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The Magic Kingdom will soon be the Closed Kingdom.
Walt Disney World, the Central Florida tourist mecca that is the world’s most visited attraction, will close at the end of business on Sunday and stay closed until the end of the month in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, the company announced Thursday night.
Then Universal Orlando Resort announced that it will also temporarily close its theme parks starting Sunday and remain closed through the end of March as well. Universal Orlando’s hotels and Universal CityWalk were set to remain open.
Florida’s theme parks started the day by announcing that would maintain normal operating hours, despite calls by health officials and Gov. Ron DeSantis for Floridians to avoid mass gatherings.
Busch Gardens in Tampa remains open, but a spokeswoman said the park is in close contact with health officials.
Tampa’s Adventure Island water park held a media preview of its new waterslide opening this week, and other parks started offering discounts.
Disneyland Paris will also close. Earlier in the day, the Walt Disney Company announced that its Disneyland parks in California would be closing starting Saturday “in an abundance of caution and in the best interest of our employees and guests.” California Gov. Gavin Newsom has also advised against large gatherings to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
Disney World will waive its $50 change fees to allow visitors to postpone trips. But the park is not waiving cancellation fees — only allowing guests to reschedule for a later date in 2020, Disney’s website said. There are some exceptions, such as vacations booked through third parties or trips made for groups or meetings.
Earlier this week, Florida’s theme park officials said they were monitoring the situation closely and had trained employees to be alert for flu-like symptoms. They also made hand sanitizer more readily available around the parks. Other parks haven’t announced closings yet, but the industry trend is accelerating.
Theme parks in Asia have closed or seen huge drops in attendance since the coronavirus first appeared. Tokyo Disneyland and Disney parks in Hong Kong and Shanghai, Universal Studios Japan and Legoland Japan announced a two-week closure in an effort to contain the spread.
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Meanwhile, other parks seemed to lean into the quest for more guests. SeaWorld on Thursday issued a media alert of a “Florida Resident Staycation Promotional Offer” good through Monday, offering Florida residents up to 60 percent off SeaWorld tickets for $49.99, Aquatica tickets as low as $34.99 and both parks for for $59.99.
Discovery Cove will also be participating in the promotion, offering Florida residents a 40 percent discount if they book by March 16 and visit by May 20, a news release said.
Walt Disney World officials told employees who had recently traveled to Italy to stay home.
“The health and safety of our guests, ambassadors and animals is our top priority," said Rebecca Romzek. "In matters pertaining to public health, our parks take direction from the Florida Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control (CDC). We employ rigorous sanitation standards across our parks and will continue to collaborate with health officials, monitor the situation for changes and will act accordingly.”
It is rare for Walt Disney World to close its gates. The parks went nearly 28 years without an unscheduled closure due to weather until Hurricane Floyd came barreling down in 1999. All four Disney theme parks had announced they would close for two days, but Floyd’s path took an unexpected change, and Disney did end up opening Animal Kingdom and the Downtown Disney shopping area the following day.
The parks were also closed in the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in. There were a trio of closures due to hurricanes in 2004, and then not another unexpected shutdown until October 2016 because of Hurricane Matthew. That was followed the next year by Hurricane Irma.
Of the seven times Walt Disney World has unexpectedly closed, the coronavirus closure will be the longest in duration.
The company also said in a statement that “Disney Cruise Line will suspend all new departures beginning Saturday through the end of the month. The Walt Disney Company will pay its cast members during that closure period. The hotels at both Walt Disney World and Disneyland Paris will remain open until further notice. The retail and dining complexes, Disney Springs at Walt Disney World and Disney Village at Disneyland Paris, will remain open. Domestic Walt Disney Company employees who are able to work from home are being asked to do so, including those at The Walt Disney Studios, Walt Disney Television, ESPN, Direct-to-Consumer, and Parks, Experiences and Products. We will continue to stay in close contact with appropriate officials and health experts.”
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