ORLANDO, Fla. — After 117 days, Disney World was back open Saturday to the general public after the coronavirus pandemic swiftly shut down the tourism capital of the planet.
People who snagged advance reservations in addition to tickets or annual passes could visit the Magic Kingdom or the Animal Kingdom Saturday. Epcot and Hollywood Studios will be open again starting Wednesday.
“Disney World is a world very different than the one that closed back in March,” said Robert Thompson, founding director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University. “Going to Disney World for that experience in the past was so fundamentally defined by the very things that now have to be regulated.”
Disney loyalists won’t line up to get the best view of the daily Magic Kingdom parade. Guests can only see a lone float or a marching band spontaneously travel around the route as entertainment.
And kids can’t hug Mickey Mouse.
The one word that many people associate with Disney World is also gone — crowds. No long lines were weaving through the ride queues. No more bodies will be jammed together to see the fireworks, which won’t be set off, either.
Thompson said it was regal in the old days to arrive at Cinderella Castle “presiding over the sea of the humanity.”
“There was a certain beauty to that, even though it was hard to negotiate,” he said.
Photographs taken at earlier previews seem surreal with a newly painted castle that stands mostly empty.
For some people, this new theme park experience isn’t what they want when they plan their Disney World dream vacation, Thompson said.
And for others, taking a selfie with a face mask on the Magic Kingdom’s Main Street will capture a historic moment in these strange times, Thompson said.
It proves that you witnessed it.
There were additional signs of Disney World coming to life. The Disney Skyliner, a gondola transportation system that debuted last year, was out through its paces, without passengers.
Skyliner connects a handful of Disney hotels, Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios. Those theme parks will open Wednesday.
The pandemic already ruined Orlando’s spring tourism season and is now hitting the once moneymaker summer season. How long could the coronavirus hurt the parks?
It’s a long-term problem for the industry, warns Dennis Speigel, an industry consultant at Ohio-based International Theme Park Services.
Disney has already canceled this year’s Mickey’s Not-So-Scary-Halloween Party, an after-hours special ticketed event for visitors. Universal Orlando has not given a public update on whether Halloween Horror Nights, another event with a loyal fan base, will be adjusted or canceled because of the pandemic.
“I’m thinking based on where we are right now, reading the tea leaves, Halloween is a serious question,” Speigel said. “We’re going to be dealing with this (virus) this time next year, no question about it … This is with us for two years, easily.”
Beginning Saturday, visitors are required to wear a face mask, although exceptions are made for children under 2 years old.
People with temperatures 100.4 F or above will not be allowed into the parks. Their party can’t enter either.
Also Disney isn’t allowing walk-up guests. Advance reservations, which were snatched up almost immediately the day they were released, are required.