Walt Disney World, one of the largest tourist sites on the planet with an annual attendance of 93 million people, has a plan to reopen in mid-July. But the necessary safety protocols — limiting the number of visitors, making face masks mandatory, having roaming squads to enforce social distancing, no longer allowing people to get up close and personal with Mickey Mouse — shows how difficult it will be to operate once-booming attractions as the country prepares for a broader reopening.
“We’re going slow because we want to make constant progress and not have to backtrack,” Bob Chapek, Disney’s chief executive, said by phone from Florida on Wednesday. “The risk is going too far, too fast.”
Disney’s domestic theme parks, with their manicured Main Street U.S.A. entrances, loom large in the popular imagination as symbols of Americana. Disney World has been closed since March 15 because of the pandemic, and its reopening carries a certain symbolism in itself, an attempt to reclaim a semblance of normal life.
Jim MacPhee, Disney World’s senior vice president for operations, called the reopening plan “thoughtful, methodical and phased” when presenting it to the Orange County Recovery Task Force in Orlando.
The task force gave its approval but did press Mr. MacPhee and other theme park executives about how they would enforce mask wearing, something that has become a cultural flash point and may become a bigger issue as people vacation in the Florida heat. Mr. MacPhee said signs would have “strong language” and that “high-energy squads” of employees would be deployed to remind guests about compliance. He said Disney might establish “relaxation zones” where guests can take off their masks.
Walt Disney World consists of six separately ticketed parks. Two of Disney World’s four main theme parks, the Magic Kingdom and the Animal Kingdom, will reopen on July 11. Disney World’s remaining major parks, Epcot and Hollywood Studios, will reopen on July 15. Mr. Chapek said he was “very optimistic” about making a deal with the N.B.A. and Major League Soccer to restart their seasons from the resort’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, which he noted had high security and “turnkey” broadcasting capabilities.
Mr. Chapek declined to say how many people Disney would let into the parks. It is likely to be less than half of pre-outbreak capacity, at least at first. In China, where Shanghai Disneyland reopened on May 11, the government limited attendance to one-third of normal capacity. Major Disney parks can handle 80,000 people a day.
Visiting any theme park will be very different than in the past, at least until a vaccine is widely available. Universal’s reopening plan involves staggered parking to create distance between groups and increased mobile ordering at restaurants. Mr. Chapek said seats would be left empty on rides to separate guests and that 50 percent of the tables in restaurants would be removed. Disney will also add a new reservation system for park entry; visitors can no longer walk up and buy a ticket.
“You can’t sugarcoat how hard this is going to be managerially,” Craig Moffett, a media analyst at MoffettNathanson, said on a recent conference call with clients, citing in particular a population that is just beginning to grapple with public life in the time of pandemic. “Will there be a generational shift in the willingness of people to socially crowd? Will a generation of consumers find it uncomfortable to be strapped into a roller coaster next to a stranger? We just don’t know the answers.”
Disney will start working with local unions to reopen at least some Disney World hotels. The company owns 18 at the resort. “We will accordion hotel capacity up and down as needed,” Mr. Chapek said, noting that about 50 percent of Disney World guests typically stay at a Disney-owned hotel.
Disney did not give reopening dates for the smallest of its six Florida parks, Typhoon Lagoon and Blizzard Beach. Disney Vacation Club, a time-share business with 3,200 units at the property, will reopen on June 22. Disney Springs, an adjacent 120-acre shopping mall, began to reopen on May 20. “Guests have been extremely compliant,” Mr. Chapek said of mask requirements at Disney Springs.
Disney theme parks in California, France, Japan and Hong Kong remain closed. The company has given no indication when they could reopen.