In a tale of two states, Disney World in Orlando expands more of their original service offerings with Park Hopper while Disneyland in California remains shut due to COVID-19 protocols.
Park Hopper Returns, As Do More Crowds
One of the key benefits of being an Annual Passholder has been the Park Hopper feature built-into the program. Park hopping is spending time in more than one park on the same day. Those buying park admission can add this to their tickets. For example, a person buying admission to Disney Hollywood Studios can add Park Hopper and visit all the parks for that one day. The new Park Hopper tickets only allow switching to another park after 2 pm.
Prior to new COVID-19 restrictions, Annual Passholders could move between parks as they desired. This feature was removed, however. Those staying in Walt Disney World Resort hotels could still buy Park Hopper tickets even though Passholders could not without paying separately for another theme park ticket.
When my family held Annual Passes, we would start the day at Hollywood Studios to attempt to get on the Star Wars Rise of the Resistance ride then head to the Magic Kingdom for evening fireworks. Instead of moving freely as we pleased, we would have to register on the Disney site in advance and availability was scarce.
As part of Walt Disney World’s phased reopening, they increased acceptable crowd capacity limits by 40% without adding back fast passes (which segregate the lines and could reduce time spent in the parks.) This is in addition to the termination of 28,000 Disney cast members across the business.
A Tale of Two States
Florida and California are as far apart politically as they are geographical. Florida (which leaned conservative in the last two presidential elections) has a governor that has been rather opposed to shutdowns despite an uptick in his state and across the country with COVID-19 infections. California has been emphatically blue for some time and despite state leadership not following their own social distancing orders, Disneyland Parks in California won’t be reopening any time soon.
California, like Florida has seen a dramatic increase in both COVID-19 tests taken, and positive cases. But the two are distinctly different markets with different clientele and challenges. Disneyland California couldn’t open if they wanted to (and they do) while Disney World is returning ever closer to normal operations.
The two locales are very different in their results with the virus. Orange County, California – home to Disneyland – has a current mortality rate of 2.29% according to Johns Hopkins, while Orange County, Florida – home to Disney World – has about half that at 1.16%. Perhaps the situation is just far worse in California despite measures intended to counter it.
Disney water parks remain closed for the time being.
What’s The Right Thing To Do?
Disney is perhaps choosing the shareholder over the guest, but they are in business to do just that. It is its mandate. With many of its parks remaining closed, revenue down, and losses piling up, Disney has to make money where it can. It can do that in Florida but cannot in California.
That said, nearly every time my family went to Disney World one of us got sick prior to COVID-19. We used hand sanitizer and avoided railings when we were able, but there were just too many people in close contact. It was never all of us, usually just myself, my wife, or my daughter – but always one of us. So opening even more in Florida feels like a cash grab more than the right thing to do.
I can understand Disney’s need to stem the losses and that they have more customers who want to enter the parks than they can currently accommodate. Some parkgoers are also ready to return to normal and whatever that looks like. But I also know that it was hard enough to stay healthy at Disney before coronavirus and now is probably not a good time to add more guests to the mix.
Some observed that while I didn’t support a national lockdown, I thought it was the wrong time for Disney to increase their capacity. I don’t see those two as contradictions. I can both think it’s ludicrous to be told to wear a mask in my own home as Pennsylvania’s health department edict announced this week, and also think that Disney should slow down on their reopening plans some for the time being.
What do you think? Should Disney add back features, guests to (more) normal operations such as park hopper? Should Disneyland California remain shut? What duty does Disney have as a for-profit corporation entrusted with hosting the public?