5. Stand-by lines make a comeback
We weren’t particularly surprised when Disney announced the end of the Fastpass+ program as part of their reopening. While Fastpass+ has long been a favorite feature for guests, the system came with a lot of problems. In particular, Fastpass+ threw off Disney’s crowd control strategies—a major problem for their reopening. It seemed likely that virtual queues similar to the one used for Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance might end up replacing the system.
Instead, Disney decided to return to the old fashioned method for managing crowds.
Particularly at Walt Disney World, Disney has not used a stand-by-lines-only crowd management policy since the 90’s. Stand-by lines are a powerful tool for managing crowd flow because they act as “sponges”—the more guests are sponged away into stand-by lines, shops, and restaurants, the less congestion you have from people wandering on the streets. While Fastpass+ felt more convenient for guests looking to avoid long waits, the unprecedented situation Disney faced with reopening in the midst of a pandemic meant there really was no better solution. Guests can be easily monitored and distanced in queues in ways that just aren’t possible when people are wandering freely through the park.
While the return of stand-by lines is a little bit of a bummer for those who were fans of Fastpass+, we appreciate the effect this choice has had on crowd congestion. With the exception of unusually busy days (like holidays) and certain spots in the parks where bottlenecks are common, getting guests out of main thoroughfares and into lines has made for a less stressful park touring experience.
6. The return of empty parks
The opening months of reopening at Walt Disney World were marked by record low attendance. While this wasn’t great news for Disney, it proved fantastic for those guests who opted to visit. Guests reported being able to walk onto E-ticket attractions with zero waits as well as to explore the parks with hardly any crowds. Guests also found unprecedented access to private experiences thanks to social distancing—most attractions only loaded one party at a time, meaning you could fly the Millennium Falcon or ride Splash Mountain all by yourself. On one pre-Labor Day visit to Disney’s Hollywood Studios, we had the entire cantina room of Star Wars Launch Bay to ourselves for nearly 45 minutes during a rest break.
While crowds have increased across all of Disney’s parks, capacity remains capped at 25%, meaning that even on the busiest day, crowd levels are well below 2019 levels—if nothing else, this is a change we have enjoyed during this strange season.
7. Mass layoffs and furloughs
It’s not surprising that with the financial hit Disney took due to closures that mass layoffs and furloughs of cast members became a reality. Citing the continued closure of Disneyland Resort as a key factor, Disney has looked to cut costs wherever possible, from closing unprofitable restaurants to cutting entertainment acts.
Sadly, this hit cast members the hardest.
We weren’t surprised that Disney downsized—what has surprised us are some of the cast members who have been hit by layoffs, as well as that the closure of Disneyland affected cast members at other parks in such record numbers. Entertainment cast got his particularly hard, even some cast members who have been with the company for decades like the members of the Grand Floridian Orchestra and long-time performers like Yehaa Bob Jackson (from Port Orleans). Over 18,000 workers in Florida alone have lost their jobs, and that’s just a fraction of the company’s overall cuts. The company has indicated hope to bring some cast members back eventually, but for now, the future looks bleak until Disneyland reopens and the company secures some new revenue streams to get back on track.
8. Disneyland to stay closed until 2021
This one was probably the biggest shocker of all, but after the seeming success of Walt Disney World’s reopening (no major resurgences of COVID-19 have been connected to the park thanks to the safety measures), we honestly expected news to arrive that Disneyland Resort in California would at least reopen before the end of 2020.
This hasn’t happened… and it’s looking likely that Disneyland will not reopen until well into 2021.
At this point, theme park executives remain at a standstill with the California state government. Without going into divisive politics, California has taken a stricter approach to try to beat COVID-19, and the restrictions for theme parks to reopen has left basically all but the smallest of California’s parks closed. The overall impression is that Orange County has to be almost completely COVID free for Disneyland to be able to reopen the way Walt Disney World has. Needless to say, there has been a lot of tension between Disney executives (and those from other theme parks) and the California government, and we don’t have any signs to indicate when Disneyland will fully reopen except that it likely won’t be until 2021.
9. Disney guests still find the magic (despite the pandemic)
For those guests who have returned to Disney parks, the response has been surprisingly positive… Indeed, Disney fans are finding new ways to enjoy the magic during this time.
Aside from the benefits of low crowds, guests have reported enjoying some of the new features in the parks, like character cavalcades that bring back random parades to all four of Disney’s parks. Merchandise from Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge has found its way out of the parks both to Disney Marketplace at Disney Springs and Downtown Disney in Anaheim (Ashoka Tano actress, Ashley Eckstein, even showed up to autograph new lightsabers recently). Disney managed to keep the heart of the Epcot Food and Wine Festival alive with a dialed back version of the festival, and low crowds mean a more peaceful pace for exploring the parks on many days. Despite the weirdness, families are still finding joy together at Disney parks.
It's been a strange year, but in a season like this, we find ourselves appreciating the magic of Disney even more—even if that magic is a little dialed back for the time being.
Enjoy this article? Keep reading to learn how an eccentric Bavarian king paved the way for Walt Disney’s theme parks… or what Disney’s Hollywood Studios is like right now!