Shanghai Disneyland will offer Disney a blueprint for how to reopen its other theme parks

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  • Shanghai Disneyland will reopen on May 11.
  • There are no plans for Disney to reopen any of its other international theme parks, but Shanghai could offer insight into what can be expected when they do open.
  • Disney will be implementing occupancy caps and social distancing measures as well as new sanitation policies.
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Visitors watch fireworks explode over the Shanghai Disneyland castle at an event to mark the first anniversary of the opening of the park.
Visitors watch fireworks explode over the Shanghai Disneyland castle at an event to mark the first anniversary of the opening of the park.

In less than a week, Disney will reopen its Shanghai theme park, offering up a glimpse to the rest of the theme park industry of what operations will look like in the time of the coronavirus.

On Tuesday, Disney said it will reopen its Shanghai Disneyland on May 11. The park, which has been closed since Jan. 25, will be the first major theme park to reopen amid the Covid-19 outbreak.

“We know how much our guests have been looking forward to returning to Shanghai Disneyland, and our cast is excited to begin welcoming them back,” CEO Bob Chapek said in a statement Tuesday. “As the park reopens with significantly enhanced health and safety measures, our guests will find Shanghai Disneyland as magical and memorable as ever.”

While there are no plans for Disney to reopen any of its other international theme parks, the rules and guidelines the company revealed Tuesday offer some insight into what can be expected when they do open their doors.

“They’re very creative,” Lee Cockerell, Disney’s executive vice president of operations from 1990 to 2006, said of the company on CNBC’s “Squawk Alley” on Wednesday. “They go beyond expectations. If you’ve been there, you know that and it will be safe. When Disney says it’s safe, people will come back.”

To start, Disney is taking a phased approach to reopening in Shanghai. Typically, that park has around 80,000 visitors per day, but the government has mandated Disney operate at 30% capacity, or about 24,000 visitors.

Chapek said the park would initially operate well below that capacity and then ramp up to reach that 30% cap over the course of several weeks.

Occupancy caps at other parks will be dependent on government guidelines in each country or state. For example, a Florida task force has suggested that theme parks reopen in the state with a 50% cap to start.

Guests will be required to purchase their admission tickets prior to arriving at the park and will need to select a specific date for their ticket. Annual Pass holders will also need to make reservations before arriving at the park.

Disney doesn’t want more people showing up at the park than it will be able to admit inside.

Before guests are permitted into the park, Disney said, it will follow whatever guidance is provided by the local government officials and medical professionals. In Shanghai, that means Disney will implement the government-issued Shanghai Health QR code, a contact tracing and early detection system that is used widely in China.

Guests will be required to wear masks, except when they are dining. Cast members will also be required to wear masks and will be trained ahead of the park’s opening on how to have contact-less interactions with guests and on proper cleaning procedures.

Disney will be increasing how often the park is cleaned and disinfected during the day as well as providing more sanitation stations for guests to use throughout the park.

Globally, social distancing is a priority. Disney is looking to manage the density of guests in its ride lines, restaurants, hotels and even on the rides themselves. This will likely come in the form of taped markings on the ground or signage to encourage separation.

Disney Parks’ Chief Medical Officer Dr. Pamela Hymel wrote in an open letter to guests that the company is exploring how it can use its own technology to help in these efforts. The Play Disney Parks App could be used to create virtual queues at Disneyland in California and Walt Disney World in Florida.

“Together, with our colleagues in operations, and local health and government authorities, we’re evaluating several new and enhanced safety measures to do our part towards helping us stay well while we work, stay, and play at a Disney resort and a Disney store,” Hymel wrote. “I’m also working closely with the US Travel Association on a set of guidelines the travel industry may tailor to their individual businesses to help demonstrate that safety of travelers is a top focus.”

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