The deeper meaning behind Disney’s classic attraction, “it’s a small world,” has never felt more apparent.
No matter where you are on the planet right now, for good and for bad, we’re all in the same boat. And just like all of us, The Walt Disney Company is navigating through uncharted territory right now. And there have been some admirable acts we’ve seen from the company as well as a few with room for improvement.
Disney has been dealing with this unfolding situation on a global scale for months now. In many ways, their experiences with shutting down parks in Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Tokyo have provided them with some critical insight into the challenges they’d be up against when the situation arrived here in the United States.
And although they haven’t done everything perfectly up to this point (which we’ll get into more in a sec), they are doing something we can all benefit from knowing how to do right now — they’re responding to this crisis instead of reacting to it.
What Disney Has Done Right
You might be wondering what’s the difference? Aren’t “responding” and “reacting” basically the same thing? Not really. A reaction is an action made in an instant. A response is a more carefully chosen path that factors in a better awareness of the situation. Here are some of the ways Disney has responded appropriately to this unprecedented craziness.
They Led By Example
Disney carries a lot of clout, not just influencing other businesses’ decision making, but public opinion as well. Pressure has been on them since well before this growing concern was even a blip on most people’s radar.
As uncertainty loomed a lot closer to home, the NBA along with Disney and a few other major organizations began to emerge as industry leaders. When these big players began telling the public that they would be canceling their events and temporarily shutting down, people began to take notice.
For many people to finally pay attention to the issue at hand, it took a business such as The Walt Disney Company with ties to theme parks, cruise ships, movies, television, and more to say they would be willing to risk losing millions on top of millions of dollars to keep people safe.
They Took Immediate Steps To Educate Their Public
In the time leading up the imminent closure of the parks, Disney educated its guests about the importance and best practices of not transmitting the disease. Enhanced features were added to the My Disney Experience Disney World and Disneyland apps which directed guests to the nearest hand sanitizer locations; and portable hand wash stations were set up throughout the parks incredibly quickly.
Hand washing signs were also placed throughout the parks and necessary additions were made to First Aid centers as well as both parks’ websites.
If you had never heard of the situation going on before entering Disney World or Disneyland, chances are you left with a much better understanding of how to stay safe and not spread germs.
They Made Safety and Cleanliness Their Top Priority
In addition to asking guests to be more careful about their personal habits, Disney also stepped up its game. Sanitation and cleaning protocols were heightened while new procedures were enforced, including:
- Defined cycles for frequent cleaning and disinfection of targeted areas and shared surfaces
- Quick response to spills, trash, and other situations
- End of day sanitation procedures for restroom, kitchen, and other facilities
- Frequent cleaning and “wash down” of outdoor locations, including walkways and queues
While the parks were open, Disney took as many precautions as they could to ensure the safety of guests.
Read more about the extra steps Disney took to ensure guests’ and Cast Members’ safety before shutting down here
They Closed. Full Stop.
When containment was no longer an option, Disney was swift and decisive in their next response. They corrected their course from preventing the spread to lessening the spread with closures and shut-downs affecting nearly every facet of their company. Ultimately, they knew this decision would have a lasting and disastrous impact on the financial stability of The Walt Disney Company as a whole, but they made the right call to shut down business regardless of the future losses.
Never before have we seen every Disney theme park across the globe closed at once, nor every Disney Cruise Line ship indefinitely docked. Guest rooms at nearly every Disney resort are empty now, while new films and shows that were being made have now halted production.
Movie premieres have been postponed to reinforce the importance of social distancing. In recent days, this has become almost standard practice in every U.S. state as we try to slow down what’s coming, but in a lot of ways Disney’s decision to shut its doors guided other organizations to close theirs.
They’ve Kept Us Entertained
Now that so many of us are stranded at home balancing our work lives with educating our kids (who are trapped right along with us!), Disney has made to decision to release some of its new movies early to us. Frozen 2 is now streaming on Disney+ months before it was originally slated to do so.
In both cases, these were certainly not things Disney HAD to do, but it was a positive gesture to the families who are stuck home and were able to enjoy these films early.
Similarly, Disney has continued to reach out to us with new forms of entertainment including live streams performances from some the parks’ talented musicians, storytime for kids with Disney celebs and most recently #DisneyMagicMoments, a new website which contains never-before-seen content including a new series of Frozen shorts called At Home With Olaf!
They Took Care Of People
Disney has refunded a considerable number of guests who had planned on being at the parks during this time. They’ve been reimbursed for their rooms while their park tickets are now good until the end of the year. Annual Passholders have also been given extension and refund options.
With so much disruption to its workforce, Disney committed to paying Cast Members for a certain timeframe. Following the “until further notice” closure announcement, Disney revealed they’d continue to pay hourly employees until April 18th. On April 2nd, Disney announced a short-term furlough of its non-essential Cast Members starting April 19th.
(Furloughing cast members is a debatable decision when we’re covering things Disney did “right,” I’m sure. So if you need this to be the bridge between what Disney did right and wrong, that’s fine with us.) During the furlough, most Cast Members will still:
- Maintain health and insurance benefits coverage, with the company paying both the employer and employee weekly benefit contributions;
- If eligible, elect to use some or all of their available paid-time off hours (vacation and floating holidays) at the start of the furlough;
- Once furloughed, access an extra $600 per week in federal compensation through the economic stimulus bill, as well as state unemployment insurance benefits;
- Continue progress toward their education goals with the Disney Aspire education program; and
- Use services provided by LifeCare, Employee Assistance Program, and wellness resources.
Refunds and covering the cost of employees’ benefits including health coverage are extremely costly, but Disney clearly felt it was the right thing to do in the situation.
What Disney Could Have Improved
We’re hugely impressed overall with how Disney has handled things so far, but we wouldn’t exactly score Disney a perfect report card. After all, hindsight is 20/20 and now that we’ve had some time to look back, there have been a few ways Disney could have handled things better during this moment of great uncertainty. These are what we can learn from.
The Parks Probably Should Have Closed Even Sooner
Disney officials announced in the afternoon and late evening of Thursday, March 12th, they would be temporarily closing Disneyland on Saturday, March 14th and Disney World parks on Monday, March 16th.
Was that soon enough? Well, in hindsight, probably not. If the parks could have been closed even earlier, would we have seen a different outcome than what’s facing our country today? Perhaps. But there are infinite arguments for and against this, so we’ll leave it at that.
Confirming the extension of the closure probably could have come earlier as well. Originally, they slated the closure to last until the end of March, but Disney waited until March 27th to announce their indefinite closures. That was 3 days after Orange County, in Florida, announced their stay at home restrictions until at least April 9th. Now the state of Florida is currently under a 30-day stay at home order which will tentatively end on May 2nd.
Previously, California also issued a stay at home order on March 19th until at least April 19th. So with local governments with jurisdiction over Disney parks issuing stay at home orders, the writing was on the wall long before Disney officially announced a closure extension.
We’re guessing Disney World and Disneyland probably had a lot of loose ends to tie up before they could be more forthcoming about extending their temporary closures in terms of reimbursing guests, rescheduling, etc. But had they foreseen a lengthier closure was in the cards and publicized it faster, many people’s hopes wouldn’t have been raised and trips wouldn’t have had to be re-rescheduled.
Restricted Themselves More On Their Final Days
Granted, this one was a little tough to see coming, but hindsight can be 20/20. In the final days of the parks being open on both coasts, guests were packed in tight on Main Street to see the final fireworks show. Even Disney World and Disneyland Presidents were there, hugging Cast Members at the end of the final night.
In the face of a full closure in order to keep people distanced from one another in the name of health, the final days of both coasts’ parks had guests and Cast Members doing everything but that.
It was a tremendously emotional time for guests and Cast Members alike. A closure of this magnitude has never been seen before! But in a time where we should all practice what we preach, this wasn’t really showing that to the public. We know Disney would never intentionally put guests or Cast in harm’s way, and that many of the more questionable moments were the choices of individual Cast Members and guests, not Disney. But it is worth noting that this could have been handled a little more appropriately in retrospect.
Despite knowing now the ferocity of what was happening around us, even back then, has settled in, we understand that Disney was trying to strike the right balance of grief and making amends to all the guests and Cast Members who were impacted by the decision. But looking back…it’s cringe-worthy.
We’re not saying things would have or could have played out any differently given the emotional toll this act of closing the parks took on guests and Cast Members. After all, it’s only human to want to comfort each other, which is what Disney was doing that day. Taking care of its people.
Told Us What To Expect
Again, we know it’s far too early for Disney to really say what the process of reopening the parks will look like, but we know it’s highly likely only bits and pieces of Disney World and Disneyland will open at the outset.
Information is gold right now, and Disney guests are eager for it. Any details Disney could give to help set expectations would go a long way.
For instance, China is a few months ahead of the United States in dealing with this situation and they are already slowly beginning to re-open parts of Shanghai Disneyland, which have been closed since late January. Couldn’t they make a small, succinct statement drawing from this previous experience?
Read more about the statement Bob Iger recently made regarding health and safety checks to enter the Disney parks here
Although we’ll have to wait and see what Disney officials have to say about which attractions and amenities will open first, Disney’s former CEO, Bob Iger, is confirming that a major safety check is being considered by Disney for the parks. It would involve mandatory temperature checks to enter the Disney parks.
That’s a great step forward in helping guests plan for a new normal in the parks. And we look forward to more honest, straightforward information from Disney.
Hindsight is 20/20
Like we said, we’ve been impressed with many of Disney’s choices since the world went haywire a few months ago. But there’s still so much to learn from these difficult decisions.
That said, the way that Disney responded to this crisis has fostered a sense of security and hope from many fans. We recently polled our readers about when they would feel safe returning to Disney World and the overwhelming majority said they would be there the first day the parks reopened. That’s how seriously they take Disney’s commitment to the safety of their Cast Members and guests.
Disney’s actions so far — including their financial decisions to furlough Cast Members and raise funds — point to the parks only reopening when it’s absolutely safe to do so. And we hope that Disney continues to share with us how they’ll be addressing our safety concerns once the parks do reopen as well as let us know what we can expect when that day arrives.