When Will Parades and Fireworks Return to Disney World?

September 13, 2020, 4:26 PM · Dreaming about a trip to the Walt Disney World Resort, but you want to know when the parades and fireworks will return before you book?

Well, you have something in common then with people who run Disney. Because they'd like to know when their guests will be coming back before they book the return of their big parades and fireworks shows.

It's a classic Catch-22, chicken-or-the-egg dilemma. When Disney World reopened in July, it revamped operations throughout the resort in order to help promote safe physical distancing and help prevent the spread of the Sars-Cov-2 virus. The changes included the cancelation of parades, fireworks, and nighttime spectaculars.

Those shows drew should-to-should crowds before the parks closed due to the pandemic. Obviously, Disney can't pack guests together like that in the current environment. So it was just easier to cancel the big shows rather than try to figure out some way to present them while maintaining at least six feet of physical distancing between families watching — especially with so many other attractions, shops, and restaurants around the parks needing modifications.

Disney has pushed hard to convince fans that a trip to the parks is safe now, even while the pandemic continues to infect many and claim lives around the nation and the world. But for some families, parades and fireworks are an essential part of the Disney experience. Even if they don't perceive a health risk in visiting Disney right now, they might not want to come until they feel like they are getting a complete experience for their money. And that includes fireworks booming over Cinderella Castle, the Chinese Theater, and the World Showcase Lagoon each night of their stay.

So why not just bring back these shows now?

The answer is... as usual... money. Disney lost billions while its parks were closed for months. And it's not making anywhere near what it is used to bringing in during the summer, thanks to reduced capacities and the sharp reduction in travel to Central Florida. Disney is not about to incur any major new expenses now without solid evidence that the extra spending will result in additional income for the company. That's why Walt Disney World has shelved or delayed many of its announced construction projects.

And that's why Disney is going take its time returning major shows to the parks. It's not just the expense of the performers, the tech support teams, and the pyro. Think about the crowd control that Disney would need to deploy to support safe physical distancing among all the people who would want to watch the fireworks or a parade. Disney would need crews to mark out safe viewing areas and "no go" zones between them. Plus cast members to patrol the viewing areas before and during the shows, to ensure compliance with physical distancing rules.

I have no doubt that if Disney believed that announcing the return of fireworks and parades would lead to enough new bookings to cover the cost of that extra expense, we'd be hearing about these shows' return. But it's hard to make that math work so long Disney has to keep so much space in its parks clear of guests, and to reduce daily admissions through their front gates accordingly.

So long as people believe this pandemic will continue for weeks and months rather than years, it's just easier for the company to wait it out and bring back the shows only once they can operate under the old rules. But it's also easier for Disney fans to wait it out and postpone their visits until then, too.

And let's not forget that there's a big election in less than two months. If there's a change in leadership that results in firm new rules from the federal government — rather than a continued deference to individual states — that could affect how theme parks operate. So that's another incentive for parks to put off any major changes to what they are doing right now. Why make an investment you might need to reserve until you know whether or not a change is coming in January?

At some point, Disney needs to lure more people to its theme parks. The safety message might be helping, but clearly that's not been enough to get people traveling to Orlando again. Disney can choose to wait out the pandemic... but if that's not coming anytime soon, the company will need to deliver reluctant guests more bang for their buck.

And there are few bigger bangs in theme parks than a nightly fireworks show.

Replies (4)

September 13, 2020 at 6:46 PM

I like the thought that they may be waiting on the election. That may be a true sticking point!

The tried and true method is if you build it, they will come. So, if they open it (fireworks & parades) they will come.

September 13, 2020 at 8:17 PM

Until we reach a point where there are no restrictions for travel within the contiguous US, it's very likely the WDW we've got now is the most we're going to get. Convincing people it's safe doesn't work if there's factors beyond Disney's control that limit the ability for them to travel. Once those restrictions are loosened, however, I suspect we'll start to see a slow return of shows, parades, and fireworks as more and more people plan trips. It's necessary for Disney to chance it a little to get people to come, but there's a lot of ways they can scale it. While I do think it's improbable to return to fully normal operation before international tourism travel resumes in a significant fashion, I'd be surprised if every major element of the resort isn't at least in partial operation by the start of next summer.

September 13, 2020 at 10:12 PM

Certainly Epcot could do a fireworks show in safe fashion. If SeaWorld can do one every weekend around their lagoon, there’s no reason why Disney can’t either.

September 14, 2020 at 12:55 PM

I can see Disney being more cautious than other parks. COVID at Disney is potentially international news that PR won’t want to deal with.

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