Disney World Reopens But the Masses Stay Away 


The Walt Disney World Resort reopened in Orlando, Florida, this past weekend, drawing fans eager to rub elbows with Mickey and Minnie, but attendance figures were just a fraction of their normal levels, according to data from Placer.ai. 

On Saturday, July 11, attendance at the park was at 16 percent of attendance figures from the same time last year, while on July 12, it was at 18 percent of attendance from the same time in 2019, the Placer.ai data shows. 

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The reopening comes even as Florida experiences one of the worst coronavirus outbreaks in the country. On Sunday, July 12, Florida recorded 15,300 new cases of the coronavirus, the highest number of cases recorded by a state in a single day anywhere in the country, surpassing even the worst of the outbreak in New York in April. 

While the data does not provide guest counts at Disney World, a rough estimate would put the number of guests in the low five-figures across the various parks, which had a total of 58.8 million visitors in 2019 across its four parks, according to a new report from AECOM. Disney World’s Magic Kingdom had 21 million visitors, Animal Kingdom had 13.9 million, Epcot had 12.4 million and Hollywood Studios had 11.5 million over the course of 2019, an increase of between zero and two percent per park, according to the report.

At the same time, over at nearby Universal Orlando, which has been open since early June, attendance over this past weekend was at 34 percent relative to 2019 levels, according to Placer.ai’s data. Universal has seen a mostly steady increase in attendance since its opening. In the first week, attendance was at 23 percent of 2019 levels, and attendance was highest this past weekend. In 2019, total attendance at the park was 11 million according to the AECOM report.

At both Disney and Universal, the experience has changed drastically, as the parks implement  a number of changes to accommodate new health protocols, according to one visitor to Universal and information on the park’s website. 

At Universal, visitors are greeted at the entrance with temperature checks and the option to use a mobile app for contact-free food orders and virtual line passes. Inside, mask wearing is being strictly enforced, though it’s a “nightmare” to wear a mask in the heat, which hit 96 degrees, said Miami resident Dana Moore, who made the three-hour drive to Orlando during the last weekend in June with a friend

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It was Moore’s second visit to the park (her first was pre-coronavirus), and she said it was fuller than expected, with long lines at the front entrance. The lines for the rides however, were at most an hour long, according to the park’s app.

When Moore took her mask off, staff members admonished her, and one Universal employee dispensed a free mask from a fanny-pack. (Normally, the masks are for sale.)

In the park’s Springfield quarter (home of The Simpsons), a small green park is designated as a mask-free zone, where people can hang out, take off their masks and get some fresh, albeit sweltering, air. That’s where Moore tried to talk to a costumed Robert Underdunk Terwilliger Jr., PhD, better known as Sideshow Bob from The Simpsons, from the demarcation lines around him, but he told her to back off. 

For lunch, Moore and her friend stopped at the Leaky Cauldron, a British pub in Harry Potter-land, where they ate fish’n’chips in the cozy interior, at a distance from other diners, and got another reprieve from mask-wearing.Meanwhile, at Disney, the resort is not only opening for guests, it is also hosting the National Basketball Association, which will resume its season in Orlando on July 30. Disney is hosting the players at a quarantined 220-acre complex, within the Disney mega-resort, and the playoff games will take place at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports.