How Will Disney Handle the Holidays?
We’ve reached the start of August, which means that summer is coming to a close in a few weeks.
After that, we’ll enter the fall season, when we start to think about the end of the year and how we’ll spend the holidays.
Yes, Thanksgiving is less than four months away, and 2020 mercifully ends the following month. And this knowledge places Disney in an awkward position.
How will Disney handle the holidays with Coronavirus still such a worrisome factor? Let’s talk through the matters at hand.
What We Have Already Lost
Let’s pull the bandage off real quick. Disney already made the hard call on two of your favorites.
For the first time in decades, Magic Kingdom won’t host Mickey’s Not-So-Scary Halloween Party (MNSSHP), which many of us feel is Disney’s best ticketed event.
Similarly, the Oogie Boogie Bash – A Disney Halloween Party isn’t even a consideration.
After all, Disneyland Resort still hasn’t opened. Disney California Adventure can’t throw a party if nobody attends!
With California preventing the reopening of the Happiest Place on Earth, Disney was in a holding pattern anyway.
So, the Oogie Boogie Bash became a non-starter when park officials had to delay Disneyland’s return.
At Walt Disney World, the discussion doesn’t claim any more nuance. Florida has suffered mightily in July.
While the parks can operate safely for half the day, MNSSHP would force them to stay open much later.
The extended operating hours would limit the cleaning processes, and those are imperative right now. Again, Disney didn’t have much choice here.
As much as we all hate the thought, these decisions came easily. It’s the rest of the year that requires complexity.
Looking ahead to Thanksgiving
We’re in the middle of summer, and Halloween’s already a bust. That’s 2020 for you.
Disney executives must already think about the holiday season, even though we’re still four months away from Thanksgiving.
Generally speaking, this holiday doesn’t come with the bells and whistles of the end-of-year events.
However, we can already draw a few conclusions. For starters, Wal-Mart and Target have already punted on opening on Thanksgiving.
Until a few years ago, Black Friday caused guests to stampede into stores in search of deals.
Recently, major retailers have emphasized Thanksgiving deals to give customers an extra day to spend money shop.
So, if Wal-Mart fears Thanksgiving crowds, you can imagine how park officials feel.
Walt Disney World usually claims some of its most significant attendance numbers the week of Thanksgiving.
In a typical year, that’s a good thing. With social distancing driving the decisions, crowds produce more problems than solutions.
Some of Disney’s most popular Thanksgiving restaurants will limit capacity, and Park Passes for these days should sell out far ahead of time.
As long as Disney addresses crowd capacity efficiently, Thanksgiving shouldn’t cause any issues. Unfortunately, this holiday isn’t the troublesome one.
What about the Christmas Party?
I’ll start with a statement of fact. COVID-19 cases in Florida more than doubled during July.
California and Florida will wind up with the largest number of infected residents. And those two states happen to be where Disneyland and Walt Disney World reside.
Bob Iger and Bob Chapek face an impossible task here. They must predict what will happen several months from now, even as July proved shocking.
We’re all just guessing about how Coronavirus will play out, and I say that as the moron who believed America would overcome this in six weeks if we acted smart.
I was…overly optimistic.
July alone qualifies as a hellscape, and it’s also the most recent data set that drives Disney’s decision-making.
So, park officials could/should act cautiously here given what just transpired.
Also, common sense plays a factor. Last year, MNSSHP ended on Halloween. Eight days later, Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party arrived.
For 2020, Disney didn’t just cancel a portion of the Halloween event. Magic Kingdom eliminated every event.
Given this knowledge, I don’t envision a scenario where the Christmas Party can debut in November. It circles back to Wal-Mart and Target closing for Thanksgiving.
If those companies aren’t ready for holiday crowds in late-November, Disney isn’t, either.
At best, Magic Kingdom could host the party in mid- to late-December. Alas, I believe even that’s a pipe dream at this point.
I’m not expecting any holiday ticketed events at Walt Disney World in 2020. Please understand that this is guess rather than based in fact, though.
What about Christmas at Disney?
To discuss this topic, I must exclude Disneyland entirely. Until the park reopens at all, it’s premature to talk about Christmas and New Year’s there.
At Walt Disney World, I suspect people will enjoy the holidays this year.
First of all, everyone needs a release after the trauma that is 2020. And nobody brings more joy to customers than Disney.
Also, I expect Disney to decorate for the holidays as usual.
The other events we’ve evaluated cause crowding problems. The gingerbread houses at Disney resorts don’t do that.
Similarly, the holiday accessories at the parks draw attention, but guests gaze at them from a distance. That’s the magic phrase.
As long as people don’t violate social distancing to look at decorations, Disney has every reason to post them.
After all, we ALL need some holiday spirit…now more than ever.
Plus, Disney doesn’t jeopardize its cast members any in placing the decorations.
Simply stated, park managers have no reason to skip the decorations.
You may wonder about the holiday snacks that Disney sells at some of its gingerbread houses.
While spacing issues cause some concerns, I expect Disney to address them the same way as at smaller food vendors right now.
Signs on the ground will indicate where guests should stand. In areas that are too tight, restaurants will employ QR codes.
Visitors scan these codes and order via a smart device. Then, they pick up their gingerbread goodies at the counter. It seems safe and effective.
As such, I fully expect the full array of holiday decorations and cuisine at Walt Disney World in 2020.
Other conversations aren’t as simple, though.
Will the Christmas Week Shows Still Happen?
For instance, the Candlelight Processional at the World Showcase has become a family tradition for many.
Disney’s recreation of the Nativity Story delights the audience with its combination of sublime music and exciting celebrity narrators.
The Candlelight Processional also draws a crowd. In fact, most of its performances sell out.
Would Disney host the event at 50 percent capacity or less? I’m inclined to say yes, but I certainly wouldn’t bet my life on that outcome.
I wouldn’t even bet a dollar on it. This one’s a no-win situation for Disney. If they cancel, people will complain. If they don’t, outside observers will criticize them.
Weirdly, I’d agree with both parties. Disney should cancel this event in my opinion…but I really hope they don’t. In all honesty, I might even go.
The madness of that statement aptly summarizes what Disney is facing here.
What should the company do about Christmas week? Many of the Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party events run over the holidays, and they’re free to watch.
However, if we’re presuming Disney won’t host the ticketed event, it can’t do that, either.
After all, cast members wouldn’t have the training and practice needed for the shows.
Similarly, I’ve accepted that standard parades and fireworks won’t return in 2020. The social distancing aspects cause too many concerns.
What about Christmas Week?
Disney also faces some hard choices about crowd capacity.
The time from Christmas through New Year’s Day comes with the largest attendance of the calendar year…which is bad.
The Park Pass system has already allowed for capacity limitations. So, that part is done.
The better question is what we should expect in terms of Christmas and New Year’s celebrations.
My expectation is that they’ll work like the rest of 2020. The events will be muted and strange.
However, Disney has already proven it has a few tricks up its sleeve, such as the Cavalcades.
I suspect that park officials will find a way to make the end of the year as magical as people would expect from Disney.
PS: If Disney does decide to bring back fireworks, is there a better day than New Year’s Eve? We’ll all love to ring in the new year that way, right?
Feature Image: Disney Parks / ABC