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SYFY WIRE Theme Park News

When theme parks might reopen, and some exciting news in the meantime

By Carlye Wisel
Magic Kingdom's Cinderella Castle at dusk

Welcome to another week of Theme Park News: Containment Edition.

I've lost track of the days and weeks and months to the point where this tweet had me cackling, but I'm trying to channel my restlessness into productive forms, like diving deeper and deeper into the week's Disney and Universal news. Working hard or hardly working?

Seems like both live on simultaneously these days, but no matter which end of the spectrum you feel tied to at this current moment, we hope this look toward what's next will give you the reassurance that this crazy time won't last forever:


It's a question I hear often, one that is asked of me daily. And, judging from the number of texts I received over the weekend, it appears we’ve all now heard that theory that these parks won’t open until 2021. Let's take it to the source. 

That specific timeline was spread far and wide through a handful of outlets, all of whom were quoting an investment research note by John Hodulik of financial firm UBS. Deeming Disney as being in “the eye of the storm," according to Market Watch, he downgraded the stock from “buy” to “neutral” while projecting Disney parks will not open until the start of next year, due to the current climate.

Now, I have no business reporting on stocks, but I do on these parks, and what I know is this timeline, even for the U.S. parks, already feels somewhat off-kilter. Take Shanghai Disney Resort, for example, which closed in its entirety on Jan. 25. By March 9, sections of its Disneytown mall had reopened; two weeks later, Lumiere’s Kitchen restaurant at Shanghai Disneyland Hotel had as well. Now, in late April, photos have appeared online — unconfirmed by Disney, so keep that in mind — of what appears to be new park entrance procedures being tested for future guests.

American timetables cannot be compared to Shanghai's directly for a few reasons, though. As that city begins to reach a new normal with temperature checks on the subways and at public locations, it’s worth noting that Chinese citizens have QR codes proclaiming their health with stoplight colors — something that would simply never fly in America —  and we’re still dragging through the brunt of COVID-19's unemployment, self-quarantine, and loved ones falling ill. Still, the procedures that are tested overseas are likely to make their way here, and given that a gradual, phased opening appears to be working well at Disney's own Shanghai resort, the same is likely to happen here too.

It's an assumption that was all but confirmed by Universal Orlando's chief administrative officer John Sprouls during Florida Governor Ron DeSantis' Re-Open Florida Task Force last week. In it, Sprouls said the parks will have to reopen with limited crowds, and reopening them fully could take time, according to the Associated Press, as he went on to discuss the possibility of social distancing within ride vehicles and the challenge of how to clean each between riders. 

This seemingly isn't going to be an all-or-nothing scenario. We know things will be different, especially at first. There will likely be temperature checks, as floated by Bob Iger, and social distancing procedures in place, as suggested by Universal Orlando’s survey and the aforementioned bit. And while I’m not guaranteeing we will ride Revenge of The Mummy or Peter Pan's Flight before next year, I’m also not saying we won’t.

My opinion, as a so-called expert who has spent five years embedded in and obsessing over every detail of America’s largest theme parks, is that nobody knows. Nobody knows! So much of this depends on state-level government and safety processes and how much disposable income we have to spend on theme park admission. It is affected by if we feel comfortable visiting the parks in a new kind of normal, or if we’ll choose to defer our vacations until things feel the way they used to.

There are so many timelines at hand, so many factors, so many scenarios to play out that really, in a way, no one knows, making the attention-grabbing panic of that 2021 headline resonate so deeply, especially when it feels so terrifyingly realistic.

Theme parks are grand, invented worlds that combine the greatest creative minds with the most far-flung technology available, and I have no doubt engineers can reinvent the way we order Butterbeer and wait in line for roller coasters when the time comes.

Developing new thinking toward how people will interact at theme parks will be a minor task, of course, juxtaposed against the possibility of further closings for schools, how overwhelmed medical services are, and a possible second wave of COVID-19. Still, finding new ways for us to visit theme parks when that day comes — whether it be this year or next — will be a challenge that requires innovation, ingenuity, and an unprecedented look at the future. Thankfully, that's something they happen to excel at. 

The Imagineering Story


Yes yes y’all, tuck in for some extra-special news uncovered over the weekend. The latest episode of D23 Inside Disney podcast — which, clearly, you should subscribe to — is all about The Imagineering Story docu-series on Disney+. The joint interview with Leslie Iwerks, the creator, producer, and director of the series, and Bob Weis of Walt Disney Imagineering isn’t just fruitful for its Q&A, but for the trail of breadcrumbs they left along the way.

Not only does Iwerks share some mind-boggling stories from her childhood, but she discusses sections of the documentary that were shot and ultimately cut, including a segment on Yippie Day and one on an original Disneyland Mermaid. Iwerks also confirmed specific theme park attraction segments that didn’t make it into The Imagineering Story, including ones on beloved trackless Tokyo Disneyland attraction Pooh’s Hunny Hunt, pioneering Animal Kingdom coaster Expedition Everest and early Epcot mainstay Horizons, as well as a segment on Castaway Cay, Disney’s privately-owned island destination exclusive to Disney Cruise Line sailings.

“Maybe someday it’ll get resurrected and find a place,” Iwerks said on D23 Inside Disney, going on to add that there was “tons of interview footage that was golden, but we just couldn’t fit it all in.”

In the podcast episode, Iwerks also outlines everything they pulled from WDI archives around the world but didn’t use, including cast member training films, attraction pitch meetings, WED parties and anniversaries, WDI attraction testing, and never-before-seen interviews with Imagineers like X Atencio and Herb Ryman. 

With so many worthy gems pulled things from vaults worthy of seeing the light of day, what happens to them now? Well, as it seems, all signs point to something new.

When prompted on if she could put the cut footage together into a story of its own on D23 Inside Disney's latest episode, Iwerks replied, “I think there could have been so much more on Disneyland alone. There’s a lot of archival footage about Disneyland so if you wanted a really deep dive look into that, I think there’s a series even on that.”

WOAH, people. Could it be!? A jaw-dropping documentary about the park that started it all? Keep in mind, this isn’t any ol’ interview — it’s an official podcast done by D23, the in-house Disney fan club, so if it’s on the record here, it’s worth its weight. Paired with her going on to reference that the hundred-year history of Disney culminates just a few years from now in 2023, well, we can't wait to see what comes next.


Want to feast your eyes on vintage Disneyland goodies without having to change out of the pajamas that you’ve worn for the past 48 hours? Not a problem! Van Eaton Galleries’ latest sale includes some serious goodies and it’s all online, so you can peruse to your heart’s content. They’ve got plenty of the good stuff — posters, signs from inside the park, etc. — but personal favorites include an Indiana Jones Adventure Imagineering leather jacket, Haunted Mansion cast member watch, and this It’s a Small World charm bracelet. (Another obsession: the little pewter figurines they’re selling from multiple lands. Fantasyland and Main Street’s collections are tops; peep that tiny Peter Pan ship and itsy bitsy tour guide! )

They’ve got major Carlye bait, too, with this retro Space Mountain manual (!) and Tokyo Disney serving trays, which would make my home-cooked bunker meals feel that much more special. Though, if I ever travel back in time, it’ll be to work the same job I have now and cover — gasp! — the unfathomable Space Mountain and Main Street Electrical Parade double whammy, of which they're selling a press event packet.

Curiously, there’s some modern stuff thrown in there too, like Trader Sam’s mugs released within the past couple years. Take a gander — it may even encourage you to dust off your collectibles and clean out that closet once and for all.


Jon Favreau proves it: stars are just like us!


Blue milk available at the market?!

- And Galaxy's Edge sodas at the grocery store!?

- Disney Cruise Line sailings are now halted until late June and July.

- If you want some serious Disney cooking inspiration, click here. (Trust us.)