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May 27, 2020

Disney plans July 11 opening for two of its Florida theme parks

Andrew Pink discusses Disney

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Walt Disney Co. requested mid-July reopening dates for its Florida theme parks, a sign of recovery for the state’s tourism economy and one of the entertainment giant’s most critical businesses.

Disney aims to open the Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom on July 11, followed by Epcot and Hollywood Studios on the 15th. SeaWorld Entertainment Inc., meanwhile, requested a June 11 opening date for its Orlando parks.

The two theme-park operators made the requests to the Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force, which has been reviewing business reopening plans and making recommendations to Governor Ron DeSantis. Last week, the panel approved a June 5 opening for Comcast Corp.’s Universal Studios parks.

Theme-park operators are taking precautions with the reopenings, including requiring employees and guests to wear masks and limiting crowds.

“As things evolve, we’ll adapt accordingly,” Marc Swanson, interim chief executive officer of SeaWorld, told the panel. The company operates 12 parks in five states, including two theme parks and a water park in Orlando.

Orlando is the undisputed theme-park capital of the world, attracting some 75 million visitors in 2018 and representing more than half of the state’s total tourism. The Brookings Institution identified the region as one of the most hard hit in the country by the virus lockdown, with 342,000 jobs at risk. That’s more than a quarter of the area’s total.

This is a pivotal week for Disney, which has been pummeled as the virus prompted the shutdown of theme parks, the cancellation of live sports for its ESPN network and the closing of movie theaters that can show its films.

In California, Governor Gavin Newsom is expected to announce plans later this week to resume TV and film production. Sports leagues, most recently the National Hockey League, are beginning to announce plans to resume playing.

Theme parks and consumer products are Disney’s largest business unit, accounting for 45 per cent of the company’s operating profit last year. Its domestic theme parks have been shuttered since March due to the coronavirus. Disney’s first park to close, in Shanghai, reopened on May 11.