“When will Walt Disney World really reopen?” and “will the parks stay closed until [insert date/season]?” have become frequently asked questions. This is due to Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Disney Springs, and the resort hotels all being indefinitely closed with no reopening date set. (Updated May 25, 2020.)
With so much uncertainty in the air and people wanting to plan vacations or cancel trips that are unlikely to happen, these questions are unsurprising. Accordingly, we’ve been doing an ongoing speculative series that attempts to offer balance, nuance, and our best guesses with all things considered. To recap, here are questions what we’ve addressed:
Likewise, you can find regular updates in our Disney Closure & Reopening News & Rumors. In this post, we’ll tackle when we think Walt Disney World will reopen, when the parks & hotels will actually open again, what operations will look like when they resume. Obviously, this is all speculative in nature and should be viewed accordingly. If you only want to know when Disney has officially announced a reopening date, sign up for our free email newsletter. We’ll send you a notification ASAP when that happens…
In the past, Orlando’s major theme parks have collaborated on safety protocol, with similar policies and plans implemented at both Universal and Disney’s parks. This is evident even with the reopening of Disney Springs and CityWalk. While the latter reopened approximately one week earlier, the health screening measures and rules are nearly identical between the two.
However, this does not mean that Walt Disney World’s theme parks will reopen on a similar timeframe as Universal Orlando. In the days following Universal’s huge announcement, rumors have swirled that Disney leadership was caught off-guard by Universal’s accelerated timeline.
Regardless of those rumors, we still anticipate an announcement by Walt Disney World this week. Our expectation is that this will include a timeline for starting to reopen theme parks, but not specific dates for all of the parks and resort hotels. It’s also unlikely that Walt Disney World will follow Universal’s lead and reopen by June 5, 2020.
For one thing, Universal and Walt Disney World are very different. While Universal has added more hotels in recent years, it still has significantly fewer–and only two theme parks and water parks. Moreover, Universal has not yet addressed the status of its hotels; even though it’s possible to book them now, that doesn’t mean they’re reopening in June. Universal can more easily cater to locals and Annual Passholders–fewer of its guests are booking vacation packages to begin with, too. Suffice to say, there are less moving parts to Universal Orlando Resort.
Nevertheless, our expectation at this point is that Walt Disney World will begin a slow, multi-phase reopening in mid to late June 2020. (Even that timeline is fairly aggressive–we wouldn’t be surprised if the actual opening date is the beginning of July 2020.) We expect Magic Kingdom to ‘soft open’ first, followed by Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
Walt Disney World’s two-dozen resorts will likely open in phases. Deluxe Resorts with Disney Vacation Club properties will likely be first, followed by non-DVC resorts connected to the parks by non-bus transportation (Caribbean Beach, Art of Animation, Pop Century, and Yacht Club). The process of hotels reopening could take a few months.
It’s entirely possible that Magic Kingdom will open in June or July as a “trial balloon” to see what works and doesn’t, so they can implement the successful policies at other parks. Walt Disney World could attempt to test this with the lower stakes, less-demanding local audience. It’s unlikely that Disney would check IDs at the door–but if they don’t open hotels, it becomes a de facto ‘locals only’ soft opening.
In other words, don’t be surprised if the first phase of reopening is aimed at Florida residents, with domestic vacation-goers being targeted second. Per executive order that doesn’t expire until July 7, 2020, residents of Louisiana and the New York Tri-State Area (Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York) coming to Florida still must isolate or quarantine for a period of 14 days after arrival. Plus, most international tourists still cannot enter the United States.
Beyond that, it’s possible that Epcot may not open until fall, and some resorts (like Port Orleans, Coronado Springs, and the All Stars) might not open at all in 2020. With all of that said, it’s important to emphasize and reiterate that this is simply speculation on our part. We have no particular insight nor do we have inside information.
There is still reason to believe the Walt Disney World theme parks and resorts will begin to reopen at some point in Summer 2020. First, the “Sun & Fun” discount for Walt Disney World resorts was modified, and now reflects a date range beginning in the summer running through August 31, 2020. (The deal was extended in the process of those changes.)
However, “likely target date” alone is not conclusive. Walt Disney World has previously continued to accept reservations and modifications for dates that ended up being encompassed in the closure extension. Walt Disney World needs to accept hotel reservations now in order to meet minimum occupancy thresholds that are a necessary prerequisite. Without a certain number of bookings, opening those resorts is not practicable.
Quite simply, Walt Disney World needs to accept reservations now for future travel dates, irrespective of whether they’ll be open because that’s the only way they can be open in the future. People cannot book vacations on a few weeks’ notice and Walt Disney World cannot survive on its local audience alone (at least, not in the long term).
While Walt Disney World reopening by early June 2020 is incredibly optimistic, there are plenty of more pessimistic views to be found. In our recent Will Walt Disney World Stay Closed Until 2021? post, we covered the bold prediction made by a financial analyst that the US theme parks would not reopen until January 2021 at the earliest.
Suffice to say, we do not share that bleak view. It’s certainly within the realm of possibilities (at this point, we wouldn’t eliminate anything), but it does not seem probable based upon available evidence.
In addition to the summer deals and urgency expressed by Florida’s government, we can look to Shanghai Disneyland for guidance. That park reopened after having been closed for approximately 100 days.
A similar timeline would put the reopening of Walt Disney World right around early June 2020. Now, it’s fair to point out differences between Shanghai Disneyland and Walt Disney World. A major one is the former’s ability to test, trace, and monitor guests. Second, Walt Disney World is far more complex.
The complexity of Walt Disney World is a huge variable, and it’ll undoubtedly take the sprawling Florida resort much more time to ramp up operations than it did to wind them down. There are literally dozens of hotels, hundreds of restaurants, and myriad other components–in addition to the four theme parks. This machine will require a slow restart that’ll take more than a week to initiate.
It’s also problematic that Disney terminated its College Program, clearing out the housing, and sending those students home. The argument could be made that these are moves made to limit liability or cut surplus labor that won’t be necessary when the parks reopen. However, the reality is that they’ve cut or furloughed a lot of labor, and it’ll take some time to get that back.
Demand is another hurdle. While the Orange County Task Force has suggested that a phased approach is ideal, with theme parks first reopening to Floridians and gradually accepting out of state and international visitors, there’s the question of whether demand is there to make reopening viable.
Over 30 million Americans have now filed for unemployment in the last two months, and millions of employers have closed their businesses and slashed their workforces. It’s by far the worst string of layoffs on record, adding up to more than one in six American workers. Economists have forecast that the unemployment rate could go as high as 20% in the near-term, and possibly surpass the 25% rate reached during the Great Depression. Consumer confidence is likewise plummeting.
While some of this will bounce back when the economy reopens, some of the damage will be lasting. Americans have already expressed an overwhelming reticence to travel on airplanes and be in large venues right now. Between that and economic anxiety, a majority of Americans may be unable or unwilling to take a Walt Disney World trip right now. That too will likely impact Disney’s reopening plans.
All of this is a very long-winded way of saying (and explaining) that a lot still remains up in the air when it comes to Walt Disney World’s reopening. The optimist in me hopes that Walt Disney World can begin resuming operations at some point in mid-June 2020. The pessimist in me thinks that all of the parks and most of the resorts won’t be up and running until much later–perhaps August 2020. Maybe beyond that.
It should already be clear, but I nonetheless want to reiterate once again that I am not privy to any information that would give me the ability to make a credible prediction. No one is. Like a lot of people, I’ve become a voracious consumer of news during this, and it’s clear that the consensus among experts about all of this continues to evolve, as does whether there will be a second wave in the fall, etc. Everything at this point is predicated upon assumptions and should be viewed as such.
This might leave you wondering what you should do if you have a Walt Disney World vacation planned for Summer 2020. I don’t really think there’s a good or bad answer to that. If you opt to cancel now and it turns out that the parks reopen in time for your trip, you will almost certainly be able to rebook–and likely at a significantly discounted rate. If you choose to keep your scheduled trip and Walt Disney World remains closed, you can always cancel later without penalty.
Personally, I’d mentally prepare myself for cancellation, while proceeding with plans as if Walt Disney World were going to reopen in time for my trip (even if I didn’t truly believe that). Make or “upgrade” FastPass+ or Advance Dining Reservations as others cancel, and see how things play out. If new discounts are released that are better, have those applied to your existing reservation (or cancel and rebook, depending upon how those offers are released). If subsequent closure extensions cause your trip to be cancelled, you’re not really out anything–other than the time you spent making said reservations and plans.
Do you think Walt Disney World will reopen by Summer 2020? If not, what’s your predicted date/month? Are you expecting modified operations once the closure ends? Do you agree or disagree with our advice and assessment? 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!