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Thursday, June 4, 2020

Florida's theme parks are reopening but there is still a lot that is unknown

Posted By on Thu, Jun 4, 2020 at 4:44 PM

click to enlarge An altered image of Disneyland's Lunar New Year Mickey and Minnie going viral on social media. - IMAGE VIA ZANE/@FUGGINSPAM/TWITTER
  • Image via Zane/@fugginspam/Twitter
  • An altered image of Disneyland's Lunar New Year Mickey and Minnie going viral on social media.

As Florida’s tourism industry looks to reopen, so far, there has been no uniform approach to it. Each of the major theme park operators have set different reopening dates and different safety protocols. This has led to confusion on what has and hasn’t been confirmed.

The first of the big three park operators will be Universal Orlando with select hotels opening on June 2, then on June 5, will see the two theme parks and the water park reopening. Both the Loews Portofino Bay Hotel and Universal’s Endless Summer Resort – Dockside Inn and Suites are not joining the rest of the on-site hotels opening on June 2. Universal has yet to share when those hotels will reopen. Many special events, such as Grad Bash, have been canceled. However, a recent post by Josh Young, who frequently has reliable reporting on Universal news well ahead of other sources, points to Halloween Horror Nights still being on for this year with an extremely limited capacity and reliance on virtual queues.

At Disney, no reopening date has been given for any of the hotels, and all reservations have been currently paused. Disney Vacation Club and the Fort Wilderness Campground will reopen June 22. Despite the timeshare resorts and campground opening in late June, the WDW theme parks won’t reopen until mid-July. With international travel all but halted right now, the staffing that has made Epcot so unique may be temporarily suspended with local cast members filling the positions until the travel is more easily allowed. Parades, character meet-and-greets, playgrounds, and other high-touch items will are suspended until further notice.

Disney has yet to share details on when the two water parks, the NBA Experience, or other on-site attractions may reopen.

The Wide World of Sports will be used to allow the NBA to finish out their season and postseason. This ‘bubble’ approach will see Disney using multiple hotels, the Wide World of Sports, and some other on-site resources to securely house the entire NBA, including all players and support staff. Such an undertaking has never been attempted, but it is believed that at least two WDW hotels are being held back from opening in case they are required for use by the NBA. Disney sources have confirmed to multiple news agencies that Coronado Springs will likely be one of the resorts used by the NBA. The season, and use of Disney resources, could extend into the middle of October. A similar agreement with the MLS is expected within the coming days. 

SeaWorld and Busch Gardens plan to open June 11 with many of the same precautions as Disney and Universal. Like Disney, the parks will require reservations to enter. SeaWorld Orlando’s website shows the park closed on Tuesdays and Thursdays through the middle of December, while Busch Gardens Tampa’s site shows closures on Tuesdays and Wednesdays through the end of August. Neither park has posted showtimes or other details to the daily operational calendars.

Both are also rumored to have limited some of its indoor offerings, though it is unclear if this is a temporary move.

Both Busch Gardens and SeaWorld also have limited hours on most days with the parks only open between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. During slower times of the year, Legoland Florida has closed two weekdays, and the Winter Haven-based kid-focused park typically closes before sunset most of the year. But the limited hours are more surprising for Orlando’s parks, which usually operate every day year-round and can see hours stretch far into the evening. With the pre-sunset cloture, SeaWorld won’t be able to lean on the nighttime festival Electric Ocean that has been tremendously successful for the park. Recent years have seen multiple festivals rolled out at SeaWorld's parks. SeaWorld has announced that it plans to go ahead with its Craft Beer Festival beginning in mid-August. 

Both Legoland and Fun Spot have reopened their parks. Legoland has also reopened its on-site hotels, including the brand-new Pirate Island Hotel.

click to enlarge Legoland Florida's upcoming Pirate Island Hotel, the resort's third on-site hotel - PHOTO VIA LEGOLAND FLORIDA RESORT
  • Photo via Legoland Florida Resort
  • Legoland Florida's upcoming Pirate Island Hotel, the resort's third on-site hotel

Fun Spot was one of the last attractions in Central Florida to close and one of the first to reopen. In recent weeks Fun Spot’s owner and Chairman of the Board, John Aire Sr., has taken to social media posting anti-lockdown memes and videos while questioning why anyone is concerned about the pandemic that has now killed over 375,000 and infected over 6 million. In one post on Facebook, Arie stated masks, hand sanitizers, and social distancing are not needed because “We have been around millions of “germs” since the beginning of time. Our bodies are designed to heal and protect us from germs, bacteria and viruses! It’s the way God designed and made us from the beginning of time! It ain’t broken! We ain’t broken!!!”

His two Central Florida parks have some of the loosest requirements for guests. Still, those that have visited have noted employees do seem to be taking cleanliness and social distancing seriously, despite their owner’s anti-factual remarks.

All of Florida’s major theme parks will require face masks for most guests, with excepts for small children, while Legoland and Fun Spot Orlando do not but are encouraging them. A local Emergency Order in Osceola County means guests visiting Fun Spot Kissimmee will be required to wear face masks. All Florida theme parks will also require guests and employees to undergo temperature checks before entering the parks. Fun Spot only requires employees to undergo these checks with no temperature checks for guests. None have given timelines on when or if these protocols will end.

For now, none of Florida's theme parks have announced when their new 2020 attractions will open. Nor have any given details on what to expect during the busy holiday season.

As the pandemic and our understanding of it continues to evolve, so will the safety protocols at area theme parks. It is recommended that prior to visiting any local theme park or attraction you review their website for the latest information regarding their safety procedures.

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