One Disney park reopened — when will other parks follow?

May 5, 2020

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Editor’s note: This is a recurring post, regularly updated with new information.

In mid-March, both Disney World and Disneyland closed their gates to guests because of growing coronavirus concerns. From the U.S. to Europe to Asia, all Disney parks around the world were indefinitely shuttered.

However, the magic has returned to one park — Shanghai Disneyland. After 107 days of closure, the Shanghai Disney Resort officially reopened on May 11, 2020.

In the U.S., more than 100,000 Disney employees, known as cast members, remain furloughed. Although the original announcement said the Disney parks would remain closed through April 1, 2020, the gates to the magic remain locked with no announced reopening date. However, there are signs we are getting closer.

We know that Disney, and probably all the major theme parks, will look very different in a socially distanced world when they reopen. We have an outline of how the parks may change the way they operate to keep guests safer based on statements from Disney’s executive chairman, Bob Iger, along with what’s happening at Shanghai Disneyland and the parks’ technical capabilities and resources.

But, with Shanghai reopened, here’s a look at when guests may again walk down Main Street U.S.A.

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(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Will the U.S. Disney parks be closed until 2021?

In mid-April, UBS, a financial services company, downgraded Disney stock from “buy” to “neutral,” with the accompanying warning to investors that the Disney theme parks may not reopen until next year. It went on to warn that until a coronavirus vaccine is widely available, investors shouldn’t expect the theme parks to return to normal operations and profits. Disney stock was typically in the $140 to $150 price per share range for the previous six months, until late February when it starting dropping to as low as $85 per share shortly after the U.S. parks closed. The price is back above $100 per share as of this writing.

Time will tell how consumers react to a reopened theme park before a coronavirus vaccine is widely available, but it’s clear that the theme parks are hoping to open well before 2021 — perhaps as early as some point this summer.

Read up-to-the-minute information about coronavirus and how it’s affecting travel.

Some investment advisers are sticking with early summer as their reopening bet for Disney, Barron’s reports.

The fact that major players from the country’s biggest theme parks are on various state reopening committees will likely aid the sooner-rather-than-later reopening case. For example, on the Re-Open Florida Task Force, you’ll find the president of the Walt Disney World Resort, Josh D’Amaro, and Universal Orlando Resort’s CEO, John Sprouls. On a similar task force in California, you’ll find Disney’s Bob Iger seated at the virtual conference table.

Outlining measures for reopening Florida’s Universal Orlando, Sprouls told subcommittee members that Universal may encourage guests to wear masks, disinfect rides throughout the day, and rely on mobile payments, social distancing guidelines and virtual queues, such as the ones already in place at Universal Orlando’s Volcano Bay waterpark.

And in Shanghai, the park reopened with both cast members and guests wearing masks, health control measures in place, and initial capacity kept well below the 30% maximum allowed by the government. Instead of the normal capacity of 80,000 guests, there will be far fewer than 24,000 guests — at least at first.

Those sorts of discussions and potential measures point toward attempts to reopen parks while coronavirus is still an issue, as opposed to remaining shuttered until after a vaccine and “herd-level immunity” thresholds are reached.

Related: How Disney theme parks will be different when they reopen

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)
(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

Disney stopped taking June reservations

On its May 5, 2020, earnings call, Disney said that it has “limited visibility” into when it will be able to reopen the U.S. parks or cruise ships. However, although Disney World and Disneyland may be closed without a reopening date, they have not indefinitely suspended their reservation systems from accepting new bookings.

You can log on today and book a new Disney World or Disneyland resort hotel, ticket or dining reservation beginning on July 1, 2020. That does not mean things will reopen July 1. In a recent Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force Meeting, a senior vice president of Walt Disney World Resort, Thomas Mazloum, stated, “We do not have any opening date yet.  Some of you may know at this point we are taking bookings that were in June [but] that doesn’t mean we are opening in June.”

Since that statement was made, Disney stopped taking June bookings, though it has not yet notified guests with mid- to late-June reservations that they will need to reschedule. Even having a July 1 booking date available doesn’t guarantee a July 1 opening, but it indicates that Disney is hoping for a summer opening of some sort.

Related: How to choose the best Disney World hotel

Look east for reopening clues

The novel coronavirus first spiked in China, and as a result, we saw Disneyland Shanghai become the first Disney park to close on Jan. 25, 2020, — almost two months before the U.S. parks. That park entered a slow phased reopening process in March with the reopening of a Disney resort hotel, the shopping district and resumption of some character meals at the hotel. The resort did this while requiring face masks (except when eating) and a green Shanghai QR Code to enter. (A green, yellow or red QR code is provided based on reported travel history, current symptoms and whether that person has had contact with a confirmed or suspected COVID-19 patient.)

Throughout the latter half of April, we saw Disney Shanghai implement some tests and social distancing guidelines.

An apples-to-apples comparison between China and the U.S. is impossible when you weave in differences in widespread available testing, contact tracing, etc., but a similar timeline would mean that the U.S. Disney parks might enter a testing and preparation phase in mid-June 2020.

Related: Country by country guide to coronavirus reopenings

It won’t all reopen at once

It’s now clear that Disney parks around the world won’t all reopen at once — just as they didn’t all close at once. However, even just within the U.S., California and Florida are just … different. Although the closure dates for Disneyland and Disney World were just a couple of days apart, it’s possible the parks won’t simultaneously reopen — the states’ governors are approaching the pandemic in their own ways.

For example, most Florida beaches have reopened following a relatively brief closure, and, in an interview with Fox News, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis expressed happiness with the progress Disney was making in reopening and said that he was “… in discussions with places like Disney, and they are so far ahead of the curve.”

Not only is it possible that Disneyland and Disney World will have unique opening timelines, but we expect to see places like the Disney Springs entertainment complex reopen before the theme parks. Disney Springs will reopen at Disney World on May 20, 2020, which is a good sign for those rooting for a summer reopening for the parks.

This phased reopening was followed in Shanghai. Beyond the shopping districts, you may see some resort hotels and even individual Disney theme parks open before the others in a ramp-up approach that aligns with demand and gradually scales operations back up.

Related: How coronavirus could forever change the way we travel

Will the parks open to locals first?

We know it will be easier for visitors who can drive a short distance to the parks, rather than for those arriving by airplane from farther away. We also know that Visit Florida, the state’s official travel and tourism marketing organization, has plans to promote regional travel to Floridians in the first phase of its plan.

Disneyland in California already relied on tourism from its state’s residents even before coronavirus. So, common sense suggests that both parks will be visited more heavily by locals when they first reopen than by those from several states away. With international travel restrictions and limited flights, international tourism is unlikely to be a main draw at either park in at least in the near future.

Regardless of whether or not only locals are allowed in the parks at first, visitors within easy driving distance are likely to be the main source of the initial wave of visitors. It’s certainly possible that only in-state residents, in-state passholders or perhaps only residents plus resort hotel guests may be allowed to return first, as part of a phased approach that caps attendance at much lower numbers than normal. However, restricting guests to those who live relatively nearby or other limits may also be unnecessary given the likely realities of initial diminished demand.

Although that is speculation, in the May 5 earnings call Disney said that it would use a date-based ticketing system in Shanghai to manage attendance numbers.

Related: Ultimate guide to visiting Walt Disney World

Bottom line

There’s no denying that theme parks are going to present many challenges for safe operation in a socially distanced world. It doesn’t matter if gatherings are slowly reopened to 10 people, 50 people, 200 people or more, theme parks bring together thousands and thousands of people with multiple shared touch-points. From restaurants to shows, hotels, lines, rides, transportation needs and more, modifying a place like Disney World in a way that it can safely reopen will be an unparalleled challenge.

But if there is any organization equipped to rise to the challenge of keeping guests safe while bringing a bit of magic back to our mostly quarantined world, my money is on Disney figuring out the secret recipe. The company will have a head start on what that may look like in the U.S. thanks to the reopening in Shanghai.

Does that mean that Disney World and Disneyland can safely reopen by July 1, 2020? Maybe not, but that doesn’t mean that it will be 2021 before the young and young at heart are again walking down Main Street U.S.A.

(Photo by Summer Hull/The Points Guy)

What will ultimately influence the official Disney reopening date? The impact of widespread testing and contact tracing, the implementation of technologies that limit the movement of those exposed to the coronavirus or at risk, and the potential spread of coronavirus as some facets of the economy begin to slowly reopen — all these will likely be important factors.

Unless the phased reopenings of states and Disneyland Shanghai cause a large resurgence of cases, I’d expect to see some flickers of magic reappear at Disney World sometime this summer, even beyond the Disney Springs area that already has a phased reopening planned in May.

Featured image by Summer Hull/The Points Guy

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