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Will Disney World and Disneyland Phone It In This Summer?

By Rick Munarriz – Jun 11, 2020 at 8:30AM

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Disneyland announces a phased reopening, with its two California theme parks greeting guests again on July 17. Don't expect it to be at its best.

It seems as if Disneyland won't be opening too much later than Walt Disney's (DIS -2.31%) Florida resort. The original California attraction and its adjacent Disney's California Adventure park have submitted plans to welcome guests again on July 17, just a couple of days after Disney World's phased reopening. 

The world's largest theme park operator announced two months ago that Disney World's Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom would be back in operation on July 11, with the remaining two theme parks unlocking their turnstiles on July 15. It was assumed that California -- with a more cautious stance in awakening the economy from its slumber -- would follow much later in the summer, if not the fall. The plans will still need to be approved, and while that is likely just a formality at this stage in the game, it's not exactly a given, with coronavirus cases climbing at a heady clip in the Golden State. No matter how this plays out, don't expect it to move the needle. 

Donald Duck sweeping up Main Street in Disneyland.

Image source: Disney.

Summer bluffing 

There was a time when investors were hoping for theme parks to open in time for the peak summer travel season. Reality has called an audible, and now we're down to just getting the attractions open so we can start the slow ramp-up process. There won't be a summer travel season this year. Folks are still hesitant to travel far from home. International travel -- a major component of the guest counts to Disneyland and Disney World -- isn't going to happen, and even within the country there are still some active interstate self-quarantine restrictions.

Disney's opening on both coasts next month is more about putting people to work and working out the kinks than achieving any kind of summertime profitability. Between limited park capacity, increased sanitation costs, and lower throughput on the rides themselves, this isn't going to be a moneymaker summer for the industry. Amusement parks across the country are opening because they believe they have to as a community service, offering escapism to locals. Keeping their legacies alive and the retention of annual pass holders are also factoring into the mix, but this won't be a profitable summer for small or large operators. 

The reopening of Disney World and Disneyland in mid-July matters for many reasons, but few of them are financial reasons. Instead of profit centers, these gated attractions will be springboards to promote Disney+ content, but the experience itself will not be what folks were expecting earlier. There have been rumblings that Disney will delay attractions that were supposed to open later this year. 

Avengers Campus -- a new Marvel-themed area at Disney's California Adventure -- was given a July 18 debut date back in March. It would theoretically open the day after the park restarts next month, but the park's website now simply lists it as a "Coming Soon" attraction. On the other coast, Remy's Ratatouille Adventure at Epcot was also slated for a summertime launch, but it's now likely to open later in the year. 

You can't blame Disney for phoning it in. New rides are tourist magnets, and they would rather save that ammo for when the industry prospects improve. However, with guests already putting up with face covering requirements and a lack of fireworks, parades, character meet-and-greet, and many shows, there's an argument to be made for Disney to open up the new attractions sooner rather than later. With a recession to worry about and no timeframe for when there will be a return to normality, it's not as if Disney has to save its shiny new toys for a better day that may not come.

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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