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This image released by Disney shows fireworks punctuating the sky at the grand opening celebration at the Cinderella Castle for the New Fantasyland attraction at the Walt Disney World Resort's Magic Kingdom theme park in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., Thursday, Dec. 6, 2012. The new attraction is the largest expansion at the Magic Kingdom. (Gene Duncan, photographer)

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Theme parks are expected to submit reopening plans

DeSantis said theme parks’ reopening plans should be ‘endorsed’ by local officials.

Florida’s major theme parks are being told to submit plans showing how they expect to reopen during the ongoing coronavirus crisis, Gov. Ron DeSantis said Monday in Orlando.

The major theme park operators, including Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, Universal Parks & Resorts, and SeaWorld Entertainment, have not publicly stated when they expect to reopen their Florida theme parks, or how, as the coronavirus crisis shows signs of subsiding but not going away.

The theme park companies have begun opening some of their Florida restaurants and shopping districts under DeSantis’ Phase One economic reopening initiative.

At a press conference in Orlando announcing the opening of the interchange between Interstate 4 and the East-West Expressway, DeSantis made it clear he sees pouring tens of thousands of people per day into the theme parks is going to require something beyond the usual social distancing and capacity restrictions placed on restaurants and stores.

“We also in our our announcement for this full Phase One have told our theme parks, ‘submit plans for reopening, show us how you’re going to keep staff and people safe, and then have the endorsement of the relative local official or officials in your area’. And we’re happy to consider that as we move forward,” he said.

The theme parks all closed in March, with Disney and Universal closing down on March 15, and Busch Gardens Tampa and SeaWorld  also closed that day. There are other theme parks in Florida, including Legoland Florida, and a number of smaller specialty parks and water parks, some of them owned and operated by Disney, Universal and SeaWorld.

Most of Walt Disney World is in the towns of Bay Lake and Lake Buena Vista, two municipalities controlled by mayors and councils who all are Disney employees, and relies on the Orange County Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement. SeaWorld is entirely in unincorporated Orange County. Universal Orlando Resort is entirely in the city of Orlando. Busch Gardens is in the city of Tampa.

“When you open a theme park, it’s not like you can just flip a switch and three days later do it. Now they’re going to need a lot of runway to be able to know a date certain,” DeSantis said. “So I’m not saying this is going to happen tomorrow. But I think it is prudent to solicit these plans so that we know the direction that we’re going.”

Globally, some theme parks have begun reopening. Disney reopened its Shanghai Disneyland last week. That park and other Asian Disney properties closed in January and February.

“You’ve already seen some theme parks in other parts of the world open, and I know that we are going to get that done here. It’s a matter of what time, and what the schedule looks like,” DeSantis said.

Written By

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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