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Will Disney World Close Before Disneyland Reopens?

By Rick Munarriz – Updated Oct 29, 2020 at 12:35PM

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Theme parks across Europe, including Disneyland Paris, are closing down. All eyes are on Florida now.

Things don't seem to be getting any easier for the theme park industry. Facing a spike in coronavirus cases across Europe, parks in Belgium and Italy announced a monthlong shutdown last week. This week, we're seeing partial lockdowns declared in Germany and France that will force theme parks in those countries to lock their turnstiles for at least the next few weeks. 

Disney (DIS 2.07%) is feeling the sting. Disneyland Paris is closing at the end of today's operating day. It hopes to reopen by Dec. 19 in time for the peak two-week holiday season, but that stipulation naturally rests on prevailing conditions and what the government guidance will be at the time. 

This is historically the slow season for the industry, and many attractions are closed or limited in operations anyway. But with U.S. cases hitting record daily highs this week, one has to wonder if Disney's stateside operations will also have to hit the pause button. We have to start bracing ourselves for the grim possibility that Florida's Disney World might have to close again before the original Disneyland gets a chance to reopen.

Mickey Mouse in regal attire poses in front of Cinderella's Castle at Disney World's Magic Kingdom.

Image source: Disney.

Get off to your left, please, when the ride stops

Suggesting that Disney World may have to close in the next few weeks is a jarring notion, and it's one that certainly isn't on the table right now. The U.S. has set new daily records three times this week, but Florida itself is holding up a lot better than it was in mid-July when Disney World opened to the public. 

Florida's daily case count peaked north of 15,000 on July 12. Cases are rising in the state, but we're still at less than a third of that summertime spike. Lockdowns are always a possibility, however, as we brace for what could be a second wave. And it wouldn't be up to Disney itself to decide its fate, as we've seen play out with the standoff in California.

Disney World is sending mixed messages. It's gradually starting to reopen some of its previously shuttered resort hotels and restaurants, but this week, the Florida resort did send pink slips to more of its hires. Disney's in-park entertainment division is getting the brunt of this round of layoffs, as many live-show casts and roaming performers feel the pinch. It's just another grim reminder that Disney World may be technically open for more than three months now, but we're not getting any closer to how things used to be at the self-billed "most magical place on Earth."

Disney World continues to lose money since reopening. We'll get a clearer snapshot on the matter when the media stock reports its quarterly results in two weeks, but it did say last time out that it's losing less money than it would if it had remained closed. 

To its credit, Disney World has proved that it can reopen safely in the pandemic. There haven't been any major coronavirus outbreaks tied to any of the Florida theme parks since resuming operations in June and July. But the narrative can change, just as it is doing right now across Europe, if cases continue to climb.

It would be devastating for Disney, of course. Consumers stop planning trips to the House of Mouse if they're not sure if it will be open or not, and that's before we get to the diluted experience that is presently necessary in the new normal. Momentum squandered is a dangerous thing, and that holds true no matter how magical a place you may be running.

Rick Munarriz owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Walt Disney and recommends the following options: long January 2021 $60 calls on Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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