As we go barreling into summer with some places still locked down and others slowly opening, all eyes are on the Disney and Universal theme parks as they slowly start to open their doors.
While the technically scientific start of summer is still a couple of weeks away, the unofficial start to summer started with the Memorial Day weekend. At that time, none of the Disney or Universal parks in the United States were open yet. If you wanted to experience some theme park fun, you had to go Shanghai Disney Resort (and getting into China isn’t easy right now, so if you aren’t already there, you’re out of luck).
Needless to say, it’s an unusual start to the summer tourism season and it’s easy to see why locations that rely on tourism are eager to get things going as soon as possible.
Rumors are starting to kick up now for parks around the world and official news is starting to trickle alongside it. Let’s look at what we know so far and see what’s going on as we head into the summer tourism season.
Walt Disney World Resort
Walt Disney World has the most official reopening news of all the Disney parks right now (besides Shanghai, which is already open, of course). Different parts of the resort will reopen between July 11th and July 15th, and Disney Springs (the shopping district) has already opened to the public. They’ve hit some bumps in the road in regards to dining and hotel reservations, but other than that they seem on track to a mid-July phased opening.
Of course, this could change. There’s been growing concern that some parts of the country may have opened too soon. There’s a new surge of the virus in some places, including Florida. Florida has about 1000 new infections a day, and that’s without major theme parks attracting tens of thousands of tourists from various places around the world (granted, beaches are open, so some tourism is still happening, but the theme parks are an entirely different beast).
I don’t know what’s going to happen to the Orlando parks if this doesn’t subside in the next few weeks. It’s possible this could get pushed back. But I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if you want to visit the parks, I’d hold off until after summer and wouldn’t aim to be one of the first batches in attendance. But if just can’t wait and you plan on going, remember to wear a mask and obey the social distancing guidelines.
Universal Studios Orlando
Universal Studios Orlando is open! The first guests were allowed in on Friday, and by most accounts, the crowds were fairly light and most guests were wearing masks. How are the masks working out in the hot and humid Florida weather? It’s rough, but Universal made accommodations for that very thing (per Orlando Sentinel):
Universal has set up areas called “U-rest zones,” where visitors are allowed to remove their masks. There are tables and chairs spaced even farther apart than the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend.
Jason and Kristina Busch, who live in Dallas, sat mask-free in a U-rest zone in Islands of Adventure.
“It’s a nice break — 5, 10 minutes,” Jason Busch said.
An account from Attractions Magazine also detailed what life was like in the park while wearing a mask:
Everyone in our party was in their twenties, but the Florida sun and heat can be overwhelming to anyone at times. (Our 50-year-old publisher was there for three hours mid-day and said he had no problems with his mask.) I felt my own mask was alright for most of the day. But the black cloth, combined with the fact that it covers my entire neck, made me sweat on my face and neck in the mid-afternoon. I’m not usually a fan of water attractions, but we did head to the Jurassic Park River Adventure ride specifically to cool off.
During our visit the temperature reached 91º Fahrenheit and there were times with little-to-no cloud cover. Times like this weren’t an issue except when we had to walk extended distances. 91º in the sunlight is hot, with or without a mask. I think the masks made it feel a bit warmer, but honestly it didn’t make a huge difference. I personally never felt faint or worried the mask would dangerously increase my temperature.
I may need to look into getting a new mask because the ones I own are incredibly uncomfortable for just a simple walk to the corner store. I did some significant walking on Saturday and nearly collapsed from the heat. It is doable, though, as these people have proven. And besides, Doctors and nurses wear their masks all day every day as they work through the pandemic so surely we can bear it for something as voluntary as attending a theme park.
Anyway, I’ll be sitting this summer out, guys. I just can’t do it. But you do you. Just follow the rules, please.
Now here is where the rumors come in! There is no official news for Disneyland, but that doesn’t stop the rumors from flying, as they have been for many weeks.
Apparently the Disneyland Resort has started taking room reservations starting July 15th, which could be our first clue that things could be starting soon. But with Walt Disney World also taking reservations for that time frame, with an actual official announcement already having been made for the Florida parks, one has to wonder why they are playing it a bit closer to the chest with the California parks.
Mouseplanet notes that at one point the reservation date was July 1st and that this is actually a delay, so honestly, the hotel reservation date might not mean anything at all. It doesn’t stop people from clinging onto the date, though, and wishing upon a star that this could be the actual opening time frame. People really miss their Disney park.
California enters its “Phase 3” opening on June 12th, which means the following:
Phase in higher-risk workplaces at a pace designed to protect public health and safety, beginning with limited personal care and recreational venues (with workplace modifications).
Travel for permissible activities, such as healthcare, food, stages 1-3 work, and local or activities shopping related to open sectors.
Monitor critical indicators and alter scope of reopening if necessary to protect public health and safety.
Certain ‘fun’ places could open under this phase, including Downtown Disney. But the theme park itself will likely not be able to open its doors until Phase 4:
Gradually open larger gathering venues at a pace consistent with public health and safety, such as nightclubs, concert venues, and live audience sports.
Gradually resume remaining activities and travel.
Monitor critical indicators and alter scope of reopening if necessary to protect public health and safety.
Apparently zoos can reopen until Phase 3, so I’m not entirely sure where the line is drawn and the official website isn’t terribly helpful defining it. Most Disney park focused blogs seem to be looking forward to Phase 4, however, so we’ll stick with that interpretation for now.
There’s no word on when Phase 4 could happen and California has been way more cautious than Florida, so I’d expect the July 15th date to get pushed back again.
Universal Studios Hollywood
Universal Studios Hollywood is apparently on track for a July 1st opening date, but this seems more hopeful than realistic to me. Unlike Disneyland Resort, Universal Studios is located in Los Angeles County, which extended its Stay at Home order through summer but will supposedly allow for a phased reopening of businesses during that time. How a major theme park will be an earlier-phased-opening business is a bit baffling to me.
But Universal in Florida opened before their Disney counterpart, so who knows? It’s possible I suppose. But even the USA Today article has some contradiction in it. First, it says:
The head of Universal Studios Hollywood told officials in Los Angles County Tuesday that the theme park could reopen by July 1 and asked for workers to be allowed to return.
But then it says:
Karen Irwin, president and operating chief of Universal Studios Hollywood, told the county’s Economic Resiliency Task Force Tuesday that the park would be able to maintain physical distancing, screen visitors and employees and perform enhanced cleaning and disinfecting.
Irwin didn’t provide a detailed plan for the park’s reopening, nor did Universal when reached.
My interpretation of this is that Universal wants to open by July 1st and believes it can operate under Phase 3, but nothing is official yet.
Hong Kong Disneyland
Let’s take a trip away from the United States for a moment and look at Hong Kong Disneyland. They’ve been prepping for a reopening pretty pro-actively, but have been much quieter with official news. We do, however, have a date for Ocean Park. That will reopen on June 13th, “with the Disneyland resort on Lantau Island set to follow soon on an unspecified date” per Deadline. So, that’s something.
Other than that, Hong Kong continues to be elusive with official news. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, but I suspect it’ll reopen suddenly with only a few days notice and very little fanfare. Let’s see if I’m right!
Tokyo Disney Resort
Tokyo Disney is being even more cagey about its reopening than Hong Kong is. The Ikspiari Shopping Center opened on June 1st and they are testing social distancing measures, but other than that, we’ve got nothing. We’ll keep an eye out.
Universal Studios Japan
Keeping with the theme that Universal parks are opening earlier than the Disney parks, Universal Studios Japan is also now open! As of Monday, the doors have been opened to annual passholders for a soft opening with a wider opening for people who purchased special studio passes next Monday, June 15th. Things will open a bit wider on June 19th, with admission being allowed to both annual passholders and residents of six prefectures in Japan.
There’s no word on when the park will be open to anyone and everyone, but it seems like a lot of locals in Japan will get to experience the park at various phases throughout the month.
They are “inching closer.” That’s it. That’s all we got. Of all the Disney Parks, this is the one I’m hearing about the least and I can’t even begin to guess what’s going on out there outside the information in the Inside the Magic article.
There are more questions than answers about most of the parks around the world. But there are certain patterns emerging.
Firstly, the Universal parks tend to open before the Disney parks. We are seeing this in Florida and Japan, so I suspect California will follow suit. Despite my confusion about what falls under certain phases, it’s very possible Universal Studios could be open in less than a month.
Secondly, the shopping districts attached to the parks open prior to the theme parks themselves. We’ll likely continue to see this play out in the remaining locations that are still closed. This happened in Shanghai, Florida, and Japan, so let’s keep eyes on California.
Thirdly, California is lagging behind their Florida and Asia counterparts, which makes sense considering how the California government has been incredibly cautious about things. They were one of the first regions in America to declare a State of Emergency and continue to have strict rules in place longer than many other places.
So we’ve got some movement. We’ve got some official announcements and a whole lot of rumors and speculation. My best advice to you is to sit tight and wait a while before choosing to go to any of the parks because there’s a lot of unknowns.
But if you just can’t wait, please wear a mask and follow social distancing. I know it’s uncomfortable, but lives are at stake and that’s more important than getting to ride your favorite ride or see your favorite character. We’ve all gotta work together here.
Author: Angel Wilson
Angel is the admin of The Geekiary and a geek culture commentator. They earned a BA in Film & Digital Media from UC Santa Cruz. They have contributed to various podcasts and webcasts including An Englishman in San Diego, Free to Be Radio, and Genre TV for All. They’ve also written for Friends of Comic Con and is a 2019 Hugo Award winner for contributing fanfic on AO3. They identify as queer.
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