Here’s what the parks could look like when they reopen their gates.
The Universal Orlando and Legoland resorts are preparing to reopen in Florida after closing for more than two months in the wake of the global coronavirus pandemic. But the question remains, when will Disney and other major theme parks follow suit?
Universal and Legoland have asked state and local officials in Florida to reopen June 1. That leaves a number of other theme parks in Florida and across the country that will need to prepare – and potentially follow their lead on reopening plans full of restrictions and safety precautions. Disney World and SeaWorld, both also closed since mid-March, have not set target reopening dates or unveiled their plans.
Smaller theme parks elsewhere in the country could open sooner. And California theme parks, including Disneyland, may be among the last to come back, with that state’s stricter criteria for mass gatherings.
Last month, California Gov. Gavin Newsom outlined a phased reopening plan that appears to put theme parks in a higher-risk category of business that would open later.
Though Disney has offered no specifics about its reopening plans, its chief medical officer, Pamela Hymel, said earlier this month that the company is looking at reopening in phases. Hymel said physical distancing and capacity limits will be considered, in addition to cleanliness and sanitation, screening and prevention, and employee training.
Just about any theme park visit will prove to be a different experience for those who visit. They’ll probably get a temperature check. They’ll be encouraged, if not required, to wear a face mask. They’ll see fewer people in the park and have to social distance from them. Some attractions may remain closed, and parking, dining, hotels and retail will all change in some way.
Universal Orlando asked state and local officials in Florida Thursday to allow the theme park to reopen as soon as June 1, with precautions due to the coronavirus.
The economic recovery task force in Orange County, Florida, unanimously approved Universal’s plan on Thursday. The plan must also be approved by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
If approved, Universal Orlando would be one of the biggest theme parks in the country to reopen.
The reopening of attractions such as theme parks will prompt the resumption of nonessential travel, which has plummeted since much of the U.S. economy went into sleep mode in March. Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly told CNBC last month that theme parks would play a role in getting travelers back on commercial flights.
Travelers “need to have something to be able to do when they get there,” Kelly said. “So Disney World needs to open back up. Restaurants need to open back up.”
A reopened Universal will look very different for visitors and employees, according to a presentation made to the local economic recovery task force Thursday by company officials.
Upon arrival, valet parking will not be available, and cars will park one or two spaces apart. Visitors will receive a temperature check, and no one with a temperature above 100.4 degrees will be allowed to enter. Employees will also receive a temperature checks.
Visitors and employees will be required to wear face coverings. Universal will provide disposable face masks for visitors who don’t bring their own.
The park’s capacity will be limited, said John Sprouls, chief administrative officer for Universal Studios, though he did not specify by how much.
“We’re going to ramp up very slowly,” he told the economic recovery task force.
Sprouls said the interactive play areas at the park would remain closed, and the park would eliminate water and mist elements.
On rides, parties will be kept together, with no commingling, and attraction queues will be spaced out for social distancing.
Single-use paper menus will replace reusable ones in the park’s restaurants. Mobile food ordering will be set up for all venues, Sprouls said. The park will offer contactless payment options, including Google Pay and Apple Pay, but will also accept cash.
Employees will be required to take regular hand-washing breaks, wear face masks and space themselves at least six feet apart. They will also be asked to monitor their temperatures at home.
Universal has installed signage at the entrances and throughout the park to let visitors know what’s expected of them. Visitors will also receive a handout, which will be available in English and other languages.
Universal’s plan could be a model for other theme parks.
Neither Disney World nor SeaWorld have said when they will present their reopening plans to state and local officials.
A Disney preview?
On Wednesday, the Disney Springs retail and dining complex in central Florida partially reopened with many of the elements of the Universal plan. Visitors to Walt Disney World could see similar changes when the park reopens:
- Limited parking and reduced entrances
- Temperature screenings before entry, with a threshold of 100.4 degrees
- Face coverings required, except for children 3 and younger
- Physical distancing markers in queues and physical barriers
- Reduced hours and no scheduled entertainment
- Hand-washing stations and hand sanitizer dispensers
Entertainment venues at Disney Springs did not reopen right away. Temperature screenings and mask requirements apply to both visitors and employees, and no one with a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher will be allowed to enter.
One-way and directional signage will help visitors maintain appropriate social distancing. Restaurants are accepting reservations, but not all will be open.
On Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis anchored a roundtable in Orlando, Florida, with business and tourism leaders, including executives from Disney, Universal and SeaWorld.
DeSantis announced last week that theme parks could begin submitting reopening plans as part of his phased-in plan to restart the state’s economy.
“We’re getting there,” Pence said. “We really are.”
The city commission in Winter Haven, Florida, on Wednesday approved a plan to reopen the Legoland Florida theme park on June 1.
Legoland Florida will reopen at half capacity and will strongly encourage visitors to wear face coverings, but not require them.
Like Universal, Legoland guests will have their temperatures checked and turned away if it’s higher than 100.4 degrees.
Some theme parks reopening as others wait and see
Other theme parks across the country are gearing up to reopen.
In Jackson, New Jersey, Six Flags Great Adventure’s Drive-Thru Safari Adventure is set to reopen May 30.
The new safari journey will offer a contact-free experience, and that means none with humans, either: all safari tickets must be purchased online and in advance. Tickets will not be available at the gate.
Following Gov. Phil Murphy’s May 13 executive order allowing car gatherings under social distancing guidelines, guests will be able to see the attraction’s 1,200 exotic animals, which live on 350 acres, from their own cars.
The Six Flags Great Adventure theme park, and other Six Flags parks nationwide, remain closed.
Another theme park operator, Cedar Fairs, said in its quarterly report earlier this month that none of its parks would reopen soon. Cedar Fairs operates Knott’s Berry Farm in Southern California; Cedar Point in Northern Ohio; Kings Island near Cincinnati; Kings Dominion near Richmond, Virginia; and the Schlitterbahn near Kansas City, Kansas.
“Based on the best information we have currently, we do not anticipate resuming operations at any of our parks in the near term,” said president and CEO Richard Zimmerman.
Contributing: Kevin Bouffard, The Ledger; Sarah Griesemer and Alex Biese, Asbury Park Press
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