In this update, we’ll cover the likelihood of a reopening proposal by Walt Disney World to Orange County leaders next week, Universal’s official plans to welcome back guests, Disneyland’s status, and more. Suffice to say, it’s been a busy few days for Florida theme park news!
Let’s start with Universal, as that’s the big and juicy, substantive news. After receiving approval on their plans from Orange County and the State of Florida, Universal officially released a “welcome back” statement announcing Universal Studios Florida, Islands of Adventure, and Volcano Bay would all reopen to the general public on June 5, 2020.
This lengthy release included information about health safety procedures, temporary rules, a surplus of liability disclaimer warnings, and temporary policies as the parks get back up and running. As we’ve noted before several times now, Universal and Disney generally collaborate on safety policies. Even if you don’t care about Universal, this is interesting to the extent that it offers a sneak peek into what Walt Disney World will likely announce…
Universal Orlando’s Frequently Asked Questions page is extensive, and we are not going to reproduce that in full here. If you’re curious about every single policy, please refer to that.
Instead, we’ll focus primarily on new ground that is not redundant to policies implemented at CityWalk and Disney Springs…
Face masks are one of the top questions on the FAQ, and we have some new info on that front: “With regard to face masks, If you have a disability that prevents you from wearing a face covering you will be referred to guest services to discuss ways we can accommodate you. If you do not have a face covering, we’ll have them available for purchase. Also, per CDC guidelines, children under the age of two are not required to wear facial coverings.”
Universal is likely to allow modified face masks to the extent feasible (think face shields). Beyond that, the ADA requires no “reasonable accommodation” here, as doing so would pose a direct threat to the health or safety of others. This comes directly from the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission–it’s not a matter of opinion.
Also on the topic of face coverings, Universal’s FAQ states that they’ll be available for purchase at a merchandise cart in the screening area within CityWalk. At this time, face coverings are available in one size. Note no mention of the free disposable face masks that Universal executives stated would be available during the task force meeting.
Additionally, Universal has arranged tables and seating so that guests can remove their face coverings while they eat. Masks need to be worn them at all other times. This goes for Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida.
At Volcano Bay water park, it’s a different story. There, face coverings are recommended when guests cannot socially distance. They will not be permitted on slides and in pools.
As a practical matter, the likely scenario is that guests will need a mask to enter the park, and they’ll be recommended while in shops and lines for food, but otherwise it’ll be a matter of social distancing. Since masks are not permitted on slides and in pools, this means guests also will not be wearing them to/from or in those lines.
Reservations will not be required or available to visit Universal Orlando’s theme parks, but they are limiting attendance. This means that there may be times when the parks reach capacity and additional guests will not be admitted.
This has been a frequent area of concern for readers, but it’s worth noting that reports from CityWalk and Disney Springs thus far indicate that both have been ghost towns. If Universal viewed theme park capacity and demand as a concern, they’d almost certainly be taking reservations to avoid complaints and backlash.
The majority of the attractions and experiences within Universal’s theme parks are scheduled to open on June 5. Select experiences will not be available during this first phase, and some queue experiences may be slightly altered as the parks implement new procedures.
Guests will be required to wear face coverings on attractions. The only exception will be for attractions that include significant amounts of water as part of the experience.
Select attractions at Universal Orlando will utilize Virtual Line to help facilitate social distancing. (If you check out the Universal Orlando Resort app, you can see where it’s been added.)
Virtual Line allows guests to select a time to experience an attraction via the app so they’re minimizing the time they’re actually waiting in the queue line. Guests can make Virtual Line selections while they’re onsite at the parks on the day of their visit.
Hotels were not brought up in the task force meeting, and while it’s possible to make reservations beginning June 2, Universal Orlando has not announced anything official on that front.
Per the FAQ, Universal is still finalizing hotel reopening plans and will contact those guests with reservations as soon as plans are available. The grand opening of Universal’s Endless Summer Resort — Dockside Inn and Suites has been delayed indefinitely from its March date, as Universal “continues to evaluate our offerings during this time.”
Following the the splashy announcement of Universal Orlando reopening, Walt Disney World made its own non-announcement announcement. (When we say Disney has done a poor job with communications and transparency, this is exactly what we mean.)
None of this is anything new to anyone who has read the updates on this blog. Members of Walt Disney World leadership have said the exact same things in interviews and task force roundtables for the last couple of weeks. Nonetheless, it’s the first time Disney has released this info via official channels, and a couple things do bear reiterating since not everyone reads every single reopening update (we don’t blame you!).
First, while Walt Disney World is “currently accepting reservations starting in July 2020 at both resorts, as this situation evolves, timing may continue to shift.” In straightforward speak, this means that just because you can make a vacation package or hotel reservation for July dates doesn’t mean Disney won’t cancel on you.
Second, Walt Disney World “may also need to make real-time adjustments to booked experiences, park tickets and park passes.” This means that your FastPass+ selections and Advance Dining Reservations may be cancelled, even if they’re for a time when the parks are open, due to modifications in capacity or queuing.
It also mentions restricting the use of tickets, which means a reservation system could be implemented. This has been implemented at Shanghai Disneyland, which is currently utilizing date-based tickets plus a reservation system for Annual Passholders during its Advance Reservation Period. That system allows APs to make a new reservation once they’ve used a previous one (judging by the online calendar, reservations are easy to book on short notice).
Notably, Shanghai Disneyland has not “restarted the clock” on Annual Pass expiration dates during the Advance Reservation Period. All days during the initial reopening phase are a bonus, whether passholders visit or not. We’ve received a lot of question from Walt Disney World APs about this same issue for the Florida parks, and we don’t have a definitive answer. The best we can do is point to Shanghai.
If the domestic parks were to deviate from that approach, there will be significant backlash, as many fans quite clearly don’t want to visit during the initial reopening. We thus suspect Walt Disney World and Disneyland will both adopt the same approach; the less likely scenario is offering forward-looking prorated refunds on Annual Passes.
Of course, all of this is speculative, and nothing is certain until Walt Disney World announces its reopening plans. Even then, expect some ambiguity and mixed-messaging at first. We’d once again stress patience during this unprecedented time; while Walt Disney World could improve its communications, fans would also be well-served in improving their “chill levels.”
Speaking of reopening plans, it’s expected that Walt Disney World and SeaWorld will be delivering reopening presentations to the Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force next week. Both were expected to be presenting a couple days ago (and rumors are still swirling that they will soon privately submit plans to Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings).
For his part, Mayor Demings appeared on CNBC to discuss Universal’s reopening. Unsurprisingly, the question of when Walt Disney World will reopen came up. Here was what Demings had to say about Disney:
“Disney has given an indication that next week they will submit their plans. Once they do, we will schedule that for a full briefing before our Economic Recovery Task Force as well. So at this point, it’s an undefined time or date, but we do look forward to seeing that sometime next week.”
The task force voted to unanimously approve Universal Orlando’s plan, but to our knowledge, there was no requirement of a public presentation. DeSantis is requiring the mayor’s approval before submitting plans to the state (which Demings gave following the task force meeting), but task force approval is not a necessary prerequisite to the mayor’s approval. Nevertheless, it sounds like Walt Disney World and SeaWorld will present next Wednesday based on Demings’ interview.
Both the task force and Demings previously indicated that they would defer to Disney and Universal with regard to reopening plans, so it’s little more than a rubber-stamping at this point. Demings could deny Disney’s plan if it included something absurd like, “we will hand out a flamethrower to every guest to ‘disinfect’ surfaces.” Even that might get approved, though. Florida leaders are very eager to have the tourism industry start recovering.
Finally, we’ll conclude with a non-update update on Disneyland since many readers have asked about this. Our ‘Disneyland Delays Reservations Another Month’ post covers California’s timeline for that state’s economy, as well as San Diego’s plan to fast-track the reopening of that city’s theme parks and zoos. Nothing noteworthy has changed since then.
As before, we anticipate Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood testing the San Diego approach, but there’s probably a month or two lag between what happens in Florida and what happens in California. It wouldn’t be surprising to see plans announced for CityWalk and Downtown Disney in the next couple of weeks, but don’t expect their respective parks open in June. At this point, July also seems like a long-shot.
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!
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