. There is absolutely no way the math adds up that they have not increased capacity over the past month or so based on the sudden availability a few weeks ago for this sold out week and others. I am staying onsite this week and have been to all 4 parks on the weekdays so far. It is crowded. Maybe not peak time crowded, but there is NO social distancing occurring on Disney property except in the attractions lines (except when others creep up on you), and when you are seated at the restaurants on site. Walking around the resorts and parks, social distancing in non-existent and literally impossible in almost all walkways except Epcot and AK (other than Pandora where is is also impossible). I’m not local, so can’t speak to whether this was the case before us fall breakers arrived. However, almost no one is even attempting to social distance while walking around. I am not complaining, just stating facts for anyone who is considering a trip. I am personally not worried about passing someone briefly within 6 feet outdoors (if I was I would not be here in the first place).
Interesting point on the streaming, Tom.
I subscribe to Netflix (free trial when a show my kid wanted to watch, and decided to just bite the bullet), Amazon (via Prime, which I mainly have for the music streaming), and Disney+.
I’d say it’s a toss up which gets watched more, Netflix or Disney+ (ironically, my kiddo watches the same shows on it she watches on TV), but it seems Netflix has much more variety than Disney+, even with Disney’s large amount of legacy content.
As for the park attendance caps, what’s that old saying….? “Lies, [email protected] lies, and statistics.” â€â™‚ï¸
We just dropped our free Disney+ through Verizon this month. We would need a subscription in Nov and we just don’t watch it enough. My husband watches a lot of Netflix, so it is cost effective to keep that.
Sad to see Wolfgang Puck go! I’m also in the “please don’t sacrifice my them parks for streaming” camp. I would hope that executives at Disney have a back-up, long-term plan. Public companies are constantly playing to the day’s stock price, which often skews them towards short-term priorities. Then again, looking at the dire situation of AMC and other theatre companies, streaming may be the only available method to distribute new content on a broad basis for the foreseeable future. I find the attendance cap situation interesting, as it relates to the lack of WDW resort and package discounts. Keeping attendance restricted, (even if only in name), almost guarantees a solid block of people willing to pay any price to be on property. I can imagine Disney would like to postpone any reductions in vacation prices as long as they possibly can.
I assume the worst-case scenario for AMC is finding new owners and closing the least-profitable locations. Even if the company’s financials look bleak, the company’s physical assets still have value. Legacy media companies (like Disney!) also have a vested interest in movie theaters returning, even if they think streaming/PVOD is the future in the long-term.
We are at WDW this week. Even during the week capacity is high, certainly more than 25% and wait times have been very high and very accurate, even when arriving before rope drop. Frankly it’s been miserable. We left Riviera at 8:30 am and arrived in the park at 9:30 for opening at 10. 4 1/2 hours after park opening we’ve been on 4 rides/attractions. To save time, lunch was packed sandwiches that we ate sitting on a curb.
We are here as well and I agree. I believe with more things being closed and only certain amount of things to do, the ride lines are long and standing in line in the hot sun due to capacity is tiring. As well, the virtual que is a nightmare. I bought an extra day, a d pray we get on. The entire reason we came, and with the app being slow, it’s nearly impossible to get in.
Oh, it’s almost certainly at 25% of maximum fire code capacity now. I’m sure they will run as many guests as possible to pump revenue.
I’m no expert on fire code, but I was under the impression it had nothing to do with park capacity since there is no fire marshal capacity limit on open or outdoor spaces. Code numbers would only apply to indoor spaces, which are part–but not all–of totally capacity.
It is sad to see Wolfgang Express go. So many good memories, and it saved our starving tummies many times over the years. It was the first restaurant we found as newbies to Downtown Disney. We got up early to shop and needed breakfast. Just assumed there would be snacks around DTD but it was too early. We had to ask a couple of times for navigational help finding it, but we finally did and got a hot breakfast sandwich. My mom and I went back several more times there because it was such a peaceful corner to start out day. After the remodel, we’ve made new more exhaustive memories with my nephew when we had to grab a decent meal late at night. So thankful for all of those memories.