I began this column last July, and if you would have told me, a full-time theme park reporter, that less than nine months later I would have nothing to write about, I’d have laughed in your face. But, as of this past Monday, for the first time ever, all six Disney theme parks are temporarily closed worldwide due to the COVID-19 pandemic. You cannot go to a Disney park today, full stop.
It goes without saying, but we’re all struggling right now. The virus has infected more than 200,000 people worldwide and is wreaking havoc on economies everywhere, including in the Magic Kingdom. To paraphrase poorly from Todd Martens' eloquent piece for the Los Angeles Times, Disneyland is such a symbol — and to have that symbol ripped from us in this new, alternate version of life we're all living out right now, when we need it most, is crushing.
How we frolicked in the park a few weeks ago, how I just ate Avengers-themed sandwiches at a theme park that is now a ghost town... it's hard to process. But that's what I’m here to help with, so let's get to it:
THEME PARK OPERATING HOURS: NULL TO NULL
If you have, understandably, been worried about social distancing yourself, dealing with job closures or illness, let me fill you in on what you've missed at Disneyland and Disney World: Nothing! Nothing at all, because it’s all closed. The parks: closed. The malls: closed. The hotels? Almost closed. Even Disney stores are closed.
As you can imagine, the same is true over at Universal Studios Hollywood and Universal Orlando Resort: closed, closed, closing, on an identical timeframe. (Third-party businesses at Disney-owned malls had the option of closing, and most of them took it as COVID-19 continues to spread across the country.)
SO... WHAT COMES NEXT?
It’s unclear. Given that this pandemic is no closer to being under control this week than last, it remains to be seen if the parks will need to be closed beyond April 1. The closures are also bringing new Disney developments to a grinding halt, Walt Disney World was in the middle of a massive construction project at EPCOT so integral to the early phases of reimagining the park that upon entering, guests were split down two "hallways" of walled barricades to avoid the remodel shortly after entering. Spaceship Earth, the park’s emblematic attraction, was set to close on May 26 for a major refurbishment. The Space 220 restaurant had not yet opened and construction was moving forward on projects like Reflections - A Disney Lakeside Lodge elsewhere on the property.
Plenty of projects are still tentatively lined up to debut this summer, too. Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure was set to open at Disney World’s Epcot at a yet-to-be-determined date while Avengers Campus was slated for July 18 at Disneyland Resort, but the current COVID-19 pandemic that has changed the state of everyday life for many Americans has the potential to delay both openings.
IS... MY SUMMER TRIP TOAST?
If you have a theme park vacation on the horizon, there are still ways to get refunded or rescheduled for later this year.
Disney World tickets affected by the March closures will be extended to December 15, 2020, or, if necessary, the entire value of the ticket can be used toward a new ticket purchase. (Check the website for more nuanced details, like for local Florida Resident tickets and event admission.) Walt Disney World encourages guests to reschedule or cancel their vacations online, as call centers are understandably busy, but know that change and cancellation fees for vacations with check-in dates through June 30, 2020, are being waived.
At Disneyland Resort, unused one-day tickets are valid through December 30, 2021, while unused multi-day tickets can be used through January 12, 2022. (Yes — that’s a full year longer than WDW.) Refer to the website for special admissions, like SoCal Resident tickets and military promotional admission. Vacation packages and room-only hotel bookings during the March closures are refundable, but there is no further language for future stays.
Universal Orlando Resort’s policies are a bit murkier, promising a "flexible program" for guests whose travel plans have now changed, which doesn't quite sound like a blanket refund on future cancellations for Spring Break or summer trips for guests who wish to preemptively cancel. Still, hotel reservations during the March closure can be modified or canceled with no penalty and unexpired single and multi-day tickets will last 365 days from purchase. (Call 877-801-9720 for trip change inquiries or visit Universal Orlando’s FAQ page.) At Universal Studios Hollywood, unused tickets purchased for dates during the park’s closure will be extended through December 18, 2020, and at both Orlando and Hollywood, the value of a completely unused ticket can be applied to a new purchase if need be.
Annual passes at all four theme park resorts will be extended for the length of the theme park closures.
If you booked through a third-party, like Expedia, things are a bit trickier. This guide is a helpful resource for if your vacation needs to be rescheduled — particularly if a hotel room or rental car is involved — but inquire directly with the point of purchase.
HELP... I AM SO BORED INSIDE MY HOUSE WITHOUT THE PARKS TO TIDE ME OVER
I know! I feel ya! There are plenty of Disney fans doing the good work online — from Michael Does Disney's deliciously unhinged handwashing videos and BRB Going To Disney's at-home parade to The Lost Bros' shenanigans and Theme Park Insider's at-home Monte Cristo, there’s plenty of good out there.
Beyond that, just be sure to hold in there, folks. Do whatever you can to stay in good spirits. This is an absolutely wild situation we're all in, but we're in it together — very High School Musical, but alas, extremely true.