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Coronavirus: The day Florida’s theme parks shut down

Within hours of Walt Disney World making the rare call to close its gates, Universal, Busch Gardens and others announced they will close.
A statue of Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse is seen in front of the Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom theme park at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. [JOHN RAOUX  |  AP]
A statue of Walt Disney and Mickey Mouse is seen in front of the Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom theme park at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. [JOHN RAOUX | AP]

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Once Walt Disney World made the unprecedented decision to close for two weeks, all the other theme parks in the state followed in an effort to contain the spread of COVID-19. By Friday, Universal, Busch Gardens, SeaWorld, Adventure Island and Legoland had all made the same call.

They are open this weekend if you need a coaster fix or a Mickey Mouse ear-shaped cookie. The parks won’t be closing until Monday.

The dominoes started in California.

Like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, California Gov. Gavin Newsom had advised against large gatherings to help stop the spread of COVID-19. Newsom Thursday said Disneyland and other attractions were exempt, a move that was met with questions and criticism. A short time later, the Walt Disney Company announced that its Disneyland parks would be closing starting Saturday “in an abundance of caution and in the best interest of our employees and guests.”

Hours later, Walt Disney World in Florida followed, as well as Disneyland Paris. Universal Orlando Resort announced its closing plan within an hour of Disney. Friday, the other theme parks followed, all choosing March 16-31 as their time frame.

Universal Orlando Resort joined Disney World in closing its theme parks March 16-31, but hotels and City Walk at Universal Studios Florida will remain open. [JOHN RAOUX | AP]

Theme parks have closed in the past for a day or two, but this will be the longest such closure in Florida history.

Walt Disney World has only closed its gates seven times in almost 50 years. The Disney parks went nearly 28 years without an unscheduled closure until Hurricane Floyd came barreling down in 1999. The parks were also closed in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. There were a trio of closures due to hurricanes in 2004, another in Oct. 2016 for Hurricane Matthew and 2017 for Hurricane Irma.

In addition to the theme parks, 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 company said in a statement. "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.”

SeaWorld and Busch Gardens officials have said they will pay full-time workers during the shutdown, but there has been no word yet on whether part-time workers will be paid.

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Tampa Bay Times coronavirus guide

Q&A: The latest and all your questions answered.

EVENT CANCELLATIONS: Get the latest updates on events planned in the Tampa Bay area in the coming weeks.

PROTECT YOURSELF: Household cleaners can kill the virus on most surfaces, including your phone screen.

BE PREPARED: Guidelines for essentials to keep in your home should you have to stay inside.

STOCK UP YOUR PANTRY: Foods that should always be in your kitchen, for emergencies and everyday life.

FACE MASKS: They offer some protection, but studies debate their effectiveness.

WORKPLACE RISK: A list of five things employers could be doing to help curb the spread of the disease.

READER BEWARE: Look out for bad information as false claims are spreading online.

OTHER CORONAVIRUS WEBSITES:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

Florida Department of Health

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