Disney World Performing Group Was Brought Back From Furlough, Then Let Go

Walt Disney in the Magic Kingdom
(Image credit: Photo Courtesy of Disney)

Disney may be a Fortune 500 company, but its theme park division has been a rollercoaster in 2020 as its Florida Disney World and Anaheim, CA Disneyland locations have felt the effects of quarantine, shut down mandates and a lack of travel in general. Still, over the last few months, Disney Parks have shown signs of an increasing return to business as usual, but it hasn’t all been good news. In fact, one previously furloughed orchestra has now been let go by Walt Disney World after 32 years in the business.

If you’ve ever stayed at the Grand Floridian, you may already be familiar with the Grand Floridian Society Orchestra. It’s a group that has operated out of one of Walt Disney World’s most popular hotels for decades before the group was furloughed as the hotel closed earlier in 2020. Members of the orchestra were part of the 43,000 parks employees who were furloughed at that time. Then, Disney gave the group a chance to come back with a new task and a new name, as the artists previously known as The Grand Floridian Society Orchestra noted in a farewell address to fans.

The company brought us out of furlough, changed our name to ‘The Disney Society Orchestra,’ closed us out of the GF to play a show of Disney themed show tunes at the Theater of the Stars in Hollywood Studios. We’ve been playing 9 shows a day, 7 days a week since Aug 2nd. The music is a far cry from the closely knit harmonies & sounds we became known for at the GF but. the guys are real pros and they sound great! Well... Two weeks ago we got notice that the theater is going dark and our last day of work will be Saturday, Oct 3, 2020. As we all know, these are very uncertain times and can’t say what will happen from one day to the next.

About a month ago, as Walt Disney World was prepping for more performers to return to the stages and character costumes in parks like Hollywood Studios, we learned the newly christened Disney Society Orchestra would be playing in the amphitheater near the Tower of Terror that had formerly housed the Beauty and the Beast- Live show. A Union dispute had been keeping the Beauty and the Beast-based program from performing there. At the time, it actually seemed like a great stopgap for both Disney and The Disney Society Orchestra. The theatrical venue would not need to close and there would still be entertainment content in the space called “The Disney Society Orchestra and Friends” set to popular music from Disney films.

Previously, The Grand Floridian Society Orchestra was notable for playing in the lobby of the Grand Floridian. That hotel, located near the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World, only just reopened its doors on September 21. The Grand Floridian Society Orchestra had been furloughed for a while, so I wonder if the initial thought was that the group could fill in for the Beauty and the Beast Live show then return to the role once the hotel opened up on September 21. You can see one of the group’s performances below.

But it wasn’t to be. The group announced on Facebook that over the weekend the parks decided the group was no longer working in the theater and will close it out on October 3, 2020, disbanding afterwards. They’ve been playing together for 32 years.

So after 32 years of playing together and playing music we love... we’re done. We are so thankful for the opportunity to play in a beautiful setting for the hotel guests and friends we have met & made over the years. We’ll never forget you and how wonderful you’ve made us feel. We will miss you! Thank you-thank you- thank you!

As of July, the performers dispute had not reached a resolution and in more recent weeks Walt Disney World had also canceled events, including some upcoming holiday-themed events for Halloween and Christmas. Finally, hours and more at Disney World are still being cut short and some hotels are still not open (and not planning to open) as Walt Disney World is still seeing lagging attendance due to the pandemic. As the orchestra noted, times are uncertain, but we’ll keep you posted as the parks continue to adjust to the new normal.

Jessica Rawden
Managing Editor

Jessica Rawden is Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. She’s been kicking out news stories since 2007 and joined the full-time staff in 2014. She oversees news content, hiring and training for the site, and her areas of expertise include theme parks, rom-coms, Hallmark (particularly Christmas movie season), reality TV, celebrity interviews and primetime. She loves a good animated movie. Jessica has a Masters in Library Science degree from Indiana University, and used to be found behind a reference desk most definitely not shushing people. She now uses those skills in researching and tracking down information in very different ways.