Florida Lifts Capacity Limits on Theme Parks, Restaurants, Stores & More
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis issued a new executive order removing capacity restrictions on bars, restaurants, stores, and theme parks. In this post, we’ll cover details plus what this means for Walt Disney World.
DeSantis held a press conference today (September 25, 2020) and unveiled plans for what he called Phase 3 of Florida’s reopening. In so doing, he also reiterated that Florida “is not closing anything going forward.”
Even while further reopening Florida, DeSantis acknowledged that the state could see a second wave of cases. “People shouldn’t think it’s over. They shouldn’t think it’s done…we could easily see a resurgence. I don’t think anybody knows,” said DeSantis.
Under the Guidelines for Opening Up Florida that were created back at the end of April, Phase 3 is the final stage of Florida’s recovery plan, and can begin after the successful conclusion of Phase 2, upon “a downward trajectory of the syndromic and epidemiology criteria while maintaining adequate health care capacity.”
Per Florida’s guidelines, the state can enter Phase 3 when there is no evidence of a rebound or resurgence once benchmarks have been satisfied. Since Florida’s numbers peaked in mid-July, new cases, deaths, hospitalizations, positivity rates, and cases per 100,000 people are all down.
In the last couple of weeks, these numbers have plateaued, but that has also occurred as schools began reopening and following the Labor Day weekend holiday. Some feared either or both of those would result in another wave of cases, which has not yet happened.
Of course, just because something has not yet happened does not mean it will not happen. Time and time again over the last several months, we’ve seen premature victory laps–including in Florida at the beginning of summer. (We’re hoping that the better weather in Florida means more people will opt outdoors, resulting in lower case numbers despite the continued reopening.)
You can refer to the full reopening guidelines document for what that means across all of Florida’s business sectors, but we’re going to focus solely on those relevant to Walt Disney World:
- Theme parks may return to normal operations with limited physical distancing protocols.
- Restaurants and food service establishments may operate at full capacity with limited social distancing protocols. Businesses should maintain adequate sanitation practices among employees and patrons during all hours of operation. Menus, if laminated, should continue to be cleaned after each usage. Paper menus shall be designed for single use and then disposed of immediately after use.
- Bars, pubs, and nightclubs that derive more than 50 percent of sales from alcohol should operate at full capacity with limited social distancing protocols.
- Vacation Rentals should resume normal operating procedures but should continue to thoroughly clean and disinfect the property between rentals.
- Retail businesses should operate at full capacity but should continue to maintain adequate sanitation practices for employees and patrons.
In addition to the above, the new executive order signed by Governor DeSantis provides a general right to work and to operate a business in Florida. Local governments can limit and issue certain restrictions, but will not be able to close businesses entirely. Additionally, cities and counties won’t be able to impose any restrictions without consideration of economic ramifications and offering a public health justification.
Most notably, local governments won’t be able to prevent restaurants from operating at below 50% capacity. Previously, counties and cities could go further than state-level restrictions; for example, Orange County ordered all bars that do not offer dine-in services to shut down again back in July, even after the state allowed them to reopen.
Finally, there will also be a suspension of collecting fines or fees for restrictions; the most notable of these would be for not wearing a mask in public spaces. This effectively renders local mask ordinances, like the one in Orange County, toothless and voluntary.
With that said, private businesses can still operate with any self-imposed restrictions under Florida’s new executive order. That means Publix, Walt Disney World, or any other business in the state can still deny entry to those not wearing masks, or following any other rules. This really isn’t anything new or novel. Those same businesses could deny entry to potential patrons not wearing shirts or shoes, despite there being no state-wide law requiring either of those articles of clothing, either.
Additionally, just because businesses change their policies doesn’t mean customers will follow suit. Data has shown that individuals have self-regulated their behavior throughout this. People will “vote with their wallets” and consumers will not patronize establishments where they do not feel safe.
This isn’t just idle speculation; as an example, restaurant spending has decreased in places where cases have increased. There have also been countless surveys that have shown people adjusting their own behavior voluntarily regardless of rules and law. This is why we all continue to get a daily barrage of emails from every business we’ve ever frequented reminding us of their commitment to health and safety, with many going “above and beyond” what’s required by law. They’re trying to court your dollars by not relaxing their rules even when allowed to do so.
Our expectation is that the impact of Florida entering Phase 3 on Walt Disney World will be minimal–we wouldn’t read too much into all of this as it relates to Disney. Throughout the reopening process, Walt Disney World has been more cautious and conservative with health safety protocol than Florida has mandated on a statewide level.
Disney has held capacity levels below those required by the state, even after DeSantis previously indicated that he’d be comfortable with theme parks increasing attendance and reducing physical distancing. Disney has previously seemed more aligned with Orange County’s approach than that of the state, in particular that of Dr. Raul Pino from the Florida Department of Health. (Who has consistently maintained that face masks will likely be necessary through Spring 2021.)
Beyond that, Disney Parks Chief Medical Officer Dr. Pamela Hymel has repeatedly stated that the company is taking a multi-pronged approach to reopening, considering the guidance of various governmental authorities, health agencies, its panel of health experts, industry groups, and research universities to determine best practices. In so doing, Disney has created across-the-board health safety protocol for Walt Disney World, Disneyland, Disneyland Paris, Hong Kong Disneyland, etc.
It’s unlikely that the company will deviate from that approach at Walt Disney World just because Florida’s governor will allow them to do so. (The reality is that DeSantis always would’ve allowed Disney to do whatever they wanted.) Disney has other considerations: its reputation for safety, continuity among its parks, the potential for bad PR, and more.
With that said, it is likely that Walt Disney World will continue to gradually raise the attendance caps for the parks. This is something that we’ve already seen play out over the last couple of weeks, as crowd levels and wait times have increased pretty significantly as compared to the stretch before Labor Day. This attendance bump will likely be partially offset with a return of more dining and entertainment, plus increasing the hourly throughput of attractions by reducing guest spacing and/or installing more physical barriers.
Ultimately, we do not anticipate Walt Disney World changing any of its official policies in the near-term. Our expectation is that the bulk of those will remain in place through the rest of 2020, and more likely through at least Spring 2021. A potential ‘soft relaxation’ of policies is possible, especially if Florida’s numbers further improve. Conversely, Walt Disney World could tighten things up and reduce capacity if there’s a second wave of cases.
Planning a Walt Disney World trip? Learn about hotels on our Walt Disney World Hotels Reviews page. For where to eat, read our Walt Disney World Restaurant Reviews. To save money on tickets or determine which type to buy, read our Tips for Saving Money on Walt Disney World Tickets post. Our What to Pack for Disney Trips post takes a unique look at clever items to take. For what to do and when to do it, our Walt Disney World Ride Guides will help. For comprehensive advice, the best place to start is our Walt Disney World Trip Planning Guide for everything you need to know!
Do you anticipate Florida entering Phase 3 of its reopening having any impact on Walt Disney World? Think Disney will change its health safety protocol or attendance caps as a result? Does this change concern you, or do you think it’s a non-factor for now? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? Any questions we can help you answer? Please keep the comments civil. This is not the place for arguing about politics—all such comments will be deleted, irrespective of perspective. You are not going to change anyone’s mind via the comments section on this blog, nor are you going to change Disney’s policies.
Excuse me, keep your political opinion about my governor to yourself. It isn’t needed on this board.
Hahahahahahahhaaaaaaa that’s almost funny. Are you aware that the reality is it is quite safe to go to the parks or pretty much anywhere outdoors? I’ve made two trips to WDW during the hype and had no issues. FL has a great governor compared to most states.
Disney is balancing the public’s interest in their products, including theme parks, with their need for revenue while keeping their best asset, their employees, safe.
As of 3/18/21 disney stock has gone up +$74 since you commented this. No matter how you feel about the pandemic, it was silly to sell your stocks because your ego just wont let you believe they’re doing the right thing in restraining themselves. The idiot is you.
It’s absurd to continue requiring Covid-19 restrictions indefinitely. Florida is getting hot again, 83 degrees today and being forced to wear a face mask for hours is a health risk in itself. If the state has opened, then so should the businesses within the state. This has been going on for a year. It’s time to resume life. In one sense I believe these theme parks are screwing the public by raising prices, having shorter hours and harsh restrictions.
No one is forcing people to go to these theme parks. i was at disney world the day you commented this for my birthday and wearing the mask was no problem at all. it didnt get too hot and the only thing that bothered me was i kept snagging my glasses in my mask band. If they were truly screwing the public they’d also be screwing themselves because it’s “the public” that’s paying their bills. You can say “oh i dont like wearing my mask for hours on end” but the rest of the stuff you say is pure rubbish. Quit whining.
One thing Disney does well is long-term thinking. DVC, APs, movie product and tie-ins are all about looking at the big picture. Hopefully, this pandemic will just be a blip on their long-term financials.
Disney today announced some new plans to double down on direct content based on the success of Disney+.
Paul Horvat, the idiot (your word) at Disney making decisions is the person who cares more about their guest’s health and welfare than the governor of Florida does. I’m pretty sure it’s not just one person at WDW who is in charge of Covid rules and regulations. More likely, it’s a group of higher-ups making decisions based upon what’s best for both WDW and its guests. That said, hope you made a profit on the sale of your Disney stock.
We just came back from our worst trip! The cost of the tickets for the activities and time in the parks was terrible. The information from the WDW did not tell the entire happenings and what was going to be the climate once we got to the parks. We tried for two days to get on the Star wars edge and got no way. When we talked to a helper and explained that we had no more days in the park and would be leaving the next day she said ” you have your back against the wall.” I could say more but I will say this, . . . Not worth the cost. I never thought I would say that. I tried to say this to the WDW and got the big go around!
We went in July right after it opened and it was WONDERFUL! However, we just got back from a trip and it was not AT ALL like it was then. Staff was SUPER lax on wearing of face masks and eating and drinking in line and throughout park. The attendance has reached a point where as an annual pass holder we will not return until they reinstate fast passes. 2 hour waits on ALL rides eats up a lot of time when the park hours are still modified. We actually cancelled our December trip based on our October trip..sad face.
I think Disney has done a good job opening the park. But they have let go of so many employees that have worked for them and put in so many hours and dedicated themselves to Disney. I understand that they need to cut some but they could save money by not paying bonuses to executives. They should pay the real employees that work for them that make Disney a great place to visit. I hope they will at least hire these employees back when they do return to full capacity before they hire outsiders. I know Disney has lost money but they have made some of that money back from the NBA and the Professional Soccer league. They need to take care of their real employees first.
Although I agree with you, unfortunately those higher ups are contracted to work and get those bonus checks no matter what the economy and no matter what their performance.
We have trip scheduled at Christmas. Gonna cancel and try again next Fall. Wearing of masks is a deal breaker.
Tom. You’ve been cautious and careful. Does it concern you that your fellow Floridians with relaxed rules will make Disney more “dangerous “ even if Disney keeps their protocol the same? From what I read most of the visitors now from Florida and neighboring state with little rules.
In place of masks we have clear plastic face coverings which are worn much like glasses. Will Disneyworld accept these in place of masks?
You can wear a face shield along with a mask, but not instead of a mask. You need a two layer fabric mask with ear loops or ties that cover your nose, mouth and chin.