Disney World is poised to finally reopen this week, almost four months after closing due to the coronavirus pandemic. Over the next few days the parks will be hosting previews for employees and annual passholders who were able to snag reservations, and on Saturday they will officially open for other guests. Disney’s put a lot of effort into trying to make its parks as safe as possible; precautions include temperature checks, significantly reduced capacity, mandatory masks on all employees and visitors, plexiglass installed throughout the parks, and other measures that aim both to prevent spread and make guests feel safe and secure. To the company’s credit the parks are reopening weeks after most of their competitors did; Universal, Sea World, Legoland, and other Florida theme parks opened up in early June, pretty much as soon as the state let them. Disney took more time to enact its precautions and train its staff, and hopefully visitors will be able to see the difference.
Even though Disney World is reopening, that doesn’t mean you can just drive up and buy a ticket. It’s currently only admitting guests who had already bought tickets for 2020 before the pandemic hit. Also you need to make a reservation in advance. The Disney Parks Blog explains the whole process. There’s more to planning your COVID-era Disney World vacation, though, and that’s where we come in. Here’s everything you need to know before going back to Disney World this summer.
Florida’s become one of the hotbeds for the pandemic over the last month, with new cases rising steadily since early June. The state has seen at least 5,000 new cases every day since June 25, regularly breaking its record for new single-day cases. On July 4th alone over 11,000 new cases were diagnosed. With over 223,000 diagnosed cases, Florida has the fourth highest total of COVID-19 cases in America
Masks and physical distancing can greatly reduce your odds of catching the virus, but there’s still a risk anytime you’re around other people. This thing is incredibly contagious, and even with proper precautions you need to stay alert and make sure you don’t get too close to others. That’s hard to do in a theme park, even one that’s trying very hard to enforce distance. Also we’ve already seen mutated strains that spread even faster and easier than the initial virus, meaning this virus is even more unpredictable and riskier than you might think.
There’s long been a notion that this virus only impacts older people. In Florida, though, 42% of the people who have been diagnosed with the virus have been under the age of 35. It might be deadlier the older you are, but the coronavirus doesn’t only target the old. Anybody at any age can catch it—and death isn’t the only thing you have to worry about once you have it.
Death is obviously the worst result of catching the coronavirus, but don’t let the relatively low death rate (just under 2% of positive cases in Florida have resulted in death so far) lull you into a false sense of security. COVID-19 cases can drag on for months, with many sufferers reporting symptoms that consistently fluctuate in severity over several weeks. It can also cause permanent damage to your lungs. Most people who have it might not show symptoms, but you’re at risk of a drastic, long-lasting impact on your health if you do catch it.
Paste saw this firsthand when it went to a Six Flags in June. To make sure masks and distancing actually work, they’ll need to be actively enforced throughout the theme parks. You can’t just check masks at the front gate and expect them to stay on everybody for the rest of the day. That means Disney employees will need to approach guests who aren’t abiding by the new regulations, wherever they might be within the park. It also means that Disney will have to actually punish guests who refuse to comply. And that opens up a Mt. Rushmore-sized can of worms, especially with how insanely politicized the virus has become. Disney’s parks are the best run in the world, and they have no qualms kicking out guests who break the rules or negatively impact the experiences of others. There are a lot of science deniers, conspiracy theorists and Trump supporters in America, though, and given how many of them have reacted to masks and distancing in other situations and public places, you have to expect that such incidents will also happen at Disney World. Hopefully Disney will let people like that know these new precautions aren’t optional, and will stand firm in the face of the inevitable right-wing political attacks whenever it actually has to kick guests out for not following the rules.
Don’t expect any of this to change anytime soon: we’re still closer to the start of the pandemic than we are to a vaccine, experts say. Odds are Disney World won’t be back to anything resembling normal operations until 2021—and even then it might never return to the way it was before the virus hit.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He shares stories and photos from his Disney journeys on Instagram at @garrett_goes_to_disney. He’s also on Twitter @grmartin.