Disney, SeaWorld announce plans for Florida parks to reopen

FORT LAUDERDALE, FLORIDA (AP) — SeaWorld and Walt Disney World will reopen in Orlando, Florida, in June and July after months of inactivity because of the coronavirus pandemic, under plans approved on Wednesday by a city task force.

The proposals will now be sent to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis for final approval.

The plan calls for SeaWorld to open to the public on June 11. Disney plans a tiered reopening, with Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom opening on July 11, followed by Epcot and Hollywood Studios on July 15. Last week, Universal Orlando presented its plan to reopen on June 5. That plan also has been approved by the Orlando task force, which sent its recommendation to the governor.

“We are developing a series of ‘know before you go’ communication vehicles and our objective is to reinforce our health and safety messages to guests before they arrive on our property so they are aware and prepared for the new environment,” Disney’s senior vice president of operations Jim McPhee told the task force.

He said the parks would open with limited capacity, but he did not specify the number of guests who would be allowed in initially. In a statement, the company said attendance will be managed through a new system that requires advance reservations for park entry.

Earlier this month most of Florida’s counties entered a modified Phase 1, reopening restaurants and retail at limited capacity. South Florida, which has been hardest-hit by coronavirus cases, was added to Phase 1 earlier this week. DeSantis said he is eager to get businesses reopened and is expected to approve plans to reopen the theme parks, which are major pieces of Florida’s tourism industry.

Guests peer through the closed gate to Universal’s Islands of Adventure beside Universal CityWalk, in Orlando, Florida. PHOTO: AP

Disney World also plans smaller, soft openings prior to July 11, but no specifics were provided.

Brandy Bocchino of Powdersville, South Carolina, booked a trip to Disney several months ago for the week of July 11 for her daughter’s dance competition. The competition was cancelled but Bocchino held onto the date in hopes Disney would reopen. “We were very excited to read of the July 11 opening,” she wrote in an email to The Associated Press. “Must have had a little pixie dust flowing when we booked those dates!”

She said she feels comfortable going to Disney and being in crowds. “I have worn either a surgical or N95 mask every day since the beginning of March this year due to the pandemic. Wearing a mask is just something that I am used to, so I will be happy to don one. I really got the sense that they had listened to all of the experts and are trying to continue their business in the safest way possible.”

SeaWorld is planning an employee appreciation event on June 10 before opening to the public the next day, said Interim CEO Marc Swanson.

When Disney Springs, a complex of restaurants and shops near Disney World, reopened, the company formed “social distancing squads” which McPhee said have been popular with guests.

He said they are “a dedicated team of highly energetic and informative cast members who are committed to engaging and inspiring our guests to follow the appropriate guidelines”.

Both parks said they will require guests and employees to wear face coverings and social distancing will be enforced throughout their properties. Guests and employees also will undergo temperature checks before entering the parks. Disney employees will be required to conduct temperature checks before heading to work, McPhee said. They will also undergo temperature checks at the park, he added. Fever is one of the virus symptoms.

Fireworks shows, character meet-and-greets and parades will be suspended to meet social distancing requirements, McPhee said.

An inspection team from Orange County visited SeaWorld and Disney on Tuesday to see whether proposed plans would be in compliance with guidelines recommended by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, officials from the parks told the
task force.

Orlando Mayor Jerry Demings said he has sent letters of endorsement for opening the theme parks to the governor’s office.