I've been to all four of Walt Disney's (NYSE:DIS) Florida theme parks since its resort reopened two weeks ago. There's a lot to like about how the media giant has handled the challenging if not controversial process of getting back to business. But there is still plenty that Disney didn't get right.
Let's go over some of the things that Disney World could've done a better job of nailing after closing its parks for nearly four months due to the COVID-19 crisis. I'll be back later in the week to single out a few things that Disney is getting right.
1. Construction during the downtime
A silver lining in having Disney World's gated attractions shuttered for 117 days is that it could've taken this operating lull to speed up the development of upcoming attractions as well as work the kinks out of its buggiest new rides. None of this happened. The next Disney World ride slated to open, Remy's Ratatouille Adventure at Epcot, is highly unlikely to make the summertime debut that was promoted as recently as seven months ago.
Rise of the Resistance at Disney's Hollywood Studios is a bar-raising Star Wars-themed experience that can't sustain its uptime. The ride broke down several times this past weekend. It's a high-tech attraction with a lot of components, but Disney had four months where it could've fine-tuned the E-ticket ride without having to worry about day guests. Four months! Use the four, Luke.
There are also some upcoming additions that have been reportedly scrapped. Obviously the pandemic has left a crater-sized hole in the park's budgeting efforts, but quietly sweeping abandoned projects that were already announced under the rug isn't a good look.
2. Passholder communications have been weak
I went into how Disney dropped the ball with its annual passholders in depth yesterday, so I won't spend too much time playing up that point this time around. Disney was dealt a bad hand here, but it also played it terribly.
Passholders have received the short end of the parks reservation stick this summer, and there are horror stories of folks spending hours on hold to reach Disney call centers to address refund requests, pass extensions, and other concerns. It makes financial sense for Disney to prioritize overnight guests and visitors with single-day tickets over the passholders since they generate more revenue per day. But the least Disney could've done here is make the process clearer and answers more accessible.
3. Virtual queue bottlenecks
There's just one attraction across Disney World's four theme parks that requires some extra hoop-jumping to get on, and that ride is Rise of the Resistance at Disney's Hollywood Studios' Galaxy's Edge expansion. It's the only ride that requires guests to hop on an app at certain times to secure a spot on a virtual queue, and it's a lottery for the trigger fingers.
Before the pandemic, the ride required folks to arrive at the theme park just before it actually opened, as the reservation window opened at the theme park's official opening time. All of the day's reservations would be spoken for within minutes, if not seconds. With Disney limiting daily attendance, one would think that it would be easier to experience the popular ride, but that's not necessarily the case. Because of social-distancing norms, each eight-seat vehicle can only take one party. A couple riding would translate into six empty seats. The park also isn't open for as many hours as it was pre-pandemic. In short, a lot fewer people get to experience the ride on any given day.
Disney did one thing that seemed right on the surface. Instead of a single reservation window, Disney broke it up into three. Guests can battle it out with other app-cradling guests at 10 a.m., 1 p.m., and 4 p.m. for a chance to ride. But by dividing the allocations even more, it means that these slots get filled within seconds. As you can probably also imagine, the ride's pesky downtime also means that a lot of the later reservations don't even get called -- and that's just going to force more people to arrive before the park opens. The lack of crowding that Disney was hoping to achieve in the morning isn't going to go away until it can crack the code on a very popular experience that few get to experience.
Disney is smart; it's not a media giant by accident. This is a unique time, and I believe a lot of the initial shortcomings will be solved by trial and error.