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What do Florida's COVID-19 policy changes mean for theme parks?

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Sep 29, 2020, 4:06 PM EDT (Updated)

Welcome to this week's Theme Park News. We've got some big coronavirus pandemic news that we need to unpack, but then we'll finish up with some fun (and a cute dog). Let's get to it. 

WHAT FLORIDA'S PHASE CHANGES MEAN FOR PARKS

Late last week, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis publicly announced that Florida would be entering Phase 3 — the final phase of re-opening Florida amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. While new cases of COVID-19 in Florida have declined since the state's peak in July, the virus certainly isn't gone. According to Johns Hopkins University, Florida has over 700,000 COVID-19 cases and a 13.33 percent testing positivity rate. 

Regardless, Florida is fully open for business once again. The most noteworthy parts of Phase 3 involve lifting capacity restrictions at certain restaurants, bars, and nightclubs, allowing gyms and fitness centers to operate at 100 percent capacity, and greenlighting the resumption of in-person government meetings. It also includes the full opening of state parks and beaches, and the allowance for large sporting events to resume with limited capacity recommended. But, most notably for us, Phase 3 also states that theme parks can "return to normal operations with limited social distancing protocols."

So, how does this affect Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort theme parks? Thankfully, on the surface, it doesn't. Both theme park resorts are on private property and allowed to utilize whatever safety procedures they prefer. All protocols have remained the same at Universal and Disney's theme parks since last week's news; face coverings will continue to be required, as Disney World mentioned in a statement released shortly after DeSantis' announcement. It's important to remember, too, that Disney and Universal's restrictions were not put in place by the government but are entirely self-imposed. The theme parks' highly detailed safety protocols, capacity limitations, and other health-related amendments were all made of their own volition — even if DeSantis has repeatedly, publicly encouraged them to increase their capacity.

Florida's move to Phase 3 nullifies any regional fines associated with mask-wearing and safety protocols, but despite much confusion, it appears local mask mandates will remain intact for indoor places of business, despite the state-wide changes seemingly threatening its validity.

Meanwhile, Orange County is currently working on tracking a couple of potential superspreader events, which are bound to be more prevalent now that DeSantis' ruling is instated. Bars and restaurants can operate at full capacity and from the looks of packed bars this past weekend, already are. And, given the clustered crowds celebrating a hockey win, social distancing seems to be a thing of the past, too:

It's all even stranger when compared to what's happening in California, where there's now a commercial encouraging Governor Gavin Newsom to allow Anaheim theme parks to open. "We're ready, and it's time," said Disney Parks chairman Josh D'Amaro last week, and still, the parks wait for approval to open up. California continues to lean on the state government for approval as Florida is being advised by theirs to open up the parks even wider. It's truly a tale of two theme park cities.

TOKYO DISNEYLAND'S BEAUTY & THE BEAST EXPANSION

Though we're still waiting on our 2020 openings stateside (Remy's Ratatouille Adventure, we wanna ride you!), Disney's Tokyo-based theme park just unveiled its newest land and it is nothing short of impeccable.

Not only is the food extravagant and the merchandise phenomenal, but the ride itself is a glorious use of Disney's trackless technology and a stunning display of what can be accomplished with audio-animatronics. 

We won't be spoiling the ride for any future park-goers — check out this recap if you're dying for a taste — but it's so much more than just a new ride. The storybook village seems straight out of a fairytale, and everything for sale inside it (cream cheese curry mochi! Gaston-themed apple caramel churros! Souvenir light-up roses!) are burning holes in our wallets. But! There is one product, above all the rest, that has theme park fans itching for a future trip to Japan:

This light-up popcorn bucket! In all of my years as a theme park reporter, I have never seen anything like it. We may never own a far-away enchanted castle or find ourselves as royalty placed under a massive curse or even be able to travel to Japan on a whim at the moment, but a stained glass window popcorn bucket is surely within reach.

UNIVERSAL'S VELOCI-OOPS!

Late last Friday afternoon, Universal Orlando finally announced the name and opening date of its new much-discussed Jurassic World-themed coaster — and then, just a few minutes later, all those details — poof! — disappeared off the internet.

Thankfully, yesterday morning, they finally unveiled the news for real. The long-awaited, shockingly-never-before-publicly-confirmed Jurassic World VelociCoaster will officially open in Summer 2021.

This isn't the first time Universal has quickly announced and then removed details for an opening — the same thing happened with The Bourne Stuntacular — but this one is significant, considering the entire coaster has been built while Universal's Islands of Adventure theme park has been open and all aspects of it were subject to public view (track additions! dinosaurs! ride vehicle testing!) without even a peep of confirmation of what the coaster actually is.

But now, at long last, we have our first look and it is exceptional:

Speeds up to 70 mph across 4,700 feet of track with heights reaching up to 155 feet!? A 360-degree barrel roll above water!? A zero-gravity inverted stall and 12 seconds of airtime!? This ride is going to be a doozy and we can't wait to give it a go next year.

TWEET OF THE WEEK

There has never been, and there will never be, a better Tweet of the Week than this dog in a Halloween costume at Walt Disney World. Enjoy!

LINKS! LINKS! LINKS!

- Aulani, Disney's Hawaiian Resort, is officially reopening.

- More details of Disney's Polynesian Village Resort refurbishment have been announced.

- Epcot's Space220 restaurant is coming along.

- After 32 years and an iconic run at Disney's Grand Floridian Resort, the in-house Grand Floridian Society Orchestra band is being cut.

- Hong Kong Disneyland (and its major castle!) are now back in business

- Two upcoming RunDisney races — the 2021 Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend and 2021 Disney Princess Half Marathon — have now been canceled.

- Epcot tested fireworks after hours last week.

- Disney World's penny machines are going futuristic.

- Children's Fairyland is in need of some help.

- Phantasialand's new Charles Lindberg Hotel, which is basically inside a roller coaster, may have the most themed rooms I've ever seen.

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