Disney World Emphasizes Safety Protocols Ahead of Reopening: "You Must Follow All Posted Instructions"

Octavio Jones/Getty Images
A view of Mickey Mouse at the Walt Disney World theme park entrance on July 9, 2020.

Despite COVID-19 cases surging in Florida, the Magic Kingdom Park and Disney's Animal Kingdom Park will reopen in less than 24 hours.

A large portion of the Walt Disney World Resort will reopen Saturday morning, and the company is making it clear that the new health and safety measures in place are not suggestions, they are rules. 

Despite COVID-19 cases surging in Florida, the Magic Kingdom Park and Disney's Animal Kingdom Park will once again welcome guests in fewer than 24 hours, followed by EPCOT and Disney's Hollywood Studios on July 15. 

The Disney World website clearly lays out all the new measures and procedures in an effort to make the theme park as safe as possible, but that all comes with a few stern warnings. 

The "COVID-19" section begins, "We have taken enhanced health and safety measures — for you, our other guests and cast members. You must follow all posted instructions while visiting Walt Disney World Resort."

The caution goes on to read, "An inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19 exists in any public place where people are present. COVID-19 is an extremely contagious disease that can lead to severe illness and death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, senior citizens and guests with underlying medical conditions are especially vulnerable. By visiting Walt Disney World Resort, you voluntarily assume all risks related to exposure to COVID-19. Help keep each other healthy." 

Disney confirmed earlier in the week that its plans to reopen, which were approved on the state and local level in June, would not be altered even though COVID-19 cases in Florida have skyrocketed as of late. On Saturday, July 4,the state set a record for the most new coronavirus cases in the U.S. in a single day with a total of 11,458, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

Disney World posted the new requirements on its website so guests are well aware ahead of time what is expected, including that all guests and staff must wear a mask. To be admitted to the park, guests are required to have both a reservation and a ticket. Strict social distancing measures are in place throughout the resort. Disney plans on accomplishing this by reopening far below average daily attendance. The exact cap was not made public, but it is assumed to be no greater than 30 percent, which coincides with the capacity for Shanghai Disneyland, which reopened in late May. 

Gov. Ron DeSantis on Monday backed Disney World reopening, telling reporters he had no concerns, that the company put a "premium" on safety. To reinforce his point, he pointed to Universal Orlando, which fully reopened last month with similar enhanced health and safety measures. "Disney, I have no doubt, is going to be a safe environment," he said. "I think that where you start to see the spread is just in social situations where people let their guard down. Usually like a private party or something like that."

And yet, there was pushback from within. At least one union demanded that its Disney World staff be tested for COVID-19. The company refused. In turn, on Thursday, Actors' Equity, representing 750 Disney World performers, accused Disney of retaliation and filed a grievance. 

"Since our public request that Disney test performers in the park, there have been more than 114,000 new coronavirus cases in Florida. Rather than agree to testing of performers, Disney has decided to retaliate against workers fighting for a safe workplace," the union said in a statement. To which Disney responded, "Seven unions signed agreements to have their employees return to work, the Actors’ Equity rejected our safety protocols and have not made themselves available to continue negotiations, which is unfortunate. We are exercising our right to open without Equity performers."

While Disney World's reopening did not hit a snag (outside of some unsuccessful union negotiations), the Southern California theme park, which turns 65 on July 17, has had a bumpy road. Last month, the company announced its plan to reopen Disneyland, followed by the three resort hotels by the end of July. However, the spike in coronavirus cases derailed that timetable, with Disney explaining the state would not be able to offer and then approve official guidelines in time for the planned reopening date.

Nonetheless, the Downtown Disney shopping and dining district did reopen Thursday to a snaking line of guests eagerly awaiting return to the location for the first time since mid-March.