It’s a big day for Walt Disney World, which just announced reopening plans and official opening dates for Magic Kingdom & Animal Kingdom, followed by Epcot & Hollywood Studios. This came in a comprehensive presentation to the Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force. In this post, we’ll share the details, including temporary health safety protocol, rules, plans for soft opening opening, guest reservations, and more.
Regular readers of our Walt Disney World Closure & Reopening Updates know we’ve been following these weekly OC task force meetings since they began. It’s been an interesting albeit tedious process. These virtual meetings typically run over an hour, with early ones containing a bunch of nonsense and only a few worthwhile nuggets of info. However, even those provided insight into Walt Disney World’s plans days or weeks prior to the same announcements via Disney’s official channels.
The last couple of weeks, Orange County TV has become must-watch television (well, YouTube–watch for yourself here). It has gone from only a few dozen streaming viewers for each meeting to a few hundred last week to thousands this week. For good reason, as the stakes have gotten higher and the substance of the meetings more compelling…
Last week, the bulk of the meeting was devoted to Universal Orlando Resort’s comprehensive reopening presentation. Executives from Universal highlighted their preventative measures plan and laid out a “guest journey” that would stress the importance of communication, engaging guests and building confidence to encourage visitation.
More significantly, Universal dropped the bombshell announcement that Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventure, and Volcano Bay would open for employee previews on June 1 and 2, followed by an Annual Passholder soft opening on June 3 and 4, and then to the general public on June 5, 2020. This accelerated timeline surprised a lot of people, us included.
Although initially rumored to be presenting their own reopening plans at that meeting, both Walt Disney World and SeaWorld waited until this week’s meeting to do the same.
Rumors have since swirled that Disney leadership was caught off-guard by Universal’s announcement. Supposedly, this process has been less collaborative in nature than previous security and health safety plans, which were designed in tandem by the three major players in the Orlando theme park market.
We cannot speak to the veracity of those rumors, but it’s worth noting that Universal Orlando isn’t alone in moving fast. The same day of Universal’s big reveal, Legoland Florida announced it would reopen first on June 1, 2020. Last Friday, FunSpot Orlando announced it had already opened (you read that correctly), and Gatorland followed suit the next day.
Roughly one-dozen area water parks and smaller scale amusement parks or attractions have likewise received approval to open–before the end of this month or first few days of June.
SeaWorld Orlando presented its plans first during this week’s Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force. During this, SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment announced a general public reopening date of June 11, 2020 for SeaWorld Orlando, Aquatica, and Discovery Cove. (With an operational employee appreciation day prior to that.)
SeaWorld also shared specific “enhancements” to park operations, including mandatory masks for guests & employees, physical distancing, temperature screenings, and more. (All pictured above–pretty much identical to what Universal announced last week.) Notably, SeaWorld will not have an advanced reservation system for entering the park–also the same as Universal Orlando.
Disney further corroborated this yesterday, with a tweet confirming they would present phased reopening plans today. With SeaWorld’s presentation finished, all eyes turned to Walt Disney World…
Even though we know what health security & safety measures will look like thanks to the opening of Disney Springs (and due to announcements by WDW unions), a number of questions remained to be answered today.
Would Disney present plans for a TBD opening, or reveal a target date as well? Would all parks reopen simultaneously, or just Magic Kingdom at first? What limitations would be placed on park capacity? Would advance registration be required for entry? How would this work for Annual Passholders? What about the two dozen-plus resort hotels? Would Walt Disney World reopen to Florida residents first, or everyone?
Well, we now have answers to these questions. At least, some of them…
Presenting for Disney during the Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force was Walt Disney World’s Jim MacPhee, Senior Vice President of Operations and Chief Operating Officer. He shared Walt Disney World’s reopening plans, beginning with opening dates.
The big news here is that Magic Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom will officially reopen to the general public on July 11, 2020. Disney’s Hollywood Studios and Epcot will officially open on July 15, 2020. Prior to these dates, Walt Disney World will host a series of Cast Member previews and soft opening days for select audiences to ramp up operations. The details of these preview days will be announced at a later time.
For the official opening dates, Walt Disney World will employ a new theme park reservation system for visiting, the details of which will also be shared at a future date.
Additionally, Walt Disney World will utilize the above health and safety protocols, including mandatory masks, temperature screenings, physical distancing, enhanced cleaning & sanitation, and the reduction of contact between Cast Members and guests (including encouraging Mobile Ordering, contactless payments, etc.)
We’re not going to linger on any of these details, as this is all pretty much identical to what’s already happening at Disney Springs and what was revealed weeks ago by the Walt Disney World unions.
More significantly, Walt Disney World confirmed that it will temporarily suspend parades, fireworks, and other high-density entertainment during the first phase of its reopening.
Likewise, character meet & greets, playgrounds, water play areas, and other areas where physical distancing is impossible or impractical will be temporarily suspended during phase one.
All of this will be reinforced and effectively conveyed to guests well before they arrive at Walt Disney World via new education, communication, and engagement strategies.
Presumably, this will begin when guests book vacations or, if already booked, via push alerts and email notifications sent to guests. It will continue via the My Disney Experience app, in-park signage, and new Cast Member teams that will communicate with guests.
Walt Disney World concluded its presentation by reiterating some behind the scenes plans taking place to train Cast Members, educate the public, and prepare the parks for their soft opening dates and official reopening dates in July 2020. The approach was described as methodical and deliberate.
This still leaves questions unanswered for anyone contemplating a summer vacation to Walt Disney World. Most notably, they did not address its resort hotels in the presentation, nor did it offer even a vague timeframe as to when the soft openings will begin.
As we’ve said before, Walt Disney World’s two-dozen resorts will likely open in phases. Deluxe Resorts with Disney Vacation Club properties will likely be first, then non-DVC resorts connected to the parks by non-bus transportation (Caribbean Beach, Art of Animation, Pop Century, and Yacht Club), followed by everything else.
The process of hotels reopening could take a few months. There might even be some resorts that don’t reopen this year at all if there’s a lack of demand (think Coronado Springs, the All Stars, Port Orleans Resorts), in which case guests with bookings at those properties would be relocated elsewhere.
With Walt Disney World starting its official process over a full month after Universal Orlando, it’s entirely possible that the “unofficial” opening will begin far earlier. This could include a few days of Cast Member previews followed by a couple weeks of the soft opening time that targets DVC Members, Annual Passholders, and Florida residents. This is an approach that has previously been discussed during these task force meetings, so it’s not exactly far-fetched.
During a longer preview timeframe, Walt Disney World could refine its approaches and have operations more polished before tourists with vacation packages arrive in full force (well, more like reduced capacity force). This would also give Disney more time to scale up operations, getting some of the hotels open for the bigger mid-July opening. The last few paragraphs here are merely our speculation, not anything discussed during Walt Disney World’s presentation. In any case, we’re expecting a deluge of additional news for Walt Disney World directly via official channels in the near future (possibly later today, possibly when Governor DeSantis approves the plan). We’ll keep you updated once we know more!
Will you be visiting Walt Disney World right away when the parks reopen in July or will you wait? Surprised by the details of Disney’s reopening presentation to the Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force? Optimistic that things will be “back to normal” at Walt Disney World sooner rather than later? A variety of viewpoints are welcomed here, but we will not tolerate insults, arguing, or politically-charged comments. Don’t ruin a 95% fine comment with an unnecessary cheap shot–that 5% will get it deleted. Additionally, please do not debate the efficacy of masks or other health safety policies–all such comments (for, against, otherwise) will be deleted. Those arguments are played out and isn’t the appropriate forum for that. (Saying you will or will not visit in light of certain measures is fine.)