Universal Orlando has permission to reopen June 5, and Legoland has asked to open June 1, becoming the first of Florida’s theme parks to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Most of Central Florida’s attractions have been closed since mid-March to help curb the spread of COVID-19. This week, many began to submit plans for reopening.
A slew of smaller attractions, from Gatorland to Dinosaur World to the touristy attractions on Orlando’s International Drive, have already opened or will reopen within the next week. One of Florida’s largest theme parks may soon follow: On Friday, Gov. Ron DeSantis said he plans to approve Universal Orlando’s plan to reopen on June 5.
The state has said that under this first phase of reopening, Florida theme parks can operate at 50 percent capacity, increasing to 75 percent when the second phase begins.
“Those numbers are surprising given that earlier projections suggested phase one would be 25 percent,” wrote theme park investment analyst Daniel B. Kline in the Motley Fool, an investment adviser site. “It’s also worth noting that 50 percent is a significant amount of people, which will make distancing a logistical challenge.”
Just because they can open at 50 percent doesn’t meant they will. Universal’s park capacity will be limited, said John Sprouls, chief administrative officer for Universal Studios, though he did not specify by how much. Universal Orlando is home to two theme parks, Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure.
“We’re going to ramp up very slowly,” he told an economic recovery task force at its meeting Thursday.
According to the park’s reopening proposal, Universal will require both guests and staff to wear masks while at the park. Temperatures will be taken at the entrance. Valet services will not be offered.
Legoland will operate at 50 percent of its capacity, and all park employees and guests will have their temperatures checked. Workers will wear masks, but guests will only be encouraged to do so. The Winter Haven theme park is encouraging guests to book tickets in advance — cash will not be accepted on property.
“The opening of the Legoland Florida Resort means more than tourists coming to Polk County, it means thousands of people will be returning to their jobs,” said Mark Jackson, the director of Polk County Tourism and Sports Marketing, the destination marketing organization for the county. “Tourism is the economic backbone for the state of Florida and Polk County. It’s a $2.4 billion industry that directly employees more than 21,000 people here in Polk County and the largest and most powerful economic engine we have to get our citizens back to work and the wheels of commerce moving again."
Walt Disney World has not yet said when it will submit a plan to reopen. Shanghai Disneyland opened on May 11 at just 20 percent capacity, even though the Chinese government said they could go up to 30 percent.
On Wednesday, the Disney Springs retail and dining complex partially reopened, which is similar to the slow reopening plan that Disney followed in China, where it opened shops and resorts first before opening the park.
SeaWorld, the parent company of Busch Gardens in Tampa, has said it will submit a plan soon to open some time in June.
Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings has forwarded proposals from a dozen smaller attractions such as Gatorland and Fun Spot America to DeSantis this week.
Gatorland, the kitschy Interstate 4 staple, hopes to welcome guests before Memorial Day: It has asked to reopen Sunday. The 70-year-old park has created a “social distancing skunk ape” character to remind guests to follow protocols designed to prevent a local resurgence of the coronavirus.
Other smaller attractions that have opened or plan to open soon include:
- Fun Spot, the amusement park on International Drive in Orlando, submitted a plan to open this weekend.
- Orlando Starflyer, the I-Drive attraction which claims to be the world’s tallest swing ride, is awaiting state approval to reopen.
- Madame Tussauds Orlando and Sea Life Orlando Aquarium, both owned by Legoland parent company Merlin Entertainment, have reopened on I-Drive and have asked guests to avoid touching things in the attractions. That includes Tussauds’ famed waxed figures and the glass wall that reveals the underwater creatures at Sea Life.
- Dinosaur World off I-4 in Plant City reopened May 7, though it has closed its hands-on activities and requires distance between guests in its museum and shop.
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