After closing for more than two months due to the coronavirus pandemic, theme parks are getting ready to open up again. But as their plans have revealed, they will be a very different experience for visitors.
Disney World and SeaWorld Orlando became the latest to announce their plans Wednesday. Those parks have proposed to reopen to the public on July 11 and June 11, respectively, subject to the approval of state officials in Florida.
Disney World plans to reopen the Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom on July 11, followed by Epcot and Disney Hollywood Studios on July 15.
The Universal Orlando and a Six Flags park in Oklahoma are set to open June 5.
State and local officials in Florida have approved Universal's plan to reopen June 5 and Legoland's plan to reopen June 1. In Oklahoma City, Six Flags Frontier City will reopen June 5.
That leaves a number of other theme parks across the country that will need to prepare – and potentially follow their lead on reopening plans full of restrictions and safety precautions.
California theme parks, including Disneyland, may be among the last to come back, with that state's stricter criteria for mass gatherings. Last month, California Gov. Gavin Newsom outlined a phased reopening plan that appears to put theme parks in a higher-risk category of business that would open later.
Just about any theme park visit will prove to be a different experience for visitors. They'll probably get a temperature check. They'll be encouraged, if not required, to wear a face mask. They'll see fewer people in the park and have to social distance from them. Some attractions may remain closed, and parking, dining, hotels and retail will all change in some way.
Disney World will even enforce social distancing and face mask requirements with a "social-distancing squad," consisting of Disney cast members.
The reopening of attractions such as theme parks is a needed precursor to the resumption of nonessential travel, which has plummeted since much of the U.S. economy went into sleep mode in March. Southwest Airlines CEO Gary Kelly told CNBC last month that theme parks would play a role in getting travelers back on commercial flights.
Travelers "need to have something to be able to do when they get there," Kelly said. "So Disney World needs to open back up. Restaurants need to open back up."
The altered theme park experience
Visitors to Disney World, Universal Orlando and SeaWorld Orlando will encounter the following changes:Temperature checks on arrival Requirement for face masks Social distancing markers Groups will be kept separate Enhanced cleaning and disinfecting Hand sanitizer stations Contactless payment Reduced capacity
The three parks will look very different for visitors and employees, according to presentations made to the Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force.
Visitors will receive a temperature check, and no one with a temperature above 100.4 degrees will be allowed to enter. Employees will also receive temperature checks.
Visitors and employees will be required to wear face coverings. The parks will provide disposable face masks for visitors who don't bring their own.
The parks' capacity will be limited
"We’re going to ramp up very slowly," John Sprouls, chief administrative officer for Universal Studios, told the economic recovery task force.
On rides, parties will be kept together, with no commingling, and attraction queues will be spaced out for social distancing.
Single-use paper menus will replace reusable ones in the parks' restaurants. Mobile food ordering will be set up. The parks will offer contactless payment options, including Google Pay and Apple Pay.
Employees will be required to take regular hand-washing breaks, wear face masks and space themselves at least 6 feet apart. They will also be asked to monitor their temperatures at home.
The parks have installed signage at the entrances and throughout the park to let visitors know what's expected of them.
Some changes are park-specific. Valet parking will not be available at Universal, and cars will park one or two spaces apart. Disney will employ cast members to "politely but effectively" enforce social distancing and face mask requirements, said Jim McGhee, senior vice president of operations at Walt Disney World.
Parades will be temporarily suspended at Disney World and SeaWorld.
SeaWorld plans to install plexiglass barriers in high-traffic and high-contact areas. Photo opportunities will be changed to allow for social distancing.
"We’re excited to bring back our guests," said Marc Swanson, interim CEO of SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment. "People can still have a great experience, but spaced appropriately."
Some theme parks reopening as others wait and see
On May 20, the Disney Springs retail and dining complex in central Florida partially reopened with many of the elements of the bigger park plans.
Entertainment venues at Disney Springs did not reopen right away. Temperature screenings and mask requirements apply to both visitors and employees, and no one with a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher will be allowed to enter.
One-way and directional signage helps visitors maintain appropriate social distancing, as will the social-distancing squad Disney plans to deploy at Disney World when it reopens. Restaurants are accepting reservations, but not all will be open.
Legoland Florida will reopen at half capacity and will strongly encourage visitors to wear face coverings, but not require them.
Like Universal, Legoland guests will have their temperatures checked and will be turned away if it's higher than 100.4 degrees.
Other theme parks across the country are gearing up to reopen.
In Jackson, New Jersey, Six Flags Great Adventure's Drive-Thru Safari Adventure is set to reopen May 30.
The new safari journey will offer a contact-free experience, and that means none with humans, either: All safari tickets must be purchased online and in advance. Tickets will not be available at the gate.
After Gov. Phil Murphy's May 13 executive order allowing car gatherings under social distancing guidelines, guests will be able to see the attraction's 1,200 exotic animals, which live on 350 acres, from their own cars.
Six Flags Frontier City in Oklahoma City is set to reopen on June 5, with reduced capacity, social distancing, face masks, hand-washing and hand sanitizer stations, frequent cleaning and disinfecting, and changes in food service. Roughly two dozen more Six Flags parks nationwide remain closed.
"This ’new normal’ will be very different, but we believe these additional measures are appropriate in the current environment," said Mike Spanos, president and CEO of Six Flags, in a statement.
Another theme park operator, Cedar Fairs, said in its quarterly report this month that none of its parks would reopen soon. Cedar Fairs operates Knott's Berry Farm in Southern California; Cedar Point in Northern Ohio; Kings Island near Cincinnati; Kings Dominion near Richmond, Virginia; and the Schlitterbahn near Kansas City, Kansas.
"Based on the best information we have currently, we do not anticipate resuming operations at any of our parks in the near term," said President and CEO Richard Zimmerman.
Contributing: Kevin Bouffard, The Ledger; Sarah Griesemer and Alex Biese, Asbury Park Press