We're heading into what has historically been the Halloween season at Central Florida's theme parks, but it's never too early to start talking about the peak Christmas travel period. With Walt Disney (NYSE:DIS) and Universal Orlando parent Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) already canceling their after-hours Halloween events industry buffs were waiting to see if the House of Mouse would pull the plug on some of its more popular holiday festivities -- and unfortunately that plug is being pulled.
Disney announced on Tuesday that Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party and Epcot's Candlelight Processional will not be taking place in 2020. It's a big financial blow for Disney, but not entirely a surprise. The hard-ticket Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party at Disney's Magic Kingdom theme park is full of features that just won't fly right now. Candlelight Processional where celebrity narrators tell the story of Christmas backed by a live choir and an orchestra also is a thorny show to pull off given social distancing norms.
Folks pay as much as $139 to attend one of the Mickey's Very Merry Christmas Party nighttime events. They line up for holiday-themed meet-and-greet experiences, sip down complimentary hot cocoa and cookies, and watch seasonal parades and fireworks displays. All of these signature experiences would have to be modified or eliminated to comply with COVID-19-containment measures.
Nixing Candlelight Processional will also hurt Disney's pocketbook. The show is included in Epcot's daily admission -- it's not a hard-ticket event like Mickey's Very Merry Christmas -- but guests can secure choice seating for one of the live performances through premium-priced dining packages. The show wasn't going to work, even if it shaved back on seating capacity at the outdoor theater. Candlelight Processional features a massive choir and you can't muffle those voices with masks or spread them out on an already crowded stage.
One can argue that it's just as well. The economy's soft, and consumer discretionary income isn't easy to come by these days. It's difficult to say how Disney and Comcast would hold up given the global recession under a normal operating scenario, but these are the hands that the industry has been dealt here.
Disney isn't going all Scrooge McDuck here. It's going to do its best to get day guests into the holiday spirit. In lieu of parades it will have the same shorter character-fueled cavalcades that it's been having throughout the day. New menu items with a seasonal bent will be temporarily available. Santa Claus will make random appearances at all four parks. Disney's Magic Kingdom is also promising new nighttime lighting for its iconic Cinderella Castle, but that may be a visual challenge with the park still slated to close by 6 p.m. through at least the first few weeks of November's festivities.
There will still be holiday vibe across all of Central Florida's theme parks, but just as Halloween at Disney and Comcast's Universal Orlando won't be the same this year the same can be said about the Christmas holiday which typically draw the largest crowds of the year. Getting through 2020 will be the ultimate gift this season.