Florida Governor Invites Theme Parks to Submit Reopening Plans

May 15, 2020, 12:56 PM · Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has announced the next steps in the state's reopening plan, and this time he's directly addressing theme parks.

"Parks can submit reopening plans to the state," the governor said today during a press conference. "They should identify the date certain that they believe that they could resume safe operations. They have to provide how they're going to do it: how they're going to accommodate the guests, how they're going to protect the staff, and then they need to have an endorsement from the relevant official in their locality - Orange County Mayor, wherever you're wherever you're talking about."

To be honest, I'm not sure what the news is here, exactly. Theme park resorts, such as Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando, always were going to need government approval to reopen, as would any business in the state dealing with stay-at-home orders. The governor seems to be implying that theme parks won't be reopened under a blanket order - such as the one he made today reopening gyms next Monday - but instead will be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Whether that means parks can open sooner than they might have before today's announcement is unclear. The governor said today that restaurants and retail businesses soon can start serving up to 50 percent of their capacity, as the state moves to its "full phase one" of reopening. Movie theaters remain closed, however, although the governor is encouraging closed-door sporting events to resume in the state, even inviting teams based in other states to resume play or training in Florida.

Universal Orlando yesterday reopened a few locations in its CityWalk dining and shopping area, while Walt Disney World is preparing for the first step in its phased reopening of Disney Springs on May 20. Universal has said that its parks will remain closed through at least the end of the month, while Disney has provided no timeline, though Disney is not taking reservations for any stays starting before July 1.

For people visiting CityWalk, Universal is requiring that all visitors wear facemasks and pass a temperature screening before entering. Universal is also advising visitors to maintain six feet of social distancing from other parties and to wash their hands frequently. Walt Disney World is planning similar restrictions when it reopens, according to information on its official blog, an interview with CEO Bob Chapek, and a new agreement with its labor unions.

Disney has reopened its Shanghai Disneyland park with new operating procedures, though the rest of Disney's (and Universal's) theme parks worldwide remain closed. A few European parks are reopening later this month, and in the United States, Indiana's Holiday World has announced a June return. All parks are using some or all among a variety of new procedures - including advanced reservations, virtual queues, and contactless payments, as well as masks, temperature checks, and enhanced sanitation - as they look to protect and reassure visitors.

So having the plans that the governor asked for today should not be a problem for Florida's theme parks. The remaining issue is that proposed reopening date. First, how long will it take for parks to recall their employees, restock, and restart operations? Then, when do the parks believe that enough visitors would be willing to return to make it worth their investment to reopen?

Disney and Universal have been surveying guests about their potential return, and traffic data from the reopenings of CityWalk and Disney Springs should provide additional guidance. Whenever the parks choose to reopen, it appears certain that a reopening will come in phases, starting with limited operations both to test new procedures and to match what many industry insiders expect will be limited demand, as international borders remain closed and many Americans choose to protect themselves by remaining home as much as they can while this pandemic continues.

Replies (9)

May 15, 2020 at 1:06 PM

Notable add to this, Robert - small parks in Orlando, including Fun Spot America, have sent letters to the Orange County Mayor's office requesting they be included in Phase 2 of the Florida re-opening plan rather than Phase 3, which presumably includes the larger parks like Disney, Universal, and the SeaWorld chain parks. The Kissimmee location (which is in more right-wing Osceola county rather than Orange) was even cycling attractions yesterday, per Twitter reports.

The rationale is that they are far smaller operations and thus less complicated and less risky than the bigger parks. I'm not sure whether or not they'll be successful, but DeSantis is politically incentivized to open as much as possible, so I'm guessing we may see Fun Spot and others like the I-Drive attractions and Gatorland lead the way on a Florida re-opening timeline.

May 15, 2020 at 1:14 PM

That gets me thinking back to that SeaWorld call last week, when the interim CEO said they were good to go because their attendance was typically so low that everyone was practicing social distancing anyway.

Hey, whatever works for you, I guess.

May 15, 2020 at 1:14 PM

I can tell you first hand that, at least for SeaWorld on non-Saturdays or holidays, he is entirely correct!

May 15, 2020 at 2:10 PM

Robert is correct today is not big announcement. The gov just wants to prepare people that it is coming fairly soon and to not be shocked by it. It is also true that it would make total sense for the smaller attractions to open up earlier. Especially. those that are 90 percent outdoors like funspot and gatorland. Also all of the museaum/tour type operations are not that hard to stay 6 ft apart within the group that you came there with in the first place. Especially, given that there will be limited demand (no international and even domestic passengers will put off plane flights until they see how many cases there are).

There needs to be opening with limited demand for a bunch of reasons. We need to make sure cases will only rise modestly and not an explosion that would cause running out of PPE and the related products. So in a perverse way LA staying under lockdown makes it so Orlando is able to open quicker. Although LA may be stockpiling PPE, that they are saving on lockdown. Mayor Garcetti seems to be the wildest of the wildcards so who knows.

2. Limited openings (of course) give employees a chance to adapt to the new routine under the new procedures. 3. Someone more technical tell us. After sitting idle for so long, are the rides more prone to breakdowns for a week or two?

May 17, 2020 at 6:44 PM

Well, my motorcycle mechanic will testify I’m not great on the mechanical side of things. However, I do know he’s told me to check the greasing of the chain after wet weather. I can’t see a Roller Coaster chain bring too different.

I’m not sure it’s right to say “they’re more prone to breakdown after non use”, probably more the minor thing that you inspect for and check every day haven’t been checked. That means rather than have 1 minor issue Or perished but if rubber maybe a day that gets quickly fixed, you get a few of them. For less than daily checks there might be several of these now overdue.

May 18, 2020 at 2:58 PM

I think what's missing is the California counterparts have smaller walking areas and tighter spaces. Some of the rides have big queues however, Disneyland may have to limit crowd capacity in each of the areas of the park. Not exciting. You cannot have 20,000 people with 20,000 people in Galaxies Edge. you have 5 central entry points into the lands and would have to disperse crowd appropriately.

To me it's a logistical nightmare.

Add to that, the restrooms are going to have more frequent and intensive cleaning and closure/maintenance cycles. I hope when they submit plans, they have good plans regarding restrooms. I know I keep banging that drum but to me, its the big one that no one seems to talk about.

May 18, 2020 at 10:22 PM

Leastinteresting--the theme park assoc guidelines (disney not on that panel, but is sure to follow this one, I think) released today or yesterday says to have restroom monitors outside to limit capacity in the restroom. Like they have been at "essential" stores."non essential" stores that have opened ( and from the news conferences of CA and NY today), successfully ignited a resistance to save jobs. Most of them have also limited capacity to their stores. Not a big problem. People just might have to wait a few min.
Your other concern--Disneyland just has to compromise "show" a bit. They have before on a regular basis for the 5 percent most busy days. They open the gates on both sides behind main st and funnel half the crowd there. More social distancing on main st and provides new entrances or exits (depending on the time of day one way) to all of the lands, except fantasy land. Shops to 50 percent of their normal capacity etc. If the hospitals start to fill too fast, cut shops (inside Disney and the real world) back to 20 percent. As long as there are ICU beds available one has to manage the CCP virus (without causing more unemployment than necesary), just as organizations and governments manage everything else.

May 19, 2020 at 12:08 PM

@davedisney I get what you are saying, I do, however the rules have to be stricter for the restrooms. They are public enemy #1. The restroom monitors have to unsure that everyone is wearing a mask, hard to do when they go in a restroom stall. Any airborne particles that make it to the floor are then tracked out on peoples shoes that are then transfer to ride vehicles that people sometimes touch with hands and feet. (Which is why they have to wipe down the ride vehicles)

The rest room is a small enclosed area (air conditioned area) where this can concentrate. It's not just the mask, the mask can help prevent the spread of molecules, this can enter through your eyes.

Great article today from the post regarding restrooms


May 19, 2020 at 9:26 PM

I understand your concern because the restaurants are small and can have a lot of people in them. I don't think people are going to remove their mask inside, if they walked in with the mask on. As to your and the post's) concern about shoes. Although this virus is 2x more contagious than the typical cold, it is still difficult for it to successfully track on shoes and then into someone's body. You need at least 1000 molecules to be infected enough to be contagious. If it were that easily contagious orlando and anaheim (esp orlando) would have been f---cked before already by march 15. Like NY city bad. Nothing came close. In covid hospital wards and nursing homes it can track on shoes onto people. I have read in major newspapers that once someone is sick enough to be in the hospital overnight they are much more contagious than they were just a short time earlier. Even if someone was contagious at a theme park, it is extremely unlikely to infect someone through shoe contact.

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