Theme parks get state OK
Disney World and SeaWorld Orlando to open in mid-July
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
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.
Walt Post, of Orlando, shows off his Magic Kingdom castle-inspired hat May 20 during the reopening of Disney Springs.
Central Plaza at Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom Park was empty May 6 amid the coronavirus pandemic.