As of Today, Walt Disney World Is Back

July 7, 2020, 4:52 PM · Welcome to Disney's Wonderful World of Plexiglass!

The theme parks of the Walt Disney World Resort reopened to their first guests today, with a cast member preview at Magic Kingdom and Disney's Animal Kingdom. Disney employees flooded social media with photos of changes at the parks, most notably showing a lot of Plexiglass barriers in queues and on ride vehicles.

The plastic shields are just part of the multi-tiered approach that Disney is taking to help stop the spread of the virus as it prepares to reopen its parks to the public this week. Several Disney executives talked about those steps in a livestream for reporters this afternoon.

"We know that some people aren't ready to return," Walt Disney World Senior Vice President for Operations Jim MacPhee said. "Based on the demand we've seen since we reopened our reservation systems a couple of weeks ago, we understand that many people are - this is truly about guest choice. We're carefully monitoring the evolving situation, obviously considering all guidelines that we get from internal and external resources - such as the CDC and other health authorities and experts - and learning from the openings of the parks around the world and even right here at Disney Springs. We're going to continue to evaluate our approach and adapt based on these inputs."

Disney's theme parks in Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Tokyo have reopened to the public, while Walt Disney World and Disneyland Paris are set to open in the next week. California's Disneyland remains closed indefinitely, as California has not yet issued guidance on reopening theme parks in the state. But Disney officials said that the aggressive steps that the company has taken with its Florida parks will provide a baseline for new operations in Anaheim, once those parks are cleared to return.

We've described before the steps that Disney is taking with its theme parks - temperature checks for cast and guests, reduced capacity to promote safe physical distancing, enhanced cleaning and use of hand sanitizer throughout the resort, expanded use of the official Disney app for mobile ordering and check-ins... and the mandatory use of face coverings for everyone.

For those who continue to insist that they do not need to wear masks when in public, Disney Parks Chief Medical Officer Dr. Pamela Hymel outlined some of the recent science that proves the effectiveness of masks in helping to reduce the spread of the coronavirus.

"A recent study was published by Florida Atlantic University that emphasized how crucial different kinds of face coverings are in preventing the spread of COVID-19," Dr. Hymel said. [Link added - Ed.] "It showcased how all kinds of face coverings offered some form of protection. With a cloth mask, it reduces the spread of droplets from anywhere from six-to-eight feet to just a few inches in front of the face.

"There's an increasing amount of research studies that validate how important face coverings are," she continued. "So as we look at face coverings we know that they should fit tightly around the nose and mouth, and also be secured with ties or with straps, and really be secure across the sides of the face and be made of breathable material. And again, we will be requiring this when visitors come to our parks."

Want to see for yourself? Here's a video that I found from FAU illustrating the study that Dr. Hymel referenced:

The Disney executives emphasized the importance of guests working together with Disney's cast to help keep everyone safe when at the parks. Remember, service is not servitude. Theme park guests can help make, or break, Disney's reopening depending upon how well they abide by the new rules.

Of course, Disney is going to need the help of a lot more than just their guests to make the parks' reopening both a financial and public safety success. It's not just Disney that has to convince people that they'll be safe when coming to the parks. It's the airlines or businesses along the road to Orlando that have to reassure the public, too, if people are going to feel safe enough again to make the trip to Disney.

But as the executives suggested, today's reopening is just the first step in what promises to be a long process of learning to live with Covid. Many questions remain. While Plexiglass barriers should help limit the spread of airborne droplets, how will they affect airflow needed to disperse aerosolized particles? How well will guests abide by social distancing rules when the inevitable afternoon thunderstorms send everyone running for cover?

Will what Disney is doing in Florida provide an operational model that might help other businesses to reopen more safely? Or will even they not be enough to convince Americans to come out and travel again?

As always, stay tuned. Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom are opened to annual passholders with advance reservations on Thursday and Friday, reopening to the public on Saturday. Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios return on July 15. Advance reservations are required for all parks.

Replies (10)

July 7, 2020 at 10:38 PM

I just can't see how it's going to work as the staff at my local library have it enough keeping folks entering and exiting the right doors....

Not to mention cases continuing to skyrocket in that state...

July 8, 2020 at 5:35 AM

5 managers at our local Publix have been quarantined with 2 confirmed cases among staff. It is spreading like wildfire here in Florida.

July 8, 2020 at 7:25 AM

The parks are opening ..... they are talking about sending the kids back to school ...... gyms and inside dining remains open ...... in many counties they are at capacity for beds and ICU's ..... and we've just had the July 4th weekend where wearing masks and social distancing was completely ignored ....

..... what could possibly go wrong ?

July 8, 2020 at 10:02 AM

I had the opportunity to go to the Disney Parks the past few days and I gotta say even though it sucks that their business has tanked so much because of the virus, and this has set everyone back years in regards to expansions, set the economy back years in regards to hiring and whatnot, and it sucks that there are no fireworks.

...the park experience itself was much, much, much more enjoyable than it on what was a previous normal day. Low crowds, no Fastpass, minimal waits. Its much more worth the money now than it has been in a long time IMO.

July 8, 2020 at 11:12 AM

We are delaying our next trip down there until 2022. However, I have to say seeing all the short lines posted on social media has got me wanting to go now!

Cases are up nationwide and particularly in Florida, but deaths continue to decline nationwide and hold steady in the 30s and 40s in Florida (much less than the near 1000 deaths a day in New York at its peak). Despite the uptick in numbers, the curve has been flattened. We were told the reason for flattening the curve was to save lives, and while we haven’t got the death rate to zero, the number of deaths nationwide has dropped 80% per day since its peak. This isn’t a case of the death rate behind a lagging statistic. The Florida increases In positive cases have been going on for over a month now without a significant increase in deaths.

Now, I do suspect there will be a shutdown this winter as symptoms become worse and more widespread in the winter months, plus the annual flu bug causing extra issues. That’s why it is important to get some herd immunity now when there is less chance of death.

July 8, 2020 at 11:33 AM

Florida, Texas, Arizona and more are going to be complete disasters by Halloween. With schools restarting and people still not wearing mask in many places these numbers (infections, hospitalizations and deaths) have no where to go but up. Government will not have to shut down businesses, people will because that steak dinner, mall trip or vacation won’t be worth the risk.

This winter is going to be very tough in the US.

July 8, 2020 at 4:12 PM

Rave5: "This winter is going to be very tough in the US."

Me: Or not.

July 8, 2020 at 7:04 PM

Some people really need to see the massgraves and the military transporters moving cofins right at home before they accept reality it seems. Perfect compliance with mask and social distance rules would not even be enoug anymore now. An R of 1 or 0,8 doesn´t help to avoid a complete breakdown of medical services when there are 9000 confirmed cases a day like in Florida among a poulation of 22million. Bear in mind, actual cases are a large multible of those.

July 9, 2020 at 5:53 AM

@Hans You are correct, it needs to get personal before people take this seriously. Right now, there is still a "it only happens to someone else" mentality. Even worse, a "hey, I probably won't die from this so what do I need to worry about" mentality. Sorry, I don't consider it a win if I am "only" critical for a few weeks and need oxygen for the rest of my life.

In terms of how this affects theme parks, could Florida possibly do any more to posture itself as an unsafe place to visit?

July 9, 2020 at 12:08 PM

What absurdity. If the death rate is still low, that's because it lags 2-3 weeks behind the infection rate. The infection rate hit its national low just a few weeks ago, so the deaths are coming. People acting like we're just gonna fight through this or, even worse, that somehow the infection is no longer deadly are out of their minds.

Bless these people's hearts--I want to go to Disneyland as badly as I ever have in my life, but it's absolute madness to walk your children into a raging pandemic. And Disney is going to reap the whirlwind when their cast members start dying, or when a super-spreader event occurs.

This period will go down as one of the all-time dumbest American moments, when we tried to ignore our way through a deadly pandemic.

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