Spending

Amusement parks pose 'severe risk' this summer, experts warn: How Disney World is adjusting

As the coronavirus pandemic continues, here's how Disney World and other amusement parks are trying to remain accessible to customers.

Twenty/20

Only 17% of Americans say they would be comfortable visiting an amusement park right now, according to Morning Consult data, and Florida has seen a surge in Covid-19 cases. Yet several big amusement parks have reopened, including Hershey Park, Six Flags Great Adventure, Universal Studios Orlando, and Walt Disney World in Orlando

Ticket prices to Disney vary based on how many days you go. A single-day ticket costs $109 per person

"As a Florida resident and an annual pass holder, it is almost $800 per year per person for tickets," says Kristi DeRubertis, who runs the blog The Kingdom Insider and has had season passes for Disney World for years.

DeRubertis wasn't sure if she was going to renew her pass this year in response to Covid-19 precautions but, after attending the reopening, she says there's "no doubt" she'll renew. Still, the changes mean DeRubertis wouldn't recommend everyone get season passes or even visit this year. 

Medical experts also warn that amusement parks might not be safe to visit during the pandemic. "Amusement parks, to me, are going to pose the most severe risk," Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos, a pulmonary and critical care medicine physician, recently told Grow.

Here are six ways Disney World is adjusting to limit the spread of the coronavirus, and how to decide whether the experience is still worth the price tag. 

Guests must register in advance and expect temperature checks

In order to control the number of people in the park, guests must reserve a specific day and time to visit. Guests are also not currently allowed to park hop, meaning they cannot visit more than one park in one day. 

Upon entering, guests must comply with a temperature check at the entrance. A guest with a fever of 100.4-degrees or above will not be allowed in the park, and neither will their party. 

Visitors must socially-distance in line

At the entrance and throughout the park, all guests must socially distance in line.

During her visit with her two sons, who are ages 5 and 6, people were, for the most part, following the rules, DeRubertis says. "As a parent, I was being a helicopter," she says. "It was my job to make sure my kids maintained the social distancing. As a guest, you still have to do your part." 

Social distancing measures also make it appear like lines are longer than they actually are, she says. But because Disney has reduced the amount of people who can enter, lines go fast.

"The longest we waited was for 25 minutes for the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, and the wait is usually something like 120 minutes," DeRubertis says. 

Masks are required

Wearing a mask is crucial to limit the spread of coronavirus, according to the Centers for Disease Control. "If we can get everybody to wear a mask right now, I really do think in the next four, six, eight weeks ... we can get this epidemic under control," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Robert Redfield said in a Journal of the American Medical Association interview. 

Disney is requiring all guests to wear masks and park employees are helping enforce the rule, DeRubertis says. "There was a group of people sitting and taking their masks off and I saw a cast member come up to them" and ask them to refasten their masks, she says. 

There is at least one mask-free relaxation zone in each park where guests can remove their masks and enjoy air conditioning. However, only a limited number of people are allowed in. 

And, in general, mask requirements are hard to enforce. "Face mask policies are going to be the hardest things to implement," Galiatsatos told Grow. 

Use payment apps to limit contact

The park is asking visitors to use the My Disney Experience app to pay for concessions and to check-in at any resort hotels. Even before Covid-19 precautions, using mobile apps at theme parks was always faster and simpler, says Robert Niles, founder of Theme Park Insider. 

"Use the park apps just like you would the Starbucks app," he told Grow recently. "Order and you'll have a form of payment associated with the app, so you'll pay through the app. Then you'll get a buzz when its ready and you'll go pick it up. Pretty much everyone will use mobile ordering going forward in the parks." 

Pretty much everyone will use mobile ordering going forward in the parks.
Robert Niles
Theme Park Insider founder

There are some indoor places where tables are at least six feet apart. Still, DeRubertis says her family took advantage of the common spaces, which were emptier than usual. "We would get snacks and and go to a shady spot and take our full time," she says.

Disney has also banned eating and walking as part of its mask-wearing requirement, so finding a place to sit is crucial. 

Watch for sanitizing stations 

Hand sanitizer dispensers are now stationed throughout the parks, and park employees are making extra efforts to clean high-touch surfaces like railings and seating. "I personally saw cast members cleaning the attractions," DeRubertis says. 

Bottom line: Is Disney World worth visiting right now? 

One the one hand, Covid-19 precautions do give guests a unique opportunity to see the park when it's pretty empty, Niles says. 

"This is definitely an opportunity to see the park like you've never seen it before," he says. "The upside is once you're there, there will be much shorter lines than you are used to. ... For just a regular ride you can get right on with very little or no wait." 

However, there are some park experiences you won't get. "There won't be any parades or shows or fireworks," Niles points out. Nor are there character meet-and-greets. Instead, there are cavalcades, or miniparades, where kids can see a roster of Disney characters. DeRubertis says she saw more characters than she had at previous visits.

While she thinks Disney did a good job of "keeping the magic alive," she doesn't think everyone should visit right now. "If you're not comfortable getting on an airplane, I wouldn't suggest going to Disney," she says.

And if you haven't already been numerous times before, it might be better to wait. "I wouldn't suggest going is if this is a dream Disney vacation, or if you're doing a giant family reunion, or if it is your kids' first time," she says. Although her kids enjoyed themselves, the social distance measures do somewhat detract from the experience. 

"If it's a once in a lifetime dream vacation, put it off to 2021," she says. 

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