“When will Walt Disney World really reopen?” Magic Kingdom, Epcot, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Disney Springs, and the resort hotels are all currently closed with no reopening date set, leading to this incredible common question.
Here, 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. We’ll also address some of the “whys” behind all of this…
To some degree, it’s easy to understand why some Walt Disney World guests believe the theme parks and hotels will resume normal operations sooner rather than later. If you’re reading about this topic in isolation (perhaps literally and figuratively), and only consulting Walt Disney World’s official communications, that is the logical conclusion.
The advisory at the top of DisneyWorld.com about “Temporary Closures at Walt Disney World Resort” has been modified a number of times (including yesterday!), but there have been no changes to the verbiage that “Walt Disney World theme parks and Disney owned-and-operated hotels are currently closed.” Clicking through to the full bulletin, and there are a number of places indicating that the temporary closure will last “through the end of the month.”
Unlike typical Disney announcements, there are no weasel words that could call into question the reliability of the closure period. This is pretty noteworthy, as Disney is incredibly adept at equivocation, and employs it constantly to issue misleading statements. (My ‘favorite’ go-to Disney weasel words are “no plans to…at this time.” Whatever is stated in the ellipsis is pretty much rendered meaningless by the words around it.)
Beyond that bulletin, there are other reasons to believe the Walt Disney World theme parks and resorts will reopen at some point in April 2020. The “Sun & Fun” discount for Walt Disney World resorts was just modified, and now reflects a date range running through August 31, 2020. (The deal was extended in the process of those changes.)
In other words, there’s ample “evidence” that Walt Disney World will reopen the theme parks and resort hotels in April 2020. It seems like a reasonable belief, right? I guess if you bury your head into the metaphorical sand of DisneyWorld.com, and literally never turn on your television or read the newspaper.
To put it bluntly, there is no way Walt Disney World will actually reopen in April 2020.
So, why is Walt Disney World still maintaining that position without any equivocation? There are several reasons. For one, it’s simply easier to manage an incremental closure. The earlier Disney extends the current closure, the sooner they’ll have to process more cancellations–and they are still slammed trying to deal with the first wave of those from earlier travel dates.
Next, it’s the conservative approach to cancellations that projects optimism to the public. Potential guests who may be otherwise wary about planning trips for later this summer or fall won’t be if they think everything is reopening sooner rather than later. If Walt Disney World announced the parks and hotels would be closed through mid-May 2020 right now (for example), the vacation cancellations would ripple beyond that date due to the doubt and uncertainty.
There’s more to Disney’s current official messaging than that, but suffice to say, it’s safe to expect the quiet announcement of another 2-week extension on a weekend or after 4 pm early next week once the markets have closed.
As for “evidence” to support our position, we’ll again start with Walt Disney World’s own actions. The first is closing all hotels late this week, which was not part of the original plan. Shuttering hotels is a pretty big move, and probably would not have occurred if the internal belief is actually that it’ll be back to business as usual in 10 days.
The next is prematurely ending this semester’s Disney 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. Those are fair points. However, what liability would exist if this were a quick blip–and when has Disney ever opted for more expensive labor over the cheap kind?
Then there’s the mountain of real world evidence. For starters, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now advising against large gatherings for the next eight weeks. This guidance includes all non-essential large events including “conferences, festivals, parades, concerts, sporting events, weddings, and other types of assemblies.” It’s safe to assume theme parks would fall under the purview of that recommendation. This would push Walt Disney World’s reopening into mid-May at the earliest.
Additionally, nearly one-third of all Americans are under orders or advice to stay at home. Governors from coast to coast have requested or required Americans not to leave home except for dire circumstances, and have ordered nonessential business to shut their doors. State governments have limited American’s freedom of movement and explained the motivation for this extreme measure, with most citizens understanding and acquiescing.
This includes New York and Illinois (the two largest sources of Walt Disney World guests) plus California (home to the Walt Disney Company’s corporate headquarters). In these states, nonessential businesses must close and all but emergency travel is discouraged. These strict orders impact roughly 100 million Americans–or about one-third of the U.S. population of 328 million.
Florida is notably not among these states. By contrast, the state has been lax in its response and slow to implement restrictions that would negatively impact the peak spring break tourist season. You’ve probably seen the photos of crowded Florida beaches and interviews with partying spring breakers, which have caused in a surge of criticism of Governor Rick DeSantis.
There’s certainly the possibility that Florida will maintain this position (although more recent measures suggest otherwise) and Walt Disney World will follow its lead. That seems unlikely to us.
Disney is generally risk-averse and measured, and will almost certainly adhere to the more conservative guidance from the CDC and federal government. Moreover, the company’s leaders who will make the decision about when to reopen the parks work in Burbank, California where the culture and attitude are different than in Florida.
So…when will Walt Disney World actually reopen? Frankly, no one knows. Not even those in the c-suite of the Walt Disney Company. There have been rumors about Disney internally already laying the groundwork for modified operations once the parks reopen, but that’s simply a planning exercise at this point.
A lot remains up in the air–and this extends to American public life in general far beyond theme parks–depending upon the efficacy of current containment and countermeasures. To what degree are we successful in flattening the curve, when the health care system’s capacity is not being tested, etc.
The optimist in me hopes that the current situation is under control such that Walt Disney World can begin resuming operations at some point in late May 2020. The pessimist in me is beginning to think that date is more likely in June 2020 or later.
It should already be clear, but I nonetheless want to reiterate that I am not privy to any information that would give me the ability to make a credible prediction. No one is. We are still in the early stages of this public health crisis, and much of the story remains unwritten. The next couple of weeks will be absolutely crucial in attempting to counter or contain (to the extent that’s even still possible) this outbreak.
Probably like a lot of people, I’ve become a voracious consumer of news during this (aside from making weird photoshopped images of Cats in empty Disney theme parks, what else am I going to do?!) and experts are all over the place as to how long this could all last. 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 April/May/June 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 in April 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!