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What the reopening of Shanghai Disneyland will tell us about Disney’s future

Guests enter Shanghai Disneyland after the park reopens

As expected, Shanghai Disney Resort’s theme park, Shanghai Disneyland, reopened its gates today. Guests with tickets and reservations, and who passed health screenings, were able to return to the magical kingdom in the middle kingdom.

Seeing a Disney theme park open, even if it’s on the other side of the world from Orlando, is a good sign for the company and a welcome sight for fans. While Disney Springs is getting reach for a very limited reopening on May 20 and Hong Kong Disneyland is beginning to open more hotels and restaurants, no other Disney parks have set a reopening date.

Before the Shanghai Disneyland officially opened a small ceremony was held to celebrate the reopening. Last night we shared a livestream of the event and some additional footage around the park.

In front of a beautiful spring colors planted “Floral Minnie,” Cast Members from every themed land in Shanghai Disneyland invited Disney fans and guests to enter the park. They were joined more than 30 Disney characters, including Mickey Mouse and his friends, Duffy and Friends, Marvel Super Heroes, Disney Princesses, Toy Story friends, and many more, to commemorate the special and momentous occasion.

“Since the reopening of Disneytown, Wishing Star Park and Shanghai Disneyland Hotel in early March, we have been deeply moved by the encouragement from our guests and Disney fans,” said Joe Schott, President and General Manager, Shanghai Disney Resort. “Today, we are extremely pleased to reopen Shanghai Disneyland thanks to the unwavering efforts of our Cast Members and our community. Today’s celebrations will be remembered with joy, as we look forward to welcoming our guests back to this happy place.”

There is demand. The first two days of tickets for Shanghai Disneyland sold out very quickly. Admitedly they’re only selling about 30% of the park’s capacity each day, but there are enough guests willing to line up and submit to health checks, wear face masks, and follow other safety regulations just to get a taste of the magic.

Will this trend continue and will Disney be able to generate profit with only 1/3rd the normal guests remains to be seen.

Hardcore fans will be back first. One thing we noticed from the video and photos of the first day at Shanghai Disneyland was how much branded attire the guests were wearing. Clearly these are some of the park’s most dedicated fans. You have to be to risk heading out into a theme park that’s still learning what works best for guest and cast member safety.

In the states, Disney’s parks have actively been thinning the ranks of its biggest supporters by raising the prices of annual passes and reducing benefits. I’ve always thought this was the wrong tactic as the park will need those fans to return if the economy ever took a turn for the worse.

I did not expect anything as bad as this, but Disney should have. Now it will have to work to rebuild those relationships to fill its parks.

That said, Walt Disney World recently updated their website’s closure information page with stronger language about how they reserve the right to cancel admissions media and reservations at any time. This has always been the case, but it also might indicate that the park will attempt to figure out how to open without accomodating annual passholders, at least at the start.

Some attractions just can’t accomodate physical distancing. A handful of indoor shows, attractions, play areas, and the night time fireworks spectacular were all closed at the park, but the impact wasn’t noticable. In fact most attractions had very short waits. The notable exception being the Dumbo attraction which has a very low capacity even before social distancing rules were applied.

Park rules did allow guests to remove their masks to eat or take pictures in front of the park’s attractions and icons. That seemed to work well. Other social distancing measures, such as stickers on the ground in queues, fewer tables in restaurants, and restrictions on ride vehicle capacity also seemed to work. But keep in mind the attendence was very limited on the first day. Will this remain the same if the capacity was 50% of normal attendance?

Contactless payments are required. This might be difficult for Disney’s parks in the United States to adopt. We don’t have a widespread culture of contactless payments and we have many unbanked or underbanked families in our country who may not even have a mobile device capable of supporting contactless payments. That said, Walt Disney World could rely more on their Magic Bands for payments with guests able to load up their bands at the beginning of the day and then get an automated refund at the end of the day with any money they don’t spend.

Characters will be out, but they will be kept at a distance from guests. We do notice those performers playing Disney Princesses are not keeping 6 feet apart, nor wearing masks. We hope they’ve all tested negative recently.

It’s not entirely weird to see Marvel characters in a Magic Kingdom park. We hope Disney will work to make a deal with Universal Orlando that will allow more Marvel attractions at Walt Disney World. This global healthy emergency is a good time for all Orlando resorts to come together to figure out how Orlando will function as a tourist destination when air travel is greatly reduced.

We know Disney, and the rest of the theme park and attractions industry, is keeping an eye on Shanghai Disneyland as they attempt to recovery from the economic hardship brought on by flattening the curve.

Now that you’ve seen the photos and videos, what do you think? Would you be willing to return to Disneyland and Walt Disney World with similar restrictions?