As we look back on two weeks of theme park operations, a divide between operations at Disney Springs and the theme parks is becoming increasingly clear. While Disney Springs may have opened first, it’s the theme parks that are leading the way in terms of guest safety and reliable enforcement of the rules that Disney has put in place to help mitigate the risk of contracting COVID-19 while on vacation. In this article, we’re going to attempt to highlight the increasing contrast between Disney Springs operations and the theme park operations.
It’s impossible, literally impossible, to forget that you’re on vacation during the middle of a pandemic while visiting the Walt Disney World theme parks. A message plays throughout the day, pretty much everywhere you go, that reminds guests about the importance of physical distancing and to wear a mask.
Even walking down Main Street USA, the cheery background music dims and a safety message plays as a constant reminder that you’re visiting a Walt Disney World theme park during the middle of a pandemic.
This type of establishment-wide safety message doesn’t exist right now at Disney Springs. Guests entering from the garages might hear it if they are entering Disney Springs when the message plays (every 10 minutes or so), but guests won’t hear the message played around Disney Springs because it’s only played at the garage entrances. If background music is played around Disney Springs, safety messages should be played around Disney Springs as well.
Perhaps the biggest safety shortcoming at Disney Springs is the utter lack of enforcement. In our observation, there are two main issues that need to be addressed.
First and foremost, Disney needs to do a much better job staffing the Incredi-crew (or Social Distancing Squad, as many people know them by). We’ve visited Disney Springs multiple days and at different times and see the same thing: there aren’t enough Incredi-crew Cast Members roaming the walkways of Disney Springs. While we’ve seen some good enforcement from the Incredi-crew when they are around, the Cast Members seemingly have too much ground to cover and are understaffed. This isn’t the case in the theme parks. The theme parks are so well staffed with enforcement Cast Members, that there is even a position at EPCOT where two or more Cast Members pace the same 200 yards carrying signs to remind guests of the rules and to enforce proper mask usage where necessary.
We observed the same Incredi-crew Cast Member make a single lap in 45 minutes in The Landing at Disney Springs without any other Cast Members walking by in that time period. This was at dinner time on a Saturday evening, a time when Disney should be properly staffing Disney Springs.
That said, a lack of enforcement isn’t just the fault of staffing, it’s also the fault of third-party “operating participants”. This is critical – everyone in a theme park is on the same team, enforcing the same rules. While there are some exceptions where there are third-party operating participants in the parks, just about every Cast Member is representing the Disney brand and name while in the theme parks. That means that everyone from Attractions to Dining, Custodial to Security, is trained in the same safety procedures and enforces safety measures when they see that the rules aren’t being followed. That simply isn’t the case at Disney Springs.
We went to a popular restaurant on Saturday evening and saw a guest walk up to the host stand, inquire about a wait time, put in their name and number, and go stand nearby all while wearing their mask under their chin. The operating participant working the host stand didn’t ask the guest to put their mask on correctly, something that would have been an immediate request from a Disney Cast Member at a host stand within a theme park. That’s not to say that all operating participants aren’t enforcing the rules, because many are doing a wonderful job. In our observation, there simply isn’t the consistency in enforcement by third-party locations as what you see at Disney-owned locations or in the theme parks.
Another big thing where we see it become more difficult to have safety compliance is in the environment that Disney Springs operates in. That is, an outdoor shopping mall with easy access to grab-and-go food and drinks.
It’s amazing to think about how quickly Disney acted when they realized that eating and drinking while walking would be a problem after the first few days of the Taste of EPCOT Food and Wine Festival began. Just a few days after the start of the festival, Disney had signage installed around World Showcase, reminding guests that they need to remain stationary and physically distanced when eating and drinking. Yet, Disney Springs had been open for over two whole months allowing guests to do the same thing.
Now, there is signage in places around Disney Springs that is similar to the one seen at EPCOT above, but for two months this was allowed to go on without any clear messaging from Disney. Speaking of messaging, we’ll go back to our first point about the lack of a Disney Springs-wide audio message playing to remind guests that they can’t walk and drink/eat. Of course, it’s all moot without the proper enforcement, our second point above and something that Disney needs to improve upon if Disney Springs is going to be considered a safe place to visit.
But we go back to the same point about the environment of Disney Springs and how locals and tourists alike are used to walking around, drink in hand, enjoying the atmosphere. We used to love grabbing a moonshine to-go from Homecomin’ and strolling Disney Springs as the sun set on a warm summer night. Now, we see guests still continuing that behavior in the middle of a global pandemic and not a single Incredi-crew Cast Member in sight or third-party operating participant willing to intervene.
In our opinion, Disney Springs is on the verge of becoming a problem for Disney’s safe reopening plans. Disney Springs is, quite simply, falling behind when compared to the theme parks. It’s a stark contrast that we hope to see remedied with audio reminders that play throughout the entire complex (not just periodically at the entrance), and more staffing of Incredi-crew Cast Members combined with more consistent enforcement from third-party operating participants.
There’s no doubt that Disney Springs provides its own unique challenges, but if Disney is going to be successful in reopening Walt Disney World, there can’t be any weak links.