COVID-19: Disney World, SeaWorld get state approval of reopening plans

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Walt Disney World and SeaWorld theme parks have gotten approval of their reopening plans, designed to abide by government-recommended health and safety guidelines.

On Friday, May 29, Mayor Jerry L. Demings of Orange County posted on his Facebook page email letters from the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation to each theme park. Both correspondences were copied and dispatched to the mayor and his chief of staff Roseann Harrington as well.

“I am pleased to announce that I have received word from Halsey Beshears, Secretary of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, that Walt Disney World and SeaWorld have received approval of their re-opening plans,” Demings wrote on his Facebook page. “SeaWorld will re-open June 10 and Walt Disney World Resort will be July 11.”

The Facebook announcement comes only two days after executives from SeaWorld and Disney World presented their reopening plans to the Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force at its Wednesday, May 27, virtual meeting

At the meeting, it was announced that SeaWorld is eyeing June 10 for Employee Appreciation Night and June 11 as the reopening date to the public. Disney World is aiming to reopen Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom on July 11, and Epcot and Hollywood Studios on July 15.

In separate votes, the Task Force approved both plans. Some members recused themselves from voting due to conflict of interest.

The Orange County Economic Task Force was established to focus on recommendations for reopening the local economy from the coronavirus pandemic.

Marc Swanson, interim CEO of SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, delivered the presentation for the reopening of its three Orlando-area parks: SeaWorld, Aquatica and Discovery Cove. 

“We’re really excited to be here and excited to bring back our guests,” Swanson said. “We’re excited to bring back our employees. We want to get these three parks open.”

Jim McPhee, senior vice president of operation for Walt Disney World, presented Disney World’s plan.

“We believe our reopening proposal for our property reflects a very thoughtful, methodical and phased approach. We incorporated all the reopening protocols throughout our guest experience and our cast experience. We’ll deploy a series of soft-opening tactics for select audiences several days prior to our July 11 (opening) with cast previews and affinity for soft-opening preview days,” McPhee said.

Demings commended SeaWorld and Disney World for their “thoroughness” and “due diligence” in readying their parks’ reopening.

“What you can see here is some consistency in how each of the parks have endeavored to approach this effort using the guidance of the Centers for Disease Control and Florida Department of Health through this process,” Demings said. “And also to my staff: They have worked really many hours to make certain from a county oversight perspective they’ve done their due diligence.”

Ahead of the theme parks’ presentations, Orange County sent an inspection team on Tuesday, May 26, to both theme parks to see if they’re following CDC-recommended guidelines, the governor’s executive order and other directives.

On May 21, Demings sent letters to Governor Ron DeSantis about reopening Universal Orlando and Orange County’s 12 smaller theme parks based on recommendations from the Task Force. 

Universal Orlando announced it will welcome guests starting June 5 while observing health and safety guidelines.