Commentary

Walt Disney World Will Cautiously Open Its Gates Mid-July

Mickey Mouse, Cinderella and about 70,000 other folks employed by Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, EPCOT and Hollywood Studios will be getting back to work in Orange County, Florida, when the company launches a phased reopening in mid-July. Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom will reopen on July 11; the latter two parks, four days later. They’ve been shuttered due to COVID-19 since mid-March.

“In preparing to reopen during this unusual time, we have to manage our theme parks in a very different way from what we’ve known before,” the  company states  in the news release announcing its intent. 

Orange County officials unanimously approved the plans Wednesday. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is under fire by some for the rapid pace of his reopening efforts in the state, must also give a nod and is expected to do so.

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“Like its Shanghai Disneyland location in China, Disney plans on setting ‘significant limits on attendance’ and will require park visitors to purchase their tickets in advance of arriving to the parks,” CNBC’s Sarah Whitten writes.

“Disney CEO Bob Chapek declined to provide a specific breakdown of its capacity reduction on CNBC’s ‘Squawk Alley’ Wednesday, noting that there is no governmental guideline like there is in China. He did say the company would adhere to the CDC’s 6-foot social distancing guidelines when limiting attendance,” Whitten adds.

Indeed, “social distancing markers will be visible throughout the theme parks. Disney’s cast members will enforce the rules, including the mask requirement, as part of a ‘social distancing squad.’ Park capacity will also be limited, and not all attractions will reopen right away,” Curtis Tate writes  for USA Today.

Jim McPhee, senior vice president of operations for Walt Disney World, “said the ‘squad’ made its debut when the nearby Disney Springs retail complex reopened May 20. He described the squad as a ‘huge hit with guests and effective,’” Tate continues.

“Customers and staff will be required to wear masks and complete temperature checks before entering the park. Plexiglass will separate employees from guests in certain stores, and cashless transactions will be encouraged. Parades and fireworks presentations have been temporarily suspended, as well as meet-and-greets with performers portraying Disney characters,” Erich Schwartzel writes  for The Wall Street Journal.

“Disney fans have already indicated they will be there when the park reopens. We have unbelievable demand,” Chapek said.

Nearby competitors “SeaWorld and Universal will reopen one month ahead of Walt Disney World, the theme park juggernaut of the world…. So why is Disney the last to reopen?” ask  Gabrielle Russon and Dewayne Bevil in the Orlando Sentinel

“Some industry followers say it makes sense Disney is opening behind the other two, smaller parks. It highlights the different corporate philosophies and challenges facing Orlando’s biggest attractions,” they write.

“They’re also the most-visited attraction, so they absolutely have to set the gold standard,” freelance travel writer and Disney passholder Dani Meyering tells Russon and Bevil.

“The later reopening date was not a surprise to industry experts,” reports  Jacob Passy for MarketWatch

“Disney does set the bar for our industry on a lot a lot of issues, items and planning. This situation is a little different. They’re wanting to take time to make the right decisions,” Dennis Spiegel, founder and CEO of Ohio-based consulting firm International Theme Park Services, tells Passy.

“We’re going slow because we want to make constant progress and not have to backtrack,” CEO Chapek tells  The New York Times’ Brook Barnes. “The risk is going too far, too fast.”

Barnes adds that “Disney’s theme parks, some with Main Street U.S.A. entrances, loom large in the popular imagination as symbols of Americana. Disney World has been closed since March 15 because of the pandemic, and its reopening carries a certain symbolism in itself, an attempt by fans to reclaim a semblance of normal life and an effort by a coronavirus-battered Disney to demonstrate that a visit will remain a cultural rite of passage for many children.” 

And not a few adults, too.

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