What’s Going on at the Disney Parks Right Now?
The Coronavirus pandemic has forced Disney executives to close all parks worldwide, disrupting plans everywhere. On April 19th, most cast members at Disneyland and Walt Disney World will go on furlough.
Still, some essential employees remain, and park officials have committed to maintaining most construction plans. Here’s everything we know about what’s happening at Disney’s American parks right now.
The trade unions at Disneyland reached an agreement with The Walt Disney Company about the impending furlough. Here’s the applicable quote:
“These agreements provide an easier return to work when our community recovers from the impact of COVID-19. We are grateful to have worked together in good faith to help our cast members navigate these unprecedented times.”
The president of the Disneyland union for 8,000 food and beverage workers added the following:
“The agreement covers a number of items that members and union leadership have raised.”
In other words, it sucks, everyone knows it sucks, and nobody likes it. Still, Disney did everything it could to do right by its employees. And the union leaders for these groups understand and appreciate that.
I don’t want to misrepresent the situation here. Labor unrest has been a problem at Disneyland for a while. Many cast members deserve sainthood, in my opinion, and they deserve a decent working wage.
Thankfully, Disney has come around on this point in recent years. Then, the Coronavirus pandemic caused shocking upheaval in the industry. So, a lot of good people are currently out of work.
The essential personnel at Disneyland work in the fields that you’d expect. They’re security officials who protect the Happiest Place on Earth from unauthorized entry. Otherwise, folks would wander the empty parks right now.
Disney also keeps some cleaning people active. They’ll have the responsibility of maintaining the park grounds and the hotels. Otherwise, dust and weeds could become a problem.
Beyond that, nobody else qualifies as essential at the Happiest Place on Earth.
In terms of projects, the timing isn’t as inconvenient for Disneyland as it is at Walt Disney World. Once Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge opened, Project Stardust became the most significant thing on the schedule. I never saw a confirmed date for its completion, but I suspect that most/all of it is done.
Yes, this shutdown impacts Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway, but it was two years away anyway. Overall, this was financially perilous for Disneyland but operationally tolerable…with one noteworthy exception.
Unfortunately, Avengers Campus won’t debut this summer. Disney announced an opening date for the project a matter of days before COVID-19 spread out of control. So, we’re probably looking at a Fall debut for the highly anticipated themed land.
I’m looking at the bright side. Avengers Campus likely isn’t as delayed as the theatrical release of Black Widow. So, it’s hard to complain.
Walt Disney World
The most popular theme park in the world has experienced the most upheaval. Disney had planned several dramatic park enhancements, most of which will suffer delays due to Coronavirus. I previously compiled a list of potentially impacted projects.
For now, literally everything is on hold, as Disney will keep only 200 essential workers on staff right now. You’re likely wondering what these people do.
Well, some essential jobs are similar to ones at Disneyland. Security officials monitor the campus to prevent unwelcome visits. The internet has popularized those “abandoned theme park” videos and photo sets, and footage from Disney parks would prove especially popular.
Disney also keeps some housing staff in place. They need to keep the hotels in shape for the eventual return of nightly guests. However, Walt Disney World requires one type of essential employee that Disneyland doesn’t need.
Lake security personnel must remain on duty. Otherwise, unauthorized guests could sail right up to various Disney landmarks. Even with these methods in place, don’t be surprised if some enterprising criminal finds a way to sneak on Disney campus and film the proceedings.
That person will inevitably get arrested and charged to the full extent of the law, though. Plus, they’ll likely get banned from Disney for life, too.
Finally, in case you were worried, Disney also keeps staff in place at Disney’s Animal Kingdom. These employees are zoologists and other animal caregivers. Their only assignment is to maintain the living quarters for the animals while feeding and providing healthcare to the park’s inhabitants.
Walt Disney World Projects
In terms of projects, we can safely assume that everything will get delayed by a few months. Disney couldn’t keep its construction crews operating as park officials had hoped. So, everything is on hold until the pandemic is under control.
Recent local reports have confirmed that Disney outsources many of its construction crews. Local companies hire workers, and then Disney hires them as third-party workers.
Nobody could blame Disney for this strategy. After all, it saves the company money on healthcare and other benefits.
The workers confirm that they know layoffs are a part of their jobs. They get paid well during construction and then sit on the sidelines between gigs. However, Coronavirus has caused a sudden loss of employment/income.
From Disney’s perspective, a current state directive prevents gatherings of more than 10. While some construction businesses have found ways to work under those guidelines, Disney projects are generally too ambitious.
I should mention one exception, though. A subcontractor, Balfour Beatty Construction LLC, continues work on Reflections — A Disney Lakeside Lodge. The Orlando Business Journal explains how this is possible. Should this model work, Disney could feasibly expand the idea elsewhere.
Right now, everything is on hold, with no construction crew members deemed essential. Obviously, that could change with another change of the Florida governor’s mind, as happened with the WWE.
However, California’s governor is more concerned with safety. So, Disney’s “best” hope would be to do construction in one state but not the other, which would be a bad look and a potential health risk. Ergo, the most logical choice is to halt all construction for the moment.
For right now, essential employees are the only ones who will show up for work at Walt Disney World. That situation could change in the coming days. After all, the Coronavirus has hovered around 30,000 new patients per day this week.
Yes, those numbers are scary. Thankfully, the infection’s growth rate is in single digits now, though. The curve is flattening. So, the return of Disney parks might be right around the corner.
I’ve said this before, but there’s one potential silver lining here. If Disney could restart construction a bit before the parks re-open, they could make up a lot of lost time.
The reason why many projects take so long is that Imagineers must think of park guest safety during construction. It slows down the process.
With no guests in the parks, development could/should go much faster. So, the best-case scenario for Disney right now is to get a two- or three-week window for construction while waiting for the green light to re-open the parks.
The idea only makes sense if Disney can protect the health of its workers, though. That’s all our primary concern right now in the face of a pandemic.