August 15, 2020

Disney World Opens Its Gates, With Virus Numbers Rising

After months of home quarantining, the chance to have some wholesome fun and perhaps touch a childhood memory seemed to outweigh the risk of catching the virus for visitors. “A Welcome Respite” read a headline in The Orlando Sentinel about Disney’s reopening.

“We will take any amount of normalcy and any amount of joy that we can get,” Jose Villanueva said as he rested in the shade in Tomorrowland with his wife, Kacie. “I know that some people are upset about having to wear a mask or there being no fireworks. For us, we feel lucky to be here. This was the first thing that made us feel like we could leave our house and still feel safe.”


“It’s Disney,” Ms. Villanueva said. The couple made the trek to Florida from their home in Laurinburg, N.C.

That kind of optimism is the foundation of the Disney experience. In case the wafting smell of fresh fudge and pipe-organ soundtrack don’t immediately jolt you into another dimension, there are signs at the entrances reminding visitors, “Here you leave today and enter the world of yesterday, tomorrow and fantasy.” Walt Disney’s original theme park designers spoke about the properties as selling reassurance. No matter how terrible things seem outside the gates, here is a place where everything is OK: people are nice, the windows all sparkle, there are stuffed animals to cuddle, the speedway cars never run out of gas.

To safely reopen, however, the Magic Kingdom had to allow some of the grimness of pandemic life to puncture the utopian fantasy. To ward off germs, Disney now leaves rows of seats empty on rides like Pirates of the Caribbean. Employees constantly disinfect ride vehicles and lap bars. Face masks are mandatory, and, for some visitors, the coverings quickly grew wet with sweat.

“It would be a lot more fun without having to wear one,” Ivan Chanchavac, 14, said as he hopped off the Jungle Cruise.

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