As the spring of 2020 drew near, things were looking pretty good for Disney. Pandora—The World of Avatar was drawing more tourists than ever to the Animal Kingdom theme park. The long-awaited Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge update had been completed, making Rise of the Resistance one of the hottest tickets in the entire resort. The House of Mouse was facing a future as rosy as Snow White’s cheeks.
Then, as we all know, the coronavirus pandemic changed everything. Seemingly overnight, “social distancing” became a household term. President Trump designated the looming threat as a national emergency on March 13. Health experts recommended staying at least six feet away from anyone else when out in public, and limiting gatherings to fewer than 10 people. Anyone who’s ever been to Walt Disney World in Florida or the Disneyland Resort in California knows that it would be impossible to adhere to these guidelines in those locations. So Disney made the tough yet necessary decision to close its parks for the foreseeable future. As of this writing, the company hasn’t released any plans for reopening, but analysts predict that it might not happen until January 2021.
Here are some of the strategies that have been outlined by Florida’s Orange County Economic Task Force regarding the opening of the Walt Disney World resort in Orlando.
It’s been suggested that the parks reopen at a 50 percent capacity during the first stage of the operation. A second stage, with a suggested 75 percent cap on attendance, would follow thereafter. To put this into perspective, let’s take a look at the supposed capacity of each individual park.
While these numbers are not official, the Magic Kingdom can supposedly accommodate 100,000 guests at a time. Epcot has nearly the same capacity, quoting 95,000 as the estimated capacity. Disney’s Hollywood Studios can accommodate around 75,000 guests. Despite being the largest theme park of the four (500 total acres versus the Magic Kingdom’s 142), the Animal Kingdom has the lowest capacity at just 60,000 guests. That’s because the majority of the Animal Kingdom’s acreage is consumed by the makeshift savanna, of which only a small portion is accessible to guests.
The proposed Stage 1 measures would cut these numbers in half, meaning that only 50,000 guests per day would be allowed to pass through the Magic Kingdom’s turnstiles before closing procedures were implemented. In Stage 2 of the operations, 75,000 guests would be allowed in.
In the past, Disney has used a four-phase system for turning away potential guests during exceptionally busy periods. For example, during the first three phases, cast members would continue to allow guests who were staying at on-site resorts to enter the parks, while day guests would be turned away. During Phase 4 closures, no arriving guests would be admitted, period. It’s not clear whether Disney would continue the same policy moving forward, or if the cast members would be instructed to move directly to Phase 4 in light of the circumstances.
The Orange County Economic Task Force has also recommended that all Disney employees be required to wear masks while on duty. As we’ve all heard in recent weeks, the wearing of masks can help prevent people who are infected with coronavirus from spreading the disease to others. Further, all staff members would have to participate in temperature checks before reporting to work each day. Anyone with a temperature of over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit would not be permitted to enter the park.
Finally, if any employee should experience flu-like symptoms, he or she would be strongly encouraged to stay home. This falls in line with Disney’s typical policy, but it’s likely that the rule would be enforced more strongly in light of the current situation.
When it comes to lines, the task force has an even more stringent suggestion: Keeping guests at least six feet apart at all times. Taped markings would appear in the queuing areas, with park-goers expected to remain within the designated boundaries until the person in front of them moves forward. Presumably, a family would be permitted to remain together as a group, as long as they weren’t infringing upon the space of the other people in line.
Of all the suggested measures, this one best illustrates the need for a cap on attendance. With a six-foot gap between each person in line, the queuing areas will be filled to capacity in no time, especially at the popular attractions.
Per the recommendations, there would be hand sanitizer stations situated at pertinent locations throughout the parks. High-traffic areas such as turnstiles, ticketing booths, and ride entry and exit platforms would be given top priority. While it’s unreasonable to expect small, excited children to keep their hands off the railings and turnstiles, the sanitizing stations will increase the likelihood that their hands are clean before and after they experience the rides.
On a related note, all railings and surfaces should be wiped down on a regular basis. It’s likely that additional cast members would be required to make sure that these chores are performed on schedule.
Guests over the age of 65 would be encouraged to hold off on visiting the Disney parks until normal operations resume. While the cast members would probably not implement an official “age ban,” the suggestion is made in the potential guests’ best interests.
As the weeks and months roll past, it will be interesting to see whether any of these policies and guidelines will actually take place. Anyone who’s interested in paying a visit to the Disney parks should be on the lookout for any news about the company’s next plan of action