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Walt created Disney to give families a safe place to enjoy time together and forget the worries of the world. Everything that is being undertaken right now to protect Cast Members and guests while reopening the gates is with that very goal in mind.
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Today I was lucky enough to join a live panel discussion on the phased reopening of Disney’s Parks in Florida and California. Leaders on the call included:
- Jacquee Wahler, Vice President of Communications for Walt Disney World Resort
- Dr. Pamela Hymel, Chief Medical Officer, Disney Parks, Experiences and Products
- Jim MacPhee, Senior Vice President, Operations, Walt Disney World Resort
- Rosalyn Durant, Senior Vice President, Operations, Walt Disney World Resort
- Mary Niven, Senior Vice President, Experience Integration, Disneyland Resort
Jacquee opened with some poignant and honest thoughts. In the past few months, our world has changed in ways we’ve never imagined – and through all of this, Disney has had to adapt and find creative ways to share the magic around the globe.
Many of us are familiar with the #DisneyMagicMoments site and campaign, which has allowed Disney new and inventive ways to stay connected with the homes and hearts of its guests and fans during this unprecedented time. And while that still plays a powerful role in our day to day lives during all of this, we are now also looking at the careful and deliberate reopening of the domestic Parks after these 4 long months.
Make no mistake: Disney isn’t taking this lightly. They know that they are reopening in a time of COVID and that the risks cannot ever be fully eliminated. But as I talk about more below, our world needs laughter and escape right now. Hundreds of thousands of Cast Members, crew members, and Imagineers need to work. And communities and local small business vendors need strong local economies. Disney was among the first theme parks to close and is among the last to reopen. And in this reopening, they know that they have a responsibility to deliver the magic safely to both their Cast Members and their guests.
Today we heard from a team of experts that play integral roles in this process.
First was Chief Medical Officer of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, Dr. Pamela Hymel (“Doctor Pam”), followed by Jim Macphee, Senior Vice President, Operations, Walt Disney World Resort:
Dr. Pam is tasked each year with the health and wellbeing of nearly 100,000 Cast Members, crew members and Imagineers – not to mention millions of visiting guests. And in this moment, she wanted only to be honest and open about how Disney is facing its challenges related to COVID-19.
Jim delved deeper into how Disney’s approach is being implemented in the Parks – the bottom line being how do you accept that the experience is different and still deliver the magic?? With the impending openings of Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom this Saturday, June 11th, and Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios next Wednesday, July 15th, Dr. Pam and Jim openly shared that the series of preceding soft openings for Cast Members and Annual Passholders will be learning experiences that will allow them to adapt to the needs of Cast Members and guests real time.
The approach is deliberate and multi-pronged – and humble enough to learn from the preceding reopenings of Shanghai, Hong Kong, Tokyo, and Disney Springs.
- Health and Wellness. First and foremost and of no surprise is the simple focus on health and wellness in the ways that we’ve all learned over these last many months. In the Parks, it will take the form of hand washing and sanitizing stations, temperature checks, reduced capacity and social distancing, limited attendance, face coverings for all Cast Members and guests aged 2 and over (unless swimming or eating/drinking), and first aid locations staffed by experienced nursing staff trained with enhanced protocols. Certain experiences that did not work within current necessary protocols to avoid gatherings have been suspended – including character meet and greets, parades, and fireworks. Social distancing markers will be found elsewhere throughout the Parks. Restaurants, queues, and attractions will be appropriately spaced. And, as we all know all too well at this point, pre-existing reservations will be required for all guests ages 3 and up to enter any of the Parks.
In order to do this: Create a Disney account, confirm that your Park admission (and resort stay if applicable) is linked to your Disney account for each member of your party, add family and friends that you plan to include in your Park visit to your account, then select your group, date, and Park. Repeat for each day of your visit. You can see your reservations in the My Plans section of My Disney Experience on the app or site.
- Cleaning and Disinfecting. Next in line are enhanced efforts to clean and disinfect the Parks and Resorts – both onstage for Cast Members and guests and backstage for Cast Members – beyond even Disney’s already existing high standards. Park locations will be cleaned and disinfected regularly throughout the day, especially in high touch and high traffic areas. After the Parks close each night, the entire location will undergo enhanced cleanings. And new protocols and procedures will be undertaken at the resorts, both in public spaces and in rooms. Resort rooms will undergo enhanced cleaning before your stay and, to provide service while minimizing contact, undergo light cleaning every other day while you are checked in.
- Technology Solutions. If Disney does anything well, it’s innovate in the tech department – and they’ve tapped into that strength in a big way to enhance the safety of the guest experience. Contact will be minimized where possible through use of the Disney app and site, digital menus, Magic Bands, online ordering and check in to resorts and restaurants, virtual queues, and more. You’ll even be able to view hand sanitizer and hand washing stations on maps in the app – and you’ll be able to pay for mobile orders with Disney Gift Cards and Apple Pay!! As someone who’s always intrigued to see what they’ve come up with, I’m excited to explore these new options.
- Cast Member Training and Workplace Safety. Cast members will be trained on new protocols, including social distancing and contactless interactions. I loved hearing from Rosalyn Durant, Senior Vice President, Operations, Walt Disney World Resort, about how she quite literally saw the tense shoulders of a few nervous Cast Members relax before her eyes as they saw the extent of the protocols that had been put in place to protect both them and Disney’s guests.
- Working Together. And last but not least is the responsibility of Park and Resort guests to take responsibility as well. After all, it takes all of us working together to protect our community – whether we’re in the Parks or our local grocery store. Disney has amped up communication in this department with their “Know Before You Go” campaign. Social Distancing Squads will be throughout the Parks, similar to the role they play at Disney Springs, to ensure – in a delightfully Disney way – that protocols are followed. Because where else can you find Storm Troopers on board to make sure you’re doing what needs to be done?
You’ll see this sentiment throughout the Parks with Disney’s “Together we can make today incredible” campaign.
After these initial presentations, we saw a panel discussion where Dr. Pam, Jim, Rosalyn Durant, and Mary Niven had the opportunity to respond to some of the most pressing questions posed to them.
- How does Disney respond to the fact that it is opening amidst Increasing numbers of COVID-19 cases across country as well as here in Florida? It was a tough question but an unavoidable one. And per Jim MacPhee, until COVID is behind us there will always be risk involved on this front. This is the new reality. The new normal. And yet, as other businesses across the country are reopening, Disney feels that they have an obligation to reopen as well – in a phased and responsible way – for their Cast Members, their guests, and their surrounding communities. That said, Jim openly acknowledged that “some people won’t be ready to return.” He understands that as well as any of us. This is about guest choice and they will continue to evaluate their approach on an ongoing basis with expert input.
- To Rosalyn Durant: Disney Springs has been open for 6 weeks. What have you learned? What enhancements have been undertaken? Rosalyn was excited to share the sentiment (shared with most of us that have visited) that things are honestly just going great at Disney Springs. She credits the fact that there haven’t been many major post-opening “ah-ha moments” to the careful and intentional reopening plan that they initially undertook. That said, they continue to study guest behavior and have made minor tweaks to signage, markings, etc., along the way. So while they are very pleased thus far, they are not complacent. They will continue to learn and develop best practices in Disney Springs and at other locations around the world over time.
- Next of was Disneyland’s Mary Niven on the status of things on the West Coast. Mary acknowledged of course that guidelines for the reopening of theme parks have not been released in California. That said, planning is well underway on all of the same fronts as in Parks domestically and around the world. She finds great lessons in watching what’s happening at Walt Disney World, as well as In Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Tokyo. They will be moving forward cautiously with the reopening of Downtown Disney this Thursday, July 9th, following the guidelines of California’s governor and the advice of experts in the field.
- And then, of course, they talked about Disney’s Cast Members. On April 19th, the difficult decision was made to furlough Walt Disney World’s tens of thousands of Cast Members. In recent weeks, they’ve slowly returned – first to Disney Springs, then to the resorts, and now, slowly, to the Parks. Knowing how incredible those people are, it’s hardly surprising to learn that, right now, Cast Members are excited to be returning and doing what they do best – making magic. Jim was in Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom this morning for the Cast previews and saw Cast Members excited to welcome guests back into this new experience. Rosalyn Durant seemed almost emotional talking about the team of Cast Members at Disney Springs and at the resorts. “Remember: Our Cast Members are often our biggest fans. They want to deliver the magic.” It was wonderful to hear her talk about how some Cast Members were nervous initially but how she’s seen their “shoulders come down” as they see the measures that are being taken to protect them and Disney’s guests. Mary Niven then spoke about Disneyland and the core team of Cast Members that have been on site to perform essential tasks. It was touching to hear more about the continued tradition, through all of this, of Cast Members’ raising of the flag each morning. The ritual was televised every morning on local channels in Anaheim as an ongoing connection to the Parks.
- Next…we talked about the NBA and MLS descending upon Walt Disney World. Rosalyn made no secret about being elated that sports are back. She is thrilled to have both leagues on property. Major League Soccer kicks off tomorrow at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports and the first NBA teams arrived just this afternoon. There is pride in the fact that these leagues trusted in Disney enough to partner with them and complete their seasons here, and both of course have come with their own sets of extensive safety protocols that layer on top of Disney’s.
- Then we talked about entertainment. As we all know, anything that attracts a large crowd is on pause. That means no fireworks, no parades, no character meet and greets. So as Disney reintroduces guests to the Parks, what type of entertainment can they actually expect to see? Jim MacPhee acknowledged openly that entertainment is key to the Disney experience and so they’ve worked long and hard to provide chances to see our favorite characters at a safe distance. There will be special cavalcades in Magic Kingdom and on the water at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, in World Showcase and throughout Disney’s Hollywood Studios. So much creativity and excitement has gone into these new guest experiences and Disney’s leadership is excited to see them go into play.
- We then looked to Mary Nevin for her thoughts on her work with the California task force. How have Anaheim’s businesses been affected by the closures? This was one of the most interesting questions and the one that really opened up my eyes to the extent of the effects of Disney’s closing. The current situation isn’t affecting just Disneyland and its Cast Members – but everyone in the area that depends on the economy and tourism surrounding Disney. Small businesses have permanently closed their doors because of the lack of tourism in some areas, as have vendors that normally made their livings in servicing the Park. Understanding the ripple effect of the closures in the communities surrounding Walt Disney World and Disneyland makes it that much easier to understand the need to reopen, albeit in a phased and careful way.
- And the million dollar question: Will there still be magic in the Parks? You bet there will. Walt created Disney to give families a safe place to enjoy time together and forget the worries of the world. Everything that is being undertaken right now to protect Cast Members and guests while reopening the gates is with that very goal in mind.
In closing, the team was asked what motivates them throughout all of this. And Mary Nevin pulled out a letter that said it all. I’m sure I didn’t get every word down, but this is the gist of it.
I wanted to share a personal story….
My husband is fighting the war on COVID from the front lines. He’s an emergency room nurse. As each day passes, it gets worse. What he’s seen and is experiencing is unimaginable.
Last week, he announced that when this is over we are headed to Disney. “I want to feel joy again. I want to feel laughter once more. I want to be surrounded by my family and lots of happy people.”
So we posted pictures of Disney all over…to keep him fighting the fight. And when he comes home we plan our Walt Disney World trip and talk about which resort he wants to stay at.
When this is over you’re going to have tons of nurses and doctors who want to flock to your resorts and spend the day in your Parks. I know we’ll be first in line – because I know spending a day in Walt’s creation of imagination is all my hero husband wants to do.
So keep fighting the good fight….America will need to heal after the effects of COVID and Disney will have a tremendous role in that process. God bless America and God bless Disney. Together we will celebrate the end of COVID-19 and together we will imagine and laugh once again.
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If you’re planning a trip to Disney and want a fun way to rock a mask, check out my designs at TeePublic right HERE!! (Allow time for shipping as I know they are processing tons of orders as fast as they can right now.)
If you cannot or choose not to visit now and are looking for a way to bring the magic home, I’d love for you to check out my Core Memory Candle collection right HERE.
And as always, stay safe and be kind, my friends.