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.

174 Responses to “Florida Lifts Capacity Limits on Theme Parks, Restaurants, Stores & More”
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