Walt Disney World reopens to the public Saturday morning nearly four months after closing due to the widening coronavirus pandemic.
And what a different world it is for park visitors, who will be required to have their temperature taken when they arrive. Face masks are mandatory, except when eating or swimming. Hand-sanitizing stations are sprinkled throughout the park.
New signage is everywhere, stressing the mask requirement and social distancing.
And they’re not just suggestions: Disney World’s website makes clear that visitors are expected to follow the rules.
“You must follow all posted instructions while visiting Walt Disney World Resort,” it says, even going so far as to spell out which kinds of face coverings are and aren’t acceptable.
“At this time, based on guidance from health authorities, neck gaiters and open-chin triangle bandanas are not acceptable face coverings,” it says. “Costume masks are also not considered appropriate and are prohibited from being worn.”
But it cautioned, “The use of face coverings is not a substitute for physical distancing.”
In many cases, park employees (cast members in Disney parlance) will wear face shields, while all will wear masks and enforce the social-distancing requirements.
Only the Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom are reopening Saturday, with Epcot and Disney Hollywood Studios set to follow on July 15.
Disney has not specified how many visitors it will admit Saturday or for the foreseeable future. But Len Testa, co-author of “The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World,” told USA TODAY he expects to see about 15,000 guests on opening day.
That’s just 25% of capacity.
“To put that number in perspective, the Magic Kingdom averages just under 60,000 per day,” he says, adding that this week’s preview events drew between roughly 7-8,000 per day.
“If you look at the lines, too, it’s pretty easy to confirm very low attendance,” Testa noted. Virtually every ride was a walk-on.”
The threat of coronavirus still looms over the theme park. Its reopening coincides with a sharp increase in new infections in the Sunshine State. On Friday, the Florida Department of Health reported 11,433 new cases for a total of 244,151. Of the statewide total, 182,000 have been reported since June 5, about a week after Disney World announced its reopening date.
Florida also has the country’s highest seven-day average with 63,064 cases reported in the last week alone, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The next closest is California with 56,304. Disneyland, which is located in Anaheim, has shelved its plan to reopen July 17 due to the spike in that state.
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The ongoing pandemic did not deter annual passholders from coming for an early look on Thursday and Friday.
Karen Fernandez, of Happy Trails, Florida, said she was skeptical at first but was reassured once in the park.
“I knew that Disney would come through,” she said. “People are social distancing; there’s hand-sanitizing everywhere – when you get on the ride and when you get off it. I am really pleased with everything they’ve done.”
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Other precautions include enhanced cleaning and cashless payment options.
Still, Disney warns visitors of the inherent risk of exposure to the coronavirus in a public place where people are present, noting senior citizens and people with underlying health conditions are especially vulnerable to the coronavirus.
“By visiting Walt Disney World Resort you voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19,” Disney warns on its website.
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Fernandez, a Disney regular who first visited in when she was four years old, had been going to the Magic Kingdom weekly until the shutdown. Wearing a Mickey Mouse shirt and face mask, she described her return to the park Thursday as “emotional.”
Disney World, she says, “has a very special place in my heart … I just feel happy here. The moment I step foot in any Disney park, I feel elated. So being away from it since the end of February was really hard.”
She’s planning to return soon with her husband and daughter.
“I know it’s going to be way different than what it was,” Fernandez said. “But I know it will still be magical.”
Contributing: Britt Kennerly, Florida Today; Jayme Deerwester, USA TODAY
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