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Shanghai Disneyland will reopen with capacity restrictions, social distancing and face-covering requirements. Will Disneyland and Walt Disney World follow suit? How will enhanced health and safety measures, such as controlled capacity, affect how travelers view the Disney parks?
“Many are anxious for Walt Disney World and Disneyland to reopen,” said Sara Newbury, concierge travel specialist for Travel Leaders of Lewisburg, Penn. “The Walt Disney Travel Company is a well-oiled machine that has to be rebuilt. I have no doubt that the company will rise to the challenge; we just have to be patient and amiable to the forthcoming changes.”
One of those changes is controlled capacity. Shanghai Disneyland can accommodate 80,000 guests, but the Chinese government has limited attendance to 30% (24,000).
Bob Chapek, CEO of Walt Disney Company, says the park will initially operate at a lower capacity and increase to 30% after several weeks. While that may seem ideal to some clients (fewer people means shorter lines), the reality may be the opposite as required social distancing in queues and ride vehicles will likely extend wait times. Also, face masks will be mandatory; dated tickets and advanced reservations will be required; and there will be no parades, no fireworks and no character meet and greets.
I’m not sure ‘normal’ operations will return for years — if ever.
Jocelyn Martins, a travel counselor at The Magic for Less Travel in Cranberry Township, Penn., believes safety will be at the forefront of every decision that Disney makes. As a result, she notes, many fans around the world will be watching and waiting to see how successfully the restrictions are carried out in Shanghai.
“I’m not sure ‘normal’ operations will return for years — if ever,” said Keith Anderson of Mouseketrips in Draper, Utah. “We expect Walt Disney World to reopen with very restricted access, but once Walt Disney World can learn from Shanghai’s opening, we will see additional information as to what to expect.”
There are no official announcements regarding reopening policies and timelines for U.S. theme parks, but Florida’s Orange County Economic Task Force released recommendations for two-part reopenings of Florida parks, with 50% capacity for part one and 75% for part two.
Disney’s chief medical officer, Dr. Pamela Hymel, also issued a statement that discusses guidelines for gradual and/or partial reopenings of domestic parks. Included in new and enhanced safety measures are physical distancing and capacity restrictions in queues, restaurants, hotels and ride vehicles, as well as enhanced screening procedures and mandatory prevention measures such as hand sanitizing and face coverings.
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Outdoor retail, dining and entertainment center Disney Springs in Orlando, Fla., begins a phased reopening May 20.
Guests who take annual trips look at the enhanced measures as a great way to experience the parks with smaller crowd levels.
“Safety is the No. 1 key in Disney’s four keys to a great guest experience,” said Jennifer Kozlow, senior gold key advisor at Glass Slipper Concierge in Corpus Christi, Texas. “While some may feel these measures could diminish their Disney experience, the confidence that Disney has done everything to keep guests safe may be exactly what we need.”
Travel Leaders’ Newbury says client feedback regarding face coverings, reduced park capacity and enhanced cleaning regimes have varied. But she predicts that Annual Passholders will be the first to return to the parks because it’s their “home away from home” — and they miss home.
“Guests who take annual trips look at the enhanced measures as a great way to experience the parks with smaller crowd levels,” she said. “On the flip side, guests who have never been to Walt Disney World or Disneyland — or if it has been years since their last visit — are definitely more hesitant to visit while these enhanced measures are in place.”
The theme park experience as we know it will change, at least for the foreseeable future. While many clients are looking forward to returning to Disney parks as soon as possible, advisors will need to present realistic expectations about what that experience will look like.
Mouseketrips’ Anderson acknowledges that there’s pent-up demand for the U.S. parks to open. While he expects it will take time for people to get used to the “new Disney,” he doesn’t think it will keep clients away.
Kozlow of Glass Slipper Concierge is also confident that her agency will be ready for whatever the “new normal” looks like and will provide clients with opportunities to enjoy Disney magic.
Steve and Lisa Griswold, owners of Pixie Vacations in Atlanta, agree. Although everything is currently in flux, they still have clients who want to book Disney vacations for this summer — or as soon as the parks open. They also see demand for the holidays and Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary in 2021.
"Everyone we talk to cannot wait to travel again and to start planning that Walt Disney World vacation,” they said.
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Read more from TravelAge West about the COVID-19 outbreak.