Are Disney World guests happier at parks during pandemic? Company CEO says yes
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Disney CEO Bob Chapek made some bold statements.
People are happier at Disney World parks now — during a time when visitors must wear masks and can’t get the full experience — than before the pandemic, the company’s leader said.Advertisement
“Our guest satisfaction scores since we’ve reopened across the world have shown that, indeed, our guests are even more satisfied than they were prior to the pandemic,” Chapek said during March 17 interview with Bloomberg.
Disney World declined to release the guest satisfaction scores or provide more details on what the results said.Advertisement
Certainly no one, including Chapek, would ever wish for a pandemic that has killed more than half a million Americans, including 33,000 Floridians. But Chapek said the pandemic has given Disney a chance to make decisions previously considered nearly “impossible,” such as eliminating the annual pass program at California’s Disneyland and retooling the guest experience at the parks.
“Our teams here have been hard at work, making sure that when we reemerge, that we’re going to do so in a way that’s actually going to improve the guest experience even versus a pre-pandemic situation,” Chapek said in a recent interview focused on Disneyland’s reopening next month.
Much at Disney World is still not normal. You can’t hug Mickey Mouse or Elsa up close. The night sky is dark with no fireworks that might draw a big crowd. Not all the hotels, restaurants and performances are back open, and beloved runDisney in-person races and ticketed holiday parties have been paused, too.
But many regular park-goers say they agree with Chapek that some things truly are better than before the pandemic at Orlando’s parks.
After Disney World reopened in July, they noticed technology improvements that make it quicker to go through security or order food and how Disney has reimagined its live entertainment making it more spontaneous and stress-free.
Many praised the mini parades spread throughout the day so they no longer have to fight the crowds for a spot on Main Street, U.S.A., to catch the full show of parades. You might see pop-up, unannounced appearances from Mickey Mouse and Winnie-the-Poo roaming the parks at a distance.
Others rejoice over not having to book FastPasses, which Disney has suspended since July. When asked this week, Disney World declined to comment on when or if FastPasses will come back.
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FastPass? “I hate it,” Steve Forcum said. “I hate it with the heat of 10,000 suns.”
Without FastPass, he said he felt liberated. The pressure is gone. If it rains, they can switch plans. If they’re tired, they can sleep in.
“The ability to just kind of let the day take you where it takes you has been refreshing in the couple of trips we’ve made down there because you don’t have to have everything pre-planned down to the minute months ahead of your trip,” said Forcum, an annual passholder from Massachusetts who works in sales and marketing.
Orlando theme parks writer Seth Kubersky is rooting for the FastPasses to go by the wayside, too.
“Most of all, it creates this FOMO (fear of missing out). This feeling that ‘I’ve got this Fastpass at two o’clock and if I miss it, my day is ruined,’” said Kubersky, author of “The Unofficial Guide to Universal Orlando 2021.” “You know how often I’ve seen parents and children having breakdowns yelling at each other over a missed FastPass?”
At first glance, this new FastPass-less Disney World seems intimidating with a line for Epcot’s Frozen Ever After stretching all the way through the China Pavilion.
“It does feel different with not having FastPass,” said Alicia Stella, a theme park writer who runs the Orlando ParkStop site. “Even though the lines are socially distant, and they’re out the door, and they look long, they move very fast.”
Between the parks limited to 35% capacity and the spaced-out ride queues, some visitors say they don’t feel so claustrophobic. For Disney World, that is something new.
People “don’t have to worry about someone breathing down their neck. They don’t feel jammed in like sardines, and I think that leads to a better experience,” Stella said, joking about getting space away from “that one person who forgot to wear deodorant in Florida in the summer.”
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Still, several said they hope Orlando’s theme parks keep the ride queue markers on the ground as a permanent way to space everyone out.
What could stick around long-term, Kubersky speculates, is the theme park reservation system that everyone from resort guests to annual passholders must make in advance to get into a specific park on a particular day.
For Disney, the reservation system was rolled out to tightly control its capacity during the pandemic, but Kubersky says Disney benefits from getting more precise numbers of who is coming every day so it can deploy employees more efficiently and set park hours accordingly.
“The pandemic, especially with the reservation system has given (Disney) a really key data point that they didn’t have before. And I’m sure they’re not going to be too willing to give that data up now,” Kubersky said.
Disney World allows reservations to be made as far into advance as mid-January 2023, although the company declined to comment on the future of the program.
Others applaud Disney for its health measures.
Before the pandemic, Orlando nurse Iris Lalli was already uncomfortable with germs when she touched the ride safety harness or the fingerprint scanner at the turnstiles. She immediately washed her hands.
Lalli is impressed with all the mobile hand-washing and hand sanitizer stations around the parks. She hopes they remain even after the coronavirus pandemic is over.
She likes the other contactless updates that make going to the parks quicker and easier, such as the recent security change where she walks straight through the metal detector without a security guard digging through her bag.
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The existence of Disney World’s mobile dining has been around since 2017 but it has soared in popularity during the pandemic and expanded to more quick-service restaurants. In early 2020, less than 10% of visitors used it.
Now, more than eight out of every 10 visitors ordering food at the parks does it through mobile ordering, according to Disney.Advertisement
With all the changes, are guests truly happier at Disney World?Advertisement
He reflected on a recent trip where, yes, there were no FastPasses, but other changes bothered him. The Monorail ran limited hours because of park cuts, many hotel restaurants were closed and he had to use his full Disney Vacation Club points to cover his stay even though Disney offered steep discounts to other guests.
Stella is on board with Chapek.
Maybe people are just thankful to return to Disney World after last year’s four-month closure, grateful for the Disney employees who are working and enforcing the safety rules. It’s a communal spirit that Disney-goers haven’t felt before, she said.
“There’s a feeling, we’re all in this together,” Stella said. “We understand the bigger picture and that probably leads to more happiness.”