Theme parks push for reopening during phase 2

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — People around the world want to know when they can return to Cinderella’s Castle or tour the Wizarding World of Harry Potter again.

Although some of Central Florida’s major theme parks are taking reservations for the summer, none have announced when they plan to reopen. And as more days pass, fewer dollars are coming in to feed our economy.

Gatorland closed on March 18, and officials said it put together to make unprecedented changes at the park, in line with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Department of Health guidelines such as measuring out social distancing points, temperature checks and requiring face masks.

Letters from Fun Spot, Icon Park, the Orlando Starflyer and WonderWorks have all been sent to Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings, assuring they can reopen safely, and are asking for his help in convincing the governor to let them open in phase 2.

"My advocacy for the re-opening is always based upon, can we do it safely. That's the guiding principal for me," Demings said.

Demings said he believes we are still at least a week from phase two starting, and he’s been given no heads up on what that looks like.

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Universal Orlando has turned to the Orange County Department of Health for advice.

“They don’t have to come to us, but Universal did,” Orange County health officer Dr. Raul Pino said.


Universal officials showed Pino and his team the steps they’re taking to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.

Pino said it was a chance for the health department to learn more about the theme park atmosphere.

"We came to realize the large number of surfaces that people will come in touch with. The handrails, especially in those winding lines,” Pino said.

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Pino said he was impressed with the steps Universal is taking, which includes a plan to have monitors walking around the park to remind people to practice social distancing, cover their face and sanitize.

Extra bathroom signage has been posted, making it clear where people can wash their hands, according to Pino.

“They’re doing a lot,” Pino said. “The question is, is it going to be enough? It all depends on the volume and how people behave.”

Pino says he’s not concerned about how local residents will handle themselves at the parks – it’s the out-of-state and international tourists that worry him.

"We also have to find a way, meaning we the people of Orlando, to standardize the approach for all the parks, because the experience is not only one,” Pino said. “People jump from park to park."

Pino said Disney, Universal and SeaWorld need to come together on a plan. None of the theme parks have released an official reopening date.

Adam Poulisse, WFTV.com

Adam Poulisse joined WFTV in November 2019.