by Lisa A. Beach
Walt Disney World fans, your wish for in-person, magical theme park moments might soon come true.
Walt Disney World execs today presented the theme parks’ reopening plans to the Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force. They aim for a phased reopening starting July 11, 2020. Along with Universal Orlando Resort and Sea World Orlando, Disney has been closed since mid-March to slow the spread of the coronavirus in Central Florida. The task force unanimously passed the adoption of the reopening of Walt Disney World, with final approval still needed from Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis. This approval process included an onsite inspection of the theme parks by officials from Orange County and the Florida Department of Health to ensure the reopening plans comply with guidelines suggested by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Jim McPhee, Walt Disney World’s Senior Vice President of Operations, gave a virtual presentation on the parks’ reopening plans to the task force — a panel of local community and business leaders appointed by Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings. At the meeting, McPhee asked for approval for a phased reopening of its Orlando theme parks, starting with a Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom on July 11, with EPCOT and Hollywood Studios set to open on July 15. The parks will begin with a soft opening a few days prior to July 11 for select audiences first, such as employees (called cast members) and season pass holders.
“We believe our reopening proposal for our property reflects a very thoughtful, methodical, and phased approach,” McPhee says in the presentation, noting that Disney is incorporating protocols into both the cast member and guest experiences. “This will reflect a thoughtful ramp up in our attendance strategy and allow us to launch, learn, and adjust along the way.”
After previewing the theme parks’ reopening plans from Disney, as well as Universal and SeaWorld, Mayor Demings said they all aim to protect park visitors “from the point that they exit their vehicles to the point they enter the attraction, purchase food, ride on rides and enjoy the other amenities within the attraction.”
McPhee presented comprehensive details of Walt Disney World’s reopening plan, focusing on education, communication, and engagement of both cast members and guests. Disney’s plan includes the following health and safety protocols for pre-arrival and on-site.
- Enhanced protective measures: Disney will take increased measures to help reduce the spread of coronavirus. This includes a layered approach, such as required face coverings for cast members and guests while on property, more hand washing and sanitizing stations throughout the parks, and physical barriers (such as plexiglass in point-of-sale areas at shops and restaurants).
- Physical distancing: Disney will significantly reduce its overall theme park capacity to enable appropriate physical distancing throughout the parks and within attractions, shops, restaurants, and transportation (such as buses and monorails). Disney will post appropriate signage of physical distancing requirements as a reminder and will deploy “social distancing squads” to encourage guests to follow the new rules.
- Enhanced cleaning and sanitation: Building upon existing cleaning standards, Disney will use heightened protocols both in the parks and behind the scenes, with more frequent cleaning across high-touch locations and surfaces in operating areas.
- Temperature/health screening: Using a contactless, handheld device, Disney will conduct guest temperature screenings at the main entrance to theme parks, similar to how they’re already being implemented at Disney Springs, which began a phase reopening in mid-May. Cast members in guest-facing areas will also be required to get onsite temperature screenings and at-home health assessments prior to reporting to work.
- Limited-contact enhancements: Disney will reduce guest and cast member contact points to avoid interactions requiring close proximity. The parks will offer increased mobile food ordering options and encourage cashless/no-contact payments with Magic Bands, Apple Pay and Google Pay.
McPhee didn’t elaborate. However, he stated that Disney will also manage overall attendance demand through a new theme park reservation system that will require guests to obtain a reservation for park entry in advance. Details will be shared at a later date.
Elements Temporarily Suspended
Some of the theme park’s most beloved elements will be temporarily suspended to assist safety, hygiene and social distancing efforts. Disney will pause meet-and-greet interactions between characters and guests as well as playgrounds and water effects. Also temporarily suspended — parades, fireworks and other events that draw crowds.
In a May 5 post on the Disney Parks Blog, Dr. Pamela Hymel, Disney Park’s Chief Medical Officer, stated, “Our focus remains on the health and safety of the entire Disney community — including the well-being of the cast members who are caring for and securing our parks and resorts during the closure. We continue to learn from these experiences and will carry these lessons into reopening and beyond.”
At the same meeting today, SeaWorld Orlando received local task force approval for its reopening plans targeting June 11 as the public reopening date. Like Disney, SeaWorld must also get approval from Gov. DeSantis to reopen. Universal Orlando’s theme parks, set to reopen on June 5, already received the governor’s approval for its reopening plans.
Planning to visit Walt Disney World when it reopens? Be an informed guest so you can be prepared and manage expectations. Check out the latest updates regarding health and safety measures on Disney’s website.