Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS) is still six weeks away from reopening its Florida theme parks, but there are a lot of moving parts to this massive undertaking. Unlike its smaller rivals, which will be opening within the next two weeks, Disney World is a resort that greets more than 60 million visitors a year through the turnstiles of its six gated attractions. There are more than 35,000 rooms available across its on-site lodging options, and visitors are making dining reservations as much as 180 days in advance and squaring away access to expedited FastPass+ queues as long as 60 days out.
A lot of that will change when Disney restarts its theme park operations on July 11. It is currently not selling park admission tickets or making new hotel and dining reservations. It's in the process of rolling out a new reservation system whereby guests will have to claim one of the limited number of spots available to visit a certain park on any given day. In gearing up for the new normal, Disney stunned many of its theme park fans on Thursday night by canceling all dining and FastPass+ reservations through the end of the year. It's a sobering reminder that the new normal may linger for more than just a couple of months.
It's a small world
Disney's decision to stop accepting new reservations has always made sense. There will be tight capacity limits come July 11, and there are so many health safeguards and social distancing measures to incorporate that it's not going to be business as usual. Eliminating all FastPass+ and dining reservations, and in some cases reserved experiences, all the way through the end of December is far more jarring. Disney's asking its biggest fans to buckle up for a wild ride. Can you pull on the yellow safety strap, please?
The world's largest theme park resort is temporarily eliminating the revolutionary FastPass+ system that enables guests to reserve access to as many as three expedited queues. Disney will be using the extra queues to space out guests in line for the sake of social distancing. Wiping all dining reservations from its books also spares Disney the responsibility of guaranteeing access to an eatery's park, which may already be at capacity. It also frees Disney not to open any particular hotel and its restaurant facilities at all if a lack of supply or demand don't warrant opening.
Disney is also temporarily suspending the Extra Magic Hours it offers overnight resort guests so they can experience select parks before they open to day guests or after they close to the public. On-site guests also used to have an earlier booking window for FastPass+ reservations. One has to wonder why Disney is devaluing its strongest product by eliminating two of the biggest perks of staying at a resort hotel. A day at Disney is never cheap, but there is no customer as lucrative as the one staying at one of its on-site resorts.
The key here is that all of these measures are temporary. Opening Disney World was never going to be easy. A regional amusement park operator simply needs to check the rides and squirt some WD-40 on rusty turnstiles to get going again, but Disney World is a virtual city with several classes of citizens and heightened expectations to manage.
Disney will let those with canceled reservations have the first crack at squaring away new plans once that option becomes available again. It's also suspending new ticket sales and hotel reservations to make sure that the folks already holding tickets and passes have priority in grabbing some of the first available slots ahead of the July 11 phased reopening.
The House of Mouse is trying to keep expectations in check, and that also goes for its shareholders. The same theme park segment that accounted for 38% of the media stock's revenue and 45% of its segment operating profit in fiscal 2019 won't be the same for some time. Disney's classic Carousel of Progress promises that there's a great, big, beautiful tomorrow -- and right now that's a long dream away.