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SYFY WIRE Theme Park News

A peek at Hogsmeade after the coronavirus and some park politics

By Carlye Wisel
Wizarding World of Harry Potter Hogwarts Castle

If the vibe among the Disney community feels subpar, it's because this week is a particularly tough one considering that many, many folks — a good chunk of Disney's employees/cast members — are newly furloughed as of last weekend. We're thinking of you all, and wish you the best in this tough time.

As someone who has, thankfully, only had to deal with lost wages and indoor crazies and not dabbled with health scares, I've been thinking a lot about how our time inside will one day end, and what I might remember from this time period. I just keep circling how much I'll appreciate the little things when we're finally allowed back to the parks: The feeling when it's your turn to board a ride vehicle... The first lick of a Dole Whip before it begins to melt all over your hands... The little airport monorail at Orlando International Airport. The airport!

Things aren't back to normal yet, but hopefully this week's news — which, optimistically, looks toward the future — channels the joy of the parks in a way that’ll make them feel closer to opening than they have any week prior. Here goes nothin'.

Walt Disney World entrance empty via Getty Images


As we mentioned in so many words last week, no, Bob Iger is not pulling back The Walt Disney Company CEO reigns and recent news confirms just that. The Los Angeles Times reports that Chapek, who was announced to be the new head honcho in late February, was appointed to The Walt Disney Company's board of directors as expected.

More time-sensitive happenings, however, are coming at the state government level. As announced yesterday, Walt Disney World Resort President Josh D'Amaro and Universal Orlando Resort CEO John Sprouls will have a seat at the table for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis' newly assembled task force focused on re-opening the state's economy. While Mayors of Broward, Palm Beach, and Miami-Dade counties — areas hit hardest by the virus — will take part, it curiously does not include Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer or Jerry Demings, mayor of Orange County, where Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World Resorts are located. (Despite Miami being the largest metropolitan area in Florida, the Sentinel cites criticism that its exclusion is a political move, as the panel is nearly entirely Republicans. Both Demings and Dyer are Democrats.)

Never fear, though — Demings will host his own economical task force, which brings together Universal Orlando's EVP of Resort Operations, SeaWorld’s VP of Operations and Walt Disney World Resort's SVP of Resort & Transportation Operations. And, on the California end, Iger will be joining forces with governor Gavin Newsom on a similar initiative.

As for how things are in the communities surrounding the vacation kingdom? Leaning into the excellent COVID-19 coverage by The Orlando Sentinel — a godsend to any theme park fan and well worth a subscription — it appears that Florida suffered both its deadliest week yet and a slight drop in cases, even amid expanded testing. Still, over 6,000 cases were confirmed last week and Orange County, where the city of Orlando is located, needs more tests than it currently has.

Grocery store employees in Winter Park and nearby Kissimmee also recently tested positive for the virus, prompting Publix and Walmart employees to be required to wear masks as of yesterday. And then there’s also the whole Jacksonville beaches thing and, gulp, its next-door neighbor Georgia, so, yeah, things are definitely a ways away from returning to normal.


There are plenty of schools of thought regarding what these parks could look like when they reopen, but at long last, we finally have something to sink our desperate teeth into, thanks to Universal Orlando Resort. The Florida theme park sent a survey earlier this week in hopes of taking the temperature on, well, taking temperatures, and it’s telling of what it may feel like to be at a theme park in a post-COVID world.

Annual Passholders were asked to opine about a series of hypothetical changes to Universal Orlando Resort’s two theme parks, gauging how comfortable they’d be with social distancing, safety precautions, and other changes to previously standard protocol.

Hypothetical questions included ranking how people would feel if Universal required masks for visitors and employees, if it limited attendance by 25, 50, or even 75 percent, or if it completely closed indoor attractions. Some survey questions pointed toward restricted direct contact, like implementing touch-free payment, eliminating self-serve food and beverage, and suspending security X-ray conveyor belts, while others focused directly on testing, inquiring what park-goers think about temperature checks, and/or daily rapid COVID-19 tests for guests and/or employees.

With survey questions going as far as to gauge opinions on eliminating parades and nighttime shows, adding virtual queues for nearly all rides, and having rides wiped down after every single use, it’s clear Universal is considering vast changes for what’s ahead, even if a small portion of these actually come to fruition.

Either way, this survey, as I’m choosing to interpret it, is a really good sign. A glimmer of hope, even. Not only does it mean that the theme park is working toward a solution — and floating a few prospects our way to gauge our comfort level — but it normalizes many safety standards that may have felt unfathomable last month. The more we talk about temperature checks or hear of masks being required in businesses across the country, the more commonplace this all becomes.

Case in point: When I first read these survey questions, I recoiled, fearing that I wouldn't want to visit a theme park where every interaction signaled to me that something was looming. Taking extreme measures to keep theme parks in line with COVID-19 regulations is antithetical to much of why these places exist — the escapism, the immersion, the clear indicators that we are somewhere fantastical, fun, and safe — but after thinking about it, I’ve completely changed my mind.

I appreciate how conscientious these parks are being in this new world, on both the guest and employee fronts. It’s not a doomsday protocol but a change to the status quo with our safety at the forefront; they're just reading the room in lieu of mindlessly filling in its available space.

Will it be strange to take a mask off to eat an ice cream cone from Florean Fortescue's, stand in a socially distanced line for Butterbeer or to possibly have your temperature taken while heading off to Hogwarts, if that’s what’s enacted? Yes, but maybe just for now.

The more we talk about the potential for these new precautions in place at theme parks, the more normal it will seem. And, the more commonplace personal safety and health becomes, the more it will fit against the backdrop of Diagon Alley.


Not even a worldwide pandemic can stop Disney fans from channeling the magic right in their homes, right down to Dapper Day, the special themed event that (typically) sees park-goers flooding Main Street, U.S.A. in retro outfits like those worn when the park first opened.

There are plenty worth checking out at the #DapperDayAtHome tag on Twitter and Instagram — including @TiffMink's orange bird get-up (collected from items in her closet),'s glamourous gilded look, @nmarieguidroz's retro daydream, and even some throwbacks to fan favorites, like @LadyDamfino's fantastical looks:

It's not what everyone hoped for, but they made the best of it — proof of the unbreakable human spirit that exists within the Disney fan community.


Behold the power of BEYONCÉ!


- Get a dose of Earth Month with D23's podcast episode featuring the unbelievably interesting Dr. Mark Penning, who discusses all things animals, including the real-life inspiration for Zootopia.

- Disney released a plethora of Zoom backgrounds, perfect for letting your theme park flag fly during your endless days of digital meetings. Grab a princess one, guest star in a Disney Channel show, dip into a Pixar film, feel one with the Force with Star Wars backgrounds or step foot inside Onward while it plays on repeat in your living room.

- You're not supposed to leave the house — but you're definitely not supposed to do this either.

- Bust out your best looks in celebration, as the first-ever official DisneyBound book has landed!

- This is automatically my favorite Disney hotel, even if it doesn't exist.

- Remake Hercules with Ariana Grande, you cowards!!

- The Disney bedtime hotline — which gives your kiddos a goodnight message from their favorite characters — is back up and running! Get those magical bedtimes in ASAP though, as it ends April 30.

- These (sadly, now sold out) virtual RunDisney medals are gooooood.

- Disney's ride-through video for Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is packed with facts and trivia, making for a perfect Pop-Up Video-style digital destination.

- There's a cool new sustainable line of Mickey Mouse merch made from plastic bottles — some of which came from Walt Disney World! Dope!

- You know where to find me come May 1.

- Now this is very good merch!

- If you're as ill-prepared for indoor activities as I am, these digital theme park jigsaw puzzles will do the trick.