Orange County mayor doesn’t expect theme parks to begin opening until at least June

Governor says attractions can submit reopening plans

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – News broke Friday that theme parks across Florida can soon begin submitting their plans for reopening but locally, the Orange County mayor doesn’t expect Walt Disney World, Universal Studios or any of the other major attractions to begin the phased opening process until at least June.

Gov. Ron DeSantis made the announcement Friday afternoon during a coronavirus update that Florida will enter what he called “full phase one” on Monday and at that point, theme park leaders can submit their plans.

Those plans must include a date for when they’d like to open, guidelines for keeping patrons and employees safe and an endorsement from an appropriate elected official, in this case Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings.

Theme parks in the Orlando area have been shuttered since mid-March due to guidelines in place to stop the spread of COVID-19.

Hours after DeSantis spoke, Demings said that he hadn’t received any reopening plans from Disney, Universal or SeaWorld.

“Suffice it to say, they’re looking at later dates to reopen and I believe what we can expect or anticipate in our community is a measured reopening. They will likely start with smaller business units, maybe hotels and resort-type areas before the major, massive theme parks themselves will reopen but in any case I suspect that that is going to be, clearly, some time in June or thereafter before that occurs,” Demings said.

The mayor said theme parks could be allowed to open under the second phase of the governor’s reopen Florida plan, although it’s unclear at this point when that phase will begin.

Universal’s CityWalk opened Thursday while Disney Springs plans start accepting guests again Wednesday. Both will operate with limited capacity and hours.

Smaller attractions, such as Gatorland and Fun Spot, have been pushing for the green light to open in the coming weeks.

Demings said representatives from those attractions will soon give presentations before Orange County’s Economic Recovery Task Force outlining how they could open while keeping everyone safe. From there, he’ll determine if clarification needs to be sought from the state on whether those smaller-scale attractions can begin to operate.

“Ultimately our goal is to get as many business units reopened as we can but safely so. So with us moving into this full phase one process, there may be some flexibility there,” Demings said.

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