A Few Hard Truths about Re-Opening Disney Parks
For weeks now, we’ve discussed the many changes that Disney may make at its theme parks. Today, I’m going to say the things that nobody wants to hear. Here are a few hard truths about the re-opening of Disney theme parks.
Disney Can’t Pick the Perfect Time to Open
Let’s begin with the most controversial subject. The truth is that everyone has a strong opinion about when Disney should return. And most people are inflexible on the topic.
Many of us fervently believe that we know when Disney should return, and if the company doesn’t reopen on that day, some will complain. Also, everyone’s date of choice is different.
You see where I’m going with this. Disney’s in a losing situation here no matter what its executives decide. If they come back tomorrow, some fans will decry Disney as opportunistic and money-obsessed.
Conversely, if Disney waits until someone invents a cure for Coronavirus, others will vent every day until that happens. They’ll claim that Disney has erred too far on the side of caution. A few folks are ready to return to the parks today.
Unfortunately, Disney’s stuck in the same situation as many other businesses. Bob Iger and Bob Chapek know that some fans are ready to return to the parks. However, the top two employees at the company must evaluate the bigger picture.
If Disney parks reopen too soon and must close again due to a secondary Coronavirus outbreak, the overwhelming majority of people will condemn Iger and Chapek for poor decision-making. But if Disney stays closed too long, economic burdens could cripple the company for years to come.
Disney is in a no-win position here. No return date will satisfy everyone, and so Iger and Chapek are just like the rest of us. They’re left guessing about when it’s okay to bring back the Happiest and Most Magical Places on Earth.
Disney Parks Won’t Be the Same Again
Back in 2001, I wasn’t writing about Disney theme parks. Instead, I was a box office analyst, and one of my business ventures at the time involved the British arm of an American company. They wanted to get into punting, British slang for gambling.
These associates contacted me and asked for all the advice I could give about box office projections. They wanted to join forces with my company, which won 10 out of 11 box office bets we made with them – as a Disney fan, I’m embarrassed to admit that we missed Monsters, Inc.
In early September, I was exchanging emails with them every day. On September 11th, two planes flew into the Twin Towers and wiped out multiple floors of the building. The company, Cantor Fitzgerald, still autofills on Google for 9/11.
My associates emailed to let me know they were okay, but our potential deal fell by the wayside. Their organization suffered so much that they had to reset financial and operational expectations for the next five years. And the same was true of New York City, which struggled economically and socially from the events.
I relay this anecdote to demonstrate how much an unforeseen circumstance, the proverbial black swan, can disrupt an entire industry. All current plans fall by the wayside in the face of an emergency. Disney is facing this outcome right now.
When I read Disney social media and message board posts, I’m constantly reminded of this. People keep talking as if the parks will go back to the way that they were in January.
Folks, I don’t want to depress you, but that will never happen. In fact, I was at Walt Disney World in late January, and I already noticed several changes. The Disney that you knew in 2019 will never come back.
Instead, we’ll have a new Disney theme park, and that one will be wonderful, too. The spirit of Disney ensures that no matter how much the parks change, Jungle Cruise is still there, waiting to entertain and comfort you with its terrible puns.
A Phased Re-Opening Is Possible
In early April, I wrote about the chance of a phased re-opening at Walt Disney World. At the time, I didn’t mention Disneyland, and there’s a reason for that.
Disneyland and Walt Disney World work quite differently. The Anaheim park attracts many of its customers locally. It’s an integral part of the community.
So, opening Downtown Disney before Disneyland and Disney California Adventure is possible. I’m dubious that Disney would do it, though. If people are willing to go to Downtown Disney, they’d want to go to the parks, too. To many residents, it’s the same thing.
The situation at Walt Disney World involves more nuance. Most of the park visitors on a given day come from outside the Orlando area. They’ve canceled vacations due to travel concerns, especially ones concerning airplanes.
While most industry observers believe that Brazilian and British tourists will remain vigilant about visiting Walt Disney World, a lull is likely. And that’s okay by Disney. In fact, it’s somewhat preferred.
Right now, Disney wants to operate its parks at partial capacity. Reports have indicated that Disney might allow only 50 percent of the usual ticket sales. So, park strategists want fewer guests.
Disney might prefer a trial run. The opening of Disney Springs and/or ESPN Wide World of Sports would give park planners some data on how guests behave. Now, the sports complex would only open first in the unlikely event that a major sports league chooses to hold part of its season there.
However, Disney Springs works perfectly as a testing ground for what comes next. Disney could bring back some stores and restaurants and watch customer interactions.
I’m purely speculating here, but I fully expect that Disney Springs opens ahead of the parks. I’m just not as confident about Downtown Disney due to the different visitor dynamics.
No Solution Will Be Foolproof
Look, we can talk about all the other stuff, but here’s the reality we must accept. Whatever Disney chooses to do, it won’t be perfect. It’ll go wrong in some unpredictable manner.
People will have two choices when this occurs. They can harp on the mistakes and act like the company should have done something differently. Or, they can accept that Disney’s trying its best in an impossible circumstance.
Is the glass half-full? That depends on your personality type, I guess.
The main takeaway here is that Disney may screw up some. The company might make some terrible decisions that justify immediate criticism. However, Disney will also have some things go wrong that they could never control.
Also, some of Disney’s choices may rub you the wrong way. Wearing a mask isn’t comfortable for a lot of people, and it’s miserable for me, an asthmatic. Still, I’ll do it to protect others at Disney, just as you should.
Similarly, a lot of folks don’t like virtual queuing because they worry it takes away the spontaneity during a park visit. That’s totally valid, and I get it. It circles back to Disney changing forever, though.
The park experience that we’re accustomed to having is gone now. I don’t mean all of it, though. Instead, I’m referencing specific aspects that must evolve in a post-pandemic society.
Please don’t stress the details. The reality is that the past is never as wonderful as we wax nostalgic about it being. And the fear of change is always a bit silly.
Walt Disney believed passionately about the power of change. If he hadn’t, Disneyland would have remained a series of orange groves. And the concept of plussing wouldn’t exist.
As Uncle Walt famously said, his parks will continue to grow as long as there is imagination left in the world. That’s not a position someone would hold if they feared change, right?
And please remember a significant point during these scary times. Disney stories always end with happily ever after. The parks will come back soon, and we’ll look back later and remember them as being better than ever.