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Will Disney World Open in July?

By Rick Munarriz – May 11, 2020 at 10:00AM

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With Shanghai Disneyland now open, all eyes turn to the other Disney resort that has taken initial steps toward a phased reopening.

The first of Walt Disney's (DIS -2.88%) theme park resorts to reopen was back in business on Monday morning. Shanghai Disneyland's reawakening was a success despite the initial restrictions. Visitor counts are initially being limited to just 24,000 guests of the park's 80,000-person capacity, and Disney expects to offer even fewer admissions than that through the first couple of weeks. 

Guests and park employees wear marks, submit to temperature checks on the way in, and abide by new social-distancing measures. Some of the experiences like character greeting stations, fireworks, parades, and interactive play areas are currently on hold. However, it's encouraging to see at least one of Disney's parks back in action. It's now just a matter of time before Disney World and Disneyland -- as well as overseas resorts in France, Japan, and Hong Kong -- follow the lead of Shanghai Disneyland.

Snow White's seven dwarfs outside of their family coaster attraction at Disney World's Magic Kingdom.

Image source: Disney.

On the clock

With Shanghai Disneyland now open again on a limited basis, it's easy to wonder which of the theme park giant's properties will open next. Hong Kong and Tokyo -- now the two resorts that have been shuttered the longest -- aren't likely to open anytime soon. The only other Disney resort that has gone public with a phased partial opening plan is Disney World, which was actually the last one to close. 

The media giant announced on Thursday that it will let third-party retailers and restaurant operators reopen at Disney World's shopping, dining, and entertainment complex on May 20. The phased relaunch of Disney Springs doesn't mean that Disney World will open soon, but it's the first step in that direction. 

Florida is gradually restarting its economy, but theme parks aren't likely to open in the Sunshine State until June at the earliest. July is starting to seem like the more realistic bet, especially since Disney World recently stopped accepting on-site hotel reservations for stays starting before July. It hasn't canceled existing June reservations, however, and that is something that may be by design if the House of Mouse was eyeing an opening next month.

If Disney World was considering a June opening, it would probably have a very limited rollout like we're seeing play out in Shanghai this week. The world's largest theme park resort will likely have a tight cap on daily visitor counts, too, and that would be hard to manage effectively with packed on-site hotels filled with overnight guests paying for up for access.

This will continue to be a fluid situation until we get firm dates. The news out of neighboring states that have started to reopen local businesses earlier than Florida has been generally positive, as COVID-19 case counts in Georgia and Tennessee have been declining lately despite allowing restaurants, stores, and other businesses to reopen with social-distancing safeguards in place more than two weeks ago.   

It will obviously take a long time before the theme park experience resembles what it did before the shutdown, and Disney isn't the only one pondering if it can even be profitable with limited operations. If there aren't any setbacks, it's a good bet that the theme parks will be back during the early part of the summer season.

Rick Munarriz owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Walt Disney and recommends the following options: long January 2021 $60 calls on Walt Disney and short July 2020 $115 calls on Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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