Just a few months ago, the conversation surrounding theme park safety was a completely different one than what we’re having now.
Theme park safety meant having a meetup point for family members who got separated from one another and making sure you stayed hydrated, for example.
Now, as covid-19 lockdowns are lifting throughout the world, and theme parks are weighing a reopen, what visitors can expect could look wildly different.
Theme Park Shutdowns
Walt Disney World in Orlando is perhaps the most iconic theme park in the world. Back in March, most of the country realized the coronavirus pandemic could be serious in the United States when the park decided to close for two weeks.
That turned into much longer than two weeks, but following that initial decision, other theme parks announced closures as well. This included Universal Studios, SeaWorld, Legoland and Busch Gardens.
Governors in the states where most of the major theme parks are located in the U.S. – California, and Florida, had warned against large gatherings. Initially, California’s Governor Newsom said Disneyland was exempt, but then the company made its own decision.
In the past, theme parks including Walt Disney World, have closed for a day or two, and Disney World specifically has only closed its gates seven times in nearly 50 years.
Disney Cruise Line also announced it would suspend all departures around the same time, and since then the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have halted cruises through most of the summer.
Weeks into the shutdowns, Disney announced they would be furloughing 100,000 employees of their hotels and theme parks.
It’s been a bleak few months for theme parks but there may be signs to give hope in the relatively near future.
Shanghai Disney Reopens
Shanghai Disney was shut down for months because of covid-19, and just became the first of the Disney theme parks to reopen. Many are looking toward that park to gain an understanding of what our own theme parks might look like in the future.
The challenge with reopening Disneyland Shanghai is the fact that we’re still without a covid-19 vaccine, meaning there is a need for social distance, at least at some level. This is important to keep visitors healthy, but also to make them feel safe enough to want to travel to the park.
Disneyland Shanghai initially closed in January, as the outbreak in China was becoming more severe.
Now, the park reopened at less than 30% capacity, although tickets sold out in just a matter of minutes when the reopening was announced.
Visitors are required to wear face masks, and their temperature is screened before they enter the park.
What Does Shanghai Tell Us About the Possible Reopening of U.S. Parks?
Some of the specific things being done in Shanghai include:
- All Shanghai Disneyland guests have to buy their reservations in advance. You have to go through the official website to do so now, and even if you already have an annual pass, you still have to make a reservation. Your reservation has to match the name on your official ID.
- In Shanghai, you have to go through a temperature check station at the gates, and your temperature has to be below 99 degrees Fahrenheit to enter. In the U.S., when there are temperature checking stations, they will usually let you in as long as your temperature is below 100.5 Fahrenheit.
- As we’ve seen in most stores and other venues in the U.S. as they reopen, at Shanghai Disneyland guests, have to socially distance, and there are instructions and markings on the ground. There are mats placed on the ground so you know how far apart to stay from one another when you’re waiting in line for a ride, for example.
- Restaurants in the park are using social distancing guidelines and are blocking out certain tables, so the facilities don’t get too crowded.
- Taking photos with Disney characters is one of many people’s favorite part of visiting the theme parks, but for the time being, this isn’t an option.
When Will Disney World Open?
We don’t know when Disney World or the other major U.S. theme parks will open yet. There have been guesses all over the place, with some saying they could open at the start of the summer, and other analysts predicting they won’t open until 2021.
We do know that Disney Springs is set to start reopening May 20, 2020. Disney Springs isn’t officially in the ticketed area of the park, but it is a shopping, dining, and entertainment venue.
What we know about that reopening is that guests will be asked to wear masks, as well as staff.
There will be increased cleaning, and only a limited number of shops and dining options will open at first.
When you compare the shutdown orders in California versus Florida, what’s happening in Florida is significantly more lenient. This could mean the Florida parks have the potential to open sooner than California parks.
Universal Studios Orlando also announced a partial reopening coming soon.
NBCUniversal announced the CityWalk part of Universal Studios Orlando would gradually start opening from 4 to 10 p.m. daily. When visiting CityWalk, visitors will be required to wear masks and undergo temperature checks.
The Universal Studios park itself, as well as Islands of Adventure, are set to remain closed at least through May 31, and Universal Studios Hollywood is closed at least for that long too.
Bob Chapek, CEO of Disney, said he’s been pleased with what he’s seen so far in Shanghai. He said he’s happy with ticket sales, and that he thinks the slow and steady approach is best.
He did express concerns about enforcing guests to wear masks, particularly given how hot central Florida is in the summer.
So, it might not be time to plan your theme park vacation just yet, but there are promising signs that domestic parks could open in the not-too-distant future, barring any major setbacks in the coronavirus pandemic.