What Does '50% of Capacity' Even Mean?

May 1, 2020, 11:42 AM · Several proposals for reopening theme parks include requirements that parks operate at no more than some certain percentage of their capacity. Maybe it's 25 percent, or 50 percent, or 75. But what does "50 percent of capacity" even mean for theme parks?

Truth is that parks almost never operate at 100 percent of their physical capacity. The only time you see that at Disney parks is during Christmas week, when some parks have closed their gates to new guests. And sprawling parks such as Epcot never hit capacity. So "50 percent of capacity" at a big theme park can look a lot more like a typical summer day in the parks than the sparsely attended, socially distant experience that I believe that many people, including elected officials, are envisioning.

But what was a park's physical capacity before corona is going to change with new social distancing restrictions. If you can load only a fraction of a theater, that changes the capacity for that attraction in any given hour or on any given day. If park employees have to wipe down the restraints on a roller coaster between each load, that will slow its dispatch time and reduce the number of cycles per hour, reducing the coaster's capacity. Making people stand six feet apart in queues, waiting areas, and on streets and pathways further reduces the physical capacity of a theme park.

So when we talk about reopening a park at 25 percent or 50 percent of its capacity, are we walking about its old capacity or its new one?

Ultimately, it's all about keeping people safe and ensuring that they feel safe as well. The specific capacity number does not matter — it's the ability to support the necessary admission, spacing, and the sanitation procedures that will stop the transmission of the virus at the park. But communicating a capacity number can help the cause of helping people feel safe coming to the park. People can wrap their head around a park having only a half or a fourth as many people as they're used to seeing in that park.

But remember that those numbers are also different from 50 or 25 percent of "capacity." That's 50 or 25 percent of an average crowd. Again, there are so many questions, issues and challenges to work through here.

Fortunately, theme parks are represented on the task forces that are advising elected officials on the rules that states and local governments will enact to govern business reopenings. The Orange County task force in Central Florida includes representatives from Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, and SeaWorld. Disney Chairman Bob Iger is on California's task force. These executives have the opportunity to educate elected officials about the complexity of theme park operations and how new rules will affect those operations.

As I wrote yesterday, a government's criteria to reopen are just the first steps and not the final word. During this reopening process, parks will have to find effective ways to tell the public what they are doing to keep guests safe. So if part of that communication is that parks will be operating at a certain percentage of their capacity, park leaders will need to ensure that we in the public know exactly what that means and how it will affect us when we visit.

Replies (41)

May 1, 2020 at 12:25 PM

See, I can get the tiny logic of a retail shop at 25 percent. Or even a pub with folks spaced out. It's just trickier as the way this virus works, the more people, the wider the spread and still a chance of folks falling to it.

They were just debating on ESPN on various sports and pointing out that NBA is likely to come back first because it's fewer players needed than baseball or hockey and can spread folks out on benches (and it'll be a while before they can play in front of even a few hundred fans). And there is buzz on how some TV/movie productions can work with a limited set.

Again, the difference is that it's just harder to figure this out with capacity at a theme park where even a few thousand people runs the risk of a few hundred catching this disease and the parks won't want that liability. As with so many things right now, just up in the air and harder to figure out a future.

May 1, 2020 at 12:50 PM

I'm sure that future restrictions will depend on how many cases of the virus will appear in the coming months. If there is a strong second wave, restrictions will stay in place. If not, there will be pressure from the public to ease the restrictions, regardless of what the governors say. But as Bill Maher recently said, "It's time to treat us like adults".

May 1, 2020 at 1:16 PM

Here is my theory (Please feel free to shoot holes in it, no offense will be taken). Magic Kingdom has estimated attendance of 20.1 million. That's roughly is 55k avg daily attendance. 50% is about 27k. That seems high for me ONLY because contrasting it with Disneyland, there are more attractions and in some instances longer queues (e.g. Indiana Jones, Pirates, Splash Mountain, Space Mountain) Disneyland's distinct disadvantage is narrow pathways through the lands.

It, seems like 20K is reasonable enough to keep those lines manageable. I still maintain they should invest in "quick test" kits that give you results in 15 minutes. That way they could do pre-screening for guests at the resorts and provide a wrist band or even update the magic band with a pre-screening token so that they can not only go direct to transportation, but upon park arrival, go to bag check and security. 20K means the main traffic areas will also be sparsely populated.

Feel free to share your thoughts. I still won't go not out of fear but out of social responsibility.

May 1, 2020 at 3:42 PM

@leastinteresting: Key issue: Right now many states are having a hard time getting those fast test kits so it'll be harder for Disney.

May 1, 2020 at 8:22 PM

There was an interview here in Germany with a politican at the relevant comitee which suggested Europapark had a capacity of arround 40000 and would be allowed to operate at 10000. He was not naming names there, but the number of possible theme parks in that cateogry is limited to one here. That doesn´t sound like a sufficiently non crowded number to me. I think that is a stupid mistakes any time soon, they should put a big park in the same category as football games with audience or the Oktoberfest, which will not be done this year. But it also sounds like my opinon is not wildely shared and this 25% of absolute packed capacity opening will happen maybe already in a month or so.

May 1, 2020 at 8:26 PM

@ MikeW Excellent point. There are concerns about the supply chain and the quality of said tests. There are countries that have already identified that the can mass produce quality test kits. Key word: Countries. I am not sure right now if that would be well received considering MD and CA have received harsh criticism for seeking outside supply chains.

May 1, 2020 at 8:32 PM

@ Hans Meiser, I am in the minority too as unfortunate as the situation is, the cost we've paid with lives is already too much to bear (for everyone). I really think Disney is cautiously collecting data and will probably push back their openings again.

Germany comparatively is a different stage and has tested significantly more.

May 1, 2020 at 9:03 PM

To know what 50% of capacity means, I think we need to know how it is being defined. If it's in terms of maximum capacity, picture a day you'd consider busy but manageable, and that's what we're looking at. However, with capacity restrictions all over the place, I wouldn't be surprised if it's 50% of maximum operational capacity, which would likely be closer to 20-25% of full capacity. In that case, there will be the number of people present on a light to moderate day, but it will feel like a busy day as everything will be moving slower.

Also, before everyone jumps on the numbers, I think we need to consider how much indoors vs. outdoors makes a difference. Based on limited evidence, it appears the chance of catching this virus in an outdoor environment is far less, so if a park required masks indoors and kept buildings to 10% capacity yet crowded walkways and outdoor attractions to 50% with masks optional I think it would work out fine.

May 2, 2020 at 9:32 AM

The concept of social distancing in theme parks does not work when a significant percentage of the population flaunts the breaking of the safety protocols to make a political statement and/or if they do not believe that COVID-19 is a serious threat to them or the people the actually care about.

Just yesterday, I went to a Walmart in the outskirts of Orlando that is ultra-conservative. About 2/3 of the shoppers were not wearing masks and were not social distancing. Many of them were wearing T-shirts or hats that indicated their political allegiance. They did not follow social distancing or other safety protocols...

They would walk up right beside you while you were picking an item off a shelf. They did not folow the one-way aisles that had been established. At the checkout, they got right up behind you. They were proudly and flagrantly violating the space of others as a literal in-your-face declaration that they have declared war on the rest of the country.

Now, when our theme parks reopen, does anyone really expect these people to suddenly have a change of heart and comply with the protocols to keep the rest of us safe?

And you know, they will be the first to flock to the parks when they reopen. Will theme park security seriously expel all those who disregard safety protocols?

May 2, 2020 at 11:18 PM

@davedisney: Iran is not really known for cool temperatures and their current infection rate is nearly 100,000 with 6100 deaths. This idea that hight temps kill the virus has already been debunked

May 3, 2020 at 9:26 AM

@davedisney “ If this was as contagious as advertised to get us to lockdown and throw unemployment to 20 percent, that number would be one thousand or so by now. Keep in mind there are also deaths caused by lockdown, people gaining weight (which will lead to reduced life expectancy down the line), child and domestic abusse. etc.

Have you considered sir that perhaps the number of cases where the virus has not had much major impact is because Social Distancing has been working? Major hot spots have had a harder time containing the outbreak because of the proximity to and constant movement between those infected and those who are not. That the outbreak has not fanned out as much to smaller communities has been in large part because people have been unable to travel as much (or at all) and are not spreading it around the state. The economic impact bears concern, as has been discussed here before, but to conflate the virus with things such as death from weight gain is a bit myopic. Obesity is a serious health concern, but one which can be mitigated with lifestyle choices and exercise, and more importantly not contracted from another human being at a Wal-Mart, protest rally or queue for Peter Pan’s Flight.

May 3, 2020 at 12:34 PM

I´m unemployed myself. And i mean unemployed not on short work with 60% of my previous salery. Now you might infer that my situation is not nearly as bad as the typical former Disney employes situation without job. Thats uterly true on so many levels. But then, you see that just shows how the real core problem is not unemployment. It´s also a wrong comparison, because if you open to soon,employment effects will be worse. Either there will be at least 2 years with a series of more severe lockdowns, or if it is really free for all, it will be so risky to travel that customers will stay away anyway. So lives vs unemployed is a false choice in the first place. Plus the numbers up here are really beyond any logic. A)Those are numbers with severe measures already taken, albeit too late. The best response would have been one where more people die from coutnermeasures than form the desease itsself, since the countermeasures dont get any easier if one waits until more people die from Corona B)They look bad enough to me C)Disneyworld was obviously a contagion place for the entire world, with many chains of contagion that run wild unonticed accross the globe.
My MA thesis was roughtly speaking about health effects of work conditions , nothing fancy just some litarture review- but that is enough that í´m very much aware that there are negative health effects caused by longer unemployent even in nations with dream like social security (e.g. Denmark) , but if you compare that with the 0,5+% of the population that would die once Corona gets out of control, those effects are hardly distinguishable from zero. Since no ones going to listen to me anyway (or to the actual experts who say the same), we are in all likelyhood not even going to have a lookdown that lasts long enough for the negative effects of unemployment to outweight the postive ones of not having to work in a typically not very healthy job anyway.

May 5, 2020 at 12:26 PM

MikeW: "Iran is not really known for cool temperatures and their current infection rate is nearly 100,000 with 6100 deaths. This idea that high temps kill the virus has already been debunked".

I agree that it's hard to figure this virus out, but I think saying it's debunked doesn't tell the whole story. People tend to get less sick during summer months because it's warmer and they are outside more, they tend to get sick during the winter because they are inside more with heaters running which dry the air and make it more susceptible to disease.

The areas/countries with the highest rates of virus are those which had close ties to China and have dense populations, like Italy, Iran and New York. New York is the hardest hit area in the U.S. and China was New York State's second largest trade partner last year. So heat may not 'kill' the virus, but there are extenuating circumstances.

May 4, 2020 at 6:33 AM

>> n the united states anyway the let's open republican gov's and the blame trump democrat gov's are really only 14 to 21 days apart from having the same position.

14 to 21 days is an entire infection cycle. Basically a lifetime in virus terms.

>> Michigan (a lot. That gov is pretty totalitarian)

I’m sorry, when the government plays nice and let’s an armed mob into us legislature without social distancing and without arresting the lot of them, you cannot in good conscience use the T word.

>> Even, France with one on the worst per capita death rate in the world is opening up a lot of the economy on march 11.

May 11, and France is in a very different place. They went into lockdown earlier and have thus spent more infection cycles getting it under control.

>> If we just stay in a shell and hide, the virus will still be there when we come out of the shell.


Do you not understand how infection works?

This virus has a natural “R” rate - number of people infected by another - of 3. So after 21 days, each 100 infections is now’300. 21 days later it’s 900. Then 2700 etc.

When we all stay inside and practice social distancing we get it down to between 0.5 and 0.9, so 100 becomes 50, then 25, then 12, 6, 3, 1, 0 when you’re down to find numbers like those you can move to test/trace/isolate, only locking down the exposed.

>> Even 2 more months of this lockdown (to this degree) would completely destroy the world economy and make most advanced nations of the world poor for the next 25 yrs.

And the massive death count also has major impacts in the economy, as people are forced to stay away, in smaller numbers perhaps but over a more sustained period.

And in 25 years those dead people will still be dead.

How many people do you think it’s okay to sacrifice at the altar of the economy?

May 4, 2020 at 11:49 AM

It's all theater. If you think that running the park at half capacity is going to protect you from the man two doombuggies in front of you who has the virus, you're tripping. Even worse on the roller coasters. We know the virus can travel up to TWELVE feet from a jogger who runs past you (because of the trailing air flow), so how about on a roller coaster? IF the man up front coughs, even if you're 10 seats back, if the coaster is going fast enough you'll be at risk.

On the flipside, people could care less. Look at the scenes of beaches fromt his past weekend, go to your local store. People have already decided they're ready to risk it.

My money says the parks open at 50% and are sold out from the first day. They'll wait a week and open it to capacity, and it will stay that way until there's a huge outbreak traced back to a particular park and then they'll close that particular park for two weeks and everyone else will continue business as usual.

May 4, 2020 at 2:39 PM

Governor Desantis said yesterday we will shortly have 35k tests available per day. He also said you will begin to see these used in commercial applications. For what ever that is worth. I believe these are 45 minute tests

May 4, 2020 at 3:34 PM

>> Chad H--I would be happy to read a citation of yours as to what is the most current r rate in california and florida.

I can’t see an R rate, but I can see an LA time’s article saying the doubling rate was 3-4 as of 25 March, and it’s 23.1 days according to the LA times now.

>> As to the gov of michigan, she also called protester racists and nazi's. when there was exactly one sign that indicated anything racist or nazi. Believe me.

So? What does that have to do with anything I said

>> People from the other side, do show up with false signs (that they themselves do not believe) and chant the slogan that the big crowd is chanting to discredit the rally/protest. It happens at left leaning political protest also

Not only does that not have anything to do with anything I said, that’s a classic example of the “All the other boys are doing it” defence.

Didn’t work with my mother, doesn’t fly with me either.

I’m not even going to bother quoting anything else because it doesn’t address anything I said.

Here’s what would happen if it really was a totalitarian action. None of those guys would have been heard of ever again.

If you honestly think being asked to simply not force others to take on a risk is totalitarianism, then you need to open your eyes a little.

Some of those guys are going to have it (and maybe not even know it. Some will spread to those who had to deal with their temper tantrum. If one of those, for instance, had a family member who works in a care home, well 80% of retransmissions happen in the home... so guess what happens when they go to work.

Dave, if this was simply about personal risk I’d be with you. If you want to inject bleach, or eat asbestos, then I’m more than happy for you to choose to do such things (provided you’re made aware of the risks fairly first),

But a virus isn’t about personal risk. It’s about the risk to the community. I don’t believe that anyone has the right to force you to take on an additional health risk.

Why do you?

(And lastly, I did want to stay out of your politics as it’s so hyper partisan... but how about a little logic here? If you were running for office, or wanted to run for office, and there was a virus that was more deadly to groups who typically favour your opponent, and presumed for a moment you didn’t have a moral or ethical bone in your body, are your chances increased or decreased by letting that voter pool be diminished?)

May 4, 2020 at 3:55 PM

See, I get the concerns of some protestors on losing jobs and worries on freedoms, etc. They want to protest with signs, okay, foolish but that's their right.

Storming into a government building with weapons to intimidate officials is not peaceful protest. I actually saw a right-wing site where the folks there agreed "I'm a gun owner, proud to defend 2nd Amendment but there's a time and place and this is not it. Open carry does not mean it's fine to wave a gun in someone's face."

And the hyperbole is getting out of hand with one right-wing site doing an article comparing Chicago's mayor (a gay black woman) to Henrich Himmler, head of the SS. And folks seriously stating "the Nazis treated Jews better than this." Again, I can sympathize with folks wanting to get back to work but anyone calling this a "police state" has no idea what that really means.

May 4, 2020 at 3:58 PM

@davedisney: Oh and speaking of Michigan, as much as these protestors like to think they speak for all, polls clearly show the majority in the state actually think the governor isn't doing enough in shelter orders and nationwide polls likewise have serious concerns about reopening too soon.

May 5, 2020 at 5:21 AM

No Dave,

We’re happy to be lead by the medical evidence. Not by an Selfish armed mob.

May 5, 2020 at 9:12 AM

In that 50% capacity isnt that also including all the staff? When you go to an after hours party what is the capacity that they allow in? We went to Mickeys very merry Christmas party and yes it was sold out and at the gates there were mobs of people but once in the park seemed like no one.

May 5, 2020 at 9:15 AM

Hey Dave,

We understand you're GOP supporter (for some dumb reason) but having the business closed or partially open has nothing to do with what you are thinking. Blame liberals is very ignorant and shall I say Trumpy.

The main reason is we do not have the capacity at the hospitals to have every one get deathly sick at once. The Gov of Cali did a great job controlling the so called "Hoax" virus as the clown in charge called it on Feb 28th in South Carolina at a hill billy rally...

Cali is the most populated State in the US and has handled the Virus better than most.

But I guess you can simply use some internal disinfectant to get rid of the virus in a matter of minutes....or maybe a tanning booth, right, right....

May 5, 2020 at 10:18 AM

Why does these discussion always have to turn so political? I recognize that everyone has their own beliefs, but to point fingers or place blame at specific individuals or political parties does not get society any closer to returning to anything resembling what would be considered "normal" life.

May 5, 2020 at 11:03 AM

Sorry Russ, I have strong beliefs and when I hear clown try and take a shot at a great Governor who is doing the right thing to keep the virus from spreading, I get angry. They keep forgetting this is about the hospitals and deaths, not about monies.....

I get angry when 'they' say use internal disinfectant or UV light.... Total ignorance. That is not an opinion, it is what the President said.
How can you not blame a man who called this a Virus Hoax, said it would be gone in a few days?? Did not prepare, did not take it as a death threat...

yes it is a global problem, but some want many to die to save the economy???

May 5, 2020 at 11:29 AM

Sorry too, Russell but it can be frustrating hearing someone spout out talking points that go against facts ("oh, it's not so bad really") and ignore reality of situation. I think some of us trying to point out the problems with davedisney's statements but clear he refuses to see them.

May 5, 2020 at 12:11 PM

>> Why does these discussion always have to turn so political?

Honestly Russel, I think this is a feature of the US system. The UK government and the Scottish Government are at complete opposite ends of the UK political spectrum, to the point where the party leading the Scottish Government doesn’t want the UK to exist.

For those who don’t keep track of these things, the UK is made of of 4 “Countries”, broadly equivalent to US states. Scotland, Wales and (usually) Northern Ireland have governments broadly similar to state governments, the UK goververnment has state-equivalent authority for England, as well as those responsibilities you’d associate with national level government anywhere else.

However, when it comes to handling those, the sense I get is that all old grudges, well, most of them, have been suspended. UK-ScotGov relations were pretty poor, but now they move in lockstead as much as possible (although the media does try to play up the minor differences in messaging). I get the sense that as much as possible each of the governments is going out of its way not to criticise each other, even when reporters at the daily conferences press a big stick into their hands.

I’m no fan of the conservatives, I think there’s some things they could have done better. I voted SNP last time, there’s things they could have done better, but I appreciate the adult tone they’ve taken. Broadly given the circumstances I think all UK governments are doing a good job.

I don’t think what you’re seeing in the US is a new thing. My hypothesis is it’s linked to your perpetual election campaign. The UK and Australia don’t think about elections until a few weeks before, you guys are running campaigns for months to have a ton of elections to decide who’s going to run in another election even more months away. There’s no time to step out of campaign mode and actually govern...

May 5, 2020 at 12:44 PM

But will calling out the politics of the situation change anyone's mind? Probably not, and the spread of misinformation and skewing and re-framing/re-purposing of data doesn't change what's happening right now. What happened 2-3 months ago doesn't change what's happening right now or how each of us feel about leaving our hobbit-holes.

That's where I don't see the value in this superfluous political discourse. What does a presumptive presidential nominee have to do with how crowded WDW will be when/if it reopens. What does pointing out that a certain public official promoted injecting disinfectant and denied/minimized the potential impact of the virus have to do with what local officials are determining will be guidelines for theme parks to eventually reopen? It seems to only be used here to discredit each others' opinions based on a belief that they lie on one side of the political spectrum or the other, not to defend or reject a hypothesis regarding theme park operations.

Let's keep the politically charged rhetoric to the idiots on the news who have nothing else better to talk about and are slowly losing credibility because facts and science are continually distorted to serve political motivations instead of the greater good.

May 5, 2020 at 1:16 PM

@ Russell Meyer, thank you for your civility as always.

@ AJ Hummell, excellent points as always AJ. It is still troublesome proposition at best, because unless you are going to go with the 15 minute quick tests, everyone has to wear a mask the whole time they are in queue, on ride, and indoors (specifically rest rooms) The highest concentrations of contagious air particles (airborne water droplets) are in restrooms. Those are the "hotspots", in hospitals they have found high concentrations on the floors and in restrooms.

Irrespective of capacity, you have to have a real plan for this. If you cannot or do do not test, you will need to have even stricter guidelines.

Returning to the premise of capacity of 50%, it still just seems to much. What number is too small where opening the park, is just not economically feasible?

May 5, 2020 at 3:32 PM

Going to be very difficult to keep masks on people in the summer / fall season. Hard enough to breath is 100% humidity, much less with a mask on. Should be interesting

May 5, 2020 at 3:51 PM

As I said this said this is all about not overwhelming the hospitals, And whenever I can take a shot or dig at the clowns we have at the WH, I will. Internal Disinfectant, Internal UV lights… Come on, I can’t make that up, the highest-ranking person who is in charge for the Football (IE Nuke launch codes) actually said that. To use disinfectant internally… I can not look away or avoid the stupidly of the WH.

Yes Russel, Davy and whomever else reads my dribble – if we took this seriously as we did for the Ebola virus, we would not be in this situation. We are by far the worst country in the world, why is that?

Our leader said it was not a problem, 1 guy who visited China, it will be gone in a week…Called it a Hoax, so yes, it is political and caused by lack of understanding and denial. If this were taken seriously like Ebola; we could have kept this to a minimum. And ultimately the Parks would still be open along with the entire county.

So yes by all means, lose some liberties to protect the future. I know no one will change their minds or vote differently but you must admit, the WH made this so much worse than it had to be.

Have you see hospitals workers exhausted, collapsed and dying trying to save those infected? Or are you just worried about yourself and your own liberties?

So Theme parks at 50% capacity what will that be like? Anyone?

Theme parks have to take in a certain amount of monies to break even and or make a profit. Lets say they only can open safely at 30% capacity, does that mean they will have to increase prices drastically? And you have to pick the date and time you go?

May 5, 2020 at 4:26 PM

Thank goodness, you're back, Brian Emery! I was starting to get worried about you and thought perhaps you had COVID-19 or maybe you drank some aquarium tank cleaner or something like that. Well, at least we're safe now from serious discussion about the coronavirus pandemic!

May 5, 2020 at 5:49 PM

>>The democrat mayor of kansas city today signed an executive order that all businesses and churches must keep the names and ID numbers of anyone entering their place for ten min. If arbitrariness rules theme parks will never be able to exist as we knew them ever. this is training the population to shut up and obey your political masters.

Thats not abitraryness. Thats to allow for contact tracing.

If you want to get to a position where this isn't a threat, thats where you need to go. If we know where someone who has it has been, and when, then we can tell people they've been in contact with "hey, you need to get tested, stay away from folks until you do".

This is what is actually allowing Disney Shanghai to open. The numbers got down low enough so this can actually be effective, and now they can return to normal and simply apply the measures in a small as a way as possible.

This is what is also allowing Australia to get back to normal. My Sister in Law, a nurse, was able to be told less than an hour after contact with someone with it that she had that contact, and had to isolate. Meanwhile the rest of the city is starting to wake back to normal.

May 6, 2020 at 9:12 AM

Hey Tim, Hope you are doing well...
And man that water was sooooo good..... I have been working from since March, starting to go a bit crazy.

I now get excited to go put gas in my car and buy a Powerball ticket....

Tim we can't have a serious discussion about the Virus when the clown in charge says to use disinfectant internally, now he wants to get rid of the COVID-19 doctor advisers panel. Yikes... We are doomed...

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