Here is what a Walt Disney World and Universal Studios Theme Parks Re-Openings could look like
We don’t know yet when Walt Disney World Resort, Disneyland Resort, Universal Orlando Resort, and other theme parks will open, but with Covid-19 numbers coming down from its peak, families are once again looking at getting out of the house and enjoying safe, fun, family vacations again. But what will vacations, theme parks, and attractions look like when they do reopen? If you have been to your local grocery store, you are already starting to see changes. Your local Costco has simple social distancing guidance with wood pallets and tape marks on the floor, plastic screens added at check out, staff wearing masks, and signage explaining what is being done for your protection. We can imagine policies like these coming to theme parks.
What might a Walt Disney World or Universal Orlando Resort look like when it reopens?
If we look at other theme parks, zoos, and museums around the world we can see ideas and policies that they have put in place. Some theme parks are already open in Asia, and other museums and attractions are getting ready to open their doors worldwide.
Sweden has taken a different approach and did not close down attractions, bars, and restaurants. They instead just implemented social distancing and left it to their citizens to maintain these practices. So attractions in Sweden never closed, and you can see what practices they have in place. For example the Kolmarden Zoo in Sweden has put practices in place like opening only on the weekends and allowing only pass holders to access the zoo. This limits the crowd levels. They also allow crowds in the ques to be a maximum of only 50 people, and guests are not allowed to face each other on attractions. Family members are grouped together on attractions, and only outdoor attractions are open at this time. They have also implemented online ticket purchasing, practice ride sanitation, and there are hundreds of signs around the park explaining what the zoo is doing to sanitize the park and keep guest safe.
Controlling Crowds even before they arrive
Crowds gathering to purchase tickets can be an issue. Some attractions have moved to online ticketing. You would purchase your tickets with your travel agent or online prior to going to the theme park. This makes crowd levels at ticket counters much lower and also allows the guests to move into the park entrance stage sooner.
Could you see Time Slot Ticketing? Museums have been doing this for years but will Disney and Universal move to this model during a soft open? Time slot ticketing assigns a time when guests can enter the park itself and limits the number of guests entering the theme park altogether. Disney and Universal could also take this one step further by using Fastpasses, ExpressPass, and virtual ques so guests are not standing in long attraction lines.
Nobody knows how things will work out in the future, so a soft open is a way to allow businesses to get up and running again. A soft opening could mean limited capacity. Maybe Walt Disney World, Disneyland, and Universal Orlando Resort open only to Annual Pass Holders for starters, some other limited crowd to see how operations go.
Other parks in other countries that are already open are celebrating healthcare workers, with perks like reduced or free admission. By having healthcare workers that already understand Covid-19 and social distancing, it shows other guest behaviors that should be practiced.
You might see the absences of events, like parades or fireworks, because these type of shows cause large gatherings of crowds with no real ability to have social distancing.
Social Distancing and cleaning
Social Distancing is the key when Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort parks open back up. Avoiding crowds can even start at home by working with a travel agent to get tickets ordered prior to arrival, getting setup with online check in and pre booking dining and attractions with Disney Fast Passes and Universal Express Pass. These are all things your travel agent can get setup for you before you arrive at the park.
Hopefully, you will also be seeing lots of cleaning. One Use One Clean operation could come into play, or a balance of hand sanitizer and cleaning attractions. Guests will want to see attractions, tables, and restrooms being cleaned or have knowledge that they have been cleaned, but cleaning each vehicle after every use might not be feasible. Attractions might operate at 50% or even 15% or maybe not at all as theme parks soft open.
You could see events and dining moving outdoors to avoid crowds indoors. Outdoor seating for dining, outdoor merchandise carts, and outdoor seating for shows may be a help.
You have probably been in zoos, museums and parks before where you run into a bottleneck. These are areas maybe around the ticket counters, the entrance, at security check points, or maybe even at popular displays, or narrow pathways.
Some attractions are moving ticket purchases online to avoid crowds at ticket counters. You might need popular exhibits removed from a lobby area to avoid crowds right at the entrance, and you might find dedicated paths in attractions like museums and gardens that direct everyone one way to keep traffic flowing in one direction.
New Technology during Covid-19
Holovis has developed an APP, Crowd Solo, a social distancing app that is ideal for theme parks. Not only does it show theme park operators hot spots with crowds, but it also gives guests information on their own social distance metrics and will cause their mobile device to bleep and vibrate if they get to close to other groups.
Disney Parks might be able to add functionality like this to their existing My Disney Experience APP that allows guests to be notified of areas to avoid crowds and when two RFID “Disney Magic Bands are too close together.” I would think Disney already has the technology in place with guests wearing RFID bracelets to track crowds in their parks. Universal Orlando Resort has a similar APP that you can download for free that shows ride times, and other park information. The UOR APP could be used to keep guests informed. Simple text alerts could be sent to guests about social distancing using existing technology as well.
Be ready for new policies
We learn more about Covid-19 every hour, and it’s constantly changing. So be sure to keep up with your travel agent on what is new and happening in the world of travel. Flights can change, policies around openings, local government regulations, and new health care recommendations will be quickly adapting.
Wash Your Hands
The addition of hand washing or hand sanitizer stations will probably be coming to all parks. If you have been on a cruise you are no stranger to washing and sanitizing your hands as often as possible. You should be doing this already to avoid the regular flu, but now that everyone is very aware of germs, I would suspect these hand cleaning stations will be coming to all sorts of locations, including theme parks.
Buying Souvenirs at the parks
Inserting credit cards and taking them out or using a RFID band without having to press the green OK button, signing or entering a pin is ideal for guests during this time. Touchless transactions are what guests are going to be looking for. You could see a total change in the way theme parks display and offer retail. No longer do guests want to pick up plush toys, try on lotions, and eat samples of food. Now guests are going to really want to get into the store, buy their items without thousands of kids touching them, and get out as quickly as possible. So we could see different retail models being tested at the parks.
It’s in times like these that you could see new technology and new policies that lift restrictions and offer new exciting offerings making the experience even better for you as the guest going forward. We often find ourselves doing things the same way just because that’s how it has always been done. We are now in a time were technologies, policies and innovative new ways will be tested rapidly, and these could really open up new possibilities and experiences for guests.
Steve Griswold is the owner of Pixie Vacations, a family owned travel agency that plans vacations of all types for guests wanting to travel to Disney Destinations, Universal Orlando Resort, Cruises, All-Inclusive Vacations, Weddings, Groups and just about any get-away imaginable.