Although Florida is suffering one of the largest coronavirus outbreaks in the US, the Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom in Orlando are set to open their gates to visitors with pre-booked reservations from 11 July.
Over 200,000 confirmed cases of the virus and more than 4,000 deaths have been recorded in the Sunshine State alone.
Around 20,000 furloughed staff will be returning to The Happiest Place on Earth, which has implemented social distancing measures, “vigorous” cleaning regimes and reduced capacity since its closure in mid-March.
Safety protocols include plexiglass screens where guests queue, spaced out seating on rides, reduced capacity dining and mandatory temperature checks and face masks for all.
“There’s absolutely people that are nervous, when you hear the reports of the virus, the statistics, but what they see every day is Disney taking the steps necessary to keep them and the guests safe,” Matt Hollis, head of the Services Trades Council Union (STCU) collective which represents 43,000 Disney World employees, told the Guardian.
“There’s certainly going to be a learning curve as we learn the new normal, but the cast members [the title given to Disney World employees] will do everything they can to adapt with the new measures designed to keep everyone safe.”
He added: “They’re Disney workers. They love what they do, they certainly want to be able to do it in a safe environment.”
Not everyone is convinced, however. An online petition on moveon.org, which claims to be from “concerned cast members”, is approaching 20,000 signatures. It urges the state’s governor Rob DeSantis and other officials to delay the park’s reopening “until it’s safe”.
“While theme parks are a great way to relax and enjoy free time, it is a non-essential business; it is not fair to the people who work there to risk their lives, especially if they are at risk or have family members who are at risk. People are more important than making a profit,” it reads.
DeSantis has been criticised for his response to the pandemic, including his refusal to implement a state-wide face mask policy.
An ally of Donald Trump, DeSantis described Disney’s plan as “very, very thorough”.
“Disney, I have no doubt, is going to be a safe environment,” he said at a press conference this week.
“I think that where you start to see the spread is just in social situations where people let their guard down. Usually like a private party or something like that,” he said.
Cases of Covid-19 continue to soar in the US, where more than 132,000 people have died so far, more than any other country in the world.