by Beth Keating
May 29, 2020
Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings announced today (May 29) that Disney World had been granted the official go-ahead from the state to move forward with their re-opening plans. (The Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force had granted their approval on May 27, with additional approval from Mayor Demings, before sending the re-opening plans to the state for their okay.) Guests can officially begin returning to the Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom on July 11th, with Epcot and Hollywood Studios following on July 15th. SeaWorld was also granted approval to open June 10th. Universal had previously been granted approval to open June 5th.
That’s good news, right? Well, now for the bad news.
I’m actually afraid to post this part of the article. It seems that, right now, as soon as I write something up, Disney releases another change, and the first article is scrapped … then the second, and the third. I wrote a story last night, and by the time I woke up this morning, the details of Disney’s opening plan had changed yet again.
This particular change, though, had me hyperventilating. I awoke to discover news that my Disney dining reservations were being cancelled. We had a trip planned for later this year, and I had gone into work late on the morning of my 180 days-out-booking-window so that I could get the reservations that we wanted. By some miracle, I had managed to get each of the reservations that were on our wish list. Some of these tables had alluded us for years, but this time, we got everything we wanted, and in the time zones we wanted. The only thing still hanging was an open spot for Space 220, on the outside shot that it might actually open sometime during our lifetime. One could only dream.
To people who are used to making hotel reservations nearly a year ahead of time, booking dining reservations 180 days out (yes, you need to decide where to eat six months ahead of your meal!), and arranging Fast Passes 60 days out, changing things on the fly is a little disconcerting. I will admit to being the crazy Disney mom with the spreadsheets. It doesn’t matter that I have the My Disney Experience app, I still rely on paper printouts, color coded, with confirmation numbers dutifully cataloged. Magic Kingdom is loaded on the page in red; Animal Kingdom is in green; Hollywood Studios is purple… you get the picture. It’s obsessive, I know.
So, fast forward to today, when my dining reservations went out the window. Although the reservations were currently still showing up on the My Disney Experience app at noon, I’m sure they’re going to disappear at any moment. According to a posting on the Disney Parks website:
As a result of limited capacity, we have made the difficult decision to cancel all existing dining reservations and experience bookings, including Disney dining plans included in packages. Unfortunately, due to capacity reductions, the following will be cancelled:
- Dining reservations
- Offerings and experience bookings such as behind-the-scenes tours
- Disney dining plans included in packages
- All FastPass+ selections.
Along with the cancellation of special experiences and dining packages, there are also changes coming to the hours of park operations, likely due to the absence of the nighttime fireworks shows which will not be taking place, as well as the need for extra time for cleaning down the parks under the new cleanliness guidelines. Extra Magic Hours are also temporarily suspended.
Dining reservations, when they do reopen, will shift to a 60-day booking window to allow guests to make reservations closer to their actual arrival dates, and guests can expect that dining and tour experiences will operate under more limited attendance numbers. New ticket sales are also on pause. These changes are all being made to prepare for a new Park Reservation System that will have guests making reservations ahead of arrival for specific entry to the parks under reduced attendance limitations. Existing ticketholders and APs will be given priority in rebooking before the window opens to new ticket holders. According to Disney, guests who booked Resort hotel reservations with a Free Dining Package for dates between May 28, 2020 and September 26, 2021, will receive an automatic cancellation of their Disney dining plan and are invited to rebook their vacation for a later date with a 35% room discount. New bookings at Resort hotels are also paused while those with existing reservations are doing the rebooking dance. And, as most people are already aware, masks, temperature checks, and distance markers on the ground are already part of the Disney experience.
While these cancellations are enormously disappointing (we’ve tried to get some of those dining reservations over the course of multiple trips without success, and now they are gone again), I have confidence that Disney will figure out a way to make this right for guests. COVID-19 sent a huge whammy in their direction, too, and they are reacting to moment-by-moment changes just as we all are in our everyday lives. Information is bound to change yet again as Disney prepares this new Parks Reservation System to come online. Some guests and Annual Pass Holders are already getting emails about procedures to change their reservations. And, of course, this is all contingent on whether or not the country experiences a rebound of COVID-19 cases, which could bring things back to a standstill.
Here are my apologies in advance, but by the time you read this, the information may already be obsolete. I’ll just leave you with two links at which Disney has been posting their updates.
“PRESS CLUB C Podcast with Ray Keating – Episode #10: Streaming Fueling the Nerd, Including the Disney Nerd”
Beth Keating is a regular contributor to DisneyBizJournal.