Walt Disney World Resort executives on Wednesday unveiled a phased plan to reopen its Magic Kingdom and Disney Animal Kingdom on Saturday, July 11 and Epcott and Disney Hollywood Studios on Wednesday, July 15.
Jim MacPhee, Senior Vice President of Operations, Walt Disney World Resort unveiled the timeline at a virtual presentation to the Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force. He spoke just after Marc Swanson, interim CEO of SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, said its parks propose to open privately June 10 and to the public June 11.
The parks widely-anticipated opening date is a milestone for Disney economically and symbolic barometer for the gradual reopening of the country still in the midst of a COVID-19 pandemic.
Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings was cautiously optimistic in comments kicking off the Task Force meeting. As of Tuesday, he said, the county had a relatively low COVID-19 “positivity rate” of 2.8% — about half that of the state of Florida, of 5.7%. That said, it means “some 320 people are still active with the virus in the community and others are likely asymptomatic but also positive. The virus is still alive in our community. As we reopen we must balance the safety concerns,” he said.
“This is a battle between what is dirty and what is clean,” he added, echoing a local health official. “Certainly as we reopen businesses the job of this task force is to reopen in a clean, safe manner.”
In his presentation, Disney’s MacPhee described plans for temperature checks of guests and staff, face masks and social distancing, frequent signage, numerous hand washing stations throughout the park and backstage and use of plexiglass barriers at retail and food and beverage locations. Capacity will be reduced at park attractions, restaurants, retail stores and transportation connecting the parks. Fireworks, character-meet and-greets, water displays and other events that might create crowds or make social distancing difficult will be temporarily suspended. The park will expand mobile ordering platforms at its restaurants. It will clean ‘high touch areas frequently. He said Disney’s strategy will focus around three keywords — “education, communication and engagement.”
Universal Orlando submitted its plans to the same task force last week to start a phased reopening on June 5. The Comcast-owned resort said its goal is to reopen to employees for testing on June 1-2. On June 2-3, the park would open to invited guests and some passholders, with a wide opening to the general public on the 5th. Similar safety precautions will require employees and visitors to wear masks — which the park will provide if necessary — and have their temperatures checked
All the nation’s parks were shuttered in mid-March amidst the coronavirus pandemic. Walt Disney World has also opened its retail and dining area, Disney Springs, to the public last week.
Shanghai Disneyland reopened May 11. It was the first Disney Park to shut down, on Jan. 25, following China’s nationwide orders to close public spaces and isolate people at home. Measures included temperature screenings and expanded social-distancing limiting the capacity of ride cars to single riders or riders within the same group or family. A reservation system also helped to stagger guests’ arrivals at the park, which limited its normal capacity 30% or about 80,000 guests. The idea is to gradually increase that as conditions allow.
Disney Parks and Experiences has six resorts worldwide including 12 theme parks, 53 hotels, and a cruise line, which together employ more than 170,000 people and have been flattened by the pandemic. U.S. park employees have been furloughed.
The division is the company’s biggest, generating nearly $27 billion for fiscal 2019 ended in June. Earlier this month, Disney estimated that it lost $1 billion in operating income for the March quarter alone, about half from the closure of U.S. parks which had only been shuttered for two weeks during the period.