Walt Disney World Reveals Proposal to Reopen Theme Parks in July

Photo by Disney

On Wednesday May 27th at 10:59 am, Walt Disney World revealed their proposal to reopen the theme parks in mid-July to Mayor of Orange County Jerry Demmings and over two dozen representatives part of the Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force. This was after Mayor Demmings and several field inspectors got to preview the new protocols in a private tour of the parks yesterday on May 26th, 2020.

The meeting began with the Mayor stating that he felt confident with the reopening of businesses because the county continues to have a low positivity rate of 2.8% in regards to COVID-19 cases. Orange County is below the state's average positivity rate, which sits between 5% and 7%. But Demmings said that given recent data, the virus is still alive in other parts of Florida and we must balance safety concerns every step of the way as Florida continues to reopen businesses.

Jim McPhee, Senior Vice President of Operations at Walt Disney World, lead his presentation by stating that the target date to reopen the theme parks would be in mid-July. The proposal is to have the Magic Kingdom and Disney's Animal Kingdom open to the general public first on July 11th followed by Epcot and Hollywood Studios on July 15th. McPhee went on to say that this would be after a preview period where Cast Members would visit and test out new protocols. Guests hoping to visit after that, would have to participate in a new reservation system to enter the parks. However, more details on how that would work was not discussed. It is likely that we will see a reservation system similar to what is currently in use at Shanghai Disneyland for both one-time guests and Annual Passholders. However, communication on this will come in the near future. Disney has also paused accepting new hotel reservations and ticket sales to better accommodate those with existing reservations.

However, Disney Vacation Club Members can still make new reservations. All Vacation Club resorts at Walt Disney World will reopen to members and guests on June 22nd as will Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort and Campground.

McPhee's presentation touched on five key points as part of the new health and safety protocols:

  • Enhanced Protective Measures

  • Physical Distancing

  • Enhanced Cleaning/Sanitation

  • Temperature/Health Screenings

  • Limited Contact Enhancements

In regards to enhanced protective measures, all guests and Cast Members will be required to wear a face covering throughout their visit to the parks. Disney will also add plexiglass barriers at points of sale locations within retails stores and food and beverage stations. Reusable face coverings will be provided to Cast Members before returning to work.

In regards to physical distancing, we can expect the same signage and protocols that have already seen in place at Disney Springs. The parks will have limited capacity, however an exact number of how many guests will be allowed into the parks was not provided. Restaurants, stores and attractions will also have limited capacity within themselves. There was no discussion on wether all traditional standby lines will go virtual or how this would impact or change Fastpass+ queues and reservations. McPhee did confirm that parades, nighttime firework displays, character meet and greets and playground areas will not open in this initial phase.

Just like Disney Springs, guests will be required to undergo a temperature screening before entering the parks. The exact location of where these would take place was vague, but McPhee stated that these would take place at Main Entrances to the theme parks. At a park such as Magic Kingdom, that could mean different things. It is unclear if temperature screenings would take place at multiple locations in this instance since Magic Kingdom has many entry points due to multiple forms of transportations used to arrive. It was not specified but we can assume that the same rule in place at Disney Springs will apply here. If guests and/or Cast Members have a temperature of 100.4°F or 38°C, they will either be asked to leave or given the opportunity to sit by a fan to cool off before being checked again. Additionally, Cast Members will go through two temperature checks; one at home and one when the arrive to work.

Finally, Disney will highly encourage cashless payments at all points of sale. This would of course mean guests should use payment options such as MagicBands, credit or debit cards and services such as Apple Pay when purchasing food and souvenirs. McPhee also expressed that Disney's existing mobile food ordering service will work well with these new measures. It allows guests to pay directly on their phones without coming into contact with others and allows guests to view menus comfortably. The discussion of single-use paper menus came up during a Q&A session, but McPhee reiterated that guests will be encouraged to utilize Mobile Order to look at menus. He also stated that they have QR code capabilities, which would allow guests to scan a code with their phone to view a menu as opposed to handling a reusable menu. However he did say, that Disney will provide paper menus if specifically requested by guests. It is worth noting that Mobile Order at the moment only applies to quick service locations. How menus will be handled at table service locations is unclear at this time.

The most important element to all of these new rules is communication. Walt Disney World's official website states, "An inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19 exists in any public place where people are present. COVID-19 is an extremely contagious disease that can lead to severe illness and death. By visiting Walt Disney World you voluntary assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19."

Disney will continue to roll out 'Know Before You Go' statements presumably through the My Disney Experience App and social media platforms such as the Disney Parks Blog. McPhee also showed examples of new signage that guests will see when they arrive to the parks. When asked about the topic of enforcing guests wearing masks, McPhee stated that Disney has not seen any serious complications with guests not complying at Disney Springs. Disney has already deployed a new Social Distancing Squad, seen in new yellow uniforms in the shopping and dining district, and will continue to deploy these Cast Members in the parks when they reopen.

The proposal was approved by the Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force and it will now go to Govenor DeSantis' office for approval. According to Florida Health Department's COVID-19 dashboard, the Sunshine State has a total 52,634 positive cases of the virus and 2,319 deaths so far. The total number of positive cases in Orange County currently sits at 1,798 with a total of 39 deaths as of May 27th. During today's meeting, Dr. Raul Pino stated that over 66,000 residents of Orange County have been tested for COVID-19, out of the county's 1.3 million total population. The majority of cases in Florida are currently located in the states most populated counties, Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach. While the state is seeing a small decrease in positivity rates, the cases numbers remain at a steady pace; neither on a a clear upward trend or downward trend.

To see more of Walt Disney World's proposal in today's meeting, click the link below which will jump to start of Jim McPhee's presentation: https://youtu.be/fOiTUfdhk1k?t=3481