Disney theme park experience after reopenings? A whole new world

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The road to the entrance of Walt Disney World has few cars Monday, March 16, 2020, in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. The Magic Kingdom, Epcot and Hollywood Studios were closed along with other theme parks around the state to help curb the spread of the coronavirus. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

ORLANDO (WLNS) – Although Walt Disney executives have remained mum on when the company’s theme parks will reopen in the U.S., recent steps by the entertainment giant suggest it’s preparing to unlock the doors soon.

One sign is that Disney Springs, the restaurant and shopping area inside Walt Disney World Resort outside Orlando, Florida, will reopen May 20. The move hints that Disney believes it can handle thousands of visitors on its property while ensuring no one will catch the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 disease. It also means that the resort hotel and theme park rides and water attractions could reopen next because those are the only two sections that will still be closed.

Another sign: Disney Shanghai Resort welcoming back visitors May 11. Reserve tickets in China have already sold out, with some days’ slots going within minutes.

An exact date for U.S. theme parks reopening is unknown, but there’s one thing for certain: Visitors will walk into into a vastly different park experience than what they remember pre-coronavirus. There will be fewer people in the park as a way to ensure social distancing, everyone will be wearing masks — workers and visitors — and families likely won’t be able to take pictures with Elsa, Aladdin and some of the other popular Disney characters.

“They’ll need to keep their costs down, so they’re not going to open every hot dog stand, and some rides won’t be available,” said Martin Lewison, a business professor at Farmingdale State College in New York who studies the amusement parks industry. 

Disney might make visitors reserve a time slot to ride Space Mountain instead of letting visitors wait in lengthy rollercoaster lines, said Scott Smith, who teaches amusement park management at the University of South Carolina. 

Disney employees who don full costumes to portray Goofy, Donald Duck and Minnie Mouse will likely interact with families because the costume headpieces can act as masks, Smith said.

But employees who portray unmasked characters like Princess Jasmine or Pocahontas likely won’t be present because they would have to do so while wearing masks — and Disney would hardly want pictures or videos surfacing of their key characters in masks, said Smith, a former Disney employee.

It’s worth reopening theme parks soon, despite the limits, because utility bills are piling up at the facilities and there will be high demand initially, the experts said. 

“People have been cloistered in their homes and they just need to get out,” Smith said. 

Disney World and Disneyland were closed by March 15 as coronavirus cases increased across the nation. Days later, Disney halted its cruiselines. The company’s retail stores and theater shows also have closed. 

The company is likely losing about $500 million for every two weeks the Disneyland and DisneyWorld theme parks remain closed, Chief Financial Officer Christine McCarthy said during a conference call with analysts this week. 

Disney will be operating at a loss immediately after reopening the parks, but getting some income from fewer visitors is better than getting no money at all, Lewison said. 

This article is adapted from CBS News.

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