The big question is not "When will Disney parks open," the big question, rather, is "How will Disney parks open?"
Walt Disney World in Florida has been closed since March 16 due to social distancing methods because of COVID-19. When the parks are able to welcome guests again, it's worth thinking about how they can safely and effectively open the gates.
Increased Screening/Safety Methods
One theory is that the parks will reopen with heightened screening measures. In a recent article with Barron's, Bob Iger likened new possible screening measures to bag checks. In addition to bag checks, people may be subjected to temperature checks before they are allowed to enter the parks. Iger said that they are closely watching how China is handling the re-opening of their public spaces.
There is no guarantee that Disney World will actually take guests' temperatures before admitting them to the parks; it was just an example thrown out by Iger. However, it does make you think. Will Disney World add any health screening measures to make the parks safer? If they do take temperatures, would they take them at the park entrances each day? Could you get a wristband for length of stay, or would you be tested each day? Would this also be required at the hotels?
Another safety measure that Disney World could enact is the requirement for guests and cast members to wear masks. I can already picture the row after row of Disney themed masks in all the gift shops. I can also see many problems with this. Just try to force a toddler to wear a mask, I dare you. It won't work out that well. Disney could go the route of highly suggesting all guests wear masks, but not making it a requirement. It would be interesting to see how many guests would wear a mask.
Disney parks may decide that they need to cap attendance at the parks at a very low threshold. This might be easier said than done.
It is impossible to say what the demand will be like when the parks reopen. It is worth considering that Disney may want to keep the crowds smaller in order to be able to effectively social distance within the parks.
There are several ways Disney could reduce crowds. They could limit park attendance to people with Disney resort reservations. This might do several things: it could be a very good strategy to fill Disney hotel rooms, which would bring a lot of revenue. On the negative side, it might further destroy local hotels and businesses that count on Disney for their revenue.
Disney could also open the parks to Annual Passholders only. I don't think they'll go this route, as people are able to make hotel reservations from June 1 and on. People who had their reservations canceled from March 16 and out were able to re-book their trips with a free dining offer. No way those people get left out in the cold just because they don't have an Annual Pass.
Another option is that Disney merely closes the gates of each park when they hit a much smaller, pre-determined number of guests. Frankly, I have no idea what number of guests Disney would determine is a safe amount.
Social Distancing in the Parks
Another consideration is social distancing. Let's say the parks open up before we have a vaccine, which is a very likely scenario. Will Disney enact any social distancing practices?
Disney could also temporarily stop meet and greets with face characters. Are face characters that integral and important to the typical guest's Disney World experience? Would a family still want to spend all the money on a Disney trip if their little kid doesn't get to hug their favorite princess?
We also need to consider shows. Imagine getting your seat in a 3D show like Philharmagic. In the past, the cast members always encouraged guests to fill in all available space. I could very well imagine cast members encouraging everyone to now skip several seats between themselves and the next group.
There have been rumblings in the Disney parks rumorverse about virtual queues. When the parks re-open, will queuing as we know it be a thing of the past? Rise of the Resistance operates solely on a virtual queue system. Could we see all other attractions use the same strategy? Even if this happened, I have to question its effectiveness. The virtual queue system did not completely eliminate lines for Rise of the Resistance; once your time came, you still had to enter the line with hundreds of other people.
If virtual queues don't work out, will cast members encourage people to keep a distance between themselves while in the queue? I don't think this would work that well. Some of the queues are pretty tight and narrow as is. I don't think it's even possible to keep too much distance from other people in those queues. If it is even tried, I can see people flowing out of the queue and into walkways because of all the required space.
Mobile ordering in restaurants could be an easy fix for mealtimes. No traditional queuing to order your food; you must make your order online and submit it that way. Cast members could be stationed at the door, help you retrieve your food, and then walk you to a pre-determined table that is a couple table lengths away from other diners.
Additional Cleaning Methods
It's also worth thinking about regular cleaning and sterilization methods. Will Disney place a large emphasis on constant cleaning? Is that even practical? I can picture a poor cast member jogging along the Peter Pan's Flight moving walkway frantically trying to wipe down the restraining bars as the attraction continues to load.
If it's not practical to wipe down every attraction vehicle in between guests, will this cause greater wait times due to the cleaning?
This might also require additional cast members. Consider that Disney temporarily suspended the College Program hopefuls who would have started in June and gone through August. I don't know the percentage of the workforce that the Disney College Program comprises, but it has to be significant.
Opening the Parks in Phases
Another suggestion I've been hearing has been to only open one or two parks at a time.
So, instead of having your choice of 4 main parks, perhaps only the Magic Kingdom and Hollywood Studios might open right away.
Personally, I don't like this idea at all. While it is true that Disney may have staffing issues, I can't even imagine the complaints from guests. I'm quite sure that Disney would not lower ticket prices, so would it be right to not open all 4 parks right away?
Feasibility of the Above Mentioned Methods
What does everyone think? I'd truly love to hear your opinions. Will any of the above methods work, or do they all have flaws and drawbacks?
I have to think of the infamous picture that went around social media when social distancing started of the young child who was licking a queue pole in line for a Disney attraction.
Disney can enact whatever safety measures they want. When it comes down to it, there might not be any great way to stop the transference of germs and viruses at Disney parks.