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Disney layoffs, governmental standoffs, and the demise of an iconic clown

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Oct 13, 2020, 4:33 PM EDT (Updated)

Welcome to this week's installment of Theme Park News. We've got a lot to cover, and most of it isn't exactly great news, so let's just get to it.

DISNEY LAYOFFS CONTINUE

We’ll start with the saddest news of the week, which is that layoffs have continued at Disney parks following last week’s initial blow. Seasonal employees were informed via email over the weekend that they would be let go from The Walt Disney Company, many of whom worked at Walt Disney World. (Additional employees who have gotten “notices of separation” or are waiting to receive them appear to be dispersed among different divisions and disciples at both parks.) At Disneyland Resort, word broke through social media that Disneyland has seemingly canceled its two major stage shows, Frozen — Live at the Hyperion and Mickey & The Magical Map, as shared from cast members involved in the productions. With the park staying closed and no reopening plan in place (more on that below), the move, while crushing, makes sense. We’re staying (perhaps somewhat foolishly) optimistic they’ll potentially return in the future, particularly since Frozen is housed in a massive tentpole theater at Disney California Adventure, but according to those involved, the lights remain dimmed.

It’s just the latest round of cuts, which stems from the 28,000 total employees that will be let go from Disney Parks’ division. More are to come, and our heart goes out to all whose job status has been affected by everything that’s happened this year, from furloughs and reassignments to layoffs. To support theme park employees in need, we recommend donating to Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County and Central Florida.

CALIFORNIA, HERE WE (DON'T) COME

The battle between Disneyland Resort and California Governor Gavin Newsom surrounding the reopening of California’s theme parks rages on. Since last week's, er, revelations, Newsom was quoted as saying he was "in no hurry" to reopen Disneyland, Dr. Pamela Hymel, Disney's Chief Medical Officer, issued a rebuttal statement, all while Disneyland expanded COVID-19 testing for employees and adopted recommendations from a health agency. Newsom shared that he sent a team to Orlando last week to study and observe Disney World and other Orlando theme parks' reopening protocols.

I’m going to be real with you: I’m a theme park expert attempting to quickly become well versed in how state governments work mid-pandemic, and it’s a major side-step from the parks themselves. I’ll happily own up to my shortcomings when it comes to the details of how this all works, as I never expected to take a year-long sabbatical to report on public health and safety and the California legislature, but sending folks from Governor Newsom’s office ... now? Three months after Walt Disney World — and four months after Universal Orlando Resort — opened? Seems ... strange?

As we wait tight for news, major media outlets touched on the parks this week. Vox covered COVID-19’s catastrophic effect on surrounding businesses in the Anaheim area, which rely on the endless tourism that Disneyland Resort and the nearby Anaheim Convention Center would previously provide, as the city currently faces a $100 million deficit.

The New York Times, on the other hand, wrote about how there has not been a major outbreak connected to Walt Disney World's opening — a relief, particularly for cast members staffed in the parks. The evidence overwhelmingly shows no major employee-to-employee transmission or employee-to-guest transmission on the property, but with no contact tracing, it’s immensely difficult to deduce what if any transmission rates exist between guests, particularly among those who may be asymptomatic. Ideally, the mix of social distancing, hand sanitizing, and mask wearing will minimize the risk of transmission, but a risk still does exist, particularly outside the parks, depending on guest behavior outside the parks and while traveling en route to the resort. (As of today, Florida reported 2,725 new COVID-19 cases. According to the Orlando Sentinel, half of all new infections in the community have been among those ages 15 to 35.)

But, on the flip side, Disney has impressively tightened its mask restrictions even more, requiring guests to step aside to eat or drink and put their masks back on between sips or bites, and even adding these signs to its theme parks entrances:

That tone is nothing short of delightful “bless her soul"-level passive aggression on Disney’s behalf, and we love it. Respect the rules, people! Masks work!

A FLORIDA UPDATE

While California’s parks sit closed, things are happening in Florida. Bob Chapek confirmed yesterday that the parks are limited to 25 percent capacity — a bit of a surprise since Disney rarely discusses official figures on the record — while BlogMickey reported that 180 hours have been added to WDW's theme park schedules later this year. Walt Disney World is no longer the ghost town it was when it first opened, but Disney is also moving forward with some of its forward-looking projects, including HarmoniUS at Epcot and, gulp, the apparent demolishing (or “refurbishment”) of the famed Coney Island-inspired Luna Park Pool at Disney’s BoardWalk Inn:

[Audible scream!]

Long story short: THE CLOWN IS GONE. I am heartbroken. He may be frightening, but he was an iconic part of the resort. Now, if they get rid of the nanny chair: We revolt.

TWEET OF THE WEEK

And just like that: The great NBA Bubble concludes its time at Walt Disney World. Congrats to the Lakers!

LINKS! LINKS! LINKS!

Space Mountain is headed for the big screen.

- Salt and Straw's bug-infested ice cream (really!) is back at Downtown Disney.

- A little NSFW ... but very, very, very worth it!!

- Heads up if you're going to the Magic Kingdom: you can wear Halloween costumes, just make sure they're not ... too good.

- How cute and festive is Disneyland Paris?!

- I see London, I see France, I see ghastly underpants ...

- Derek Bugan's brilliant Disney Outlet Store Update is back and can't be missed.

- Super Nintendo World officially opens in Japan next spring, but a first-look at merch is here! 

- (And yes, the themed land looks incredible.)

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