After three months of an unprecedented shut down, Disney World has finally announced that they’ll be reopening the parks on July 11th. The announcement came a week after Universal announced that they would reopen on June 5th and it was met with mixed emotions. Shock that they were opening so late compared to Universal, relief that it was both waiting a month and opening at all, and anger and frustration from both guests and cast members. Here’s the latest, and hopefully final, update about the Disney World shutdown.
Cast members are very uneasy about the recall back to work, and for a good reason—many of them still haven’t seen any kind of unemployment assistance since Disney furloughed everyone in April and are now starting to worry that they may not see any backpay once they go back to work. With a website that’s incredibly difficult to navigate and understand, thousands of cast members have seen nothing and have gotten little to no help. The DEO hotline is often either impossible to get through or less than helpful when you can get someone on the line. For weeks they’ve been addressing concerns with responses like “we’re trying a new online system, we’re trying a new payment system, we’re trying to catch up previous weeks and you should see something soon.” Yet despite all their reasoning and explanations, there are still thousands of unemployed Floridians feeling the pressure caused by an overwhelmed unemployment system.
Most recently, cast members are missing a week to two weeks of the $600 Florida CARES pay as they “switch to a bi-weekly pay schedule”. Cast members post to Facebook groups about their frustrations with attached photos of near-empty fridges and past-due bills. For those who are receiving regular unemployment pay, they are often “earning” more money now than they were than when the parks were open. Still, many cast members who have yet to receive any sort of benefits will surely breathe a sigh of relief when they get that magical phone call to come back to work. Thankfully for them, they won’t have to wait too much longer.
Disney has announced that for their July 11th and 15th opening days, all full timers will be recalled first, followed by part timers. There’s been no answers given for seasonal cast members or students doing the college program this fall. With limited resorts reopening, guest attendance, dining, and other magical experiences available, it’s hard to know how many cast members will be recalled for the July 11th and 15th openings. Disney has also said that until a location (i.e. Space Mountain or Be Our Guest) is open, that full time cast members from that location will be deployed to other locations as needed. Basically what this means is that it doesn’t matter what the location is or if a location is opening or not, ALL full time cast members will be recalled and placed where needed before any part time cast members are called back. It potentially could be another several weeks to months before part timers are brought back to work. The good news is that part time cast will continue to receive unemployment and the CARES payments since we would still be considered furloughed. The scary news is that unemployment and federal assistance may run out before we’re called back.
The other concerning thing is watching the way that guests and passholders have responded to the measures that Disney would be enacting. Disney plans to enforce the following safety measures:
The reactions to these measures have been mixed, but those against them have been the most vocal. Some guests claim that they’re going to cancel their reservations and vacations because they can’t be expected to wear masks in Florida summer. Passholders promising to cancel their passes and not come back. Overall it’s made cast members, my friends and myself included, uneasy to go back to work when there’s so much negativity surrounding the measures designed to keep us safe. What’s worse is that cast members will be required to wear masks throughout their shift, no matter where they work—and many of us work outside. It’s an unfortunate mix of understanding the safety measures and why they’re there and understanding where the guests are coming from. Florida temps can reach upwards of 100 degrees with rain and humidity and it’s hard to breathe through that most days. You add a face mask and constant talking, spieling, or walking, and the risk of heat stroke increases dramatically. Personally, I wish Disney—and Universal and Sea World—would’ve realized this and stayed closed through the summer. Hopefully Disney will have behind the scenes measures in place to ensure everyone is kept safe, hydrated, and cooled throughout the day.
Along with these measures comes several changes to attendance and reservations as well. All new reservations have been put on hold in favor of the guests that already had reservations or had rescheduled reservations for the resorts. Fast passes have been cancelled and suspended until further notice, and current behind the scenes and dining reservations have been cancelled. Going forward, those experiences will be rescheduled with a limited attendance to ensure social distancing. Fireworks, parades, and other shows as well as character meet and greets have also been suspended for the foreseeable future. These combined with the other health and safety measures have added to guests’ frustrations over prices and vacation plans, and I can’t blame them for that. At this point though, it’s a waiting game to see how it actually plays out and how people will respond come opening day.
For me personally, I’ve been receiving more money collecting unemployment than I received while working part time at Disney World, and it’s a sad truth that many of my coworkers have said the same. On the other hand, it’s sad to see how badly other cast members are struggling under the weight of a broken unemployment system that’s let them fall through the cracks. With so many mixed reactions surrounding the reopening, I can only hope that Disney is able to learn from any issues or successes that Universal and Sea World have and that Disney World is able to have a smooth reopening. I also hope that guests have patience with cast members as we all learn how to navigate a new normal throughout the parks and understand that it’s just as confusing and uncomfortable for us as it is for them. If anything, I hope that after this historic four-month closure has ended, guests are able to come to Disney World and feel even more magic and love for a place that is home to so many. There’s definitely going to be interesting times ahead, but Disney is doing its best to make sure that it will always be there to welcome us home.