Several theme parks in Florida will open their doors to guests again over the next few weeks and have crafted plans they hope will keep employees and others safe from spread of the coronavirus.
SeaWorld received approval for its plan to reopen its parks on June 11. The plans are expected to be quickly approved by Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. Universal Orlando has already received the go-ahead from local and state officials for its plan to reopen its parks on June 5.
Disney World — where dreams come true — said it will wait until July to begin welcoming guests back to its parks in central Florida. The company received approval in Orlando from the Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force for its reopening plan. Jim MacPhee, senior vice president for operations at Walt Disney World, said two parks, Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom, would reopen on July 11. Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios are set to reopen on July 15.
All of the attractions have plans to limit attendance to ensure guests have enough space to remain socially distanced within the parks. Disney World said that at least initially, reservations will be required at its parks. The theme parks say that guests and employees will undergo temperature checks upon arrival and that face coverings will be required.
As much as possible, the parks say they're making interactions between guests and employees contact-free. In restaurants and retail stores, guests will be able to access menus and pay using their phones. Signs with health and safety guidelines as well as hand sanitation stations will be prominent throughout the parks.
At Disney World, MacPhee said a special group of "cast members" — Disney's name for its employees — will be trained to encourage guests to practice safe behavior.
"We're developing a social distance squad, a dedicated team of highly energetic and informative cast members who are committed to engaging and inspiring our guests to follow the appropriate guidelines," he said.
SeaWorld will still hold parades and "meet and greets" with its characters, keeping guests at a safe distance. At Disney's parks, the company said for now, parades, fireworks displays and character interactions and other events that draw large crowds won't be available.
Before voting to approve the reopening plans for the SeaWorld and Disney World parks, the Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force first heard from local health officials. Cases of COVID-19 are rising in the Orlando area, but officials said the number of people showing up in hospitals for treatment has continued to decline.
But Dr. Raul Pino, with Orange County's Health Department, warned members of the task force that they should be prepared for an increase in the number of COVID-19 cases.
"The question is not if we are going to have more cases or not. We are going to have more cases as social activity increases," he said.
The key, Pino said, is having enough testing and contact tracing in place to control outbreaks and not overwhelm the region's hospital system.