Will There Be A Great Big Beautiful Tomorrow at Walt Disney World?
The world has turned into a chaotic and tumultuous place over the last few months in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Walt Disney World is no exception. From an unprecedented closure to a confusing lack of communication, Disney World guests and cast members have essentially been left stranded.
Just days before the original opening date of April 1st after a two-week shutdown, Disney cast members were frantically refreshing our schedules to see if anything had popped up, messaging co-workers and friends to see if they knew anything, and constantly checking Google or Facebook for news. Orange and Osceola counties (both of which include Disney) enacted a “stay at home” order and Disney still didn’t address whether or not they planned to reopen as scheduled. Finally, less than a week before we were supposed to reopen, they finally announced that we weren’t returning to work. The caveat to that is that they didn’t give any date that we would be returning, just that they were closed “until further notice”. Since then, Disney has made further announcements for various employees, guest reservations, and potential new safety regulations once the parks reopen. So, here’s what we know so far.
- When Disney first announced they were closing until further notice, they also promised that all employees would continue to be paid until April 18th and that they would have another decision later to figure out how much past that date they would continue to pay everyone.
- A few days after that, the company announced that all non-union, non-hourly, and non-essential employees would be furloughed starting April 19th, even as many executives took heavy pay cuts to help continue to pay employees. Under the furlough, cast members would still receive Disney benefits including health insurance, would still be considered employees and be welcomed back in the future, and would be able to receive federal/state unemployment benefits. The cast members included in this are many of the theme park managers and executives, the Imagineers who design and build rides and park areas, and musicians. As of writing this article, there’s still been no word on a possible furlough of the other 80,000 US-based cast members.
- All international representatives, including all international college program students, are being sent home. Disney had ended the spring College Program (DCP) early in wake of the shutdown but had allowed some cultural representatives to stay behind if they couldn’t find a way home and intended to finish their program. Now, however, Disney has made the call that all international students must go home, and are working on a case-by-case basis to help them with travel arrangements. This also affects all students who had planned to arrive in June for the fall portion of the DCP, since Disney simultaneously canceled all June arrivals. Disney has promised to refund all fees that students may have already paid and has promised that anyone already acceptable is eligible to reapply in the future.
- Bob Iger, former Disney CEO, has offered some speculation as to what procedures might be put in place once the parks reopen. He mentioned that one possibility might be taking people’s temperatures as they enter the park, just as everyone must now go through a bag check. Although he didn’t confirm anything, he did state that Disney is carefully studying China’s implementations and that there will be changes made once the parks are up and running again.
- Disney World park hours are marked as “closed” throughout April so far, although it currently has hours listed for May and beyond. This means that theoretically, guests are able to make reservations and fast passes. The official Disney World website claims that “reservations are currently available for travel dates June 1 and later” but also states that guests will be able to reschedule again if the parks aren’t open by that time.
As a cast member, and a Disney fanatic, I’m proud of how the Walt Disney Company has been handling everything. They continue to put health and safety first and are doing what they can to make sure we’re taken care of. Of course, we’re all scared and nervous to hear about continued furloughs—for many of us, this is our only job and only means of income. However, it is unrealistic to hope and assume that we could be paid indefinitely while Disney is undergoing major financial losses and setbacks due to the park closures and delayed films. Although there’s no end in sight, Disney and all of its cast members remain optimistic and are taking this month by month. As the line in Carousel of Progress goes, "there's a great big beautiful tomorrow, shining at the end of every day." Once COVID-19 passes and most of life has returned to a sense of normalcy, Disney World (and the other Disney parks around the world) will be there to welcome everyone home. To offer magical memories and happiness, thanks and gratitude towards our medical personnel and other essential workers, and to allow everyone to forget reality, for just a little while.