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Theme Park News: Potential Disney Parks changes, coronavirus looms, and Jungle Cruise sinks
Boy oh boy, it has been a week for the record books. Disney news has been full-blown bonkers lately, with major shifts in corporate statuses, Mickey Mouse's first attraction opening, Jungle Cruise shenanigans, and the "no one wants to discuss but we kind of have to discuss it" coronavirus slowly making its way across the United States.
While this is usually a virtual snack shack filled with cotton candy news and Mickey Mouse joy, the following column is packed with all of the unpredictable things that have gone down this week — and the major stuff that is to come. So! Much! News! Let's get to it, shall we?:
BOB CHAPEK, DISNEY CEO
After a monumental 15 years, Bob Iger, the presiding king of all things Disney, stepped down as CEO last week. The whole thing felt rather sudden — a mid-week drop as so much is happening at the company? — and was only enhanced by that gut-dropping feeling that your all-time favorite teacher is retiring. But we know that Bob Chapek, who's headed Disney Parks and Resorts, will take the CEO job. What does this mean?
Well, Chapek led Disney Parks and Resorts during one of its largest-ever times of expansion. With an eye toward expanding merchandise opportunities and incorporating intellectual property within the parks, the transition is a somewhat seamless extension of Iger's work and vision — he acquired those properties; now Chapek will continue to make the most out of them. But, if you're still wondering what exactly you should know about the new guy, the Los Angeles Times' primer will do the trick, told from a perspective that'll instantly make you in-the-know.
While others discuss the top-level moves, our main question is but one: Who is going to run Disney's theme parks?! With Chapek sitting at the top of the company, the spot is wide open — an odd and surprising thought considering how much will be going on, even just domestically, within the next year. Walt Disney World is opening two attractions in the next few months — Mickey & Minnie's Runaway Railway on Thursday and Remy's Ratatouille Adventure this summer — while in full preparation for the resort's 50th anniversary in 2021, a theme park Olympics of sorts. Within the next year or so, a Marvel-themed land will open on the West Coast, a Guardians of the Galaxy coaster will arrive at Epcot — a park that itself is undergoing a massive overhaul — and the new TRON coaster will bow in Magic Kingdom, along with new nighttime entertainment, dining, and so much more.
As of today, that job still remains open — and we can't wait to see who fills it.
WE HAVE TO TALK ABOUT IT EVEN IF WE DON'T WANT TO
Late last week, both Tokyo Disney Resort and Universal Studios Japan announced they would close for two weeks following governmental encouragement to curb large gatherings of people in order to stop the spread of COVID-19. Though both plan to reopen on March 16, it leaves all three Disney theme parks in Asia currently closed — half of the Disney resorts worldwide.
So far, there's no word out from Walt Disney World or Disneyland that either will be closing the gates anytime soon. Still, as this thing gets wilder and wilder, anything could change. The first cases of coronavirus were found in Florida late Sunday night — read by yours truly as I sat in my Walt Disney World hotel room — and it feels, strangely, like The Invisible Man of a virus that isn't actually there. The threat looms as Twitter photos are posted of empty grocery stores in New York City and a friend in Tokyo tweets about a toilet paper shortage at shops in her neighborhood and everyone else shouts out jokes about touching their faces, but here, in Orlando, where many likely worry whether they can continue their vacation, everything feels unbelievably normal.
Case in point: Disney Springs was so packed this weekend I had to zigzag through crowds, I could barely get a Sunday night reservation at Morimoto, and I remarked more than a few times to my parents how l-o-o-o-o-ong the lines were. This place is packed, almost abnormally so for this time of year, with no sense of fear or vacation cancellation or trouble, even as the TVs in hotel bars shout about the looming threat.
These things can change in an instant, but if you're worried about coming, just know that for right now, at this moment in time, as I sit in a theme park hotel eating fistfuls of Mickey Mouse-shaped Goldfish crackers, it all feels quite fine.
DENIAL IS NOT JUST A RIVER
A Magic Kingdom Jungle Cruise boat took in water this week! Yes, it was just a little, but still — a Jungle Cruise boat sank a little! A ride that revolves around making endless jokes of the peril and danger that lie ahead actually took in a few feet of water in the truest dose of irony we've ever seen come out of Adventureland's plentiful punny quips.
Of course, everyone was completely fine — a bit wet, but fine — but even as a transplanted Angeleno, I think I may start believing in that mercury in retrograde woo-hoo, because this weird week? It's been unlike anything else I've ever experienced.
TWEET OF THE WEEK
If this photo doesn't melt your heart into a cup of hot cocoa, you're not alive, man.
LINKS! LINKS! LINKS!
- Mickey & Minnie's Runaway Railway opens tomorrow — stay tuned to see how much I'm absolutely going to love it.
- The new Magic Happens! Parade debuted at Disneyland, along with a ton of new grub.
- Alert, alert! Disney's Hollywood Studios has new Star Wars food!
- Have you ever wanted to control a rebel ship in deep space? Here's your chance — just be sure you have hospitality experience.
- Aerial photos of Walt Disney World?! I truly don't know how this guy does it.
- A new (and luxurious-sounding!) JW Marriott is opening near Disney World this month.