Theme parks get state OK

Dis­ney World and SeaWorld Or­lando to open in mid-July

Orlando Sentinel - - Front Page - By Gabrielle Rus­son

It’s of­fi­cial: Dis­ney World and SeaWorld are re­open­ing this sum­mer.

“I am pleased to an­nounce that I have re­ceived word from Halsey Bes­hears, Sec­re­tary of the Florida Depart­ment of Busi­ness and Pro­fes­sional Reg­u­la­tion, that Walt Dis­ney World Re­sort and SeaWorld have re­ceived ap­proval of their re­open­ing plans,” Orange County Mayor Jerry Dem­ings said

Fri­day.

The state’s OK means Dis­ney can al­low vis­i­tors through its turn­stiles July 11 at the Magic King­dom and An­i­mal King­dom. Ep­cot and Hol­ly­wood Studios will open July 15.

SeaWorld’s three Or­lando parks — SeaWorld Or­lando, the mar­que theme park, along with Aquat­ica and Dis­cov­ery Cove — are all set to re­open June 10.

“We thank Gov­er­nor DeSan­tis and the mem­bers of the Orange County Eco­nomic Task Force for their sup­port as we pre­pare to re­open our Or­lando parks to the pub­lic,” said Marc Swan­son, in­terim CEO of SeaWorld Parks and En­ter­tain­ment, in an emailed state­ment.

Dis­ney rep­re­sen­ta­tives did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment Fri­day.

Uni­ver­sal Or­lando was pre­vi­ously ap­proved to open June 5 and has al­ready al­lowed passh­old­ers to sign up for pre­views for ear­lier next week. Le­goland Florida will be the first large theme park in Cen­tral Florida to re­open at 10 a.m. Mon­day.

All Dis­ney World full­time cus­to­di­ans and at­trac­tions work­ers will get called back into work as the parks have soft open­ings and a July 11 of­fi­cial re­open­ing, said Eric Clin­ton, a Dis­ney union leader.

Dis­ney con­tin­ued to pay its work­ers through April 18 and then af­ter­ward fur­loughed a ma­jor­ity of its Dis­ney World em­ploy­ees.

SeaWorld’s part-time em­ploy­ees, the bulk of its la­bor force, have been on un­paid fur­lough since March 16 when the theme parks closed. By April 1, so was nearly ev­ery­one else. SeaWorld dis­closed that about 95% of the en­tire com­pany was fur­loughed.

Many hos­pi­tal­ity work­ers have voiced frus­tra­tion in the dif­fi­culty of nav­i­gat­ing the state’s un­em­ploy­ment sys­tem and get­ting paid their ben­e­fits while they waited for the parks to re­open.

Dis­ney union mem­bers feel mixed about go­ing back to their shifts, said Clin­ton, pres­i­dent of the Unite Here Lo­cal 362.

Some are ex­cited to re­turn. Oth­ers are con­cerned about work­ing in a pan­demic and be­ing at risk.

“At the end of the day, we have a job to do,” Clin­ton said. “If our busi­ness is open, and they’re pro­tect­ing us and keep­ing us safe, we have got to do it.”

Ear­lier, the union listed some of the new pre­cau­tions for work­ers at Dis­ney Springs that in­cluded paid sick time if they get COVID-19, three masks and a ther­mome­ter as well adding more pro­tec­tions for cashiers, such as pro­tec­tion be­hind plex­i­glass.

It’s clear that Or­lando, the theme park cap­i­tal of the world, will be a dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence this sum­mer. Uni­ver­sal, Dis­ney and SeaWorld have all out­lined new safety pre­cau­tions and rules as they sought county and state ap­proval to open their doors again.

Masks will be re­quired for vis­i­tors and em­ploy­ees. So­cial dis­tanc­ing will be en­forced and the parks will em­pha­size hand san­i­tiz­ers.

An­other is­sue will be han­dling the crowds.

The Magic King­dom is the world’s busiest theme park with an es­ti­mated nearly 21 mil­lion vis­its in 2018, ac­cord­ing to an in­dus­try re­port re­leased last year.

Dis­ney’s John MacPhee, a se­nior vice pres­i­dent of op­er­a­tions, told a county task force that at­ten­dance will dras­ti­cally lim­ited. He did not pro­vide de­tailed fig­ures on how many peo­ple will be al­lowed.

Dis­ney will now use a new date-based reser­va­tion sys­tem and has sus­pended its FastPass+ sys­tem that al­lows guests to book spe­cific times for rides ahead of time.

PA­TRICK CON­NOLLY/OR­LANDO SENTINEL

Walt Post, of Or­lando, shows off his Magic King­dom cas­tle-in­spired hat May 20 dur­ing the re­open­ing of Dis­ney Springs.

EVE EDELHEIT/THE NEW YORK TIMES

Cen­tral Plaza at Walt Dis­ney World’s Magic King­dom Park was empty May 6 amid the coro­n­avirus pan­demic.

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