Winter after the holidays was reliably a slower time of year for crowds at Walt Disney World, but in recent weeks waiting time soared and large crowds filled the parks. With crowd levels now on par with pre-pandemic levels, it’s no surprise that Disney is reopening some of the last holdouts from their 2020 closure.
The pandemic has seen the longest closure in Walt Disney World history, with the parks reopening in July 2020 after being closed for nearly four months. With limited capacity related to social distancing, once the resort reopened many restaurants, entertainment and entire hotels remained closed. Labor shortages, supply chain issues and all the other pandemic-related issues we’ve all become so familiar with meant that reopening a San Francisco-sized resort that claims to be the largest single-site employer in the country was no easy task. . The reopening has taken place in phases over the past eighteen months, with evolving pandemic safety protocols being a key driver of each stage.
As the latest wave of variants slows down, the resort is in the midst of another phase of reopening. With a constant trickle of news coming out of Disney, these phases can be hard to tell apart. A Disney fan and podcaster in New Jersey, Matt Petolicchio, hoped to bring clarity to the extended reopening process by developing an index to better understand progress in reopening the station. Inspired by the natural disaster-related Waffle House Index that considers the famous restaurant chain an indication of disaster recovery efforts, the Disney Comeback Index shows how far Disney World is in its reopening efforts.
When the resort reopened in late June, before the parks themselves reopened, the index recorded just 9.8%, buoyed mostly by Disney Springs. By the end of 2020, that figure had risen to almost fifty percent, thanks to the return of several attractions and dining options. Throughout 2021, the index slowly rose to end the year at just over 78%.
Attractions, Disney Springs, restaurants and resorts are almost all back to their pre-pandemic levels, but entertainment and paid events / seasonal events are still far from their previous operations, the index giving them respectively 56.03% and 47.58% . That will soon change with more entertainment returning to the parks in the coming weeks.
The Magic Kingdom saw its first full parade return this winter when it hosted the fan-favorite Mickey’s Once Upon a Christmastime Parade as part of its holiday offerings. But with that parade now over for the season, the station has once again become parade-free. On March 9, the Festival of Fantasy Parade will finally return after a two-year hiatus. Best known for the evil steampunk-inspired fire-breathing dragon, the Festival of Fantasy Parade will celebrate its eighth anniversary on its return date. Before the parade returns, the shows will return to the fully renovated castle stage in front of Cinderella’s Castle when an update to Mickey’s Magical Friendship Faire debuts on February 25.
In Frontierland, The Hoedown Happening will return on February 11. That same day will see the start of a whole new cavalcade of characters in the Magic Kingdom. Character rides, where Disney characters are ferried through the parks on floats or vehicles surprising guests as they pass, were initially in response to the closure of traditional character encounters due to social distancing concerns. but they proved extremely popular. Now, even though many of these character encounters are reopening, the cavalcades seem to be sticking around.
At Hollywood Studios, the Fantasmic! lagoon has been filled with the imminent return of this show. Like other entertainment, Downtime for Fantasmic! saw the show get a refresh with the extended Pocahontas scene now replaced by other Disney classics, such as Moana and Frozen.
A reimagined Finding Nemo musical will open at Animal Kingdom’s Theater in the Wild later this year and, for the first time, will be updated to include elements from the franchise’s record-breaking sequel.
While no official news about a reopening has yet occurred, several Disney fan sites have begun reporting that the Hoop-Dee-Doo musical revue is gearing up for a comeback very soon. In a recent episode of the Disney Dish with Jim Hill podcast, Touring Plans founder Len Testa noted that the ultra-upscale Victoria & Albert’s restaurant at the Greater Floridian may reopen soon in a bid to be considered in the Michelin’s next first round in Florida. Comments.
Still, there are a surprisingly high number of items that have yet to be given a reopening date. There is no indication when or if the Spirit of Aloha dinner show will return to the Polynesian Village Resort. There are also several smaller attractions to return to. Some, like the Bibbidi Bobbidi Interactive Shop and the Enchanted Tales with Belle experiences, come as no surprise, as they require hands-on, up-close interactions between cast and guests. But others, like Voyage of the Little Mermaid and Star Wars: A Galactic Spectacular, both at Hollywood Studios, have little reason to be recalcitrant yet, leading some to speculate they might not be back from the all.
Even though more and more things are reopening and physical distancing now seems like a luxury of yesteryear when shopping at Disney Springs, it’s crucial to remember that we haven’t completely escaped the grip yet. of the pandemic. But as the Disney Comeback Index increases, it gives us an indication of how far we’ve come. For the first time since the start of the pandemic, the index is expected to exceed 80% later this month.
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