The Coronavirus (COVID-19) has affected companies and citizens around the world for months. Country-wide lockdowns have forced businesses to shut their doors for weeks on end, some having yet to reopen. Mega-companies like Disney have not been safe from the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, the Walt Disney Company has been dealing with the rippling effects of the virus in different parts of the world since before January, forcing the company to do the unthinkable and close all of their Parks for weeks at a time.
On January 25, 2020, Disneyland in Shanghai was forced to close its gates because of COVID-19. A day later, on January 26, 2020, Hong Kong Disneyland followed suit. Around this time, the company was cautious but hopeful that the virus would stay at bay long enough for other countries to tailor their responses based on China’s actions. If countries could control the spread of COVID-19, it would allow normal park operations stateside and in Europe. On March 15, the executive decision was made to close Disneyland (CA), Walt Disney World (FL), and Disneyland Paris. The closure of a Disney Park is a unique and rare occurrence. As it relates to Walt Disney World, the resort has only closed eight times since its opening in 1971. Of those nine closures, only two of them have been for non-weather related issues, with the recent COVID-19 closures being one of them.
Let’s take a deeper look at the 8 times Walt Disney World has closed.
Hurricane Floyd: September 15, 1999
Hurricane Floyd formed in the Atlantic Ocean on September 7, 1999. By the end of the week, Floyd was set to make landfall in Florida.
On September 14, 1999, Walt Disney World closed early in preparation for the Category 4 storm.
The parks were closed for a full day on September 15th. Hurricane Floyd made a slight turn, and only clipped Central Florida (causing less damage than initial trackers showed).
Disney World reopened on September 16th.
The September closure marked the first time the parks had ever closed in Disney World’s 28 year history.
Terror Attacks: September 11, 2001
As many readers will remember, after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, the country was in a chaotic state. Businesses were closing, parents were picking up their kids from school, and our general way of life as Americans was forever changed.
As news reached executives at the Walt Disney Company that day, the decision to close the parks was made.
The closure of the parks marked the first time Walt Disney World had closed for a non-weather related reason (and only the second time in general).
The Parks reopened a day later on September 12, 2001.
Hurricane Season: 2004
2004 will go down as one of the most eventful hurricane seasons for Central Florida in recent history. Charley, Frances, and Jeanne all struck the Orlando area and forced Disney World to close (Hurricane Ivan also struck in September 2004 but did not cause closures)
August 13, 2004: On August 13th, Disney decided to close the parks early, and not open Disney’s Animal Kingdom at all.
This would not be the last closure of 2004 for the Parks.
September 4-5, 2004: Hurricane Frances caused Disney World’s first multi-day closure. Walt Disney World Parks all remained closed from September 4th-5th.
According to records, Disney’s MGM Studios (now Hollywood Studios), Blizzard Beach, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom remained closed on September 6th (The Orange County Register).
September 26, 2004: Less than one month after Hurricane Frances forced a three-day closure of the parks, Hurricane Jeanne caused a one-day closure.
The parks would again reopen September 27, 2004.
Meteorologists’ records show that Jeanne and Frances made landfall at the same spot, in the same season – the first time this had ever happened.
October 7, 2016: Before making its way to Central Florida, Hurricane Matthew caused significant damage to Haiti. As Matthew approached Florida, Disney feared it would be the first time in 12 years that they would have to close the Parks.
At 5 PM, on October 6, 2016, the Walt Disney World Parks were closed due to Hurricane Matthew. The parks remained closed on October 7th and reopened October 8th.
September 10-11, 2017: The closures of Hurricane Irma were really the first time that social media played a big role in documenting the damage that was caused by a storm (and what the closure of a Disney Park looked like).
Irma, which was a Category 5 hurricane, caused Disney World to close early on September 9 and remained closed on September 10th and 11th. Once the Parks had reopened on September 12th, damage from the storm could be observed for weeks after – mainly relative to trees and other landscaping.
September 3, 2019: Hurricanes can be very unpredictable. A storm that may appear to be a low category or on a path directly to one city may veer off and make landfall in a completely different state.
In 2019, Hurricane Dorian appeared to be on a direct route to hit Central Florida. Although the storm did not completely miss Walt Disney World, it made a turn back towards the Atlantic Ocean and Eastern Shoreline states.
The parks did close early on September 3, 2019, only to reopen again on September 4th. As Hurricane Dorian stayed mostly on the Florida coastline, it was determined that Epcot would stay open until 7 PM and Disney Springs would remain open until 8 PM. All other parks closed at either 2 PM or 3 PM.
Like Hurricane Irma in 2017, Dorian was well documented on social media and YouTube. It was around this time that YouTube started to take a significant portion of the media market. A number of well-known YouTube Vloggers happened to be at Walt Disney World for the opening of Galaxy’s Edge (August 29, 2019) and documented their Hurricane Dorian journey.
March 15, 2020 – TBD: One by one, many of the businesses in the United States started to close their doors due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
Disney fans around the country held their breath and held onto a little bit of hope that Disney would be spared during the spread of the virus. On March 15, 2020, it was announced that Disneyland and Walt Disney World would be closed until March 31, 2020.
Fans, business executives, and families all hope that it will be business as usual at the parks on April 1, 2020. Although we don’t have evidence to prove one way or another besides the 30-day closure of Disney Cruise Line, we believe this closure could extend past the March 31 target date. Piecing together various news updates, it’s safe to say there may be a look into the future. The famous Disney College Program sent all participants home, in-park entertainment (EPCOT specifically) was terminated, and construction of new attractions, plus all scheduled refurbishments, were temporarily put on hold.
It is yet to be seen what the full extent of the damage from COVID-19, both financially and emotionally, will be for Disney. What is known is that this is a historic time in the company’s long and storied history. For the Walt Disney Company as a whole, in a matter of just a few short weeks, the company has seen their prized CEO, Bob Iger, vacate his position, a new CEO in Bob Chapek begin his tenure, stocks nosedive from their recent record highs, and a near-complete shutdown of production and movie premieres due to COVID-19 concerns. For Walt Disney World, those same few weeks were just as eventful. Just days after Iger’s departure, social media was set ablaze with a number of attractions experiencing significant breakdowns (Jungle Cruise, People Mover), technical errors in the new boarding process of Galaxy’s Edge Rise of The Resistance attraction, the opening of a new attraction in Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway, and to top it all off…the closure of the resort for the longest shutdown in their almost 50-year history.
We hope that everyone stays safe during this very difficult time. For a lot of people across the globe, Disney is the one thing they can always turn to for positivity. The parks may be closed, but we all need to remember that the feeling Disney provides to us is a state of mind. This feeling can be experienced by the lyrics of a song, watching our favorite movie or even reading a Disney blog post. We understand that nothing will compare to the scents of the Main Street Confectionery or the sounds of mythical creatures while walking through Pandora, but we do know we are not too far away from having the parks reopened and that feeling of being there immerse us.
You see, through all the negatives the world may throw at you, you can rest assured that Disney will always be there to pick you up. Once the dust has settled on COVID-19, the Disney magic will seem that much more special, the scents will be just a tad bit stronger, and the feeling you get being back on an attraction will bring you back to your first visit.
Stay safe, stay calm.
Were you ever at Disney World before, during, or after a closure?