As we look into the foggy future to try and predict when Walt Disney World will be able to return to “normal”, there are really two key milestones that need to be hit – the widespread distribution and implementation of a vaccine, and increasing capacity limits. While there are far more qualified sources on the internet to discuss a vaccine, we feel comfortable discussing capacity limits and when Disney World will increase capacity.
No State-Level Restrictions
We’ll start our discussion on capacity by exploring what restrictions are imposed by mandate on Walt Disney World.
Back in late-September, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis said that Florida is in “phase 3” of the Plan for Florida’s Recovery. What does this mean for Theme Parks?
Theme parks may return to normal operations with limited social distancing protocols.
In short, there are no restrictions on capacity from state mandate and theme parks are only required to implement “limited social distancing protocols”. An exact definition for what “limited social distancing protocols” means was not readily available, but other industries are expected to “maintain adequate sanitization practices among employees and patrons” in Phase 3.
Going back to capacity, DeSantis has given the go-ahead for sporting venues to reopen at 100% capacity in the state and has said that he supports increasing capacity at theme parks.
If there are no state-level mandates, what is holding Disney World back from increasing capacity?
According to Disney CEO Bob Chapek, Disney World is limited to a 25% capacity due to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations. Here’s what the CDC has to say about large events and gatherings:
It is safest to avoid crowded places and gatherings where it may be difficult to stay at least 6 feet away from others who are not from your household. If you are in a crowded space, try to keep 6 feet of space between yourself and others at all times, and wear a mask. Masks are especially important in times when physical distancing is difficult. Pay attention to any physical guides, such as tape markings on floors or signs on walls, directing attendees to remain at least 6 feet apart from each other in lines or at other times. Allow other people 6 feet of space when you pass by them in both indoor and outdoor settings.
CDC guidelines are clear – stay 6 feet away from other parties, both indoors and outdoors. According to Chapek, Disney has done the math on how they can ensure that there is enough space in their theme parks to maintain that 6′ distancing, and they came up with a 25% capacity.
In short, Disney World will not increase capacity until CDC physical distancing recommendations change.
Disney has maintained that they will continue to follow the recommendations of health and government officials. While there are no state-level restrictions on capacity, following direction from the CDC means that Disney is stuck at 25% capacity if they wish to continue to follow health officials’ recommendations.
Is Disney World Really at 25% Capacity?
It’s a question we get often: is Disney World really at 25% capacity? Let’s go back to Chapek’s statement that Disney World is still operating at or below 25% limits. When talking about capacity limits, it is critical to understand that Disney is operating at 25% of their maximum capacity, not their normal crowd levels.
Let’s break that thought down a bit more to make sure we’re clear. Before COVID-19, Disney World would shut down their theme parks after reaching capacity a handful of times per year. Most notably, the theme parks would close during the Christmas and New Year season.
Disney does not release capacity limitations, but most estimates put Magic Kingdom capacity anywhere from 85,000 up to 100,000 guests at a time before the park is closed to all new guests. If you’ve been inside the Disney World theme parks when they’ve reached full, pre-pandemic capacity, you know how busy it can be. Let’s use 100,000 as the Magic Kingdom capacity because it’s a round number.
According to TEA estimates, Magic Kingdom welcomed 20,963,000 guests in 2019, an average of 57,433 guests per day. That means that in a year where Magic Kingdom was the most visited theme park in the entire world, it operated at roughly 57% capacity on an average day. Let me be clear, Magic Kingdom is the busiest theme park in the known universe and it was just over half full on an average day.
Half-Bad Would Be Really Good
With that in mind, let’s now consider that we’re in the middle of a global pandemic and travel restrictions are put in place both domestically in terms of quarantine rules and internationally in the form of travel bans. Let’s also consider that the economy has been hit hard and Americans are even less sure where their next paycheck will come from. If Disney World saw a 50% reduction when compared to pre-pandemic attendance levels, it would still be able to hit the 25% capacity limitations Chapek was talking about. Then again, if Disney was able to hit half of their normal operating attendance, they wouldn’t have posted a $2 billion loss and had to lay off 28,000 Cast Members. Things are much worse than just “half-bad”.
When the Disney World theme parks reopened in July, they were a ghost town. Between a lack of typical offerings such as fireworks, even more travel restrictions than what we see in November, and even lower consumer confidence, there was simply a lack of demand for a Disney World vacation. If Disney was operating at a 10% attendance level, we’d be surprised.
That said, let’s assume that Disney was operating at 10% back in July and early August. Our subjective observations are that the parks are much busier now than they were in the reopening weeks, and it’s not a stretch to say that they have doubled the amount of guests since then. Still, if you double an attendance number that is struggling to reach 10% capacity, you’re still below the 25% capacity limitations that Disney says the 6′ social distancing CDC guidelines translate to. If there is anything to be learned here from Chapek’s statement that the theme parks are currently operating at a 25% capacity, it’s the stark contrast of just how much the parks were struggling for attendance in the early weeks.
When Can Disney World Increase Capacity?
In short, they are free to increase capacity right now as there are no state, local, or national mandates that say otherwise. That said, Chapek has stated that they will not and cannot increase capacity until the 6′ physical distancing recommendations are revised or rescinded from the CDC.
As always, keep checking back with us here at BlogMickey.com as we continue to bring you the latest news and photos from around the Disney Parks!