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Masks And Mouse Ears: Disney World Reopens As Coronavirus Cases Climb In Florida

Nearly four months after it closed over coronavirus concerns, Disney World is once again inviting guests to experience its Florida theme parks.

The reopening comes as Florida is experiencing a surge of new coronavirus cases, with being reported on Saturday.

Both Magic Kingdom and Disney's Animal Kingdom opened Saturday to the general public, following limited openings for annual-pass holders and employees. The other two area parks — Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios — are expected to open on Wednesday.

But before parkgoers can get into the "happiest place on Earth," they'll have to get used to a few changes.

"From increased cleaning and disinfecting across our parks and resorts, to updated health and safety policies, we have reimagined the Disney experience so we can all enjoy the magic responsibly," Disney Parks Chief Medical Officer Dr. Pamela Hymel wrote in a company blog post.

Some of these changes start before people get into the parks. Guests can no longer drive up to the parks for same-day entrance. They have to make reservations, as part of an effort to limit the number of people in the park each day. Disney is also requiring face masks for anyone above the age of 2 and is taking temperatures before people are allowed in.

Inside the parks, social distancing is being encouraged and enforced with markers on the ground. Lines for rides are being spaced out. Physical barriers, like plexiglass, have been put in place where distancing is not possible. Wait times also appear down, with rides that used to have queues of one to two hours down to five minutes.

Guests wearing protective masks wait to pick up their tickets at the Magic Kingdom park. Reservations are required as well as masks and temperature checks prior to entering the park.
Gregg Newton / AFP via Getty Images
AFP via Getty Images
Guests wearing protective masks wait to pick up their tickets at the Magic Kingdom park. Reservations are required as well as masks and temperature checks prior to entering the park.

Tom Corless runs a fan site dedicated to both Disney's Florida and California properties. He told NPR earlier this week that measures put in place seemed to be working during park previews.

"I don't think people had a hard time keeping space from each other," Corless said.

He also noted that on many rides, guests were separated by a number of empty rows.

While photos on social media Saturday showed plenty of people going into the parks, not everyone is convinced.

That also includes some 750 Disney performers who are not included in the phased reopening after Disney and the Actors' Equity labor union representing the performers did not come to an agreement on COVID-19 testing.

As Fortune reports, the union requested regular testing for its members because they are often in close proximity during performances. Disney declined, saying tests would reportedly provide a "false sense of security" and said it would instead emphasize distancing, masks and sanitation. The union announced that it filed a grievance against the company on Thursday.

Disney's shows are not part of the reopening as a result. Parades and evening firework shows also continue to be off in the hopes of preventing crowds.

While Disney World moves ahead with its reopening, those in California, home of Disneyland and Disney's California Adventure, are watching. Both parks were originally set to reopen on July 17 — the same day Disneyland will mark its 65th anniversary — but that date has been postponed. A new date has not been given but will depend on approvals from the state and local governments.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.