Walt Disney World (FL)

Fact Check: Walt Disney World Parks Reopening Theories Vs. Reality

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Over a month ago I put together a list of my own theories, and theories from many others, about what procedures would be in place whenever Walt Disney World’s theme parks reopen. We received a lot of feedback on our “What Will Walt Disney World Be Like When It Reopens?” post. Since that time, Disney Springs reopened and we got a glimpse of the new temporary reality. Now, the big announcement has come. We can compare the theories we discussed to the reality that will come true in mid-July.

It is important to note that procedures and policies will change as the situation evolves.

Walt Disney World Theme Park Reopening Protocols

By Reservation Only – TRUE (!!!)

This is a big announcement. When I wrote about the parks being accessible only by making a reservation to visit on a specific day, I wasn’t 100% convinced it would come true. Alas, Disney did announce that they are implementing a new reservation system for entry into the theme parks. Personally, I am very glad that the Disney parks will be reservation only. Doing so has a lot of positive implications. Obviously it allows for capacity control. But, it also means guest buy-in and education. Guests who make a reservation to visit the parks on a certain day or days will have committed to their plans. And, one can expect Disney to have a terms and conditions section which would review the safety policies. Maybe even guests will have to acknowledge that they will abide by these policies.

One Orlando attraction is already by reservation only: SeaWorld’s Discovery Cove. Perhaps there are some examples of this system that Disney will follow. There will be lots more information about Disney’s theme park reservation system to come, so stay tuned.

Reduced Capacity of the Disney Theme Parks – TRUE

A month and a half after I wrote about this theory, it seems obvious that yes, Disney will indeed have reduced capacity. Disney has not shared what the capacity looks like exactly, nor should anyone expect them to. As described in this CNBC recap of its interview with Bob Chapek immediately following the announcement of the proposed opening dates: Disney CEO Bob Chapek declined to provide a specific breakdown of its capacity reduction on CNBC’s “Squawk Alley” Wednesday, noting that there is no governmental guideline like there is in China. He did say the company would adhere to the CDC’s 6 foot social distancing guidelines when limiting attendance.

Controlled Directional Flow Throughout Disney Property – TRUE

In the original post I discussed the potential for Disney to control traffic flow throughout the property. I mused that Disney might even go so far as to control traffic flow throughout the park, like they do during parade time for example. There was nothing about such specific plans in their presentation and announcement. However, Disney Springs already has directional flow implemented in certain high traffic areas, small areas, and certain retail locations have designated entrances and exits.

Walt Disney World Health and Safety Protocols

All Hands Off Deck and Cleaning Stations – TRUE

We already saw this partially come true during the final days of operation at Walt Disney World, and now, with Disney Springs open we’ve seen hand sanitizing and washing stations added. In addition to these new mobile hand cleaning stations, there is increased signage and reminders about the importance of sanitizing and cleaning. Disney announced that high touch areas such as playgrounds would remain closed and certain water effects would be turned off.

Hand sanitizer station at signage at Disney Springs

Reduced Shows, Attractions, and Character Experiences – TRUE

In our original post, the potential closure and reduction of high touch areas and activities was discussed. This is coming to pass as Disney announced all character meet and greet experiences would become an appearance and interactions from a distance. The possible closure of certain shows and other experiences was also mentioned. Disney states that this would be the case with reopening as well. What we didn’t touch on in our original post was the possible suspension of parades or fireworks. Disney has shared that for the time being parades and fireworks will not resume. You can imagine what a social distancing disaster it would be otherwise.

Required Masks and Temperature Screening – TRUE

It comes as no surprise that temperature screenings and face coverings or masks are required for attendance at Walt Disney World theme parks. After all, they are required at Disney Springs and will be required at both SeaWorld Orlando and Universal Orlando upon reopening of their theme parks. Temperature screenings at Disney Springs  are conducted by one of Florida’s largest healthcare and hospital providers, AdventHealth. What I did not anticipate was the possibility of what Disney is calling “relaxation zones.” To be clear, this is not a definite feature, but Disney representatives mentioned at the Task Force meeting that they were considering creating places where people could take off their masks briefly.

Walt Disney World Theme Park Reopening Protocols

Designated Days for Each Theme Park – TRUE (Kind of)

In the original post it was discussed if Disney would designate certain theme parks to be open on certain days, in order to reduce costs and control capacity. We also wondered if Disney would even designate certain parks to certain types of guests like Annual Passholders and on-site hotel guests on certain days. This is somewhat coming true, only for a short period of time. The theme parks are not reopening on the same day. The kingdoms, Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom reopen first, on July 11, 2020. Then Disney’s Hollywood Studios and EPCOT reopen on July 15, 2020.

Restricting Access to Resort Hotels – TBD

The big piece that is yet to be fully communicated is Disney’s resort hotels. Which ones will open and when? How many hotels will stay closed? One would assume since the parks will be reservation only, that top priority will be given to resort guests. What I mused about in the original post is whether or not Disney would restrict access to the resorts to hotel guests only. This would potentially mean no dining at any of the resort hotels’ restaurants, visiting their merchandise locations, or simply sightseeing.

Additional Considerations

One of the potential operational changes we did not discuss in the original piece was the addition of Plexiglas to ticket windows and registers. Disney stated in their presentation to the Orange County Economic Task Force that barriers were being installed in certain retail and restaurant locations. We also got a peek at some of the signage that will be displayed throughout the parks.

Walt Disney World COVID-19 Health and Safety Signage

As we’ve seen with other theme parks and amusements in their reopening announcements, there will be changes to how attractions operate. Ride vehicles will have certain seats and rows closed. There will be multiple instances, especially in queues, in which travel parties will be kept together and served one at a time, other guests not in the current travel party will be asked to keep a safe distance.

This will be a very interesting time to say the least. We have never seen anything like this in modern theme park operations. I am hopeful that this reopening, with its purposeful safety measures, will help in a variety of ways. What are your thoughts?


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Born and raised in the land of sunshine and dreams come true, Dani is a proud Orlando Native who loves sharing her hometown with others. She's worked in nearly all of Orlando's theme parks, on board Disney Cruise Line, and in hotel management. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @thisfloridalife

8 thoughts on “Fact Check: Walt Disney World Parks Reopening Theories Vs. Reality

  • Paul Blissenbach

    While I agree with the health and safety protocols that Disney announced, our family will likely postpone a trip planned for the last week of August. I’d like the kids to have the full Disney experience with fireworks and parades and would rather wait until conditions get better. I approve of the mask requirement, but don’t think I could handle wearing one all day in the Florida summer heat.

  • CJ Ambrose

    I agree – we also have a trip planned for the last week of August. However, with 3 children under the age of 6, I see masks being a nightmare in the Florida heat. And since two of our children have already experienced Disney twice, I foresee a lot of tears and constant questioning on why there are no fireworks, parades, and they can’t hug Mickey. We are also in Toronto, Canada, so who knows when the border will re-open for travel to the US.

  • I agree. I am not a covidiot; I know these and other policies safeguard us from the virus.
    But I won’t return to WDW…or a sporting event or even a concert unless and until we have an effective vaccine and widespread inoculation.

  • I have been debating on whether to take a short trip to celebrate my 40th birthday in August. My plans were H2O party ticket(most likely Disney will be canceling the remainder of these and waiting until the usual refurbishment cycle to reopen the water parks in a managed way, since that is the time of the year the water parks already see a reduced attendance), MNSSHP, and a day or two at SeaWorld for the Craft Beer Festival. I am now debating on whether to go to Florida this year or to just use my Disneyland ticket. While I have a ten day ticket to Disney World currently, I do not have enough time currently to use it. Ultimately, my plans hinge on how SeaWorld refunds me for the Seven Seas Food Festival lanyard. Either way, I am doing Disney this year sometime, since my CA ticket runs out in January.

  • I learned of new WDW restrictions today. We have our DVC scheduled and tickets purchased for early November. We were looking forward to our group park hopping, catching the shows and enjoying the experience. Now that my carefully planned and secured ADRs will be cancelled, and I have to make reservations for a particular park (I wonder what Disney will do with park hoppers?) why do I want to go to the World this year? I can get the covid disney experience by watching youtube. And use my vacation money to build that addition I’ve been thinking about. Perplexed and sad. Kinda ironic for the happiest place on earth.

  • smallworld

    These procedures make sense, but we don’t intend to plan a trip in the near future. For one thing, we aren’t interested in getting on an airplane while this pandemic is still in full swing. For another thing, a Disney vacation is expensive; if we’re spending the money, we would want to have the full experience. And finally, it just doesn’t strike me as “magical” to constantly be having the thought of trying to avoid catching a disease the whole time I’m there.

    But good on Disney for coming up with a decent plan. Hopefully it will be enough to prevent guests from catching/spreading coronavirus.

  • Glad of measures they are trying to put in place but we will be canceling our Aug trip. Too hot for masks, lesser experiences as noted by many AND yes, airplane travel is a chief concern! Let’s say someone does get sick on vaca…. we all stuck in FL until that person can fly home? Renting a car, not going to find hotels who want to take in a sick covid patient! And transportation around Disney by bus etc is going to be a nightmare too. Nope. Too soon. Will wait for widespread vaccines.

  • I agree. I understand the protocols in place, I just feel it is a lot of money to not get the full experience. I also think I would have a hard time keeping the masks on my 6 and 9 year olds, especially while outdoors. They do well wearing them indoors, but immediately want to rip them off when they step outside, especially with the heat. 🙂 Im hopeful to postpone our trip to November or December, and hopefully some of the restrictions will be lifted or we will try again in 2021.

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