Halloween will be more trick than treat at the world's most popular theme park this year. Disney (NYSE:DIS) is canceling Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party, a premium-priced event that takes place on select nights from mid-August to early November at Disney World's Magic Kingdom in Florida.
Halloween itself may not be coming for several more months, but we're really less than two months away from the first of the event nights. It's a pretty big deal for Disney, as the seasonal event is a significant moneymaker for the theme park. The Magic Kingdom closes early to day guests on the roughly three dozen event nights, only to reopen for tens of thousands of guests, who paid between $79 and $135 apiece last year, to enjoy trick-or-treat stations and unique character meet-and-greet opportunities.
Fans of the event won't be pleased, but with all the money that Disney will have to forgo with this new-normal move, it's fair to say that its shareholders also won't be pleased with the emptier treat bags they'll be holding through the next two quarters.
Everyone's going to wear a mask now anyway
It's easy to see why Disney had no choice but to cancel the popular and lucrative event. Everything that the event is known for is off the table right now. When the Magic Kingdom reopens on July 11, it will be without the park's up-close interactive character experiences as well as events including parades and nighttime fireworks. These signature events can't magically reappear a month later just because folks are willing to pay a hefty premium for them.
Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party rolls out some characters that aren't available to meet guests at any other time. The longest lines at the event aren't for the rides; folks can wait as long as a couple of hours for the opportunity to meet and take photos with Jack Skellington and Sally from The Nightmare Before Christmas or all seven of Snow White's dwarfs. With social distancing now in place, these experiences aren't possible. And even if they were, the queue management would be a logistical mess.
The seasonal event also features exclusive Halloween-themed fireworks, parades, and stage shows. The last thing that Disney wants is to have people bunched in place for a long chunk of time. A Champions League soccer match between Atalanta and Valencia in Milan back in mid-February is often cited as a reason for the rapid COVID-19 spread through Italy and Spain.
The other signature piece of Mickey's Not-So-Scary Halloween Party is the gobs of candy that guests of all ages can receive at trick-or-treat distribution stations across the park. This is probably the safest of the event's experiences from a coronavirus-containment perspective, but the optics of Disney cast members dropping handfuls of candy into guest bags aren't kind.
There were already plenty of reasons to write off Disney's theme parks in terms of near-term profitability before Thursday's announcement of the Halloween party cancellation. It won't be business as usual this year, and we get it. The safeguards that Disney has to take to reopen this summer and the global recession will leave a mark on its bottom line through at least the next few fiscal quarters. This year will be a trick. The challenge now is to see if it's possible for next year to be a treat.