Coronavirus (COVID-19) has had a huge impact on theme park operations in Asia for Disney, Universal and other park operators. Up until now that has not really affected operations in America. Following on from President Trumps increasingly harder stance in tackling the spread of the disease, state health officals in Florida and California have changed their recommendations. Following the recommendations Disney and Universal have now announced the closure of their US park operations from this weekend until at least the end of the month.
UPDATE: 14/03/20 – Now All Orlando Theme Parks Closed For 2 Weeks From This Weekend!
As expected, Busch Gardens and Seaworld owner Seaworld Entertainment has announced it is to close the parks for 2 weeks starting Monday 16th March. Legoland operator Merlin Entertainments has also announced overnight that Legoland in Winter Haven will be also be closed via a pop up on their website homepage.
This means that all major theme parks in the Orlando area will be closed until at least the end of March. If you have a trip booked we advise that you contact your operator and see about rescheduling your dates to avoid disappointment.
Currently, airlines are still allowed to fly from the UK to the USA while they are banned from Europe for the next 30 days. It is expected that America will also close it’s border to UK flights soon. Should it do that, contact your airline or tour operator for alternative booking arrangements.
BREAKING: 13/03/20 – Disney World And Universal Orlando Closing For 2 Weeks
In the rapidly developing situation caused by Coronavirus, Disney and Universal have made the unprecedented move of closing all their US parks for a period of 2 weeks from this weekend. Read on to find out whats closing and when and how it will affect you.
What Parks Are Closing And When?
All Disney’s main parks and waterparks will be closed from Monday 16th March until at least the end of the month. This brings Disney World (and also Disneyland Resort in California that will be closed from Sunday 15th March) in line with Disney’s Asia operations. Even though there have been no reports of Coronavirus at any of Disney’s parks they are closing out of “an abundance of caution” according to the official Disney website.
The closure also affects Disneyland Paris which is closing for 2 weeks starting on Monday 16th March. This means that Disney’s worldwide park network will be shut until at least the beginning of April. Disney is not alone in closing parks, Universal Parks & Resorts has also confirmed that all Universal Parks in Florida and California will close for the same duration as Disney. You can read the official line from Universal in the press release below.
Out of an abundance of caution and to assist with our nation’s preventive efforts, Universal Orlando Resort will temporarily close its theme parks. The closure is effective at the close of business on Sunday, March 15. We anticipate remaining closed through the end of March – but will continue to evaluate the situation.Universal Orlando Press Release regarding the closure of the parks over Coronavirus fears
At the time of updating this article Busch Gardens in Tampa, Seaworld in Orlando nor Legoland in Winter Haven has announced any closures. With the rapidly changing situation and travel bans coming into effect worldwide we do expect them to fall in line with both Disney and Universal at some point.
What If You Have A Break Booked During This Time?
For trips booked through Disney and Universal direct, you are allowed to postpone your trip to a future date. Most British holidaymakers opt to go with another operator. If this is the case with you then you need to contact your tour operator directly to find out about their policy.
As the government hasn’t actually said that it advises against travel they are under no obligation to refund you. However, a lot of operators are allowing people to postpone their stays until a future date. Refunds will usually be dealt with on a case by case basis and you will be informed of any charges payable if you would like to cancel your trip entirely.
For ticket only bookings through the likes of Attraction Tickets Direct or other ticket brokers, all UK tickets are valid for this current year. If you are postponing until later in the year your tickets are still valid as long as you first use them to enter a park on or before New Year’s Eve. If you would like to postpone until next year please contact your ticket vendor to see if it would be possible to transfer your tickets to 2021. This may depend on the date that you purchased them.
Is It Just The Parks That Are Shut?
Currently, yes. All resort hotels at both Disney and Universal Orlando will remain open as will some dining establishments. All park operators are monitoring the situation and this may change based on the advice they receive from state health officials.
UPDATE: 09/03/20 – Orlando Theme Parks Respond Officially To Rising Concern Over Coronavirus (COVID-19)
Overnight since we published this article the main park operators have responded officially over the public’s rising concern about what they are doing to combat the spread of the virus to their visitors.
Disney’s Official Response
Disney World has updated its questions and answers page about everything they are doing with the message being relayed by Dr Pamela Hymel, Chief Medical Officer. Like all the parks, Disney is taking a proactive stance including but not limited to the following:
- Training for Cast Members, with ongoing reinforcement on a regular basis
- Defined cycles for frequent cleaning and disinfection of targeted areas
- Easy access to handwashing facilities and hand sanitizers
- Quick response to spills, trash and other situations
- End-of-day sanitation procedures for restroom, kitchen and other facilities
- Frequent cleaning and “wash down” of outdoor locations, including walkways and queues
You can read the full message on the Disney World Questions and Answers Page.
Universal Orlando Response
Up the road at Universal Orlando Resort, John Sprouls, executive vice president and chief administrative officer for Universal Parks & Resorts, shared an update for colleagues on the Universal Team Member website.
According to Attractions Magazine, he reiterated that all Universal Parks are following and working with officials in the industry. This includes encouraging best practices, as well as monitoring the situation as it develops. Like Disney, any team members that have flu-like symptoms are encouraged to stay home. Disney has also ordered some team members that visited north Italy as the virus was beginning to spread there to stay home according to wctv.tv, a Tallahassee based local news station.
Busch Gardens & Seaworld’s Response
Although Seaworld is yet to officially respond, Attractions Magazine goes on to say that the Seaworld Employee Website has a link to the official CDC website with their recommendations for staying safe. Busch Gardens in Tampa told the Tampa Bay Times that
“The health and safety of our guests, ambassadors and animals is our top priority,” said Rebecca Romzek. “In matters pertaining to public health, our parks take direction from the Florida Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control (CDC). We employ rigorous sanitation standards across our parks and will continue to collaborate with health officials, monitor the situation for changes and will act accordingly.”Offical Busch Gardens Spokesperson’s response to Tampa Bay Times
Julie Estrada, spokesperson for Merlin Entertainments, owners of Legoland parks worldwide also told the Tampa Bay Times the following
“We have informed our teams of coronavirus symptoms as well as the importance of good hygiene practices,” said Julie Estrada of Merlin Entertainments, which operates the park. “Like many businesses, we continue to monitor the situation closely and are in regular contact with local authorities so we may respond quickly to any developments.”Julie Estrada, Merlin Entertainments spokesperson to the Tampa Bay Times
UPDATE – 9/3/20: Coronavirus (COVID-19) Florida Latest Statistics
According to the Florida Department Of Health cases of Coronavirus (COVID-19) are rising throughout Florida (although not near Orlando currently). As of this morning, Monday 9th March, Coronavirus statistics for Florida were:
- 19 Positive Cases, 12 residents, 5 repatriated and 1 non-Florida resident
- 2 confirmed deaths
- 140 negative test results
- 115 pending results
- 302 people currently being monitored bringing the total so far to 1104
Theme Parks Ordered To Close
Governments worldwide have plans in place to slow the spread of the disease. France has just banned gatherings of more than 5000 people putting the operations of Disney’s only majority owned park outside of the USA, Disneyland Paris, in doubt. The park currently remains open but it’s being speculated that it could be forced to shut. The ban could also affect sporting events, large concerts and many smaller regional parks across France.
If Disneyland Paris closes it will join Disney’s Asia operations in Tokyo, Shanghai and Hong Kong who have been shut since late February. Shanghai and Hong Kong Parks are closed indefinitely while Tokyo Disney Resort will remain closed until at least 15th March, maybe longer. Along with large museums in affected areas, Legoland Japan will remain shuttered until 15th March as will Universal Studios Japan.
Disney World Operations As Normal – For Now
While Disney has been following the government advice in the areas it operates, Disney World in Orlando and Disneyland in California are both currently still open and operating as normal. The effects of COVID-19 will have deeper repercussions for the operations teams in the resorts which have a worldwide supply chain which is already being affected.
Hidden Effects Of Coronavirus (COVID-19)
Park employees are working hard at making merchandise shelves look a lot fuller than they actually are. A lot of theme park-specific merchandise is actually manufactured in China which has restrictions on the movement of people and goods. Already, a scheduled new pin release at Disneyland Paris to coincide with the new Pixar film Onward has been delayed because of problems securing the stock needed.
As the situation in China develops you may start noticing more and more empty shelves in the stores dotted around theme park resorts. Disney executives are allegedly meeting on a daily basis with industry leaders to talk about the continuing effects of Coronavirus worldwide. I’m sure it is the same for other park and attraction operators around Orlando.
Short Term Effects Of Coronavirus (COVID-19)
Should visitor numbers dwindle to any degree at Disney World, the most noticeable effects to you would see could be a tightening of the entertainment budgets. Parades could be scaled back, character meet and greet opportunities may be stopped or scaled back. Some rides may see a reduction in operating hours or days. Park operators still have budgets to stick to and these quick fixes in a quiet resort help to alleviate budget constraints while having minimal effect on park visitors.
Moving forward the situation is likely going to be very fluid. Keep a close check on the daily operating calendars of the parks ahead of your visit. Change your plans if you need to. The more you check before you leave, the fewer surprises you will have once you arrive.
Long Term Effects of Coronavirus (COVID-19)
It’s unlikely at this point in time but in the long term planned expansions could be put on hold or scaled back should the closures drag on. Disney’s finance chief Christine McCarthy has said the company expects a loss of around $175 million for the Asia Parks division should they remain closed for 2 months. This is putting a strain on already tight budgets. Universal Studios in Singapore is open but guests are reporting that it is a relative ghost town as people stay away in rational fear of spreading the virus.
Disney World is the backbone of the parks division for Disney. They usually manage to fare quite well in a recession. Ratatouille at EPCOT is nearing completion following a more than 2-year build. The work that is currently ongoing around World Showcase that has only just started could get scaled back to some degree should visitor numbers fall as dramatically as they have done in Asia. Disney World also has its 50th Birthday looming on the horizon so it’s hard to see many of the promises being pushed back.
Will Disney World and Universal Studios Close?
Again, very hard to foresee at the moment. Florida has 2 confirmed cases while 40 have been reported throughout California. The US has one of the most stringent immigration systems in place. Disney World is not an important market for Asian visitors so foot traffic from those countries is already minimal. Screening for visitors from affected areas is already at even higher scrutiny. The knock-on effect of visitors to Disneyland where there is a much higher local following is minimal. Disney World’s most important overseas markets are the UK, Brazil, Canada, Mexico and Argentina respectively. These countries have seen minimal cases compared to countries in Asia.
Should the virus spread rapidly through the tourism corridor in Orlando you can expect all major park operators: Disney, Universal and Seaworld to be in unison about when gates will be closed. For now, it’s very much business as usual at all the parks and other attractions in the Greater Orlando Area.
Should I cancel My Orlando Trip If I Am Already Booked?
Were are not going to say yes or no either way. Everyone has personal reasons for wanting to go or not. What we will say is to follow the advice of your respective country’s tourism ministry. If you already have a trip planned and want to cancel it, your operator is under no obligation to refund you if they have not been advised to do so by the Foreign Office. The latest travel advice for UK travellers can be found on their website.
Coronavirus (COVID-19) In Perspective
What is important is putting the numbers for Coronavirus or COVID-19 into perspective. The worst day so far for Coronavirus (COVID-19) related deaths was 10th February when 108 people died.
On the same day 26,283 people died of Cancer, 24,641 people died of heart disease and 4,300 people died from diabetes. Yes, COVID-19 is a rapidly developing situation and we need to do everything we can to stop it spreading. Looking at it in perspective, it has a way to go.
Stopping The Spread Of COVID-19 (Coronavirus)
As with all viruses, personal hygiene is important. The official NHS website has the most up to date information on the disease for UK travellers. Wash your hands as often as is practically possible. Remember, if you have a runny nose to start you have a common cold, Coronavirus is more like pneumonia and there is no runny nose but a dry cough. It doesn’t like hot temperatures but can survive for up to 12 hours on metal surfaces and fabric. It can only last for around 10 minutes on your hands hence washing with antibacterial soap or hand sanitizer. It’s for this reason that you will notice more hand sanitizer stations dotted around the theme parks that remain open.
If you have a Disney World trip planned and the Foreign Office has not advised against travel, by all means, go and have a wonderful time. You may even find that you get more done than you expected if visitor numbers start to dwindle around the resort. Simple hygiene tips listed above will help protect you and stop the spread of the disease and always follow the direction of park personnel or tour representatives if the situation changes.
If you really want to cancel or postpone your trip look into your rights first and seek advice. Package holidays should be covered under the ABTA scheme if your operator is a member. If you paid on a credit card your card issuer is equally as liable as the merchant so contact them as well. Holidays booked separately may not be covered under ABTA but your airline could be part of the IATA Scheme so you may be able to reclaim some the cost through them.
If you have yet to book, monitor the situation and make sure that you are covered by your operator or insurance company should your plans have to change suddenly. Yes, Coronavirus should be taken seriously but in perspective.
For further reading please check these pages to help you make a balanced decision before you travel.
All British Passport Holders should check this website before they travel for the most up to date advice for the country you are visiting.
For official statistics on the state of Coronavirus throughout Orlando and Florida