Walt Disney World Parks Reopen As Florida Sets Single-Day Record For New COVID-19 Cases

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After four months of closure, Disney World has opened its gates to the public again. Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom opened on Saturday and will be followed by EPCOT and Disney’s Hollywood Studios on Wednesday.

The reopening weekend coincided with Florida recording the largest single-day increase in positive COVID-19 cases of any state since the pandemic began — 15,299 on Sunday alone.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention currently recommends avoiding all non-essential travel in the United States. Limiting close face-to-face contact with others is the best way to reduce the spread of the disease, according to the CDC.

“We have taken enhanced health and safety measures. Follow all posted instructions while visiting Walt Disney World Resort,” Walt Disney World published on its website. “An inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19 exists in any public place where people are present.”

According to new guideline updates, Walt Disney World Resort has implemented new procedures including enhanced cleaning, physical distancing and reduced contact. Guests are required to reserve attendance beforehand via the Disney Park Pass reservation system and wear face masks in the park at all times.

Currently, people with a valid ticket or annual pass are permitted to make reservations for up to three days at a time. Resort guests are allowed to make reservations for the length of their stay. Visits are limited to one park per day.

Sanitation updates have become mandatory among Orlando theme parks, as well. Universal Orlando opened its two parks to the public on June 7, requiring temperature screening at the entrance and face coverings worn by guests at all times. Sea World Orlando opened with similar requirements several days later.

“I love Disney so much, but I’m not gonna be like one of those people that goes as soon as they open,” former cast member Hannah Howard said.

Howard said she began working for Disney through the Disney College Program in Fall 2019. Her employment, which was set to expire in April, ended early when the parks closed in March.

Howard visited Universal after it reopened.

“At Universal, the workers were being like super strict. They were yelling at people, which is better than not enforcing it,” Howard said about her visit to the park. “They would actually pump the hand sanitizer into your hand, so it’s like no way you can get around it.”

Disney World
Walt Disney World Parks cast member in the role of Merida from Pixar Animation Studios’ “Brave,” waves to park guests while horseback, led by two employees wearing face coverings. (Photo courtesy of parkgoer, Savanna Ewers.)

Annual Passholder Savanna Ewers attended a Passholder Preview Day at the Magic Kingdom on July 9. She said she felt extremely safe at the park and saw everyone observing the rules even when cast members weren’t around.

“I felt safer at the park than I do at my local grocery store where many people are not wearing masks or social distancing,” Ewers said.

From the beginning, Ewers said she noticed the changes in procedures to accommodate the health and safety of visitors. They eliminated the trams from the parking lot to the park entrance and had a temperature screening at the front. New scanners allowed for limited interaction with the security guards and guests can walk through with their bags.

Once at the front entrance, Ewers said a cast member used an iPad to scan her in, rather than the previous fingerprint scanners. Inside the park, the ride queues all had markers on the floor keeping everyone distanced and some had plexiglass where rails were, to keep people apart as they wind through lines.

As for ride queue times, Ewers said, “We walked straight on to most rides, the most we waited was 10 minutes for Mine Train!”

New safety measures implemented throughout the park included plexiglass at all food kiosks, pick up and ordering stations. At all casual service restaurants, online ordering was required, according to Ewers. She believes it is to provide fewer direct interactions between customers and cast members.

Ewers also noted there were independent hand washing stations throughout the park and cast members were frequently cleaning and wiping down high-touch surfaces. Interactive areas and cooling water mists in ride queues were turned off.

“Character interactions were socially distanced,” Ewers said, “with characters either waving at you from blocked off areas or riding through the streets on floats or horses.”

Howard believes it’s a bit too soon to be reopening the parks and that they are not a necessity.

Howard said she’s hopeful that people will abide by physical distance guidelines but worries about the community of people who will get frustrated with the changes, like Annual Passholders, Disney Vacation Club members and Orlando locals.

“They expect it to be the best, but like with all this COVID stuff,” Howard said. “It’s not gonna be what you want it to be. But at that point just don’t go.”

Ewers will return to the property for a resort reservation with her family in late July. She said her family has a park reserved each day of their visit.

Howard said she doesn’t foresee returning to Walt Disney World until Fall 2021.

About Madison Artzt

Madison is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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