Walt Disney World Resort and SeaWorld on Friday received approval to reopen from Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary Halsey Beshears. Both theme parks have been shut down since mid-March because of the coronavirus pandemic.

In letters sent Friday, Beshears told each of the entertainment giants they had “established the necessary plans for the safe operation of its theme parks properties upon reopening.” Beshears said his decision was based on the department’s review of proposed safety guidelines submitted by the theme parks, noting that Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings endorsed the plans. SeaWorld is expected to reopen on June 11.

Disney is set to open Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom on July 11, and reopen Epcot and Hollywood Studios on July 15, according to Disney’s Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground will begin to reopen on June 22. Both SeaWorld and Disney are requiring workers and guests 2 years of age and older to wear appropriate face coverings while in the theme parks and common areas of resort hotels.

All guests and workers will also undergo temperature screenings prior to entering a theme park. The parks are also recommending cashless transactions. Disney is limiting attendance through a new theme-park reservation system that will require all guests to obtain a reservation for park entry in advance. Disney hasn’t set dates for the return of parades and nighttime spectacles that draw large gatherings or for “high-touch” experiences that include playgrounds and designated character meet-and-greets. The Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force approved the theme parks’ plans on Wednesday.

But, it’s not going to be the exact same Disney we knew before the pandemic. Most visibly, all guests over 2 years of age will be required to wear masks in the parks. Capacity will be limited; you’ll have to make a reservation in advance to show up to the park, even if you have a season pass; and events that draw crowds, like parades and fireworks, will be suspended. Attractions that involve close personal contact, notably the greeting of costumed Disney characters, will also be off the menu for now. Water parks won’t reopen with the main theme parks.

Most interestingly to me, Disney is not yet allowing new reservations at its on-property hotels this summer. When the company rolls out its system for theme-park visit reservations, existing holders of Disney hotel reservations will get priority, then season-pass holders. Essentially, Disney is ensuring that when its parks reopen, they will be filled with people who have a strong commitment to the brand: people who had made reservations months in advance for a vacation to Walt Disney World — and retained that reservation through the coronavirus crisis — or people who hold season passes. These are the sorts of people who are likely most eager to get back into Disney parks, and most likely to be willing to roll with a significantly changed (and, in some ways, diminished) park experience.

Walt Disney World also faces a unique issue not seen at other Disney parks or competing theme parks that are small enough to be walkable: extensive needs for mass transportation within its nearly 40-square-mile campus. Customers ordinarily travel by bus, boat, monorail, and tram between hotels and parks, but transportation vehicles may need to operate at reduced capacity, and customers may be leery of getting on crowded buses and trains. Walking between attractions is, in many cases, impossible, and under normal circumstances, customers would welcome the opportunity to get out of the summer Florida heat and into an air-conditioned vehicle. One possible outcome is that many hotel guests will drive their own cars around the Disney property, parking in the theme-park lots usually used by day visitors, who will be many fewer in number than usual. This would lead to hideous traffic jams if done with the parks at full capacity, but a much-reduced number of visitors could make it workable for a time.

The Intelligencer and News Service Florida contributed to this report

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