I hate the fact that I have to be writing this. And truth told, if “Disney implements changes to accommodate new park reservation system” got people's attention as well has “Disney cancels every single one of your reservations for the rest of the year,” then I probably wouldn't be having to write it at all.
We all watched with bated breath as Walt Disney World unveiled its phased reopening plan to the Orange County Task Force last Wednesday. What we found out that day, between that live broadcast and later site updates and emails, was that Disney proposed to reopen the gates to Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom on July 11th, and to Epcot and Hollywood Studios on July 15th. Soft openings before those dates would allow Annual Passholders (and likely DVC and Club 33 members) to visit. But all in all capacity would, of course, need to be strictly reduced. Disney isn't immune to the demands of social distancing and so there quite simply needs to be less people than usual in the parks. Less people than usual in the restaurants. Less people than usual at the pools. And on and on. You get the idea.
Central to all of this is the pretty basic need for a new park reservation system. Now, instead of wandering in to the park of your choice on a given day, you need to reserve for the visit in advance. Does it take some of the spontaneity out of things? Of course. Believe me – as a new-ish local whose mantra was “lunch at Epcot“, I get that these changes aren't the happiest news in the world. But they're the ONLY way to open the parks right now. Most people seemed to understand this, as, while we were left with lots of questions about implementation, no one with any sense really objected to the original proposal.
Now, put yourself at the table with the Disney executives having to figure out how all of this actually plays out. You can see them talking through the reality of how this new, very necessary system is going to function in reality.
First, you realize that every single restaurant on property is effectively overbooked – as you're going to be working with drastically reduced space. The same is true for Fast Passes – not to mention that the whole queue system needs to be overhauled so that people aren't in close quarters waiting for attractions.
Then you realize that above and beyond that issue is the simple fact that someone might have an in park dining reservation or FastPasses for a day when they didn't get a reservation to enter that park.
And then, on top of all of this, is the realization that people have paid for dining plans (or booked free dining packages) and it's now impossible to guarantee them all the full value of those plans with restaurant capacity so reduced.
And there's more. How do you deal with events like fireworks that encourage everyone to gather in one place? Anyone who's been to a holiday party in Magic Kingdom knows that, no matter how few total people are in the park, the Hub is mobbed when the night shows are happening.
So you have two choices. You scrap reopening altogether. Or you wipe the slate clean and start thinking out of the box about a new system that will make all of this somehow work.
True to form, Disney didn't blanch at the need to be creative or take bold steps. They did the latter.
And so following the initial reopening announcements, they wiped the slate clean and began rolling out emails making it clear that they'd be opening up park reservations, dining experiences, and more in a way that prioritizes the people that need them the most.
That's it. Disney didn't take your dining plans away for spite. Disney didn't steal your FastPasses. Disney didn't blindly scoff at the months of planning that you put into your trip. Disney just did what it needed to do to be in a position to open its gates again and disappoint the fewest possible number of people.
And you know what the beauty of that is?
Those of us who long to be inside those gates are going to be able to do so in some way shape or form.
Those of us who don't think that the current situation makes sense for a pricey vacation can cancel and wait until this is behind us.
AND THE TENS OF THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE WHO HAVE BEEN FURLOUGHED FOR MONTHS GET TO GO BACK TO WORK.
Remember them? They're really important in all of this, too.
Listen – I'm sorry your vacation isn't panning out as you'd envisioned. Believe it or not, I really do get that. I used to joke that Disney was the ideal vacation for me because it was the perfect blend of magic and Type A planning. All of my spreadsheet-loving tendencies got poured into the weeks and months leading up to our trips. I once yelped so loudly that my mother gasped and asked me what was wrong – only to find out that it was because I'd scored an ‘Ohana reservation for the date and time that I'd been looking for for weeks. So yes – I kind of get it.
But the reality is that things are different now. The world is a changed place and will be for a very long time. More than 100,000 people have died due to COVID-19 in the United States alone. People have lost loved ones without the chance to say goodbye at their bedsides. Unemployment rates across the country are off the charts. Our kids learned from their own family rooms for weeks and weeks while parents tried desperately to do their own jobs at the kitchen table. Things are tough right now and it's probably going to be a very long time before anything resembling “normal” returns.
Some people are going to face all of this and want nothing more than to sit on a bench on Main Street, U.S.A. on a day that they can book a reservation for Magic Kingdom and soak in a little magic. Some people are going to stroll World Showcase and take in the sights and sounds and not give one lick about riding rides or watching fireworks. And some people are going to look at the long list of changes currently in place and decide that the last thing that they want to do is come here. Which camp you're in is entirely up to you. But the fact that you have to make that choice isn't anyone's fault.
Do I think that this is the time to spend thousands of dollars on a once in a lifetime trip to Walt Disney World with your young children? No. I don't. Am I still happy for 1000 reasons that those gates are going to open again soon? You bet I am.
I'm not usually in the business of reporting news on this blog. I've done a bit more of it lately simply because it's what we're all talking about. But this time around it made sense to sit back for a moment and let the dust settle before writing this. As all of this continues to unfold, I'll be over here stubbornly refusing to ditch my common sense.
Stay well, my friends. Let's stand six feet apart on Main Street next month and eat some popcorn.