Disney construction updates: What happens next?

March 26, 2020, 6:02 PM · When Disney temporarily closed its theme parks earlier this month, the company was working on more than a dozen new attractions at its Walt Disney World and Disneyland resorts. What happens to those projects when the parks reopen? Will they all pick right up and continue as planned? Or will Disney drop or scale back some of its construction plans?

Disney has halted all construction work at Walt Disney World and Disneyland in compliance with local shelter-in-place orders. That makes delays in project timelines inevitable, especially for attractions that were scheduled to open in the next few months. But Disney is facing much bigger problems than the calendar.

All these business closures are creating an unprecedented financial crisis — one that's hitting the travel industry hardest, including theme parks. Disney is facing a massive loss of income from its parks being closed. In addition, the company's parks face reduced demand once they do reopen, as a result of the global recession (or depression) that's just beginning.

Disney will face a continuing loss of income either from lower sales or from having to reduce prices to maintain sales during the aftermath of the crisis. Either way, the money simply isn't going to be there to pay for major new capital projects they way that Disney forecast it would be before the parks - and much of the rest of the world - closed for business.

So what does Disney do to deal with that?

First, you can pretty much forget about any rumors or projects that Disney has not announced officially. The project that haven't moved earth yet are often the easiest to take off the calendar. Beyond those then, let's look at each of the major new attractions and development projects that Disney has announced officially for the Walt Disney World and Disneyland Resorts.

At Epcot:

Remy's Ratatouille Adventure was nearing completion at the time of the park's closing. Heck, I even got a construction tour of the ride earlier this year. Expect it to be finished ASAP once the parks reopen. Disney would love to use Ratatouille as the focus of a publicity event to show that its parks are back... and better than ever.

Guardians of the Galaxy Cosmic Rewind will be completed, but it could compete with the TRON coaster at the Magic Kingdom for priority within a reduced construction budget. Still, I expect the Guardians "story coaster" to be Disney's highest priority to complete as planned of all the projects originally slated to be done for Epcot's 40th anniversary on October 1, 2022.

Harmonious, the new World Showcase Lagoon show, will go on but easily could be delayed a year, allowing Disney to save some cash by letting Epcot Forever play another season... or just leaving the lagoon empty at night.

Work has started on the Play Pavilion, but it's somewhat out of sight and easily could be scaled back or delayed, as this is essentially the new Innoventions. But it's also an Imagineering skunk works for corporate synergy promotions, so I don't think that Disney would be inclined to scrap it, especially with work underway, preventing its most recent use as a meeting flex space.

Disney also could delay the Spaceship Earth revamp and just reopen the ride - as is - with the park. Spaceship Earth was slated to close in May for an extensive "reimagining," including a new script and show scenes. It still needs it. But with half the park a construction zone, I could see Disney opting to finish the spaces around the geosphere before tackling what's inside.

Moana - Journey of Water's relatively low cost likely saves it, but it could be eliminated as Disney certainly will scale back its plans for World Celebration and the areas around the former Innoventions site. (If that multi-story, dessert-party viewing platform thing in the middle of World Celebration survives this, I will be shocked.)

The Mary Poppins attraction — say buh-bye. It always was vaporware, anyway.

At Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom:

TRON Lightcycle Run will be completed but could be delayed from its still-unannounced-but-planned completion date, especially if Disney decides that it needs a new coaster in Epcot more than it needs another one next to Space Mountain.

At Disney California Adventure:

Web Slingers: A Spider-Man Adventure and the rest of Phase One of Avengers Campus remain a go, though I doubt that Disney will be able to make its announced July 19 opening date. I'm not nearly as confident about Phase Two and that Avengers QuinJet ride to Wakanda, however.

At Disneyland:

Attendance and guest spending over first few months after the parks reopen might well determine whether Mickey and Minnie's Runaway Railway remains a Walt Disney World exclusive.

Outside the parks:

Can "Drawn to Life" get its cast back and ready to go after Cirque du Soleil laid off most of its workforce? With nearly a billion dollars in debt as the result of another "ought to be outlawed, IMHO" leveraged buyout by a private equity firm, Cirque's future might be in doubt.

Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser is well underway, with an announced opening sometime next year. But will a battered global economy support the (very on-theme) above-the-stratosphere price point that Disney designed this experience to command? If not, this cruiser might have to spend some time in dry dock. No way that Disney is discounting this one.

A couple of DVC expansions likely are going into review after all this, too. At Walt Disney World, Disney's Reflections Resort easily could be delayed or scrapped, while the planned fourth tower at the Disneyland Hotel likely has entered limbo, as well.

Replies (6)

March 26, 2020 at 11:40 PM

Slightly related, but another big victim here is going to be Flamingo Crossings. This was supposed to be Disney Springs 2.0. Only the hotels and DCP commons have started construction, and with the fate of retail malls up in the air, they will be the only survivors.

March 27, 2020 at 5:05 AM

My best guess is something like the following will occur...

Anything slated for completion in 2020 will still be completed as close to on schedule as possible. While it may still be two to three months before the parks reopen for guests, it's very possible construction could resume sooner than that, especially if a bailout is granted. Many regional parks are continuing forward with construction on new for 2020 attractions (unless laws prohibit such activity), so Disney stopping is likely more of a financial move than a legal one.

Attractions that are planned to debut in 2021 or 2022 will likely also continue forward, as they have mostly started construction or at least had funds allocated to them by this point. However, there may be delays of anywhere from a quarter to a year on them. For instance, Guardians and Tron in Florida have been rumored to open in spring and summer 2021, respectively. I wouldn't be surprised to see Guardians pushed back to a June debut, and Tron similarly postponed to open in October (October 1st, the actual 50th anniversary?). In California, I don't think Runaway Railway will likely be cancelled, but it may become a 2023 project rather than 2022 to spread the cost over a couple additional quarters.

For anything more than two years out, I think we can toss anything we've heard out and assume it is all up in the air at this point. Some of those projects might survive intact and still open as planned, but I'd say a majority will either be reduced in size, pushed back at least a year, or outright cancelled. For now, I'm going to assume everything I've heard about plans post 2022 is outdated info that is no longer on the table, but we'll see what develops once more is known about the true impact of COVID-19.

March 27, 2020 at 5:54 AM

It's a shame they junked the Illuminations globe. Given that fighting this thing has been a truly worldwide effort, bringing that show back for a limited run when the park re-opens would be a really powerful statement.

March 27, 2020 at 9:08 AM

What about the two new cruise ships they are currently building? I'm guessing those are on hold also?

March 27, 2020 at 11:43 AM

@Ajrich102: The entire cruise ship industry is going to be feeling it longer than theme parks for a while. After all, after this entire mess, the idea of spending a week or so cramped close with hundreds of people on a boat isnt as appealing.

March 27, 2020 at 12:56 PM

I couldn't imagine booking an inside or ocean view room on a ship in the future after this and various Norwalk outbreaks. Balcony or bust.

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