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SYFY WIRE Theme Park News

Layoffs, a Halloween surprise, and changes to Disney’s most popular attraction

By Carlye Wisel
A foggy evening in front of Disneyland's Haunted Mansion

Disney World might not be having an election, but there's still plenty of news coming from the theme park world this week. Let's get to it. 


Even more details about the Walt Disney Company's 8,000 layoffs — many of which hit the division of the company that houses Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resort — were revealed last week when news broke that hundreds of Actors' Equity Association performers employed by Disney World would be let go. In total, 720 of 780 Equity performers — over 90 percent — will be cut, leaving shows like Finding Nemo —The Musical, Jedi Training Academy, and the historically long-running Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue to sit dark without cast members waiting in the wings.

From Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular to Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor, nearly every Equity-powered entertainment offering that isn't currently happening at the park saw its cast cut — a swift blow for the one-time hopeful speed with which these parks might return to full form.

Still, the main concern remains with the employees who are sadly losing their jobs permanently, remaining or returning on furlough, or just hoping to keep them. From attractions to custodial to guest services, every termination at Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resort is a crushing blow to what makes Disney's theme parks so magical: its employees. Many vacations are not just enhanced but have memories specifically created because of thoughtful cast members who go above and beyond, and the longevity of the COVID-19 pandemic has left an ever-increasingly sad tale in its wake.

These new entertainment layoffs are uniquely tough because they signal that both great employees and great theme park experiences will not return in the near future due to the pandemic. It's unsure at this point which performances will come back or when, given how COVID-19 cases continue to increase nationwide, but Equity performers will retain recall rights through 2021, meaning they could return to their old positions if they reopen. While full theatre buildouts for shows like Finding Nemo and Festival of the Lion King almost guarantee they'll be restaged once it's safe, more informal atmospheric entertainment, like Citizens of Hollywood at Disney's Hollywood Studios and Main Street USA performers, is worthy of concern.

Disney certainly hasn't been the only theme park chain to experience layoffs, but the figures are so drastic are wide-reaching that every new round has to make you feel gobsmacked by the numbers yet again. In total, over 11,000 of Disney's Florida employees will be losing their jobs, a crushing number that reminds us this pandemic is nowhere near over.


Stormtroopers lined up within Disney's Rise of the Resistance attraction

Rise of the Resistance at Disney's Hollywood Studios is easily the most in-demand ride at Walt Disney World. With no standby line and its own virtual queue system required for entry, not all parkgoers are lucky enough to snag entry — even as the park remains limited to 25 percent capacity.

Until this week, virtual queue "boarding passes" dropped twice each day, once at park opening and again at 2 p.m. Passes could only be obtained once visitors had actually entered the park, requiring them to arrive at Disney's Hollywood Studios early enough to proceed through security and have their admission scanned, with no guarantee of nabbing one of the in-demand return times to experience the trackless journey through a Star Destroyer at the hands of Kylo Ren.

Given the stress of that routine morning rush, Walt Disney World at long last unveiled a new booking system for Rise of the Resistance. Starting this week, boarding passes are now available even earlier — 7 a.m. each morning — allowing ticketholders with plans to visit Hollywood Studios that day to find out before reaching the main gate if they've gotten a return time to board Rise of the Resistance. (The 2 p.m. boarding pass release will remain in-park for guests who did not obtain one that morning; Park Passes and valid admission are required to join the virtual queue.)

This change should help ROTR's capacity issue, which has left some riders unable to experience the innovative attraction while at the parks, but it's not the only way Disney is working to increase passenger count. Ride vehicles were recently given plastic partitions to increase ride capacity as well, but given its technologically innovative experience, there always runs the risk of delays for mechanical reasons. Either way? If you're headed to the parks, may the Force be with you.


Halloween Horror Nights may have been scrapped this year, but Universal Studios Florida still had one last trick up their sleeve. The theme park opened their rumored Beetlejuice haunted house as a surprise this past weekend to revelers at the park, bringing the story and scenery of the famed film to life before All Hallow's Eve had ended. (As with the two other haunted houses at Universal Studios Florida, COVID-19 safety measures were in place for both guests and performers.) 

The experience only lasted two days, but fans who made it inside were elated with the detail of the classic film. Others, however, were less than enthused — specifically annual passholders who received an email the week prior encouraging them to plan to visit on weekdays to avoid weekend crowds. Eek!

Still, given the widely positive reception to Universal's spin on the kooky film, we're glad at least some parkgoers were able to experience this special Halloween treat. 


Japan's brilliant "mundane' Halloween costume tradition is back, and this one is too good. (For those of you who need the translation, it's "a guy waiting outside the entrance of Universal Studios Japan with a questionnaire.")

Absolutely brilliant.