Disney Overcame a Pandemic Two Years Ago. Here’s How.

On March 15th2020, new Disney Parks leader Josh D’Amaro went viral for a lovely but regrettable image.

The Chairperson of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products happily hugged and took pictures with guests as they partied at Magic Kingdom.

This visual reinforced our society’s lack of understanding of how COVID-19 worked, an unfortunate truth that remained for many months afterward.

Still, those photographs and videos kept many people warm at night as they remembered about better times at Disney parks. But, unfortunately, it was all we had for nearly three months.

Now, two years later, those memories blur as the craziness of the world propels us forward, while the pandemic diminishes in potency.

Finally, we have the distance from the subject to appreciate what Disney accomplished here.

Yes, Disney nearly collapsed due to a pandemic, but it’s legitimately back to full strength.

Let’s take this opportunity to appreciate the many things Disney did right while at its lowest point.

When Disney Hit Rock Bottom

Two years ago today, the unthinkable happened. At the close of business on that date, both of Disney’s American theme parks closed indefinitely.

at Disneyland Resort

Photo Credit: news.iheart.com/

At the time, Disney used what would become the buzz phrase for the pandemic, “an abundance of caution,” to explain its actions.

A few days earlier, the NBA had prematurely stopped its regular season, while Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson had confirmed their illness.

tom hanks

In a brutal 24-hour period, North America quickly learned the harsh realities of living in a pandemic.

For its part, The Walt Disney Company teetered on the brink of total collapse due to the devastating financial impact of COVID-19.

Disney closed

Disney’s earnings for that fiscal quarter fell 93 percent (!) from the previous year.

The pandemic left Disney in shambles. Now, two years later, the company just reported one of its best quarters ever at the parks.

Disneyland return

Photo Credit: Disneyland

Seriously, during the first full quarter of the pandemic, D’Amaro’s divisions reported total income of $983 million, a massive drop from the prior year’s $6.6 billion.

For the most recent quarter in 2022, that number had increased to $7.2 billion. It’s an almost impossible feat to recover that entirely in less than two years.

Disney Earnings Report

How has Disney achieved this feat and escaped the bottom of the pit of April and May of 2020?

The company has done plenty right, even though people spend plenty of energy complaining about Disney. Here are a few examples.

Disney Got Smarter

In 2017, Disney accidentally got ahead of the pandemic curve. A few Quick Service restaurants added Mobile Ordering.

This fledgling service allowed park guests to order their food and skip the lines. It seemed like little more than an additional guest option at the time. But then, the world caught fire.

Mobile ordering proved ideal for maintaining social distancing in the wake of the pandemic. But, just as importantly, it allowed Disney to control restaurant tables.

Parks guests couldn’t sit down unless they showed a Mobile Order that was ready. It’s a MUCH better system than Disney offered two years ago, a time when a table wasn’t guaranteed.

Mobile orders

Similarly, Disney introduced Merchandise Mobile Checkout as another way to prevent needless encounters between customers and cast members.

Now, at participating Disney stores, all you need is a plastic bag, a smartphone, and a credit card on file to pay for your various goodies.

Changes like this have modernized Disney and allowed the company to get leaner. Simultaneously, cast members have stayed safer on the job.

Nobody will ever remember the pandemic fondly because it’s one of the worst experiences of our lifetime.

However, Disney utilized this business disruption as a means for streamlining the park experience, a benefit we’ll appreciate for many years to come.

Disney Modified Some Experiences for Our Safety

Disney hears your requests to bring back character interactions in the form that you remember them. I’m pretty confident they’re coming soon.

Dining events

Still, when the parks reopened in July 2020, any form of character interaction appeared impossible.

The viral nature of COVID-19 meant that interpersonal contact would risk everyone’s health.

So, Disney adapted twice. First, Disney replaced parades with Cavalcades.

A parade like the Festival of Fantasy involves 10+ floats and dozens of cast members dancing and performing as your favorite Disney character.

A Cavalcade works as more of a lightning strike. It’s quick and potent.

Mickey Cavalcade

A single float passes as a handful of cast members provide the beloved Disney entertainment.

The simplicity of this mini-parade comes with side benefits. The parks don’t grow overly crowded. Nobody tries to stake out a seat 45 minutes early.

In many ways, Cavalcades have proven superior to parades. That’s why Disney has made a couple of them permanent.

Similarly, character greetings have honored all socially distant requirements for the safety of everyone involved.

Even now, Disney Princesses hold court at Princess Fairytale Hall. So you can walk close to them, talk with them, and share a laugh.

The one thing you can’t do yet is hug, but that ability will return soon.

Disney correctly waited until it could protect everyone, something for which we’re all grateful.

Here’s the part that casual observers will never appreciate enough.

Neither Florida nor California’s health department ever traced a COVID-19 outbreak to a Disney theme park.

Somehow, Disney kept everyone safe.

Disney Controlled Crowds in an Impossible Situation

Here’s another remarkable way that Disney adapted to impossible circumstances.

Even in the wild, wild west of Florida, healthcare officials expected Disney to maintain capacity limits at its theme parks.

Park Passes

So, Disney invented the concept of the Park Pass. Guests must schedule a Park Pass to visit a Walt Disney World theme park on a given day.

Without a Park Pass, you ain’t getting in, even if you own an annual pass. That’s how vital these reservations are.

In the process of using Park Passes, Disney officials recognized a way to control crowds better. So, they’re permanent.

I actually like Park Passes the least of all the pandemic innovations.

Chapek park reservations

However, I know that Disney’s park surveys have indicated that guests prefer these smaller crowds.

Customers get to experience more of the parks in a less hectic atmosphere thanks to Park Passes.

Cinderella Castle painting

Disney Has Brought Back Nearly Everything

I’ll discuss this more in the adjoining article about Disney’s return to full strength.

Still, I’d be remiss if I excluded the topic in this discussion. Somehow, Disney is operating nearly at full strength only 20 months after it reopened.

Mickey Mouse

At this point, only a handful of restaurants and attractions have yet to return.

Meanwhile, Disney has opened two new rides – Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure and WEBSLINGERS: A Spider-Man Adventure – and an entire hotel!

Disney Genie pricing

They somehow accomplished this while short-staffed during a pandemic. It’s a stunning feat.

The Disney Community Stood Tall

Here’s the aspect that was entirely beyond Disney’s control.

crowds

The community itself came together to support Disney in the best way possible.

An overwhelming majority of park guests honored Disney’s modifications and new expectations.

Sure, MickeyBlog recounted many examples of guests misbehaving. But those stories stand out because of their rarity.

Elio Security Guard

Photo: Disney

For the most part, Disney fans appreciated the parks even more than they had before the pandemic.

Absence made our hearts grow fonder. So, guests acted on their best behavior by wearing our masks and following the new rules.

Disney World masks

Frankly, the changes weren’t easy, as Disney asked a substantial amount of its customers.

Thankfully, we understood the why of it and supported Disney in the ways that we could.

Guests returned to the parks, and they proved that Disney fans are the absolute best.

Orange County masks

In Disney’s darkest hour, the community stood tall.

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