WDW Reopening Update: Orange County Defers to Disney & Florida Announces Phase 1
In this Walt Disney World reopening roundup, we’ll cover yesterday’s press conference by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, WDW cancelling more hotel reservations for May, Southwest Airline’s “request” for the parks to reopen, and a meeting by the Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force during which they essentially deferred to Disney.
Before beginning, we want to address the vocal minority expressing closure update ‘fatigue.’ Some readers understandably only want to know when Walt Disney World announces the parks are officially reopening. To be transparent, this is not that–it’s an incremental update. It will be abundantly clear when there’s a major announcement–the words “Disney officially announces” will appear in the title and the news will be emphatically shared far and wide across social media.
If you aren’t interested in anything other than that, we’d encourage you to stop clicking these posts until seeing such a headline. Some have lamented that anything short of an official reopening date is pointless and perhaps stress-inducing, as these inner machinations are easily misconstrued or overblown. For our part, we’ve attempted to combat that by contextualizing everything, frequently using words like tentative, speculative, preliminary, etc. in order to quell rumor and fear-mongering.
There’s a huge appetite for the “inside baseball” updates on Walt Disney World, Orange County, and the State of Florida as they all inch towards reopening. For evidence of this, look no further than the comment counts on any post related to the closure as compared to our fun posts or top 10 lists. For many, the drawn out reopening process is fascinating just as is following the business side of the Walt Disney Company.
The simple reality is that many of us are stuck at home with nothing better to do. Between curiosity and a surplus of time, I’ve voraciously read dozens of articles per day. I have a Google alert set up for a couple of ancillary topics that likely will be impacted (not Disney-related). It doesn’t produce any definitive news (yet), but I nonetheless read all of the commentary and speculation.
On a daily basis, we watch governor press conferences for states where we do not live. Yesterday, I watched a full 84-minute briefing by Arizona Governor Doug Ducey. Why? I don’t know. We don’t live anywhere near Arizona. I certainly don’t blame CBSN for airing the newsworthy content. They didn’t force me to watch it.
While there is overwhelming interest in these closure and reopening updates, we nevertheless want to balance that (most of our content is still fun and lighthearted, like the Cats of Disney or Ducks of Disney posts) and minimize the chances that smaller stories are given outsize consideration. Accordingly, we’re going to begin consolidating some of this news into “WDW Reopening Updates,” which is what we’ve done here. Basically, if you see that preface in a title going forward, it’s less consequential and not breaking news.
With that out of the way, let’s start with the biggest piece of the puzzle first: Florida as a whole. Governor Ron DeSantis held a briefing late yesterday, during which he outlined the steps the state had been taken thus far before unveiling Phase One of Florida’s reopening plan.
Florida will reopen certain businesses throughout the state on Monday (May 4, 2020), excluding the hardest-hit counties of Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach. During this phase, restaurants and retail spaces can allow customers inside, but only at 25% capacity. Restaurants can also offer outdoor seating if tables are 6 feet apart.
Schools and most other businesses in Florida cannot reopen yet. Explicitly included among these are movie theaters, bars, fitness centers, hair stylists, and other personal services.
In public, all people must adhere to social distancing guidelines from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Face masks are recommended in public for interactions and situations where social distancing is not possible.
The implications here for Walt Disney World are minimal, if any. While the theme parks and resorts will not be reopening as part of the first phase, it does leave the door open for Disney Springs.
The questions are whether Walt Disney World wants to reopen the complex, if it’s viable for third party dining to operate at only 25% capacity, and when Orange County will allow restaurants to reopen.
Our expectation is that Disney Springs will be the first component of Walt Disney World to reopen, but that’s incredibly unlikely to happen on May 4, 2020. Orange County’s tentative timeline for businesses was previously May 11, and even that seems aggressive.
However, we view Disney Springs as likely to reopen before the parks and resorts because it’s mostly third party tenants that are frequented by locals. There’s far less cost to Walt Disney World in allowing these restaurants to reopen, and some upside. Disney Springs would offer a ‘proof of concept’ venue to see how some of the modified operational protocol might play out, as well as observing guest demand and behavior trends.
The Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force has kicked things into high gear, with meetings held yesterday by its four subgroups covering a range of topics. Of pertinent interest to Walt Disney World fans is the Guidelines for Reopening Businesses Group, which includes leaders from Disney, Universal, and other Central Florida hospitality businesses.
The group met yesterday, and heard from local health care officials for guidance and best practices. The health care recommendations included the wearing of face masks by all employees and guests, continued social distancing, testing for symptomatic individuals, proper hand hygiene, surface sanitization, and temperature checks for all employees and guests.
Some of these best practices were well received and meshed with tentative guidelines and mandates for theme parks, restaurants, and hotels released the previous day by the group. However, there were concerns about the feasibility of temperature checks and face masks for all guests in addition to employees.
The temperature checks appear to be the biggest point of contention, and officials with the Florida Department of Health have likewise called into question their efficacy and practicality. Given all of that, it seems likely this will be left to the discretion of Walt Disney World and other theme parks.
Speaking of leaving discretion to Disney, that was another topic of the virtual meeting. Following comments the previous day from Thomas Mazloum, SVP of Walt Disney World Resorts & Transportation, the task force expressed its intent to grant greater leniency and deference to Disney, Universal, and other complex venues in determining their own best practices.
The consensus seemed to be that Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando are more like “self-contained cities” that are best situated to internally determine their own level of safe capacities throughout the various phases, consistent with CDC guidelines. Mayor Demings and others on the call expressed that Disney and others will be judged on potential guests’ perceptions of safety and driven by opinions on social media and elsewhere.
This might sound like Disney and Universal are receiving an exemption to not follow the guidelines and mandates, it’s probably better construed as autonomy to reopen components in phases and develop higher standards. Safety is part of Disney’s brand, and they’re much more likely than a mom and pop shop to be excoriated online if consumers are dissatisfied with their approach.
In other words, the stakes are higher for Disney than most businesses. They have a corporate responsibility to protect guests and Cast Members, and are reputationally behooved to do so. As such, the ultimate OC Task Force guidelines and mandates will be instructive, but not conclusive in terms of what Disney does. They’re more likely to be a floor than a ceiling on safety measures. At least, that’s our hope.
Walt Disney World is sending out emails to guests with stays scheduled between May 17 and May 23, 2020 as a notification that their reservations will be cancelled. The email presents recourse in terms of processing refunds due, what’s nonrefundable, and typical stuff you’ve probably already seen. It also presents the Free Dining Recovery Deal as an option for future bookings (details unchanged since it was announced).
This is unsurprising, and it’s safe to assume that in a week or two, reservations through May 31, 2020 will be cancelled. Disney has been taking the rolling approach so as to not overwhelm its call centers with cancellations. The big question at this point is whether reservations for June 1, 2020 and beyond will be next to get cut. That was Walt Disney World’s initial target reopening, and the start date for the recovery deal and when rebookings began.
While a lot remains unknown, it’s fairly clear that the process to reopen will be longer and more drawn out that the closure period. June is now just one full month away, and if even some of the hotels will be operating by that date, the wheels on that need to start slowly turning in the next couple of weeks. We should know whether June 1 is plausible sooner rather than later.
Finally, Southwest CEO Gary Kelly recently gave an interview in which he said that air traffic levels are next to zero at this point, and that “a lot of things are going to have to happen for the country to come back to life, much less air travel.”
When asked what needs to happen for people to travel again, Kelly said that people need to feel safe and “they need to have something to be able to do when they get there. So Disney World needs to open back up.”
Walt Disney World is a superstar in Central Florida, providing the ‘sunlight’ to support a range of smaller businesses and hundreds of thousands of local employees. However, Southwest is far from a small business on I-Drive–this statement really underscores just how instrumental Disney is to the other businesses in its orbit, including a ‘planet’ like a major airline. If you’re wondering why so many people are anxiously awaiting any and all news about Walt Disney World’s potential reopening, look no further than that statement by Southwest’s CEO.
Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!
What do you think of Phase One of Florida’s reopening plan? What about Orange County granting more discretion to the major theme parks? Do you expect Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort to go above and beyond what’s required here? Thoughts on Southwest CEO’s comments? 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!
As someone very familiar with WDW and Disney Springs, I can guarantee you that the guests at either one will not follow the guidelines. They don’t follow the rules now. When they get in lines or try to go into shops it will be a stampede. It may sound like a feasible plan but it’s not going to work and we are going to be right back where we are now.
No we won’t. Hopefully we’ll be on our way to herd immunity as the Swedes wisely chose to do and what we should have done in the first place.
Tom–I am super “fatigued” by a lot of things right now, but reading your blog is not one of them. Keep these updates coming!
I mean, even in normal times, half the stuff that I used to enjoy reading about Disney World was all rumor and speculation too. Remember when we all trying to guess at when Space 220/Ratatouille would open? Or how about all the guesswork on what crowds at Star Wars land would be like after Rise of the Resistance opened? Or whether it would be better to rope drop Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, Millenium Falcon Smuggler’s Run, or Slinky Dog Dash? If people just want to hear the “official” news they can read Disney Parks Blog. The rest of us who can’t wait to start the guesswork will continue to enjoy your thoughtful musings.
FYI AS OF 4 MAY, 2020
Thomas Mazloum, Disney World’s Senior Vice President of Resort & Transportation Operations mentioned, “We do not have an opening date yet…I want to make it clear.”
Mazloum explained that just because Disney world is taking bookings for June, doesn’t mean they’ll be opening in June. As of now, the company does not have any news about Walt Disney World or any of its other parks. Mazloum reiterated a “want to be clear” saying that there are no plans to share about Disney World reopening at this time.
I wouldn’t mind if Disney stayed closed till Dec 1, 2020. They could hire even more construction workers to get projects done. It would give them time to figure out an a/c enclosed wait area for each attraction (6 ‘ft apart). Also, they could build out-buildings in the parking lots for temperature checks. Plus, Disney could have a “soft” opening in November just for Police, Firefighters,Paramedics, and Hospital workers.
Tom, your opinion as my resident Disney expert, please…do you think conventions and meetings will be canceled this summer? We have a combined work / pleasure trip scheduled for July at Swan & Dolphin. Thanks!
Tom please continue these updates. I enjoy following the progress as this is a learning experience for everyone not just the businesses. If people don’t want to read them then they have the ability to scroll on by or delete the email. As far as Disney like you and others have said, safety here is key. Also the cost to open and then shut again for the next wave which will occur as we resume things is not cost effective for them. With safety, let’s take a moment and be realistic, people are jerks. Think of the things we have heard in the past when some guest doesn’t get their way or feeling they are not getting the magical experience they “deserve and paid for”. They can be down right rude and obnoxious. Cast Mates as it is get berated by guests for things out of their control, can you imagine them having to be policing everyone who thinks they are too entitled to follow rules and safety procedures. And if an outbreak were to come from Disney guests you know they would sue sue sue because that’s what we do now. I say they should take their time opening, watch the states that are opening more and more up and see the outcome.
I have reservations for June 5th next month I have 2 questions first if the Beach and Yaht club are closed on that date will they refund my deposit back to my credit card or question 2. Or can I make another reservation for August at this time and will they honor the price I have for the June 5th reservation if its higher ?
I’m not sure what to do yet. This was a graduation present for my grandson I was taking the family there for the weekend as part as his graduation present. He doesn’t get a graduation ceremony. No prom, no Senior night and now no Disneyworld maybe. Do sad.
I am in the same boat with reservations for 6/2. We are celebrating, as well,, and have planned for almost 2 years to go. Can’t decide if we should cancel now, or wait for Disney to cancel. Our biggest problem is no time we can all go again until NEXT summer, beyond the discount window.
we had Reservations for May , we changed our Reservations for June 8th – 17th , ( Hopefully we wont
need to change our Reservations again ) we had to pay more the cast member said
the rates are more in June than in May ,( June is High peek ) you dont need to cancel
you just need to change your Travel Dates , ( unless you want to Cancel)
hi, @Wendy. No one should ever have to go through what you went through. I appreciated your story and it certainly helped me see you have a different perspective on living each day to the fullest.
I have a WDW trip planned for August and I want so much to be able to go with my family but I’m not sure I would enjoy it as much if everyone has to wear masks and restaurants are at limited capacity etc. Might feel like a reminder that things are not quite back to normal. I don’t think that makes me a fraidy-cat, too fearful to live my life. My kids are young and I’m willing to wait until things are safe and we can truly enjoy ourselves. I may not share your exact opinion, but I understand your perspective and I want you to have a wonderful time as soon as the doors open.
I hope everyone will use a more respectful tone- it’s just about perspective and risk tolerance and comfort level. Not fear.
Awe Katherine, you ate so right. I am 65 so I want to get in as much as I can. Everyday is a gift. We can die from anything out there. I can’t breathe wearing those masks. I’m hoping things will just get back to normal. More people die in a year from car accidents than have died from this virus. Hope you get to go soon.
Your comment on car deaths is a bit skewed. Worldwide, car crash deaths are higher that Covid deaths, but in the US in 2019, an estimated 38,800 people lost their lives to car crashes — a 2% decline from 2018. Covid cases in the United States in just 2 months are over 68,000 people. We are all hoping to get back to normal but, facts matter and this virus is currently more deadly than car accidents in the United States.
Exactly. No matter the charts, statistics, hype, and fear mongering the simple math is the simple math: do the math. roughly 70,000 people have died in a country of 330 million. that’s .00021212. They will open soon enough:)
And when they do reopen just think–
No inconsiderate tour groups!
No “special events!”
Less double strollers the size of bus!
Less scooters piloted by people who don’t know how!
Disney almost as it used to be! For a little while anyway. I don’t care if they only open the carousel, Casey’s and Space Mountain. I’ll be there as close to day 1 as possible!
I believe us Disney fans are being too optimistic during these crazy times! If Disney would have been a bit more strategic with their cash handling they could have had many more options. Disney spent over 24 billion dollars on strategic partnerships. The company is losing 500 million dollars per month worldwide. With employees furloughed their expenses decreased significantly. In my opinion, Disney should take the 6.2 billion dollar loss as a tax credit and full speed ahead on park renovations. They could have all of their planned projects complete and create a high demand. Disney is taking a huge bet in order to attempt to conserve cash flow. This is also not taking in to place that this virus will comeback heavily in the fall. I for one look forward to things getting back to normal but in this new reality with social distancing, it could backfire on a trusted empire.
A big restriction that’s still on the table for FL is the 14 day mandatory self-isolation / quarantine for New York / New Jersey / Connecticut residents who were planning to come to WDW for a vacation. Even if WDW opens up, as long as that 14 day quarantine has not been reversed by Gov. DeSantis, that totally knocks a WDW vacation out of the water.
Exactly! We’re scheduled for Disney June 16th but if NYers have to quarantine themselves for 14 days, what’s the point? I’m not flying from NYC but just being from NY I still can’t fly there.
That’s why there is a good possibility that parks will first open to locals only. It would give the parks an opportunity to test out their new protocols to smaller groups. I for one will be there as soon as they open.
KEEP POSTING CLOSURE-REOPENING UPDATES! I want to know when I can start planning again since I canceled my July trip not knowing what was going to happen and not feeling entirely safe by then .