Disney World is currently in the midst of the lengthiest closure in its history and things could look a LOT different when the theme parks reopen.
Today, we’re taking a look at what the current situation means for the future of Disney World. Will things really change? (Yes.) How much? (Hmm…) Nothing’s certain yet, but we can get an idea of where we’re headed by taking a look at history and similar situations — even some very recent ones.
Phased and Limited Capacity Reopenings Of Parks, Attractions, Hotels, and Restaurants
If the parks reopen soon, it’s likely they’ll be subject to several modifications. These could include the parks, hotels, and attractions themselves opening in phases or being changed to accommodate social distancing necessity.
What We Can Learn From What’s Happening in Shanghai
Shanghai Disneyland has been closed since late January, but a few weeks ago, the resort began a phased reopening. As the parks remained closed, Shanghai Disneyland Hotel and Disneytown opened with some restrictions on March 9th.
The reopened locations in Shanghai are currently operating under limited capacity and with reduced hours of operation. In addition, all guests have to undergo temperature screenings and wear masks for the whole of their visit.
Of course, extensive cleaning processes are also a priority with the reopening. This system of modifications and precautions could be indicative of what we can expect when Disney World reopens. If it follows Shanghai’s model, it’s likely that we will see Disney Springs and some of the resort hotels reopen initially with the parks following at a later date.
What We Can Learn From Past Disney World Closures
We can also look at the past times that Disney World has closed to see what a reopening might look like. Disney World has closed for seven hurricanes since 1999: Floyd, Charley, Frances, Jeanne, Matthew, Irma, and Dorian. Each time, the parks reopened as soon as it was safe. Sometimes, that meant a partial reopening while attractions or parks were evaluated for damage and safety. The only non-hurricane closure prior to the present was September 11th, 2001. The parks reopened the following day with added security measures.
What we can glean from past closures is that Disney World will reopen as soon as it is safe (whenever that may be) and is perfectly capable of doing a phased reopening. With the cause of the closures, Disney may opt to introduce added health measures much like the updated security measures in 2001, but more on that in a moment.
Possible Modifications to Rides and Attractions Themselves
The way that Disney World attractions are run could see some modifications when the parks reopen in response to the current health situation. If social distancing is still a factor when Disney World reopens, people won’t always be able to maintain a six-foot distance from one another the way things currently stand!
We may see a change to certain ride or show experiences. For example, the stretching room in the Haunted Mansion is usually packed full of people in the “dead center” of the room. A social-distancing focused solution could result in the reduction of capacity for the pre-show, or pre-shows being bypassed altogether. In that case, it would be straight to the doom buggies.
Show and theater-based attractions could see some changes, too, as Disney strives to keep guests safe. The Enchanted Tiki Room, Beauty and the Beast: Live on Stage, Festival of the Lion King, and more theater attractions could introduce lowered capacity measures or be canceled altogether.
Remember that many of the first businesses to close around the country were live theaters — they may be the last to reopen as well.
So, when the parks reopen, be patient with any unexpected changes. Rides might not be quite as you expected, but all of the modifications are in the interest of keeping guests and Cast Members safe.
Possible Limited Land Capacity?
Disney may also choose to make some changes to how we wait for popular attractions or areas. Queues could have reduced capacities so that people can maintain their space.
And entire lands may reduce their capacities as well. Maybe we will see the reintroduction of boarding groups to get into actual lands like Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge or Toy Story Land and not just to get onto specific attractions.
More Virtual Queues?
It’s possible that we’ll start seeing the use of virtual queues more often, too! This is what’s currently being used for Rise of the Resistance in Disney World and Disneyland, and consists of guests booking a spot in a virtual queue via their smartphone in order to avoid waiting in endless lines. When their “boarding group” is called, they head over from wherever they are to ride the attraction.
An unexpected benefit of virtual queues is that they reduce the amount of time guests are in close contact with one another. In a time where social distance is important, it would be ideal to have a few more virtual queues in the parks versus hours-long queue lines full of people. Obviously, this wouldn’t be rolled out for every attraction, but some of the more popular attractions could easily benefit from a boarding group system that’s similar to Rise of the Resistance!
One possible side effect of these reduced capacities is that there will potentially be longer crowded periods for new attractions and lands. For instance, when a new attraction opens, like Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure in Epcot, limited capacity may mean that fewer people can ride it per day. If this is the case, it will take longer than usual for e-ticket attractions to have their wait times normalize.
Such an unprecedented closure is going to have an effect on crowd levels as well, so we want to be conscious of what crowds may look like with a potentially phased reopening and beyond.
Even with the widespread panic in response to the world health crisis, many — especially local residents and Annual Passholders — will still want to go to Disney World when things begin to calm down. Just look at the crowd levels just days before the closure began! In fact, the parks reopening may have a large draw as many take it as a sign of a return to normalcy.
However, phased closures could have some effect on the numbers as fewer people will want to be in Disney World if everything is not up and running or open for business. And crowds could be lower initially due to lingering fears regarding the current global health situation.
While crowds could increase later this year when those who rescheduled their Spring trips begin to visit the parks, initial crowds could be lower than in previous years.
Increased Focus on Health Precautions and Cleanliness
Industries and individuals around the world are putting a major focus on health precautions right now — and that includes Disney. Even as the world health crisis begins to abate, it will still be important and recommended that cleanliness and safety are made a priority. Here’s how we might see that applied in Disney World.
Health Checks and Cleansing Options for Guests
Now just because it’s deemed safe enough for the parks to reopen does NOT mean that things are going to be quite like they used to be. In fact, it will still be important for Guests and Cast Members to be health-conscious and some of those considerations may continue permanently.
For example, we may see health screenings (such as a no-touch temperature check) implemented at the park gates for a little while. We saw this in Disneyland Paris before the closure and we’re seeing it in Shanghai Disneyland now.
We’ve also seen the addition of hand-washing stations and sanitizing stations around the Disney World parks; those will likely remain in the interest of cleanliness. If there’s one thing that health officials are recommending in the current crisis, it’s to keep those hands clean! Even after the parks reopen, this will likely be a continued habit for many, so we don’t expect to see those hygiene stations going anywhere anytime soon.
One potential consideration is the installation of permanent hand sanitizer stations at the entrances to restaurants, restrooms, and even attractions. This is already the norm on the Disney Cruise Line, so it follows that the same measure could be taken in the parks.
Increased Cleaning of Public Spaces
If the procedures prior to the parks’ closure are any indication, you can expect to see increased cleaning measures during the day. Especially right after reopening, Cast Members may be sanitizing surfaces much more regularly.
How long ramped up cleaning measures will continue is hard to say, but Disney will likely continue to follow the recommendations of the CDC and other health officials. So, expect a heightened level of cleaning to be the new normal!
Another BIG ONE. Just because the parks reopen doesn’t mean that social distancing won’t still be necessary. Until the world health crisis is completely under control, a global destination like Disney World may need to implement social distancing longer than other locations.
It’s possible that there will be reduced capacity in attraction queues, restaurants, shows, and on Disney transportation. Bigger shows that encourage large, tightly packed groups (like Fantasmic or Happily Ever After) may be canceled for a time after reopening, too.
Prior to the closures, domestic Disney parks implemented limitations on character meet and greets, and these may continue when the parks reopen. We also saw “no hugs” in Shanghai!
These measures will be to protect Guests and characters from getting sick. Similarly, Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique and the spas may remain closed for a time as these locations require extensive cast member contact with guests.
Disney also has a lot of large scheduled events like media events, marathons, or even festivals. These larger events may have reduced capacity, be postponed, or be canceled altogether. Of course, we’ll keep you updated as we hear about any cancellations or postponements!
Beyond restaurants having reduced capacity, we may see other changes in Disney dining rooms! For instance, it could be prudent for some (or all) buffets to swap to a family-style model for the time being. This would reduce guest contact with food that others will be eating.
Before the closure, there were also changes to character meals that we would expect to stay in place for a time after hotels or parks reopen. You may see fewer face characters or character contact in general.
So, Disney could make the call to implement some sort of preventative measures in character dining spots for a while. You can bet that we’ll report on all new health measures at character meals as soon as the parks reopen!
Cast Member Considerations
Lastly, it’s entirely possible that there will be changes to how Disney handles sick Cast Members. Of course, Disney already encourages sick Cast Members to stay home from work but this could become a more regulated system.
Plus, regular Cast Members aren’t the only ones who are feeling the effect of these closures. With the suspension of the Disney College Program we have to wonder: Will there be more limitations to the College Program? Will they accept fewer students? Time will tell!
Will Your Trip Be Affected?
So, what do all these changes mean for Disney trips immediately after opening? Well if there are any changes, you’ll see them on your vacay! And some of the measures that Disney takes could have a significant effect on your trip.
Click here to see our thoughts on whether you should cancel your Disney World vacation in light of the circumstances.
If you have questions about your upcoming vacation in light of the current situation, please take a look at our answers to your FAQs here, and also read our thoughts on whether you should cancel your upcoming vacation.
Contacting Disney with your questions is always an option, but remember, there are many others who are dealing with the same inconveniences as you and have the same questions, so phone line waits may be long. Be respectful and kind when you do speak with a Cast Member and they’ll be happy to help and make things as right as they can with you.
As of right now, all of these changes are speculation based on what’s happening in Shanghai, and what’s happened in Disney World and Disneyland Paris in the past. So, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on DFB to stay up to date on what to expect when you get to Disney after its reopening.
What do you think will be different when we get back to Disney World? Share your thoughts in the comments!