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By this time tomorrow, the downtown districts of Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World Resorts will be open. It's not the parks or the hotels or even the themed restaurants, but it's something — and the first step in a phased process to have these parks back up and running.
The restricted, partial reopening of Universal's CityWalk and Disney Springs offers a glimmer of hope for theme park fans who have been anxiously waiting for a grand return to their happy place, no matter how sanitized. It may just be the earliest phase of the first locations to reopen (and with plenty of restrictions in place), but it's undeniably significant that there will be somewhere to go and buy Minion plushies and Mickey Mouse sweets by the end of the month.
As I wrote about Shanghai Disneyland's reopening this time last week, I wondered when we'd finally be able to visit some assemblage of these beloved vacation resorts again — and it seems that day is upon us.
From major corporate promotions to Margaritaville waits, here's this week in major theme park news:
(PARTIALLY) OPEN FOR BUSINESS
Baby, we're back. By tomorrow, both major Orlando theme parks will have opened a small but noteworthy portion of their resorts for the first time since closing in mid-March due to COVID-19.
With safety guidelines in place and a selection of mostly third-party businesses open, Universal CityWalk at Universal Orlando Resort first welcomed back guests on May 14. Tomorrow, Disney Springs will begin its first phase of reopening with third-party stores and restaurants, and on May 27 will open its World of Disney shop, Marketplace Co-Op shops, and D-Luxe Burger restaurant.
U.S. states are slowly lifting their stay-at-home orders despite the continued threat of COVID-19 continuing to pose a threat — the coronavirus certainly isn't gone for good — though it's worth noting these openings are in line with CDC requirements and Florida state-wide recommendations.
Still, neither resort is acting like this is another day at the mall, as every mask-wearing, temperature-taking protocol is in place at both — and we have to note that there has been a lot of pushback on that front.
While guidelines for re-entering Disney and Universal downtown areas are standard compared to many public places in America, there is a group of would-be visitors who are displeased with the personal safety requirements, vocally expressing their opinion in Disney fan Facebook groups, on social media, and across various sites online, including Disney Parks Blog's comments section.
Regardless, face coverings are required for everyone, guests and staff alike, at both resorts. Be sure to bring your own; there may be some spare disposable masks or fabric ones for sale, but it's not guaranteed. (Note: Guests under the age of 3 at Disney and younger than 2 at Universal need not wear coverings.)
Here, social distancing begins from the moment you pull into the garage. Universal CityWalk, which shares a garage with the theme parks, has waived parking fees for time being and provides space between cars arriving at the same time, according to Disney Food Blog. Disney Springs, which doesn't charge for parking, will only be opening two of its garages: Orange, located near the AMC movie theatre, and Lime, which offers entry into the Town Center mall area. (Guests on foot can also enter through the Hotel Plaza Boulevard pedestrian bridge and a ride-share location.)
With all hotels and parks closed for the time being, Universal CityWalk hasn't announced any specific capacity restrictions, but Disney has confirmed it will be capping admission at its two garages. If there's no parking, you can't stay, even if you have a restaurant reservation — a major shift to Disney's previous phased closures and capacity policies.
CityWalk and Disney Springs will both have contact-free temperature checks upon entry. Clock 100.4 degrees or over at either resort and you won't be allowed to enter; at Disney Springs, your entire party will be barred entry as well.
Mind Universal's helpful social distancing decals as you run your bags through their sanitized (yay!) X-ray machines and you've made it. Proceed to CityWalk, where the bright blue circles, which can be spotted throughout the resort, conveniently mark where you can line up to grab your favorite Voodoo Doughnut, or wait to check out at shops while other customers pay. (Details are still forthcoming at Disney Springs, whose distancing tactics will include physical barriers and one-way pedestrian traffic to lower possibilities of contact.)
Hungry? Welcome to the first steps back toward theme park normalcy, which, at opening, included a two-and-a-half-hour wait for Margaritaville. Both resorts are allowing guests to remove masks for the duration of meals at the limited outdoor tables, which feature disposable menus, limited offerings, and socially distanced tables. Margaritaville servers, who did not wear gloves, held water glasses from the bottom and doubled plates to limit contact. Both resorts have emphasized mobile pay and credit/gift cards, but will accept cash. And if you're concerned about cleanliness, hand sanitizer is available at CityWalk and Disney Springs, and cleaning staff disinfects all surfaces regularly at both.
It's not everything, but it's a start. Universal Orlando's CityWalk primarily has dining locations open, but Disney Springs, which has more traditional mall offerings, will open stores like Zara, Uniqlo, and Anthropologie later this week. CityWalk is open 4-10PM daily; operating times at Disney Springs vary between business but are longer, often from 11AM until 8 or 9PM.
All staff members are required to have their temperatures checked, but while Universal has not specified that process, Disney's staffers are to do so at home, on their own.
Even though no theme parks or hotels are open yet, Disney Springs and CityWalk's first foray into opening paints a better picture of what these parks may be like when they first open. Forget surveys, rumors, or international case studies — for the very first time, with some certainty, we can discuss how visiting these Floridian vacation resorts will look and feel like in the time of COVID-19, and there's only more to come from here.
BIG MOVES FOR MANY
In a very Oprah-like way ("You get a promotion! You get a promotion!") The Walt Disney Company promoted a not-insignificant amount of executives to higher positions yesterday afternoon. We'd call it restructuring, but it's more like reverse Plinko, as the large-scale shift filled a succession of vacated positions, particularly those left by Bob Chapek becoming CEO and Disney+'s Kevin Mayer jumping to TikTok.
To keep this from getting too inside baseball, we'll hone in on what you really need to keep your eye on: Josh D'Amaro. Beloved by fans throughout his tenure as president of Disneyland, the executive was promoted to President of Walt Disney World Resort just last fall. Now, after less than seven months at the gig, he's been promoted to Chapek's old gig overseeing consumer products, travel entities like Disney Cruise Line and Disney Vacation Club, and all the parks Disney operates worldwide. All of them!
That massive leap in well under a calendar year shows The Walt Disney Company's confidence in him, but he's not the only one — Rebecca Campbell, who replaced D'Amaro last fall as the current President of Disneyland, will now be Chairman of Direct-To-Consumer and International, overseeing Disney+'s global expansion. (Yep, the same job that now-TikTok CEO Kevin Mayer just had.)
Major money moves, people!
TWEET OF THE WEEK
It takes a lot for me to do a double-take, and this incredible wedding favor got me. How good is this?!
LINKS! LINKS! LINKS!
- Frozen: The Musical will not reopen on Broadway.
- This Miami Herald story about cruise employees is a must-read.
- I get the feeling a lot of theme park news in the coming weeks is going to be like this.
- And, though unconfirmed, this too.
SYFY and Universal Orlando are properties of NBCUniversal, a subsidiary of Comcast Corporation.