Coronavirus: Walt Disney World reopens two theme parks

Coronavirus: Walt Disney World reopens two theme parks
Guests entered the Magic Kingdom during Saturday's reopening at Walt Disney World. (John Raoux/Associated Press)

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — “The Most Magical Place on Earth” is open again.

Walt Disney World partially reopened Saturday, as two of its theme parks -- the Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom -- opened to the public.

The park, located in Central Florida, shut down in March due to the coronavirus pandemic. Earlier this week, the parks were reopened for cast member and pass-holder previews, WFTV reported.

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The other two theme parks -- Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios -- are scheduled to reopen Wednesday, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

“It’s the chance to come back and be in the magic,” Diane Watkins, a preschool teacher from Helena, Alabama, told The Associated Press. “Hot or not, mask or not, we’re just happy to be here. I feel like everybody here is in the same frame of mind. Everybody is just so excited to be here.”

In April, Disney furloughed approximately 100,000 theme park and hotel workers, including members who wear costumes as beloved Walt Disney characters.

Disney Springs, the parks’ shopping and entertainment district, partially reopened in May.

Other theme parks, including Universal Studios and SeaWorld in Orlando and Busch Gardens in Tampa, opened several weeks ago. Disney’s reopening, however, comes as Florida is experiencing a spike in positive coronavirus tests.

The Florida Department of Health confirmed 10,360 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, the Miami Herald reported. That was the third-highest single-day total recorded since the pandemic began, the newspaper reported.

The highest 24-hour total recorded in the state was reported on July 4, with 11,458 new cases. Florida now has 254,511 confirmed cases. Friday’s 95 deaths pushed the state total to 4,197.

Disney doesn’t release attendance numbers, but The New York Times estimated that the park would allow less than half of its capacity when it reopened.

Guests were only allowed to select one park per day, WFTV reported. Park officials also implemented temperature checks at the gate, refusing entry to any party with a person with a temperature of 100.4 or higher, the television station reported. Mandatory masks and social distancing were also supposed to be enforced.

Patrons seemed to be following protocols early in the day, but Craig Williams, producer of The DIS Unplugged, said people were becoming lax in their observance of the rules.

“Everything for me has been smooth at Magic Kingdom up until the last 10 minutes,” Williams tweeted. “Now I’m seeing people leaving the restroom without washing hands and plenty of men thinking that masks don’t need to cover their noses too. Maybe people can’t have nice things.”

One of the longest ride lines was for Splash Mountain at the Magic Kingdom, the Times reported. By midday Saturday, the line to get on the attraction took between 30 to 45 minutes, the newspaper reported.

“We expect this will be one of our longest waits for attractions for the day,” tweeted Touring Plans, a vacation planning site that predicts wait times and crowd sizes at the theme park.

“I have missed coming here. It just feels really good to be back,” Lori Lovell, of Evansville, Indiana, told the AP. “This is where I’ve made so many memories. It’s kind of our second home. Not being able to come here was hard.

“It was very emotional.”