On Saturday July 11th, Walt Disney World reopened their Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom Parks to visitors since its closure in mid-March due to the Coronavirus Pandemic. Up until the pandemic, Disney World has only closed a handful of times including multiple Hurricanes, and the 9/11 terrorist attack. However, the issue of public safety arises with Florida becoming the epicenter of outbreak within the United States, breaking single day records for reported cases, clocking in at over 15,000 positive cases on July 12th. But that hasn’t stopped the world famous park from opening its gates, despite Disneyland in California delaying their opening.
Disney World’s Disney Springs Shopping district opened late-June to slowly phase into opening the whole Orlando site. In addition, its other parks, Epcot and Hollywood studios opened their doors on Wednesday July 15.
On opening day, while park attendance numbers have not been specifically released, the attendance was far from its maximum limit. Although this might not be a success for the company itself, it provides reassurance for those attendees that they will be in safe hands. The main issue, according to Forbes, involves the decision to sell tickets to the park outside of Magic Kingdom on opening day. Due to this misstep, lines were long and strenuous, disregarding any chance for social distancing.
In addition, hand sanitizers are at the entrance and exit of each ride, face masks are required, plexiglass barriers have been implemented in queues, and some pre-show attractions in rides have been temporarily removed. This comes alongside rides skipping rows to ensure social distancing..
One writer for POPSUGAR visited the theme park on opening day and shared her experience. From what she claims, people, cast members and visitors alike all strictly followed guidelines. Even characters in costumes followed this rule, taking ‘social distance selfies’ instead of the typical close-up picture with the guest. Most areas, except for Main Street U.S.A were empty, but even Main Street made it easy to maintain social distancing.
Despite the fact that Disney World is attempting to provide a safe, while entertaining, experience for their guests, it is easy to criticize Disney’s choice to reopen. As Florida has the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the country, it is difficult to understand why Disney is opening instead of closing to contain the spread of the virus. Trevor Noah on The Daily Show went on a well-versed rant about the parks reopening stating “It's crazy that we're in the middle of a pandemic that's killed hundreds of thousands of people and there are still folks out there like, 'Life isn't scary enough. Let's go on a roller coaster!... What dad is so cheap that this vacation is worth the risk?”
Similarly, Hong Kong Disneyland announced that, due an increase of COVID-19 cases in China, the park will be closing once again.
This brings up the question: Is opening a theme park truly worth the risk? Only time will tell for now, but with cases drastically rising in Florida with no signs of slowing down, the House of Mouse might close its doors once again.