Park of the Week: Islands of Adventure

The world goes viral: Thursday's Covid-19 news

March 12, 2020, 7:24 PM · Okay, I am going start a daily blog with updates on how the spread of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) is affecting the travel and tourism industry worldwide.

Weekend updates

Friday updates

[8:56pm ET] Universal Orlando wraps up the major theme park closings in the United States, with its announcement. Details.

[8:28pm ET] Disney has announced that the Walt Disney World and Disneyland Paris theme parks will close, and the Disney Cruise Line will suspend all sailings after this weekend. Full story.

[6:19pm ET] Now Universal Studios Hollywood is closing, also effective Saturday. But the park is anticipating a March 28 reopening.

[4:30pm ET] The Disneyland theme parks will close, effective Saturday, and remain closed through the end of the month. (See our story for more, and comments.) Also, the NCAA has canceled its basketball tournaments.

[3:11pm ET] The US State Department has issued a Level 3 (Reconsider Travel) advisory for the entire world.

The Department of State advises U.S. citizens to reconsider travel abroad due to the global impact of COVID-19. Many areas throughout the world are now experiencing COVID-19 outbreaks and taking action that may limit traveler mobility, including quarantines and border restrictions. Even countries, jurisdictions, or areas where cases have not been reported may restrict travel without notice.

There are four levels in the State Department's advisory system, with Level 4 being "Do Not Travel." Fifteen countries have Level 4 advisories in the State Department's system, including China and Iran.

[2:32pm ET] So apparently, the California governor's order on banning gatherings of more than 250 people does not apply to theme parks.

I'm really curious to hear the science behind that exemption. By the way, I emailed PR reps at Disney and Universal this morning for comment on Newsom's order and I've heard back nothing so far. (Which is unusual - typically, they get back to me quickly.)

Also, Broadway theaters have announced that they will be closing. The NHL also suspended its season. (There are more sports-related notes in the comments.)

[2:14pm ET] Dollywood has postponed its media day planned for tomorrow, though the parks will open to passholders tomorrow and the public as planned on Saturday.

"The exciting economic news we planned to share does not seem appropriate based on what is going on. It doesn’t feel right," Dolly Parton said in a statement issued by the park. "We need to focus on good health and praying for those who are affected. We know brighter days are ahead."

[1:11pm ET] Warner Park Madrid in Spain has closed.

[12:40pm ET] Universal Studios Hollywood has postponed its Bravo’s Top Chef Food & Wine Festival, scheduled for March 19 and 20. The park previously postpone its Peacock Live event that was skedded for the next week.

[12:26pm ET] First up and potentially of greatest relevance to theme park fans, California Governor Gavin Newsom said that state public health experts have announced that gatherings with 250 people or more should be rescheduled or canceled. The state is defining a gathering as "any event or convening that brings together people in a single room or single space at the same time, such as an auditorium, stadium, arena, large conference room, meeting hall, cafeteria, or any other indoor or outdoor space."

Obviously, that describes a great deal of theme park operations. And given that the state is advising that smaller gathering continue only if organizers can implement 6 feet of "social distancing," that means it will be difficult for Disneyland, Universal Studios Hollywood, SeaWorld, and even ovie theaters to stay open without substantial changes to their operations, including limiting capacity in shows (loading only alternate rows, for example), pulsing queues so that people are spaced properly and canceling fireworks, parades and other events that would bring thousands of people together in an area. For example, Disneyland Paris today canceled its parades and outdoors shows and is limiting indoor show, queue and some restaurant capacity to comply with new French requirements on crowd sizes.

So far, no word from any of the local parks on how they will be responding to the governor's statement.

In other news...

Princess Cruises has suspended all operations until May. Princess was the cruise line most affected by the recent quarantines, with the Diamond Princess in Tokyo and Grand Princess in San Francisco.

The NBA has suspended its season after a member of the Utah Jazz tested positive for Covid-19. That forced the quarantine of Jazz players, as well as potentially players from other teams the Jazz has played recently. With multiple teams in quarantine, you can't play a season.

The big news last night was President Trump announcing a travel ban on flights from Europe. After his speech, the Department of Homeland Security "clarified" (my quotes) the president's remarks by detailing that the new policy actually bars foreign nationals who have been in any of the Schengen zone countries from the past 14 days from entering the United States. American citizens can continue to reenter the US from Europe, but they must return via selected airports where expanded screening can take place.

In practice, though, the order will shut down air traffic between the US and Europe, as airlines are not going to want to run nearly empty flights with no European-based crew members. I can kinda see the rationale here, if the US wanted to bar people who have visited Italy from entering the country. Since there are no passport checks between Schengen countries, there's no way to know by checking a passport if a person who has entered the Schengen zone has been to Italy, other than taking someone's word for it. (Which is a pretty weak policy.) So you bar entry by anyone from the Schengen zone, save for US citizens who have a pretty much absolute right to enter their own country.

The trouble is that Covid-19 is already spreading within the US, so the horse has left the barn here.

Replies (13)

March 12, 2020 at 12:00 PM

MLS also...

March 12, 2020 at 12:06 PM

Looks like the F1 Australian Grand Prix, too. And the St. Petersburg IndyCar Grand Prix isn't looking good at the moment, either. The mayor has banned general admission sales for the race. But IndyCar owner Roger Penske justified running the race by saying that "Disney World is still open."

Gulp.

March 12, 2020 at 12:06 PM

I travel between the UK and other EU countries all the time, the passport is never stamped. Ever.
There is no rationale in this decision, someone arriving with a flight from the UK might have been in France the previous day and in Italy 3 days before and there would be no evidence on the passport.

March 12, 2020 at 12:41 PM

As well as the negatives, I'd like to suggest you include the positives. As an example ... kudos to Disney for adding on the MDE app all the hand sanitizing stations, plus all of the other preventative measures they are taking which includes hand washing stations.

SeaWorld started a procedure of cleaning down the train seats between launches, but that's one thing I'm missing out on right now, but I assume it's still in process. I would like to see more sanitizing stations at SWO though.

The parks are still busy, and it's the local spring break next week, so everything will ramp up for sure.

I don't think the ban on European travel will have much effect this time of year. The 30 days is due to expire on the Easter weekend, so that period may well come up short with visitors from across the pond.

March 12, 2020 at 1:02 PM

I would expect the St. Pete race to go off although a shortened weekend event schedule...

March 12, 2020 at 5:48 PM

Thanks Robert. Really appreciate your journalistic perspective on all this. Especially with the recent article you wrote about "going viral".

With all the developments that occurred yesterday (NBA, NCAA tournament changes, MLS soccer, etc.) I CANNOT see how Disney and Universal will continue to stay open on a daily basis. But I realize how big of a hit the Orlando economy will take if this decision is made.

Unfortunately, my feelings on this are mixed. We have a Universal Orlando trip scheduled for early April Spring Break. Fortunately, our hotel plans are easy to cancel and we have not even purchased our 4 day tickets yet. FWIW, your linked source to ticket sales, "Ares" seems to offer best price, even better than our AAA discount. I know my adult daughter and 11 y.o. grandson will be disappointed if Universal decides to close. But if the decision to temporarily close the parks is made, I am hoping that it is announced sooner than later. So we can make alternate plans.

Mako...glad to hear that SW Orlando is wiping down trains. I just wonder how much that slows down load times. Especially when the park is busy.

March 12, 2020 at 1:41 PM

Thanks for the kind words, and for using our aRes travel partner. They really do have the best deals on many theme parks' tickets... for when people are ready to visit, of course.

March 12, 2020 at 2:03 PM

Load times have increased, but everyone seems to be onboard with the cleaning, and accepts it's necessary right now. I only visit during the week when it's relatively quiet, but weekend wait times would obviously increase far more.

I'd still like to see some sanitizing stations once you get off the ride though. My first stop after every ride is the restroom to wash my hands.

The one thing I would really like to carry with me into the parks are the pocket sized sanitizing containers, but of course they are as difficult to find as toilet roll !!! Crazy times, for sure.

March 12, 2020 at 2:27 PM

I'm told that all kinds of overtime hours have been approved for WDW's world class custodial team. TPI has always championed the efforts of the amazing custodial workers at ALL of the world's parks. COVID-19 brings home the point of how essential these great people are. Next park visit, stop and say "thank you."

March 12, 2020 at 2:34 PM

Indeed. And as I tweeted earlier, for any employee affected by a shutdown, the most important thing for them and our economy is that they continue to be paid.

March 12, 2020 at 6:02 PM

Aw man, the Long Beach Grand Prix just got canceled. That one was April 17-19, so if events that far out are getting canceled, I am worried about any theme park reopenings before then.

March 13, 2020 at 2:27 AM

The UK government has announced that they expect it to take 2 - 3 months for Coronavirus infections to reach a peak here in the UK. If that pans out to be correct globally it's unlikely that the major parks will reopen before June or July.

March 13, 2020 at 3:34 AM

It’s good the cruise lines are shutting. I heard on one of the Dr Karl (Kruzelninski) podcasts that when an infection reaches that sort of environment it tends to be 4x worse than not doing anything in a city environment.

Unfortunately for me, 3 days a week my work takes me into Scotland’s largest prison, which for these purposes is a comparable situation... when it hits there (and it will, something like 40-70% of us will get it on this pass) it will go through that overcrowded Victorian prison like a wildfire.

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