Disney World is reopening in July, but the pandemic isn't over. Here are the risks and what you can expect.

Disney Springs has already reopened with social-distancing markers in place along with other safety measures.Olga Thompson/Walt Disney World
  • Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, and Disneyland in Anaheim, California, are reopening this summer after being closed since March to help stop the spread of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
  • When the parks reopen, they'll do so with a long list of new safety regulations meant to enforce physical distancing and cleanliness.
  • With that comes major changes to the Disney experience, including the cancellation of parades, fireworks, and character meet-and-greets.
  • While you can't eliminate the risk of getting sick altogether, especially around crowds of people, Dr. Amesh Adalja, Senior Scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told Insider that social distancing, washing hands frequently and avoiding touching your face can help.
  • Travel presents its own risks; the CDC is currently advising Americans to make considerations when traveling domestically, while each state has its own health and travel advisories.

After closing their gates for almost four months, Disney World and Disneyland plan to reopen to guests this summer with a heap of new safety guidelines, operational changes, and extensive modifications to their attractions, dining, and entertainment offerings.

Orlando, Florida's Disney World is set to start a phased reopening on July 11, while Disneyland, in Anaheim, California, has delayed its original plans to reopen on July 17 after Disney Parks said California will not issue reopening guidelines for theme parks until after July 4. The resort's shopping and restaurant district, Downtown Disney, is still expected to reopen on July 9, however.

It's hard to imagine a Disney vacation without fireworks spectaculars and princesses waving from parade floats, but Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Chapek vows that the magic will still be there.Advertisement

When asked about Disney World's reopening during a CNBC interview in May, Chapek said: "We want to make sure what we present to our guests when we open up is going to be a quintessential Disney experience and while we will have substantially lower number of guests we want to make sure we do it in a responsible way so they can make those lifelong memories that last a lifetime."

But even Disney can't cast out a global pandemic as it might an evil stepmother or villainous sea witch.

Disney cast members wear masks at Disney Springs.Disney
As with any travel at this time, it's important to take precautions if you decide to visit Disney World or Disneyland when they reopen

With fewer government-mandated restrictions in place and more of the world — including Disney — opening its doors again, many people are considering when and how to travel safely again.
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As Dr. Amesh Adalja, Senior Scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, tells Insider, we are still living through this pandemic and COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, is still very much present.

"Many people thought that the end of enforced social distancing by governments would signal the end of the virus, but that is a misconception," Dr. Adalja told Insider. "The virus is still there, it's just now that we have hospital capacity across the country to be able to deal with the cases that we're going to get." If the safety warning that's currently at the top of every page on Disney's website reminding visitors that "an inherent risk of exposure to COVID-19 exists in any public place where people are present" is any indication, the company is well aware of the ongoing risks.Advertisement

"So now," Dr. Adalja said, "the decision-making is largely going to fall onto individuals to decide which risks are worth taking for them and which risks are not worth taking for them. I think that's going to be different for each person based on what that activity is, how important that activity is, and their individual risk tolerance and their risk factors for severe disease."

It should be noted that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) still states that "staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others from getting sick" and "travel increases your chances of getting and spreading COVID-19."

While the CDC currently doesn't recommend nonessential international travel, it is asking Americans to make considerations when traveling within the US, bearing in mind that air and car travel both carry their own unique risks and that each state has its own health and travel advisories (Florida, for example, is currently requiring visitors from New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut to self-quarantine for 14 days).Advertisement

If you or someone in your travel party is at high risk — according to the CDC, those at high risk for severe illness from COVID-19 include people with chronic underlying illnesses, who are immunocompromised, or aged 65 or older — and you do choose to visit a Disney park, Dr. Adalja says social distancing is key.

Dr. Adalja's advice to parkgoers is to minimize risk "by following as much social distancing as you can given the fact that you are in a situation where you are trying to reduce the harm from this virus rather than completely eliminate it."

Health and safety reminders are posted around Disney Springs.Olga Thompson/Walt Disney World
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Disney is implementing a number of measures in an effort to minimize the risk visitors face

George Aguel, President and CEO of Visit Orlando, the city's official tourism association, said in a recent press release: "Our theme parks, attractions, restaurants, hotels and shopping centers have worked tirelessly for months to create comprehensive reopening plans, with even more safety measures, to welcome visitors back to Orlando."

In his interview with CNBC, Chapek reiterated this sentiment, mentioning that Disney World was the first attraction-based group in Florida to close when the virus hit the US and that "there is a certain amount of trust in the brand and trust in the way that we operate that we'll do it responsibly and do it not only on behalf of our guests and our cast."

Safety measures include heightened cleanliness standards, physical distancing, modifications to annual park festivals and parties, and fewer contact points throughout the parks.Advertisement

On June 10, Disney published a blog post with a video and infographic detailing how its hotels will follow enhanced cleaning procedures before visitors check in — with staff required to wipe down everything from the door handles to thermostats — and service guest rooms during their stay with a "light cleaning service" every other day.

According to Disney's blog post, its "housekeeping cast members will receive training on increased cleaning measures throughout the resort hotel and for each guest room, including updated practices for cleaning tools and managing in-room amenities, linens, luggage, and more." Disney's blog post also calls on guests to practice good hygiene during their visit.Advertisement

"We are asking our guests to help, by washing your hands frequently with soap and water; following physical distancing and other guidelines when you visit; and rescheduling your visit if you or a member of your party feel ill or are subject to quarantine or other travel restrictions," the post said.

Guests ages 2 and up are also required to wear face coverings and temperature screenings will be mandatory for all visitors (and cast members), according to Disney's website.

Disney Springs is encouraging physical distancing with floor markings designed to help keep guests apart.Olga Thompson/Walt Disney World
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Disney seems to be making social distancing a priority, and is already testing how it can work in its US parks with the phased reopening of Disney Springs

To promote social distancing, Disney says it will be using instructional floor markings — a system that's already in place at Disney World's shopping, dining, and entertaining district, Disney Springs — and temporarily suspend parades and fireworks shows.

The phased reopening of Disney Springs began on May 20, with directional signage, floor markings, enhanced cleaning, hand-sanitizing stations, and reduced capacity. Disney has been trying to make safety fun at Disney Springs with rule-enforcing Stormtroopers and a team of friendly cast members specially trained to promote physical distancing. This "social distancing squad," according to Wesh 2 in Orlando, is tasked with making sure guests stay 6 feet apart, wear their masks, and practice good hand hygiene.

Some squad members have been stationed outside of Disney Springs' shops to ensure the stores don't become overcrowded, though it hasn't all been perfect, with some reports showing large crowds gathering around the famed World of Disney store during its reopening.Advertisement

Photos showed crowds forming at Disney Springs after it reopened on May 20.SOPA Images/Getty Images

The number of visitors to Disney World and Disneyland are expected to be limited

Unlike Shanghai Disneyland, which reopened in May and capped its visitor numbers at 20% of its typical daily capacity, according to Reuters, Disney has not divulged specific capacity limits for Disney World or Disneyland.

Both parks will be implementing a new reservation system, however, to limit attendance.Advertisement

Guests will need a park ticket and a reservation for the park they want to visit on any given date, according to Disney's website, adding another step to a vacation that can already be complex to plan.

Attractions won't be the same

At Disney World, character dining will not be offered immediately upon reopening (with the exception of a "modified character dining experience" at Topolino's Terrace), nor will there be dinner shows or in-room dining, according to Disney. Your favorite restaurant may be closed or have limited capacity, and, if it's inside a hotel, you can't show up without a reservation, according to Disney World's website. In fact, not all hotels are slated to open right away, so your favorite resort may not be available. Certain hotel amenities and activities, like club level access, fun runs, and the beloved Electrical Water Pageant, are also on a temporary pause at the time of writing.Advertisement

In the trickle of news leading up to the reopening, Disney World published another blog post on Saturday to let guests know that most, but not all, attractions will be available, while character experiences and musical acts will be limited.

Disneyland recently announced similar changes on its website. The California park's website says it will be opening only two of its three hotels when it begins receiving guests in July and that "certain attractions, experiences, services and amenities will be modified, have limited availability or remain closed."

Such changes to the Disney experience are causing some people to cancel

According to Mike Rahlman, senior travel counselor with The Magic for Less Travel and host of the Be Our Guest Podcast, these modifications are leading to some cancellations.Advertisement

"The people who are looking for the blowout vacation or first timers, they're canceling," Rahlman told Insider, adding that many guests are concerned about whether they'll even be able to get into the parks with the new reservation system and others, especially those with young kids, are worried about the mask requirements.

"The only thing I'm getting out of cast members is that you will know before you leave home how many [park] days you have and where you're going, but we don't have anything further and that's kind of rough with guests that are planning trips. You want to know if you're going to get to visit the parks every day if you go down there," Rahlman added. "I would rather somebody delay their trip for a year and have a great time later than force it now and say 'I hated Disney. There was nothing to do, it was miserable, we had to wear masks, we didn't get to see any parades, and we didn't get to see Mickey Mouse.'"

You won't see a Disney parade if you visit.Walt Disney World Resort
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Travel booking site Travelocity found in a recent "Safecation" survey of 505 US travelers on summer travel trends that nearly two-thirds of families have postponed their typical summer vacations until later this year and that only 9% of travelers plan on taking their annual multi-generational family vacation.

Rahlman has noticed that not all guests are canceling or moving their trips, however. According to him, some guests have weighed their options and still plan to visit Disney World and Disneyland upon reopening.

"There's a lot of folks still going, but they're annual passholders or the folks who've been there a million times where they're happy to go to the BoardWalk Villas and sit by the pool," he said. "They just want to get out of the house, but be at Disney."Advertisement

If you visit Disney World or Disneyland, there are measures you can – and should – take to keep yourself and those around you safe

While you can't eliminate the risk of getting sick altogether, especially if you're around crowds of people, Dr. Adalja says there are certain things you can do to reduce your odds of contracting COVID-19.

"It's just the general type of stuff that we've been saying all along. Wash your hands a lot, don't touch your face, and try to avoid congregate settings. That's basically the most that you can do," Dr. Adajla said. "That's the best way that you can protect yourself and the rest is sort of based on the engineering controls and the type of stuff that's going on [at Disney] to make it less likely that you encounter the virus, but nothing is going to be without risk."
A handwashing station at Disney Springs.Olga Thompson/Walt Disney World
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If you do plan on making a trip to Disney anytime soon, the most valuable things you can bring along with you are plenty of face masks (you may want to switch out after a few hours in the sun), hand sanitizer and cleaning wipes, water, and a flexible, friendly attitude.

You may also want to stay in an on-property resort so you can take breaks as needed and do what you can to prepare your travel party — especially kids — to be good rule-following, mask-wearing travelers.

Disney's website recommends downloading the My Disney Experience app onto your phone and setting up payment information within the app so you'll be ready for contactless dining and shopping. You can also use your phone to scan the QR code menus that will be used at select restaurants and to "skip the front desk" with mobile hotel check-in. Advertisement

A representative for Disney Parks, Experiences, and Products (the group that manages Disney's parks and other travel destinations) declined Insider's request for comment.

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