Walt Disney (DIS -1.39%) launched its new online reservations system for its Florida theme parks on Monday morning -- or at least it tried to get the new platform off the ground. Disney World's gated attractions won't open until next month, but they will require visitors to make advance reservations given the initially limited capacity at each of the four iconic theme parks.
The new system was supposed to go online at 7 a.m. on Monday for guests staying at a Disney resort hotel -- with those having annual passes or tickets without a resort stay getting a crack at the platform later this week -- but things didn't go as planned. Social media was quickly ablaze with folks unable to load the site on Monday.
Disney had months to get ready
The world's largest theme park operator is no stranger to online reservations. Disneyland and Disney World routinely have highly anticipated openings for running events, festivals, merchandise rollouts, and experience previews that get slammed with visitors. This happens when demand exceeds supply, but in this case there were no confirmations of folks getting through in the first hour of availability.
We may never find out what went wrong on Monday morning, and Disney did try to keep demand in check. It stopped booking new hotel stays and selling new admission media earlier this month. It staggered access to the platform, giving folks with existing on-site stays the ability to square away theme park reservations at least four days before everybody else. It wasn't enough.
Bulls will argue that this is an encouraging sign. Despite all of the hoops that Disney made guests jump through to thin the crowd of potential platform hoppers for Monday's launch, it was still too many people for its system to handle. If Disney World is still popular in the new normal, with Florida COVID-19 cases spiking and all of the social distancing safeguards in place, it's a welcome sight ahead of the phased reopening of the theme parks that will officially begin on July 11.
However, one has to wonder why Disney wasn't better prepared for Monday. Its parks have been closed for more than three months at this point. Shouldn't tech resources and server availability be good to go at launch? Will the scene repeat itself when an even larger number of pass and ticket holders slam the system on Friday morning? Disney is currently taking reservations as far out as late September of next year, so clearly this is going to be the new normal for a long time.
Disney's minority-owned theme parks in Shanghai and Hong Kong have already opened with similar online reservation requirements, and they didn't roll out with the same kind of glitches. On the one hand it's great to see consumers hungry again for Disney's theme park experiences in light of a pandemic and recession, but one also has to wonder why the world's leading player in this tourist-attracting niche didn't have its act together when it's opening at least a month later than all of its central Florida rivals.