Can Short Wait Times Save Florida's Theme Park Industry?

July 21, 2020, 5:23 PM · All of Central Florida's top theme parks are open. That means that eight of the 12 most-visited theme parks in America last year are welcoming guests once again.

But just because two-thirds of the country's top parks are open doesn't mean that the industry is back to normal. Far from that, in fact.

Roy and Minnie at the Magic Kingdom
Photos courtesy a Theme Park Insider reader

Parks are limiting their capacities in order to protect safe physical distancing between guests (and employees). And that's just one of the many new health and safety procedures in the parks, including mandatory use of masks, abundant hand sanitizer stations, and enforced spacing between parties on ride vehicles and in theaters.

Splash Mountain load

Parks also have dumped meet and greets and shows that bring people close together. Want to see your favorite character? Wave while they drive by... from a distance, of course.

Tink on parade

So what's the upside of visiting a park in these conditions? Notice the lack of crowds.

Nearly empty Caribbean Plaza

Toy Story Mania and Twilight Zone Tower of Terror were walk-ons today. Seven Dwarfs Mine Train and Avatar Flight of Passage were under 20 minutes. For some fans, the hassle of masks, advance reservations and all the other new procedures are worth enduring to get those low, low wait times.

But others simply don't want to deal with the masks and other new rules. And some people aren't willing to take any risk while this pandemic continues, even if local officials have said that they have not seen any outbreaks connected to the parks.

And many potential Orlando-area tourists couldn't visit even if they wanted to, due to international and even interstate travel restrictions.

So, I ask you this question...

Obviously, if short wait times becomes too much of an attraction, those wait times cease to be that short. But we're a long way away from that point, given what we're seeing now inside the parks. If parks are going to be open, the industry needs some income to support that operation. I'm interested in hearing from you how likely they are to get that.

Replies (13)

July 21, 2020 at 5:41 PM

I'd have no problem going to the parks if it wasn't for the fact that I'd need to fly there, I'm not getting on an airplane until the pandemic is over.

July 22, 2020 at 1:58 PM

In my house, I'm the only one working. My husband is still on furlough and while my income and his unemployment are paying the bills, we are not doing anything extravagant.
I'm also of the opinion that I'm not ready to be among crowds in a state where infection rates are so high. I am confident WDW, UO and SWO are doing all they can to be safe, but I can't say the same for the guests in the parks.
The other thing is I know the parks like the back of my hand. Yes, there are some new attractions and lands (Pandora) since we moved from Florida. The point I'm going for is I really don't need to ride Pirates of the Caribbean right now. I WANT to really badly, but it's not like it's an experience I don't already have under my belt.
The chance to do some of those attractions now that usually come with a long line might be appealing to someone who hasn't spent as much time in the parks as I (or many of us here) have. Right now, I'd rather do like Brer Fox and lay low.

July 21, 2020 at 8:16 PM

I’d question how long the parks can sustain a business restricted model? If it covers at least some overhead I guess it makes sense otherwise it’s just piling up the losses and debt. Couple of observations from my magic kingdom visit today : maybe 25% full today; the experience is somewhat muted with masks as you cant see the happiness that is usually infectious; It also reduces the actual ride experiences as there isn’t enough time to anticipate and create excitement of what you’re going to experience as all the lines have been stripped of any interactive elements and move quickly; you don’t get much opportunity to interact with others as you might normally do because of the social distancing requirements; the lack of any crowd has an eery feeling of something is amiss; the random floats Disney is randomly pushing out is almost jarring - the music suddenly starts roaring and one float runs around just seems like a half hearted effort, no castle projection shows; and finally I hate to say this but many of the rides don’t stand on their own without the atmosphere that Disney had created throughout the park Pre-COVID

July 21, 2020 at 10:14 PM

On my own....okay, I admit maybe, just maybe. But not with family, not in a crowd and really am worried on risks in Florida. I'm sometimes concerned with my local pub in Illinois where they've actually been handling this well, let alone a theme park in a state spiking in cases. As much as I love a walk-on attraction, it just doesn't feel safe or like a real park now.

July 22, 2020 at 1:04 AM

Having just returned from a two week theme park trip through several states with high infection rates (including Texas and Missouri), I would say this: If you are not vulnerable or living with someone who is vulnerable, now is an excellent time for a return visit but a terrible time for a first visit or once in several years trip. Based on my experience, theme parks with COVID precautions are honestly among the safest recreational activities available right now, and while there are some additional hassles, the reward is a stress-free day with minimal waiting times and low crowd density. That said, because some attractions and elements are not operating and new procedures will impact your enjoyment level, visiting a park for the first time right now will result in a diminished experience, which can result in even a great park feeling somewhat meh. For example, I had a far more enjoyable time at the Six Flags parks I visited on this trip than Silver Dollar City even though the latter is a far superior park. If you just want to get out and experience your favorites, go for it! You'll have a great time. If you're debating whether to go now or hold off a year or two on that once a decade trip, however, I'd wait, or perhaps try a local park and see if the experience remains satisfactory.

Also, I can't say how Disney is, but an employee I talked to at Six Flags Over Texas said that they're only averaging about half of the reservations being claimed each day, so I'd estimate the park was about 15% full. To visit on a weekend and only experience lines for the park's top two coasters (both of which were about a 20 minute wait) and walk onto everything else all day long is unheard of for most parks even in the off-season. That's good for guests but troubling for the industry, and probably explains why many parks are switching to limited hours and operating days already.

July 22, 2020 at 11:26 AM

I do most of my theme park travel during the spring, fall, and winter (winter for the local so cal parks). I rarely travel much during the summer due mainly to the heat. This year I was lucky enough to have 3 weeks in FL during February which allowed us to hit 4 Disney parks, both Universal, and both Fun Spot parks. Once we reach Mid September, I plan to hit some parks and from the sound of it, where I go will depend upon what's open... Not traveling for me right now is standard whether we have COVID or not.

July 22, 2020 at 12:29 PM

If I knew I had Rona antibodies or had already been infected by it and lived, I would definitely consider visiting Disney and Universal in the near future. I would be traveling on my own anyway and the precautionary rules with masks and distancing wouldn't hinder me. I rarely have bothered with the parades and I only occasionally would take a picture with a character in the past. I don't mind not seeing large crowds at the parks. It would be great for a change not having to deal with a mass of humanity that doesn't care to watch where its going when walking or pushing strollers. It would be nice to get a few good rides on the high wait attractions that I wouldn't normally be able to do. Hopefully I will still have a chance to take advantage of this reboot in the next six to eight months or so before the crowds come back.

July 22, 2020 at 2:44 PM

I could fly to the states (I'm Canadian) but I would be required to quarantine myself for 14 days upon my return. Not worth it. Maybe next year?

July 22, 2020 at 10:44 PM

For me, it's about the lack of what makes Disney magical. If one wants rides only, there's a lot of parks cheaper. We pay more for the "experience", which includes pre-shows, meet & greets, entertainment, shows, FW, parades...non of which are functioning right now. I'm waiting until I get the full experience.

July 23, 2020 at 2:30 PM

Just spent 3 days at universal. Rode Haggreds everyday. No wait felt very safe. Lots of social distancing cleaning hands masks etc.... Well worth putting up with masks etc for the lack of crowds

July 23, 2020 at 4:00 PM

Agreed Floridapgrapro -Universal is doing a great job plus you must sanitize your hands b4 you get on a ride something Disney should do as well. On the other hand Universal could place more sanitizers at ride exits (Disney has that covered well) and also fix the mixup at the Hagrids ride entrance and Hogwarts express exit lines. Overall, our Universal experience was much more enjoyable than Disney as Universal attractions on their own are far superior and short lines allows you to experience more of the 2 parks in one day. Btw Hagrids is all that and more !

July 23, 2020 at 6:48 PM

Staying on site at Univeral right now, did IOA Wednesday, Volcano Bay today, and Universal tomorrow. I just told my son, this is how theme parks should be all the time, literally just walking right onto rides (having the on-site express helps), but we did almost every ride twice yesterday at IOA including Hagrid. By noon today we did all of Volcano despite a few weather delays. I think Universal is doing a great job with the sanitizing and social distancing, and montoring mask use. Much happier here than our visit to SeaWorld last week where mask enforcement was not always enforced, but they did have a great fireworks show which is what we really went for.
Also as Floridians who would never dream of visiting a theme park in the summer, the low crowds definitely drew us in and Universal is exactly what we hoped it would be right now.

July 24, 2020 at 3:25 PM

Just can't bring myself to do it. I have no issue wearing a mask, I just feel going is being irresponsible.

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