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Credit: David Roark/Walt Disney World Resort via Getty Images

Disney loses billions due to theme park closures, and the effects are starting to show

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Aug 11, 2020, 11:46 AM EDT (Updated)

Hello and welcome to another week of Theme Park News! Summer (or the lack thereof) may be winding down, but this one’s a doozy with lots of math by way of earnings calls (whew!) and the nitty-gritty about theme park admission and all ways it can be sliced and diced.

Beyond that, we’ve got some dreams of Disneyland, some updates on last week’s shenanigans, and a look inside why the athletes at one of Disney World’s resorts may have some nautical ground to stand on when it comes to their last-seeded hotel pick:

ALL ABOUT THE MONEY

Shutting down all your global theme park resorts isn’t exactly great for business, and The Walt Disney Company’s third-quarter earnings call last week showed just how detrimental the pandemic-related closures were. Its Parks, Experiences and Products division, home to Disney’s theme park resorts, posted losses of $2 billion for its parks, part of $3.5 billion in losses division-wide; it was the most significant hit across the company, due to most of its resorts and hotels and cruise lines ceasing operations for the duration of the quarter. 

Sadly, the call’s Q&A portion did not reveal any updates on theme park budgets and related cuts or delays — $900 million of them are anticipated, as mentioned by CEO Bob Chapek on last quarter’s call — but we did get word that Walt Disney World reopening was financially worthwhile, echoing Comcast’s call and Universal Orlando Resort’s report from the week prior, yet not as much as they had once hoped.

SeaWorld Entertainment announced its second-quarter financials yesterday, as well, with revenue dropping 95 percent to $18 million due to pandemic-related closures. Iron Gwazi, the much-anticipated hybrid coaster coming to Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, and SeaWorld Orlando’s Ice Breaker launch coaster are officially delayed until 2021. Opening details for Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, scheduled to open this summer at Walt Disney World, have not yet been revealed. (SeaWorld Orlando, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, and SeaWorld San Antonio have reopened, but like Disney and Universal, the company's California resort —  SeaWorld San Diego — has not yet opened.)

And then there's one more theme park closure — well, potential closure — that is hanging in the balance. Orlando Sentinel's Gabrielle Russon reported that IAAPA Expo, the annual theme park entertainment convention that showcases new products and technology for various parks, may not go on.

Yes, may not go on. Scheduled for mid-November 2020, the story states a decision will be made in early September — a surprising turn considering our country and Florida's COVID-19 caseloads and the inherent danger in gathering large groups of travelers into an indoor space. Several exhibitors have canceled, but the event preliminarily proceeding raises a lot of questions, particularly in terms of encouraging domestic and international travel to Florida, as the coronavirus continues across America. The same paper reports that Orange County is seeing a decline in COVID-19 cases, but the pandemic has not gone away. Clearly, its long-term effect on Central Florida’s tourist-heavy market and beyond cannot be understated.

Credit: Matt Stroshane/Walt Disney World Resort via Getty Images

THE LONG AND SHORT(ENED HOURS) OF THINGS

These days, Walt Disney World theme parks are unusually empty, due to capacity restrictions put in place to promote social distancing resort-wide. Truth is, yes, you can get on the rides extremely quickly compared to “before times”; even with weekends looking busier, the wait times aren’t as long as they used to be this time last summer. Still, many Walt Disney World experiences are not currently available. Pricey productions like fireworks are on pause, stage shows are (well, mostly) halted, and character meet-and-greets are amended into cavalcades yet essentially unavailable in their prior form.

These changes all make sense and I’m in full support of them; safety must come first when publicly opening a theme park amid a pandemic, while Florida was hitting record-breaking case numbers. But it’s also quite clear that, for many who visit Disney World, the drawbacks may not outweigh the benefits, particularly as there will soon be even less time to spend in the parks.

Starting on Sept. 8, Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Hollywood Studios will operate one less hour daily, while Epcot and Disney’s Animal Kingdom will cut two hours off their schedules. Yes, it absolutely makes financial sense for them if crowds are thinner than expected — but it doesn’t necessarily make sense for the rest of us, shedding light on a predicament among Disney fans, especially Passholders.

As reported by local news outlets and anyone with a theme park-skewing Twitter feed over the past week, some of Disney’s most loyal customers are frustrated. A new Park Pass calendar — put into place to curb crowding in the park and limit attendance prior to reopening — has made it somewhat difficult to plan visits. Reservations are required and limited to three per guest at a time, but even with additional access added, availability is limited. With half of Walt Disney World's guests coming from out of market, Passholders who would traditionally come from a farther distance would need to stay at a Disney hotel to visit all four parks or simply book more than three days of reservations.

I understand why some Passholders are upset. Although I personally have no plans to travel back right now, my Annual Pass, which typically grants access to all four Walt Disney World parks every day of the year, won’t let me into any of them for the next two weeks. All spots are taken. I wouldn’t be able to visit Disney’s Hollywood Studios for over a month, and if I wanted to go on a weekend? I’d have to wait until Oct. 18 — over two months from now, despite having already paid for daily access. Yes, passes were extended for the length of park closures and then some, and many plan further ahead than that, but combine Park Pass availability with the temporary removal of park hopping, fewer offerings, hours being cut back, and that some are understandably wary about visiting the parks, particularly if it requires travel, and it’s obvious: It doesn’t make much sense for some to keep their Annual Passes. 

Now, Disney has been extremely flexible with Annual Passholder cancellation and refund options throughout the resort’s park closures, no doubt, and a recent 30 percent merchandise discount doesn’t go unnoticed. But, in some cases, you’re getting significantly less than what you paid for and you’re more likely to be unable to access it. It's why some WDW Passholders took advantage of the option to cancel their passes by today, receiving pro-rated refunds calculated by way of an equation that is customized to each guest.

It’s a real conundrum for Annual Passholders but also a burn for ticketholders, too, as hours are slashed and experiences are amended as ticket prices remain the same. And, on top of it, deals for locals nearly incentivize choosing a discounted ticket and visiting less frequently to avoid the headache of selecting dates, as the Park Pass calendar remains wide open for ticketholders. (Universal also just launched a deal for locals that grants access for nearly the rest of the year with one day's admission; Disney World hotel guests, regardless of admission type, are also granted better availability to Park Passes, though block-out dates still apply.)

It's tough to unexpectedly let go of the last thing tethering one's self to the memories and joy theme parks bring, but 2020 is not a normal year by any means, and this proves it even more.

TWEET OF THE WEEK

There have been a lot of at-home incarnations of theme parks during pandemic times. We've covered plenty of them! But this creation from artist and designer Don Carson is different.

When you push this video to full-screen and focus closely, I don't know, it really does feel like you're there, back in the parks, back in time, back experiencing the original artistry of this early Disneyland ride, and for a moment... everything is perfect:

LINKS! LINKS! LINKS!

- The publicly adored operator of the Griffith Park Carousel, where Walt Disney famously had the first idea for Disneyland, has sadly passed away.

- Disney Cruise Line cancellations have now been extended through mid-November.

- Didn't think more ride weirdness could happen after last week? Think again!

- planDisney will replace the can't-believe-it-was-still-called-that Moms Panel.

- Some interesting stuff in this interview with one of Epcot's executive chefs.

- Haunted Mansion Crocs!

- Looks like Disney's forthcoming lakefront retreat and its A-frame cabins are kaput.

SYFY and Universal Theme Parks are properties of NBCUniversal, a subsidiary of Comcast Corporation.

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