This post contains coverage of COVID-19 shutdown and its effects on Orlando. Further re-opening updates can be found by viewing the “COVID-19” blog category.
Disney Adds Closure Warning to their Website
After announcing a phased opening for Disney Springs, Walt Disney World released additional information on their COVID-19 closures. The advisory states that as operations resume, capacity will be limited and some experiences may remain modified or unavailable to promote social distancing.
Disney Springs to Begin Phased Re-Opening on May 20
Florida Mall, Vineland, and International Drive Outlets Re-Open
Three Orlando malls (Florida Mall, Vineland Premium Outlets, and International Premium Outlets) have re-opened. Each mall is using social distancing and sanitation guidelines to safeguard the well-being of their guests – including the distribution of masks and sanitizing wipes. Shoppers can even have their temperature tested at the Mall Office.
Escape Game Re-Opens Today, May 4th
Read our article here.
Phase 1 to Begin May 4th
Governor DeSantis announces initial guidelines for Florida’s re-opening! Read more here.
Still No Re-Opening Guidance from the Governor
With the “Stay at Home” orders expiring this week, Floridians are still waiting on concrete guidelines from the governor’s office and task force. During today’s conference at Tampa General Hospital, the governor reiterated that our economy’s return will be taken in “baby steps” to reduce the chance of the virus’ resurgence. You can read more about the press conference here.
DeSantis’ Re-Open Florida Task Force Looking for Public Opinion
The task force has launched a comment submission form so that the general public can submit their ideas to safely return the state to a normal mode of operation. Comments can be submitted anonymously, and the form has the capability to accept attached files. You can find the form and submit your own suggestions here.
Universal to Furlough Part-time, Hourly Employees/Begin Auto-Enrollment for Unemployment Benefits May 3
While some Walt Disney World employees were furloughed last week, Universal Orlando has thus far been able to continue issuing pay checks (albeit at 80% for most of their workforce). That will change on May 3 when part-time, hourly workers will be furloughed indefinitely due to the coronavirus closures.
Furloughed employees will be auto-enrolled in Florida’s unemployment system in an effort to reduce their employees’ stressors during this difficult time. Disney previously announced that it would also be auto-enrolling their employees in the program. Both theme park companies are also covering any employee benefits cost. Governor DeSantis specified that theme park employees would not take precedence over those that are already completing the unemployment enrollment process.
COVID-19’s Effects on Smaller Orlando Attractions
As the shutdown continues without any concrete ending date, small attractions are facing some tough decisions. According to Amanda Dukes on Wesh.com, Gatorland has managed to continue paying 80% of their employees’ salaries as well as adequately care for their animals during this time. However, park officials report that they’ve already spent close to half of their savings. If the shutdown continues to stretch too far into the summer, they may be facing some tough choices.
Icon Park on International Drive, home of the wheel and SeaLife Aquarium, has furloughed the majority of their employees until they are allowed to reopen. When that day comes, expect individuals and families to be placed in separate pods in order to maintain social distancing and cleanliness standards on the wheel.
Governor DeSantis’ Re-Open Florida Task Force is scheduled to release a report this afternoon. Stay tuned for details.
**Updated to add: The task force did not have any firm timelines, dates, or plans to announce today. They will continue working throughout the weekend as the current “Safer at Home” order ends April 30.**
Universal President Sends Letter to Team Members
New Letter by Bill Davis at @UniversalORL to TMs is starting that they “are currently looking at many different options and scenarios for what our operation might look like when it is safe to reopen.”— AllCentralFlorida (@AllCentralFla) April 21, 2020
The letter also doesn’t give any indication to when they think they’ll reopen. pic.twitter.com/iA32Ts1b5S
You can see the entire letter below. Some of the rumored operational changes necessary to reopen include daily temperature checks, masks, and gloves for front of the house employees, rapid testing for guests, virtual queueing, and reduced park capacity.
Universal Will Remain Closed Through At Least May 31
Universal Orlando Resort (including the theme parks, hotels, and CityWalk) will remain closed through at least May 31. Universal has said that all employees will be paid until April 19th. At that point, most will be asked to take a pay cut of 20% and adjust their work accordingly. Part-time workers will be furloughed as of May 3.
Disney Suspends Remaining Internships and June Arrivals
While most college program students have already returned home, cultural representatives (those that staff the countries throughout Epcot’s World Showcase) and some interns remained in Orlando. As of April 18, these programs will be suspended. Housing funds will be waived immediately, and Disney will work with individual students to ensure their safe return travel.
Additionally, June programs will not begin as scheduled. Students will be refunded any fees and are welcome to reapply when the program reopens. See the below statement from a Disney Programs Twitter account.
Disney Furloughs Non-Essential Employees
Disney will furlough all non-essential employees beginning April 19. Employees will be able to retain their insurance and health benefits, and Disney will pay their healthcare premiums during this time. Employees can also choose to take any accrued PTO as soon as the furlough begins.
3/27/20 4:51PM – SeaWorld Furloughs 90% of Employees as of April 1st
Photo Report: Here are some scenes from closed/empty tourist areas around town.
Disclaimer: These pictures were taken from my car. The windows were rolled up. I never got out, and I only took pictures from stoplights and parking lots when my foot was firmly placed on the brake.
And finally, Ladies and Gentlemen, I present to you International Drive – without traffic:
Universal Orlando extends its closures through April 19th. This includes the theme parks, CityWalk, and the hotels. Employees will continue to be paid through this date.
Orange County Mayor Jerry Demmings announced today that a two-week stay at home order for Orange County residents will begin at 11pm Thursday, March 26. While this is now a government mandate, it doesn’t appear that much will change for those of us practicing social distancing. We can still go grocery shopping, get takeout, and exercise outside. Restaurant dining rooms are already closed, and most of us are already working from home.
RunDisney has decided to cancel the Star Wars Rival Run Weekend originally scheduled April 16-19.
With schools being closed until April 15 and the cancellation of this race, it’s expected that Disney will extend the closure of their theme parks from the end of March until sometime in April. That extension has not yet been announced or confirmed, but it’s seeming ever more likely.
From Governor DeSantis has issued an executive order that all restaurants will cease dine-in service. Take out and delivery can still operate.
Mayor Jerry Demmings has issued a curfew for all Orange County residents. Curfews will begin at 11pm and end at 5am daily.
Splitsville and Chef Art Smith’s Homecomin’ at Disney Springs have terminated all of their employees. I know there’s a lot of backlash about this decision, but it may be for the best. If the company has decided it can’t pay its employees through the closure, termination allows them to collect unemployment in the meantime.
Malls are closed throughout Orlando.
Many of our local restaurants and businesses have either changed their business model or have decided to close. Here’s an email from Tijuana Flats, an Orlando-based Tex-Mex chain:
And my gym is now closed completely:
Signs like this are popping up all over the country I’m sure.
And finally, it looks like I’ll be attempting to homeschool my children for at least the next month. Thankfully, my oldest is only in VPK. I can handle letters and colors.
On March 20, Disney Springs was set to begin preview performances for a brand new Cirque du Soleil show called “Drawn to Life.” The show, inspired by Disney animation, features 10 acrobatic acts telling the story of a grieving girl’s journey to finish her late father’s last work. The preview shows and opening date will be postponed until further notice due to coronavirus.
Landry’s Restaurants have closed and furloughed their employees for the duration of the crisis. Meaning that, while the restaurants are closed their employees will not be paid. Employees can file for unemployment or find another alternative during the crisis.
JUST IN: @Gatorland Orlando, the “Alligator Capital of the World,” has announced it will temporarily close starting March 18 due to #coronavirus concerns. The park will do daily Facebook Live videos so fans can have “virtual visits” to Gatorland and learn about its animals. pic.twitter.com/N8HPzkVxm2— Ashley Carter (@AshleyLCarter1) March 17, 2020
I just received this email from Disney Destinations:
There’s nothing in this email that we didn’t already know, but I find it interesting that some retailers and restaurants may remain open. WDW Magic reports that operating restaurants include Chicken Guy, STK, Planet Hollywood, and Earl of Sandwich. The Polite Pig is offering take out service from the bar.
Stores operating include Super Dry, Ron Jon, Chapel Hats, Havainas, Pele Soccer, and Sosa Cigar. WDW Magic is also reporting that the crowds are very low.
© WDW Magic © WDW Magic
++3/16/20 10:37PM Updates++
Driving around Walt Disney World after all parks are closed. (Facebook live video posted by The Disney Nerds Podcast)
Good news for annual pass holders: All of the theme parks have announced that expiration dates will be extended. Disney and Universal will extend passes based on the number of days the parks are actually closed. SeaWorld will extend passes for one month.
Here’s a unique view from the Port Canaveral webcam showing five ships docked together:
++3/16/20 3:50PM Updates++
Universal Citywalk will close at midnight tonight, March 16. Universal Hotels will close on Friday, March 20 at 5pm.
Here are some shots of the Universal parks on their first day without guests:
Here's an aerial look at Universal Studios Florida this morning, which along with Universal's Islands of Adventure, is closed through the end of the month due to #coronavirus concerns. pic.twitter.com/dftIKY2Knz— Ashley Carter (@AshleyLCarter1) March 16, 2020
As you may know, Walt Disney World suspended all current college and culinary programs until further notice. Now, I completely understand this measure. College program students (called CP’s) are housed in apartments with multiple bedrooms and double occupancy in each room. With the parks closed for at least two weeks, what else will these kids have to do? PARTY! By closing the housing and program early, Disney successfully neutralized a veritable breeding ground for the spread of this disease.
But that doesn’t mean it’s easy for the CP’s. The announcement was made on March 14. The parks closed at the end of the day March 15, and everyone has to be out of the dorms by 11am on March 18. Understandably, CP’s aren’t feeling great about the decision. Here’s a video taken during Magic Kingdom’s final performance of “Happily Ever After” that sums it up (warning: language).
from the CP Facebook groups from last night. I am DYING pic.twitter.com/epYLuc1qMP— Bretatouille (@Schmoofy) March 16, 2020
++Updated 3/16/20 AM++
Walt Disney World will close Disney Springs effective 3/17. Hotels (including Vero Beach) will follow 3/20. Hilton Head and Aulani DVC resorts remain open at this time. Cast members are still getting paid through the closure. While these closures have only currently been posted through the end of March, this is an ever evolving situation.
Also, Universal is delaying the opening of its new resort:
Today marks the first day of theme parks closures due to COVID-19. I went to Universal last night for one last ride on Hagrid’s (posted 60, actual 75 minutes wait). Other than a few extra hand sanitizing stations, you’d barely know anything was different. The entrance gate was still using the finger scanners with a valid ticket. No sanitizing wipe or other cleanliness measures were offered. Honestly, this more than anything convinces me that the parks really do need to be closed during this time. Those finger scanners are used by every single guest, no matter if it’s an annual pass or day ticket. If anyone is going to contract COVID-19 at a theme park, that’s where it’s going to happen.
On a happier note, Walt Disney World brought out as many characters as possible for one last goodbye before the closure. See Attractions’ Magazine’s video below:
Since my coverage of this event began (4 days ago), the number of positive COVID-19 cases within the state have risen from 35 to 149. Publix Supermarkets are now closing nightly at 8pm, and our local Wal-Marts are running reduced hours to give employees time to recover the store after customers have finished cleaning their shelves.
Most restaurants are still open, but some are moving to drive-thru or carry-out only. Some are finding other ways to increase protection without completely changing their service models.
++3/13/20 COVID-19 in Orlando++
-SeaWorld Orlando has also announced its closure as of 3/13
Well, I really didn’t think I’d be writing article so soon (if at all), but here we are. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando have announced closures from end of business Sunday, March 15 through (at least) the end of the month. Disney Cruise Line has also suspended all cruises sailing from Saturday March 14-31. Weirdly, Disney Springs and Universal CityWalk will remain open along with the resorts’ hotels. (Disney and Universal have announced that they will continue to pay their employees through the closure.)
Given COVID-19’s widespread outbreaks, these closures were not necessarily unexpected – but we certainly didn’t expect to see them this soon. As of this writing, Florida has only seen 35 positive cases of the virus while California, on the other hand, has seen 198. I know I assumed Florida would have to be more severely impacted before we’d see widespread closures.
At the end of the day though, I’m glad these closures are happening now. With multiple sports leagues cancelling games, schools closing, and event cancellations all over the country, we all need to do what we can to beat COVID-19 and return the world to normalcy.