Disney World Reopening Stumbles, as Social Distancing Proves Tricky

“This is NOT OKAY, I’m not even in the park yet. I’m not sure if I’m going to go in now,” Carlye Wisel says

Walt Disney World
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Disney World opened on Saturday amid a rise in Florida coronavirus cases and criticism from cast members and outside observers. The park seemed to have a rocky start, with overcrowded lines outside of the park where one guest said, “There is absolutely no distancing.”

The happiest place on Earth ensured people that it had practices in place, such as CDC recommended social distancing, to promote the health and safety of guests. Theme Park journalist Carlye Wisel, however, attended the park on opening day and said she was not confident in what she experienced.

Wisel posted a video to Instagram from outside of the park that showed long lines of people and crowded walkways, where the common practice of staying 6-feet apart did not appear to be happening.

“This is NOT OKAY, I’m not even in the park yet. I’m not sure if I’m going to go in now,” Wisel wrote on her Instagram story, which was later shared on Twitter. “The onus is on the park… This is an unexpected problem and bottleneck that is not being fixed quickly enough, I’m sitting here and there’s still no effort to enforce social distancing.”

Inside the park things seemed to go smoother. Journalist Brooke Geiger McDonald posted photos from outside of the Pirates of the Caribbean ride of guest practicing social distancing in line despite the rain.

And videos she posted show a relatively small number of guests walking around the park and keeping their distance from other groups.

Disney was forced to close its Orlando park and resort in March, along with its Disneyland park in California. As a result, Disney’s parks business took a roughly $1 billion hit to operating income during its most recent quarter. Last month Disney put the kibosh on plans to reopen its Disneyland park after California Gov. Gavin Newsom retreated from previous reopening plans.

Josh D’Amaro, the new chairman of Disney’s parks, experiences and products business, told CNN Business on Saturday, “We are in a new normal. The world is a different place, but we feel really prepared to operate in this new environment.

“I’m exceptionally proud of this group in terms of what they’ve put together from a protocol perspective and being able to open in a phased and really responsible way,” he continued. “I had a chance to walk Main Street just a few minutes ago. It feels really good in the park.”

Disney World has been pushing its safety protocol as it prepared to reopen, requiring guests and cast members to wear face masks, submit to temperature screenings before entering — in addition to at-home temperature checks — and obey physical distancing guidelines. Disney also temporarily canceled all parades, firework shows, character greetings and kids play areas. The theme park even established a task force to enforce guests to wear masks and practice social distancing.