Photo Credit: ErikAggie/Pixabay.com
Walt Disney World’s Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom theme parks would re-open to tourists July 11, and SeaWorld would welcome guests a month earlier on June 11, if Gov. Ron DeSantis approves the plans presented on Wednesday, May 27 to an Orange County task force. Despite being another major tourist attraction in the area, Busch Gardens in Tampa was not included in Wednesday’s plan. Busch Gardens is part of the same entertainment company as SeaWorld.
Busch Gardens will submit its own plan to Hillsborough County officials, a spokeswoman said.
Walt Disney World plans to reopen its four theme parks in two phases. If approved by Governor DeSantis, the Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom would open on July 11, followed by Epcot and Hollywood Studios on July 15. SeaWorld proposed reopening its three Orlando parks, including Discovery Cove and Aquatica, to the public on June 11.
The two parks presented plans to Orange County’s Economic Recovery Task Force, a panel of business and community leaders appointed by Mayor Jerry Demings. Less than two hours after the meeting ended, Demings sent letters endorsing the plans to DeSantis, who said earlier this month that theme parks need approval from the county before he signs off on their re-opening dates.
Both Disney and SeaWorld said guests and employees will be required to wear masks and undergo temperature checks. Both also said the parks will include changes to promote social distancing and encourage frequent hand-washing by guests and employees.
Universal is planning to welcome guests on June 5 after Demings and DeSantis approved the plans last week.
Interim CEO Marc Swanson of SeaWorld said it will also require masks for guests age 2 and older. Temperature screenings would also be required, and capacity in pools and rivers would be limited. Also, hand sanitizer would be available at entrances and exits of each ride. SeaWorld’s parks would first reopen for an employee appreciation night on June 10.
The parks have been closed for an unprecedented 10-week shutdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus in Orlando, the nation’s tourism capital, which saw 75 million visitors last year.
It’s unclear how fast DeSantis will act on approving the plans. Last week DeSantis approved Universal’s proposal to reopen to the public on June 5 within hours after Demings gave it a thumbs-up.
The government sign-off on activities by the big theme parks, particularly Disney, is highly unusual for Florida, which typically takes a more hands-off approach in regulating the tourism giants.
Disney is the region’s largest employer and the company’s self-initiated shutdown on March 16 left tens of thousands out of work. Unemployment in Osceola County is the highest in the state at 20.3%, while 16.5% of workers in Orange County are without jobs.
After Wednesday’s Walt Disney World reopening announcement, reservations went up. Disney has temporarily paused all new ticket sales and Disney Resort hotel reservations in order to focus on guests with existing tickets and reservations. Now, dining and other experience reservations are also not available.
The update has been posted to the Walt Disney World website. In the July 11 announcement, the wording about resort hotels reopening has also been removed. Walt Disney World has not yet confirmed the removal of the statement and what it means for the reopening of the resorts. At this time, the re-opening of Disney Vacation Club resorts and Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground on June 22 is confirmed.
William is the Managing Editor at FloridaInsider.com. His years of experience in journalism, broadcasting and multimedia include roles as a Writer and Web Producer. He graduated from Florida International University with a Bachelor of Science and Communication.