Over the past few weeks, Florida’s theme parks, from Disney to Universal and Busch Gardens, have quietly eased their limits on crowd capacity. Face masks and social distancing aren’t required if you are vaccinated, though that is on the honor system.
Theme parks were among the most strict businesses when it came to COVID-19 safety and reopening. They banned neck gaiters, open-chin triangle bandanas and face coverings with valves. They also made it clear that face masks could only be removed when actively eating and drinking, and there were clear signs on the ground to mark social distancing spaces.
“We’re pretty much at full capacity now” at Busch Gardens in Tampa and parent company SeaWorld in Orlando, CEO Marc Swanson said in an interview with reporters last month. Swanson added that he feels confident about safety since guests have hundreds of acres outdoors to spread out.
Jeff Shell, CEO of NBCUniversal and Comcast Corporation, confirmed in a live Q&A session this week that Universal Orlando is no longer being held to any capacity restrictions.
Disney CEO Bob Chapek in an investor conference call this week predicted double-digit capacity growth over the next few months as the parks push towards full capacity this fall. And this week, Disney made it optional for visitors who are fully vaccinated to ditch the masks.
“Face coverings will no longer be required for fully vaccinated guests both indoors and outdoors,” said Dr. Pam Hymel, chief medical officer at Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, according to an update on the Disney World website.
All guests, vaccinated or not, will still be required to wear masks on Disney transportation, including buses, monorails and the Skyliner, according to the update. Disney still requires date-specific park reservations.
Last July, one infectious disease expert said Walt Disney World’s reopening was a “terrible idea” that was “inviting disaster.” Social media users attacked Disney as “irresponsible” and “clueless” for pressing forward as coronavirus cases surged in Florida. Disney World marketing videos were turned into parody trailers for horror films.
But no outbreaks have been reported at Disney, Universal, SeaWorld, Busch Gardens, Six Flags, Legoland and Cedar Fair parks in Florida, Texas, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey, Virginia or Michigan, according to state health agencies and theme park officials.
Not one theme park has been shown to be a super spreader of the virus, said Dr. Raul Pino, director of the Florida Department of Health in Orange County, which includes Disney World.
Universal CEO Jeff Shell said during a recent conference call with investors that 11 million people have visited since the parks reopened in June 2020.
“We really have no capacity restraints there anymore and so the summer’s looking pretty strong,” Shell said. “And I would say probably the strength is related to two factors. One is there is pent-up demand clearly for those of us who have been in the house, and we want to get out and do all sorts of things and we’re seeing that. I think the other thing is our attraction strategy. We kept building things during the pandemic.”