On Friday we learned that Universal Orlando is reopening on June 5—much sooner than most people expected its theme parks to reopen. Tomorrow Disney and SeaWorld will be submitting their reopening proposals to the Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force, whose approval is the first step towards the parks returning to operation. By tomorrow afternoon we should know a timeline for both Disney World and SeaWorld to reopen—assuming their proposals are approved by the Task Force and local and state authorities.
Disney hasn’t hinted at when it hopes to reopen yet, but it has cancelled all existing reservations through June 13. Also, it won’t accept new reservations any earlier than July 1. Universal opening almost a month before July 1 puts pressure on Disney, though. It’d be unusual for Disney to cede what is traditionally one of the busiest months for theme parks to its primary competitor. Of course, Disney World is a considerably larger complex than Universal Orlando, and it stands to reason that its plans to reopen would thus be more complicated and take more time to implement. And although June is typically the start of the peak season, you can’t really compare 2020 to any other year. The pandemic has destroyed all comparisons, projections and expectations. Whenever Disney World reopens it will almost definitely have a much lower capacity than usual, as seen at Shanghai Disneyland and in Universal’s proposal, which will make the resort far less crowded than it usually would be in June. Given the risks of catching the virus, though, and the fact that most Disney World visitors have to travel from outside Florida to get there, it wouldn’t be a surprise if demand is also down. As with so many other industries, the entire theme park business has been frozen in unknown territory for months, and that’s not going to immediately change once the parks reopen. This will be a learning process for all involved, and hopefully one that doesn’t accelerate the spread of the virus.
It’ll be interesting to see what Disney World’s reopening might look like. Will the reopening of specific parks be staggered—with, say, Magic Kingdom opening first, and then the other parks coming back online as demand rises and after Disney sees how the new COVID-19 procedures work? How will transit on the enormous resort grounds work—will buses, monorails and boats still be manageable during a pandemic? Will the return of theme parks help alleviate the stress and anxiety caused by the pandemic, or will the sight of a sparsely attended, mask-filled Magic Kingdom only highlight how unusual these times are?
Disney had a big summer planned for Disney World. Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, a version of the ride from Disneyland Paris, was expected to open in Epcot this summer. Construction throughout the parks has been halted, from the TRON roller coaster coming to the Magic Kingdom, to the wide-ranging transformation of Epcot. Over at Disneyland, in California, an entire Marvel-themed area was scheduled to open in July. The pandemic will continue to have a long-lasting impact on Disney’s theme parks well after they reopen, but hopefully won’t permanently derail any of the plans that were in place.
Returning to a theme park right now is a tough call, of course. I, personally, am desperate to go back to Disney World. I’m also frightened of catching this thing and bringing it back into my house. I’d feel a bit like a hypocrite if I went down to Disney World while also leaving my home as little as necessary, but the impact of a Disney World trip on my mental and emotional well-being would be tremendous right about now. You know, assuming I could go without constantly worrying about getting sick. And if wearing a mask in central Florida in June didn’t sound like pure misery.
As a Disney fan who has dearly missed the parks, I would definitely be tempted to return when they reopen. As a journalism-adjacent writer who regularly covers Disney and other theme parks, I would feel a need to be there to cover the story of the reopening. As a person who’s dedicated to not catching the coronavirus, though, I’m not sure what a trip to Disney World would look like until the pandemic has fully passed over, or if I’d be able to make that trip without being constantly stressed out.
If you’re wondering about Disneyland in California, there’s also no timetable yet. According to Brady MacDonald at the Orange County Register, though, Disneyland Resort could potentially reopen in June. State officials confirmed that theme parks could reopen during Stage 3 of the state’s reopening plans, and although there’s no clear timetable on that at the moment, Governor Gavin Newsom said that Stage 3 “is not a year away. It’s not six months away. It’s not even three months away. It may not even be more than a month away.” Based on that, Disneyland’s reopening could come sooner than expected, too.
So it’s possible both Disney theme park resorts in America could reopen in June. We’ll know more about Disney World tomorrow, and more about Disneyland in time.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.