Walt Disney's (NYSE:DIS) master plan to have all of its theme parks open by mid-July is now on hold. The original Disneyland resort in California announced on Wednesday afternoon that it will not reopen its two gated attractions by its originally planned July 17 resumption date. California has indicated it won't be issuing reopening guidelines for theme parks until sometime after Independence Day, giving Disney little margin for error in bringing back employees for a mid-July date that may not be cleared by government officials next month.
All eyes are naturally turning to Disney World in Florida. It expects to open two of its four parks on July 11, with the other half following four days later. Will Disney pull the plug on that restart, too? With new coronavirus cases spiking in Florida and California -- hitting records on both coasts -- is this going to be a lost summer for the House of Mouse in its home country?
Let's not read too much into one resort's actions.
Florida and California aren't approaching theme parks the same way. Politics aside, Central Florida has taken a looser approach to restarting its most important industry. Disney World is actually the only theme park operator in the state that has to yet reopen. Legoland, SeaWorld Entertainment (NYSE:SEAS), and Universal parent Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCS.A) started entertaining guests in Florida through the first 11 days of June, and none of them have opened similar attractions in Southern California. Regional amusement park operators Six Flags (NYSE:SIX) and Cedar Fair (NYSE:FUN) have not announced restart dates for Magic Mountain and Knott's Berry Farm, respectively, despite making more headway in other markets.
Things aren't ideal in Florida. The state reported a record 5,508 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday. Hospitalization rates keep rising. New death counts remain in check, but partly because that's a lagging indicator and also because the median age of the new cases has been dropping for a pandemic that has been kinder to the young.
The saving grace for the industry is that it hasn't been tied to the surge in new cases. The spike in novel coronavirus is being blamed on bars, restaurants, and other large gatherings where temperate checks, face coverings, and social-distancing norms aren't being enforced the way we have seen at the theme park level. Legoland Florida, Comcast's Universal Orlando, and all five of SeaWorld's Florida parks have been open for at least two weeks. If they were hotbeds for COVID-19, we would probably know by now. Six Flags and Cedar Fair don't have a presence in the Sunshine State.
Disney World doesn't have to pull the plug just because its sister park in California has delayed its opening. Unless cases spiral out of control and smaller rivals in the state start to close down, the media giant will continue to be a go for launch in Florida. The negative sentiment may get louder if new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths continue to accelerate, but things are different in California, where the industry never got the initial green light.