As Florida moves into Phase 3 of reopening, Gov. Ron DeSantis has removed all restrictions imposed by the state on local businesses. “There will not be limitations from the state of Florida,” he said in a September 25 press conference announcing the entrance into the state’s final reopening stage.
For theme parks, Florida’s reopening guidance says, “Theme parks may return to normal operations with limited social distancing protocols.” Normal operations, in this case, means that Walt Disney World and Florida’s other theme parks can increase capacity to pre-pandemic levels, and they are no longer required to enforce wearing of face masks.
Walt Disney World, however, does not intend to return to normal, at least at the moment. “We received the Governor’s executive order and are evaluating it to determine what it may mean for our business,” Disney responded in an official statement. “We are not making any immediate changes. As a reminder, face coverings are still required at Walt Disney World Resort.”
The Orlando park is still undergoing a phased reopening, with social distancing mandates in place, with sanitization stations throughout the property. Many of Walt Disney World’s usual offerings are still unavailable, even two months after it reopened in July. Only some hotels are accepting guests, and within the parks, many restaurants and experiences are still closed.
One thing that has been changing is park attendance. Walt Disney World doesn’t release its attendance figures, but estimates put the crowds at approximately 50%, up from the around 30% that the parks accepted in the beginning of its reopening. Fast Passes, which allow people to skip the longer lines for select popular rides, are still not being offered, so wait times have been creeping up past an hour on weekends and busier days. Park hours, at least through December, will be limited, so the crowds will remain concentrated into shorter hours. If Disney increases capacity, even to 75%, they’ll need to reintroduce some kind of Fast Pass offering to help mitigate those waits.
Limitations on dining, too, will need to be reconsidered with increased capacity. Reservations are difficult to come by at many restaurants because of limited openings around the property, and capacities in the open restaurants are reduced because tables are blocked off for social distancing. Additional restaurants have been reopening one at a time. Minnie’s Seasonal Dining at Hollywood & Vine in Disney’s Hollywood Studios recently started hosting guests again, with characters in Halloween costumes appearing (while socially distanced from guests) in the restaurant.
Epcot poses a particular problem for dining, because most of the cast members who staff the pavilions in the World Showcase are from those respective countries. Right now, France, Japan and Norway are mostly closed, but the My Disney Experience app is allowing reservations at restaurants in those countries for dates later in the fall. The Epcot International Food & Wine Festival has kiosks set up throughout the park for additional offerings aside from indoor, sit-down restaurants.
An additional consideration: hotels. Many are currently open and accepting reservations, but some are closed indefinitely. Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort won’t reopen until 2021 because of newly announced renovations, and Disney’s Beach Club and Boardwalk Inn have been taken off Disney’s reopening schedule. Hotel capacity hasn’t been an issue because of reduced park attendance and limitations on interstate travel by some states, but a huge draw of Disney vacations is resort-hopping to explore different properties and eat at those restaurants.
As much as Disney says it’s not making any immediate changes to its operations, some are still on the horizon. As a way to prevent crowds from gathering, evening shows have been suspended, and parades have been temporarily replaced by unscheduled character cavalcades. But, there are whispers of change: both Magic Kingdom and Epcot have been testing fireworks after park close. Some pieces of the quintessential Disney experience that have been missing in the reopening may be returning soon.