Theme-park fans eager for reopenings, but some say they’ll stay away

“If I’m going to be wearing a face mask, if I’m not going to be able to meet characters … I just don’t know if that’s even worth it.”

Guests wave goodbye to Mickey Mouse and friends at Magic Kingdom in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., on March 15, 2020, the final night of the theme park's operation before the shutdown. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel/TNS)

ORLANDO, Fla. — Fans of Orlando’s theme parks are anticipating the reopening of attractions, and they’re forming their first-day-back strategies. Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando and SeaWorld Orlando have not revealed details or return dates from their coronavirus-imposed lockdown.

But enthusiasts are weighing their pent-up desires to go back to Central Florida attractions against their health concerns and fears of big crowds.

“I miss everything. I have so many great friends that I only see at the parks, so I definitely want to go on the first day or definitely within the first week,” says Michael Muldoon, who lives in Lakeland, Fla. “I’m going to follow the safety measures. Even my mom wants me to go because she can see how bored I am.”

But anxiety is winning over entertainment for Kristen Pettineo, who has visited Disney World every summer since she was a child. Now she has her own 3-year-old daughter who’s obsessed with “Frozen.”

“For me, personally, I don’t plan on visiting until there’s either a vaccine or a cure,” Pettineo says.


Executives and experts have listed possible changes in store for theme parks worldwide. Among the considerations are limiting the number of people allowed inside, date-specific ticketing, virtual queues, intensified sanitation procedures, face-covering requirements, temperature checks and an emphasis on the six feet of separation between people that’s suggested by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Some of those measures and others will be in place when Shanghai Disneyland reopens more of its resort on Monday.

The modifications also discourage Pettineo, who lives in Austin, Texas.

“If I’m going to be wearing a face mask, if I’m not going to be able to meet characters, if I’m not going to be able to ride all the rides and experience the parades … I just don’t know if that’s even worth it,” she says.

Danny Bogue, a Disney World annual passholder from Orlando, agrees.

“Putting all health issues aside, I just don’t even understand why people would want to go,” he says. “I feel like if I were to hold out for the old normal, it’s going to be … a long time before I get to go to a theme park.”

He’s looking for more government action, testing and public by-in for the safety suggestions.

“My stance is that once I start to feel more comfortable about going to Publix every week, then maybe I’ll start to consider Disney,” Bogue says. “I know there are people out there … that just are more or less throwing caution to the wind.”


Sharon Rudolph, who lives in Sarasota and has annual passes to Disney World and Universal, has canceled two outings to Orlando, including one with her family set to toss beads during the Mardi Gras parade at Universal Studios.

“It was a life experience. We were going to go on the floats. I was so excited. We had packed,” she says. But concern about her Type 2 diabetes status and because she lives with her 76-year-old mother caused her to reconsider even before the parks shut down. She thinks it will be six months to a year before she ventures back.

One reason: She thinks visitors won’t play by the rules.

“I’m absolutely sure, 100% confident, that people won’t follow them. Because, as evidence, ‘Please no flash photography’. … ‘Please select a row and move all the way to the end of that row.’ … They’re not following the rules that Disney puts into play now,” she says.

Even with limited park capacity, she wonders about the six-foot clearance between strangers.

“Where are people going to go? There’s not enough physical land space for everybody to maintain six feet at all times,” she says.

Inram Siddiqui and his family make many trips a year from Boca Raton to Orlando’s theme parks. His wife is a frontline physician in a COVID-19 unit in a South Florida hospital, and their strategy is to visit sooner rather than later.

“I think we’re going to be among the earliest people there because we think the park will be the cleanest. We think the staff will be the most vigilant and then we think the public will be the most vigilant,” he says.


He expects a surge of coronavirus cases in the fall, but he also expects Disney and other theme-park companies to follow effective procedures.

“This can’t go sideways,” Siddiqui says. “They have to do this right.”

Still, there are elements of the attractions he will avoid, he says.

“I think we wouldn’t do enclosed spaces with any strangers,” he says. He mentioned the Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run attraction at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the monorail that runs to Magic Kingdom and Epcot along with other slow-moving rides.

Park visitors are re-evaluating once-innocuous circumstances that now raise questions. They wonder how parks will handle hands-on attractions such as Men in Black: Alien Attack at Universal Studios and Toy Story Mania at Hollywood Studios, or the small pre-show areas for the Antarctica attraction at SeaWorld and Haunted Mansion at Magic Kingdom as well as tightly designed spaces the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal’s theme parks.

Park operations and logistics interest Brian Baker, a Disney annual passholder who lives in Altamonte Springs. He plans to go on the first day the parks are open.

“I’m interested in … what changes security has made in regards to touching people’s personal items because that’s now going to be a huge thing,” he says. “I mean, it was huge before the closure but even more when they reopen, whenever that is.”

He also wonders about the resort’s transportation system.


“That doesn’t mean I’m going to be on a bus,” he says. “It just means that I’m going to be observing whether they’re letting people on buses.”

Baker says he’s safety-conscious.

“But I don’t also think that you should be scared of Disney World for the next six months either,” he says.

Bernard Pettiford, a passholder from Orlando, says his wish list includes lower park capacity and a lot of hand sanitizer.

“I am definitely dying to go,” he says. He recently had a short staycation in a hotel near Disney.

“I was literally maybe five minutes from the park, and it just made me sick knowing that I couldn’t even really drive over there because there’s nothing to see,” he says.

Also on his wish list is a ride on Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure, a roller coaster at Universal’s Islands of Adventure. Although his favorite park is Disney’s Animal Kingdom, his next stop is Magic Kingdom, Pettiford says.

“For me, going back there first is going to make Disney feel real again,” he says.

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