It has certainly been a unique year in Disney World and the whole world in general.
Last June, while the Disney World parks were closed, we took a look towards the future at what the remainder of the Disney World closure would look like. How long would it take for Disney to return to “normal”? We tried to analyze that the best we could based on the information we had at the time. So, how did we do? What did we get right and where have things been different? We’re breaking it all down for you here!
Temperature Checks and Health Measures
Last year, we took a look at some comments from both Disney’s CEO, Bob Chapek, and Disney’s Executive Chairman, Bob Iger, about the length of time that we could expect health measures to stick around. Now, many measures that were implemented upon reopening are still being enforced.
Last year, Chapek and Iger both mentioned that a LOT of health measures would be implemented in the Disney parks when they reopened. That, of course, did end up to be true, as when the parks reopened (and still to this day) there were/are mask mandates, social distancing, increased hygiene measures, and more.
Iger also noted that temperature checks could even be a permanent feature. Well, they certainly stuck around for a while but following recent updates from the CDC, Disney changed their policy to remove mandatory temperature checks when entering the parks or Disney Springs.
Moving beyond Iger and Chapek, when the Disney World parks reopened, government and health officials were unclear on whether intensive health measures would be enough to keep people safe when visiting the theme parks. Now, from what we’ve seen, they were at least enough to keep the parks open in Florida. And so far, based on the information that has been shared, no cases of COVID-19 have been definitively traced back to the Orlando theme parks.
Last year, we also discussed what attendance would look like for Disney World on the road to normal. Back in April of 2020, Wall Street analysts predicted it could take two years for Disney to return to normal attendance levels.
That might have sounded a little far-fetched at the time, but a little over one year into the crisis it is sounding like that may be true. Recently, Disney CEO Bob Chapek shared that the demand levels for visiting Disney World are already “flat” with those of 2019. And, in response to new CDC guidance, he also shared that they’ve already begun to increase park capacity in Disney World, which has been reflected in an increase in Park Pass Availability.
This was a pretty big update, as the last we had heard from Disney on park capacity was back in November when Disney announced that they had increased capacity to 35%. And, as far as demand is concerned, even during the spring break period, the parks hit capacity almost every day, and we’ve seen Park Passes filling up for quite a few days in the upcoming months as we head into summer.
Though, we haven’t necessarily seen the parks hitting capacity every single day over the past few months — some days have in fact had very low crowds. So, it seems that demand has fluctuated over time and may continue to do so as the situation with the pandemic continues to develop. Disney’s CEO Bob Chapek has previously indicated (and continues to indicate), however, that Disney has ample demand for its parks.
The parks are also still requiring the use of the Disney Park Pass theme park reservation system to manage capacity in the parks. What will it take for Disney to increase capacity even further? Well, according to Chapek, whether Disney will be able to increase capacity is really going to be determined by the rate of vaccinations of the public. More individuals are now eligible for vaccines, so it’s possible that as more people actually become vaccinated, capacity levels will continue change.
A Return to “Normal”
Now, let’s take a look at our past predictions for a “return to normal” in general. Months ago, some health officials noted that things would remain closed until there were systems for aggressive contact tracing and testing in place. This was marginally true for the reopening of Disney World. Testing has become more and more available — even at Walt Disney World.
And it appears the local health department has been or at least was tracking whether any COVID-19 cases could be definitively traced back to the Orlando theme parks. Thus far, as far as what has been shared, it appears no COVID-19 cases have been specifically traced back as having originated at an Orlando theme park.
What about a return to “normal”? Previously, some experts noted that “normal” might not happen until there is a vaccine and 95% cure rate for the virus, which they said could take years. That generally appears to have rung true enough so far. We haven’t yet gotten back to pre-pandemic operations, even in the midst of vaccine rollout across the country.
But, more and more people are becoming eligible to receive the vaccines around the U.S. And gradually, more things in the parks appear to be changing. So far, Disney has announced plans to gradually reduce physical distancing measures throughout the parks (which we’ve already seen changes on select signage and show seating) and now Disney is allowing all guests to remove their masks when outdoors. Of course, we already mentioned temperature checks have now been removed as well. So, while things aren’t quite “normal” yet, they do appear to be changing all around the U.S. as the situation with the pandemic develops.
Our predictions last June noted that a NEW kind of normal could arrive depending on health measures and in a way, a new normal has arrived! Some things about the new way we experience Disney World feel more commonplace now. Social distancing, plexiglass dividers, mask requirements, and more are now a general part of your everyday trip to Disney World.
Are we back to “normal?” Well, if you define “normal” as what things were like before the pandemic, then no. But, are many more guests now accustomed to this “new normal?” We’d say that might be true for some guests who have visited Disney World during this time, for whom these new policies and procedures are just like a bag check — just a typical, expected part of the experience.
Last year, we also noted that it could be a year or more until a vaccine is developed and the parks can feel a little closer to the way they did pre-crisis. And as we reflect almost a year later, it seems this was a fairly solid prediction.
It wasn’t a year or more until the vaccines were developed though — the COVID-19 Pfizer vaccine was approved in December, and days later the Moderna vaccine was approved for use in the U.S. Later, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was approved for use as well and the FDA recently approved the Pfizer vaccine for those aged 12 to 15 years old. So, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine was actually developed and approved for use just about 6 months after our first predictions — much shorter than a full year.
But, again, things are still not back to the way they were pre-crisis in the parks. Masks are still required indoors and are expected to be required through 2021. Social distancing is still going on, and capacity is still limited.
But, again we have seen some things slowly changing — like allowing masks to be removed when outdoors. Dr. Anthony Fauci has also indicated that COVID-19 guidelines could loosen by the 4th of July, and more adults are becoming eligible for the vaccine. So, here we are, nearly a year after our initial predictions, and things aren’t quite back to “normal” yet — but things are certainly continuing to change.
Of course, there are still a lot of unknowns. As we noted in our post last year, “Someday though, it’s possible the only remainder of the health crisis may be a temperature check at the park gate.” We certainly were off a bit there, but we are seeing even more signs of “normalcy” appear such as some live entertainment has returned, and vaccine eligibility is increasing.
At the same time, we’re getting used to things that we never thought we would. Masks and constant hand-sanitizing feel more commonplace now. So, “normal” is and will continue to be relative as things continue to change and undergo updates in Disney World.
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