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The latest theme park rumors (and a chance to put your Disney skills to the test)
Happy Cinco de Mayo! Or, as we refer to it around here, "The Day After Star Wars Day." We hope your at-home celebration didn't leave you in the dust while trying to secure those Ahsoka ears or Bespin mugs (which, by the way, they're offering on backorder, just refresh until you can add it!). Still, regardless of how your shopping cart panned out, there is PLENTY to recap from the past few days.
I write this joint on Mondays, so this roundup of the week's biggest news won't include Disney's earnings call, which goes down this afternoon (4:30PM ET). It's open to the public, so feel free to listen along if you're curious — or if you've got more important things to do, keep an eye glued to Twitter and check back here next week for a full recap (and plenty of other news, as usual).
Speaking of: We've got a chunk of major theme park news on hand for today as well as a massive drop of exciting online distractions, in case you've tired of Monte Cristo recipes and virtual coaster ride-throughs. Enjoy this week's smattering of brain teasers, bread cone builders, and shrunken-down throwback surprises.
THE STATE OF THINGS IN THE TWO STATES
To put it plainly, COVID-19 is far from over. As states around the country begin to lift lockdowns and Florida and California both enter the next phase of their economic plans, it's becoming trickier than ever to get a grasp of where things currently stand in terms of theme park timelines.
Let's start with Florida. Last week, Governor Ron DeSantis' Re-Open Florida Task Force — the one that Walt Disney World President Josh D'Amaro and Universal Orlando Resort CEO John Sprouls are a part of — released a report that places theme parks operating with "limited social distancing" in Phase 3 of reopening. However, as pointed out by Orlando Weekly, theme parks could open as early as Phase 2 with social distancing, capacity limits, and "proper measures to clean and disinfect." (The state is currently in Phase 1 of reopening, which began yesterday and allows restaurants and retail stores to open at limited capacity.)
Florida's Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force committee — remember that whole thing? — met yesterday morning, during which Thomas Mazloum, Disney World's SVP of WDW Resorts and Transportation Operations, shared the following:
"We do not have any opening date yet. Some of you may know we, at this point, we're taking bookings that were in June, that doesn't mean that we are opening in June. At this time, I just want to make it clear that we do not have any plans to share about Walt Disney World or for that matter, any of our other parks at this point."
It's noteworthy because it's the first time a Disney employee has made it clear that reservations moved to June 1, the first bookable date from when the resort was initially closed, could possibly be rescheduled. (This afternoon's earnings call could provide new information, so stay tuned.)
While these are official status updates, there's also a somewhat unofficial one. As regular readers here know, I rarely, if ever, report on rumors, but one that may bear repeating is yesterday's Twitter chatter that third-party businesses, specifically Universal CityWalk's Margaritaville, could be preparing to bring staff members back later this month:
Attractions Magazine has confirmed similar reports, adding that employees at CityWalk's Starbucks claim to be returning to work on May 11. (We reached out to Universal Orlando Resort for comment and have not yet heard back.) I always assumed the first inkling that things are preparing to reopen would come from staffers getting the call to return to work — and to learn new safety procedures, natch — but is this the bell-ringing or just a false alarm? I'm still unsure, but it's something to take note of.
Over in California, we've got the state reaching Phase 2 of reopening on Friday, but it's a limited shift as bookstores, clothing stores and other businesses allowed to reopen still have to abide by curbside delivery and other COVID-19 safety protocols. What could it mean for Disneyland Resort? It appears to be squarely included in Phase 4 of Newsom's road map, according to the Orange County Register, which reports that those openings could be "months away."
Universal Studios Hollywood, which is located within Los Angeles County, may face a different timeline. Even with the city's Safer at Home order set to expire next Friday, LA Mayor Eric Garcetti warned that it is "going to be longer than a couple of weeks" before businesses can fully resume, even if some restrictions are eased.
So, that's where we are. This is swiftly becoming a weekly digest of theme park-induced confusion, but this is all we know at this time, and frankly, all I can find out. Wondering about the other parks? Here's a round-up of additional news from this week:
- Epic Universe, the new massive Universal theme park set to open in 2023, has been delayed by a year.
- The San Diego Tourism Authority released reopen protocols for parks like SeaWorld and LEGOLAND. According to the Orange County Register, these could open during California's Phase 3, and possibly before Disneyland.
- A few smaller attractions have re-opened in Florida, according to Attractions Magazine.
- Six Flags theme parks nationwide will be requiring advance reservations when they reopen, likely to aid with social distancing and crowd control.
THE THEME PARKS ARE ALWAYS OPEN IN YOUR MIND
Now presenting the most fun I've had at home since the parks closed: a quirky, borderline insane quiz of obscure sounds throughout Disney Parks. I was first informed of this quiz on Saturday night from Podcast: The Ride's very good Facebook group (thank you for sharing it, Rachel Kaitlin Dunlop!) and, dare I say, it immediately became the highlight of my quarantine.
Dubbed the Obscure Disney World Sound Quiz, it's a BuzzFeed Community brainteaser that'll put your fandom to the extreme test. This isn't a princess-matching multiple-choice or some blasé Star Wars trivia, no — this one requires some extreme brainpower, because every sample is a sound you've almost never intentionally listened to, but if you've spent enough time in the parks, have likely heard dozens of times.
The strange thing is, not only did this thing put my auditory expertise to the test, but it also made me feel closer to the parks than I have in months. Ride-through videos and background music loops can only do so much, and somewhere between close-listening to fanfare from a shortlist of shows and rickety train tracks bookended by third-grade hearing test beeps, I felt, just the slightest bit, like I was really back there. Close-listening to the things I almost never take in but subconsciously knew made me feel like I was back on Space Mountain — or the Tomorrowland Transit Authority People Mover!?! — even if only for a few moments, and I think you'll enjoy that feeling again, too.
THE CAROUSEL OF SHRUNKEN-DOWN PROGRESS
I get a lot of emails about online theme park happenings, but when this one came through my inbox, I actually started screaming. That's because an incredibly talented Disney fan made a miniature version of Carousel of Progress, and oh yeah, everything works:
It has the dog! It has weather effects! It even has the entire future kitchen Christmas scene! Better yet, here none of the hands fall off!)
It's the brainchild of Bailey Hamrick, a college student studying computer engineering who called the teeny-tiny Carousel of Progress "a labor of love," taking over a year to create. And, even though it's shrunken down, Hamrick contends that the electronic design behind this project is actually quite similar to how real theme park attractions are designed. (Cool!)
There are progress videos on his website if you care to see how it all came together, as well as other miniature Disney attractions, like a bite-size but functional Enchanted Tiki Room, that preceded such a big (yet small) undertaking. Walt Disney Imagineering: Scoop this kid up immediately!
TWEET OF THE WEEK
This is a dream I wish could come true in California! (Yes, Knott's Berry Farm starts Chicken-To-Go today, but I want churros and Mickey pretzels and a bucket of nacho cheese sauce!)
LINKS! LINKS! LINKS!
- Missing Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge? In honor of May the 4th, Disney released a Droid Depot app that, at long last, allows you to control your own droid from your cell phone. Don't own one yet? You can create a digital companion at home — or, for the first time ever, order a pre-built one online.
- A bakery in Florida was selling this beloved Walt Disney World cookie at a drive-through bake sale — and it was half-price! (Yes, it's the real deal!)
- Wondering what to make for dinner? A handful of Walt Disney World chefs got together to release an exclusive cookbook for $5.99, with a portion of the proceeds going to support local restaurants.
- Disney began selling cloth face masks, which are available for pre-order in three different sizes and have already raised $1 million for MedShare from profits of their sales. (One million masks will also be donated and distributed by MedShare.)
- If you're a '90s Disney fan, I HIGHLY recommend this video podcast from D23 Inside Disney, featuring Paige O'Hara and Don Hahn broadcasting from their homes!
- If you, like me, missed that at-home broadcast of Magic Kingdom's nighttime fireworks show, I'm pleased to share that it's online and you can watch it a-n-y-t-i-m-e.