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Editorial: What theme park attractions need to do to reopen

by Attractions Magazine Staff

How will the theme parks and individual attractions need to change in order to safely reopen? The way it’s looking now, if the majority of the theme parks, including Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando, reopen in June 2020, what will need to be done to keep guests from catching and spreading the coronavirus (COVID-19)?

Some theme park attractions place guests in small rooms together. How can this happen while coronavirus is a problem?

Reporter David Martin from Fox 35 Orlando posed that question to us last Friday morning for a segment to air today, April 20, 2020. He asked three of us at “Attractions Magazine” to each pick three different Walt Disney World and three non-Disney Orlando attractions and rides to discuss some of the unique aspects of those attractions and how they may need to change to help guests not only feel safe, but be safe and keep their social distance from each other.

I’ll start off by saying there are some things that will be the same for every attraction: queues will need to be marked off every six feet or more so guests know where to stand and ride vehicles and anything touched by guests will need wiped down with disinfectant wipes after each ride.

Disney Executive Chairman Bob Iger recently said they are considering temperature checks as guests enter the theme parks. While this is one measure that may help, it wouldn’t mean no one in the parks has the virus, as guests and employees may have it but not realize it. If every guest and employee could be tested to see if they are carrying the virus each time they enter the park, nothing would need to change inside the parks at all, but the tests aren’t available for that at this time and it appears they won’t be that widely available in June either.

As television time is limited, we decided to write out our full answers and present them to you here. These are our thoughts:


Editor & Publisher Matt Roseboom

The Twilight Zone Tower of Terror
Disney’s Hollywood Studios

The queue leading up to the preshow room should be marked so guests remain spaced at least six feet apart. The preshow will either need to be not running, or very few guests will be able to be let in at a time in order for them to have enough room to space themselves out. The rest of the queue can be spaced out.

The lineup to enter the elevator and the elevator itself keeps guests in close contact. They may need to limit each elevator to one party or two, splitting them to each side of the elevator.

The exit is long and goes through a gift shop, but guests should be able to space themselves out the whole way. The area where you see your photo may need to be turned off to avoid crowding.

It’s a Small World
Magic Kingdom

The queue can keep guests spaced out using some sort of markers on the floors. 

The boat rows are pretty close together, so in order to keep guests spread out, they may need to only load the front and back of each boat. The boat seats will need wiped down after each ride.

The exit is pretty short and should allow guests to easily stay away from each other.

Soarin’
Epcot

Guests should be spaced apart using markers in the queue, leading up to the grouping area. They will need to space guests out in the preshow area, as this preshow gives safety information and cannot simply be skipped.

The spacing out of the preshow area will also help space guests out when getting on the ride vehicle. There will need to be at least a couple of empty seats between each party. 

Although there are guests above you, they aren’t directly above you, so this should help with any possible cough or sneeze particles floating down onto you, but it’s still possible. This is where masks will help, but everyone would have to wear one.

The guests should be pulsed out of the attraction and not all let go at once to avoid them crowding the exit hallways.

Jurassic Park River Adventure
Universal’s Islands of Adventure

As you get in the queue for the ride, different parties will need to be spaced out using markers along the way. 

Since the boats seat five people per row and have five rows, they will need to be spaced out. The easiest way to do this is to seat parties at the front and back, leaving the middle rows empty. Team members will need to wipe down the seats and restraints after each boatload.

Since you get splashed on this ride, there is the potential that someone who has the virus could get splashed and that water could drain or splash into the river and could get splashed back up onto you. They have a filtration system, but all of the water isn’t filtered between each boat and we don’t know if the filtration would filter out the virus. That said, the CDC says “There is no evidence that COVID-19 can be spread to humans through the use of pools, hot tubs or spas, or water playgrounds.”

The ride exits through the gift shop, but they can make a clear path down the middle of the store so guests can exit using social distancing. Also at the exit is the area where you get your ride photo. This may need to be shut down, as spread out guests in line may block other exiting guests.

Mako
SeaWorld Orlando

The queue should be spaced out using markers. Guests will not be able to wait for the front row as it may cause too much of a back-up with them spaced out.

The roller coaster seats and restraints will need to be wiped down between each ride. Guests will need to be spaced out to every other row. 

The ride exits through the gift shop, but they can make a clear path down the middle of the store so guests can exit using social distancing. Also at the exit is the area where you get your ride photo. This may need to be shut down, as if guests are lined up and spread out, they may block other guests.

Harry Potter and the Escape from Gringotts
Universal Studios Florida

The queue leading up to the first preshow will need to be spaced out using some sort of markers. The first preshow will either need to be not running, or very few guests will be able to be let in at a time in order for them to have enough room to space themselves out. The same is true of the second preshow, the “elevator”.

The “elevator” is actually just a room you pass through, so it could be turned off and the doors on either side could just stay open allowing guests to pass right through. This would ruin the magic, but would allow them to keep the capacity up. The 3D glasses are already cleaned between each use, so as long as the cleaner can kill the virus, nothing needs to change except maybe to have team members handing out the glasses, so no one can try a pair on then put them back. The rest of the queue, including the staircase can keep guests spread out.

The guests will need to be spaced out on the ride vehicle, leaving some seats and/or rows empty. We assume the water squirted on guests during the ride is clean. Each ride vehicle will need wiped down after each run-through.

The exit to the ride is pretty straightforward, so it shouldn’t be a problem as long as guests exiting are spaced out.


Managing Editor Brittani Tuttle

Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance
Disney’s Hollywood Studios

For the groundbreaking Star Wars attraction at Disney’s Hollywood Studios, the entire experience will need to change to some degree.

Guests will likely have to be pulsed through the queue, as it is made up of mostly tight spaces, and groups for each preshow sequence will have to be less than 10 with cast members enforcing social distancing. Some of the preshow elements, like the shuttle transport, might have to be eliminated to keep guests moving.

On the actual ride, it is possible that only one party will be able to be accommodated per vehicle. All of the seatbelts, buckles, and handrails will need to be wiped down between each group of riders, if possible.

Pirates of the Caribbean
Magic Kingdom

The queue for Pirates of the Caribbean is another long, winding path with occasional tight spaces, so pulsing the line would also be applicable here.

The boats that riders board are rather large, so it would be easy to group one party of two at the front and another party of two at the back, or space out a single party per boat.

Loading every other boat is a possible option to help cast members have the time to efficiently clean and disinfect between riders.

The Haunted Mansion
Magic Kingdom

The Haunted Mansion is a bit trickier, as you have a major portion of the preshow involving cramming a large number of people into a small, dark room.

The queue for this attraction is long, which is forgiving if cast members choose to space guests out with six feet between each party. The Stretching Room will likely have to be kept open to funnel guests through without stopping. The line will need to be pulsed to some degree to avoid the bottleneck situation that happens after the Stretching Room and before the loading area.

Once in the actual ride vehicles, since they normally only accommodate two riders or two adults with one small child and are continuously moving, guests are kept relatively distant from one another. Should Disney want to take extra precautions, they can always load every other doom buggy.

Cast members will also have to come up with an efficient way to clean the safety bars of the doom buggies between riders on this ghostly tour.

Hogwarts Express
Universal Orlando

The Hogwarts Express will be a little bit easier for guests and team members loading the attraction, as the main issue comes from the queue. Guests will have to be spaced out according to social distancing rules, as the queue can get quite cramped in the winding walkways on busy days.

Once ready to board the train, it is possible that team members will only load one party per cabin, and not mix parties, which can cause the line to get longer than usual.

Revenge of the Mummy
Universal Studios Florida

On Revenge of the Mummy, social distancing will have to be enforced in the queue, either by tape markers on the ground or by team members pulsing the line every few guests.

On the attraction itself, the ride vehicles have four rows of four seats each, which could allow for one party per vehicle, with everyone spread out to opposite sides of each row. Larger parties would have to be broken up and split between two vehicles.

There would likely not be an option for single rider on this attraction, and no mixing of parties allowed. If possible, team members can wipe down all touchable surfaces between riders.

The Wheel
Icon Park

The Wheel at Icon Park might be a bit easier to adjust for social distancing. Single parties can be loaded to their own capsule, with every other capsule loaded to give employees a chance to clean and disinfect them after use. Like with many other large-capacity rides and attractions, party-mixing should be avoided.


Reporter Tharin White

Space Mountain
Magic Kingdom

Space Mountain would actually be a simpler attraction to enforce distancing with. Each vehicle can hold a maximum of six guests and everyone is separated slightly. A family of four or more could be given a vehicle to themselves. Parties of two could be separated with two in the front-most seats and two in the back most seats. This would be a drop in ride efficiency, but it would allow the ride portion to remain relatively the same.

Due to the high output of the attraction though, it is highly unlikely that the vehicles could be cleaned before each new guest. But, ride vehicles could get multiple deep cleans in storage throughout the day.

The indoor queue could be slightly modified to make guests take every other switchback and add more distancing. 

Flight of Passage
Disney’s Animal Kingdom

The enormous queue could be fully extended each day to allow the most amount of room for guests to distance themselves. The attraction itself has tons of close areas and touching though.

The mandatory safety pre-show encloses you in a small room shoulder-to-shoulder with other guests. The only real solution would be to send in less guests and leave open spots. There could be one open spot in between, at minimum, per party.

If safety required it, technically it could be possible to have a custodial cast member waiting at the ride exit on each floor and section of the building. Then, when each ride ends, they run in and clean the handlebars of each seat. It would require a huge new set of custodial cast members and would cause a big drop in ride efficiency. But it could work.

Character Meet and Greets
Disney Theme Parks

A few weeks before the closures, Disney characters onboard the Disney Cruise Line ships were doing modified meet and greets. Guests could meet the characters, wave hello and have an interaction. But there was no hugging and the character was the only one making contact. Hands on backs was the most a character did with a family.

Having no contact doesn’t have to ruin the experience with a character. Take a look at the wild success of Star Wars characters like Darth Vader, Kylo Ren, and Stormtroopers. Guests flock to see them, yet even before all of this, it was heavily enforced that there is no contact. Getting a hug or a high five is certainly a memorable moment with Mickey and friends, but it is not essential to meeting them. 

Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure
Universal’s Islands of Adventure

Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure quickly became one of Universal Orlando’s biggest attractions when it opened last year. The ride is incredible, and requires precise timing for everything to work. The negative to precise timing is that when it isn’t met, the attraction breaks down. Therefore, from what we have seen, the ride has to keep moving down the loading platform with minimal delays.

This means that cleaning the vehicle between each ride would be nearly impossible. They could have a team member waiting to quickly wipe the handlebars, but that is most likely the most they could do. They could also take out a few coaster trains to give more breathing room in between each vehicle. The queue should also be fully extended to not pack guests into the enclosed areas of the queue. 

Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit
Universal Studios Florida

Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit runs very similar to Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure. Both have a moving platform and use highly efficient load and unload procedures to maximize guest output.

Fewer trains would allow more breathing room to let team members have time to wipe the lap restraints. But I think a second procedure should also be enforced. The ride allows you pick a custom song for the ride. If the screen cannot be properly cleaned every time, it should be deactivated temporarily. The coaster is a fun and thrilling attraction without custom songs. For the time being, Universal could cover the touch screens and have a random assortment of three to five songs randomly play with each vehicle. 

Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin
SeaWorld Orlando

Antarctica: Empire of the Penguin would not be a super difficult attraction to enforce social distancing. The ride holds a maximum of eight guests, four in the front and four in the back. Families of four or less could be given their own row with single riders being paired with parties of two. This would give that extra seat distance of room.

Measures could be done to the extreme and require the back row not be used at all unless a single party is larger than four. The first large pre-show room could have a reduced capacity to allow distancing. And the second smaller pre-show could keep the doors open to allow for more room or even let guests bypass that part all together. 


After we filmed our responses on Friday, word got out about a survey Universal Orlando was sending to some former guests, asking if they would be comfortable with some of these same suggestions we’ve made here.

What do you think? Would you be OK visiting if these measures were implemented? Do you have any other ideas about what could be done to keep everyone safe and virus-free?

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2 comments

Kris R April 20, 2020 - 7:21 pm

Hi. I’m a subscriber and love your magazine so I have nothing but respect for all of you. But I’ll be honest, I don’t support many of these suggestions or think they’re feasible or reasonable. I completely understand and respect the need of many guests and employees to “feel” safe, and for the parks to be cautious. But many, if not all, of these measures would be close to suicidal for the parks. For example, would the parks seriously eject or otherwise penalize customers who keep getting too close to other guests? What will they do, beyond denying admissions, to a guest who appears to have a fever? Even assuming virtual queues, think of how long it will take if literally every ride has to be cleaned after every single guest. Will all theater type shows (e.g. Hall of Presidents, Philharmagic) have to be closed? Think about the Skyliner, buses, trams, etc. I think that deep down inside you all know that it’s not feasible to meaningfully clean them after every guest gets up. And is there any meaningful difference between those and the rides in terms of exposure?

Recall that many guests would have arrived in Orlando after taking a flight to MCO, going through the airport, getting into an Uber, Magical Express, etc. Let’s be honest, most of these measures would be nothing but feel good measures.

And then in terms of lines, if every ride, food stand, bathroom, restaurant entrance (assuming those are open), popcorn stand, caricature portrait, character photo experience, etc. has a line where every guest is six-feet/1 meter from the next guests, on top of the rides, everywhere else in the parks will be nothing but lines and chaos.

If you’re wondering what I would propose, I would say that the parks will either have to stay closed much longer than the early Summer dates being rumored now, or guests will have to take some measure of risk. While many of us would accept nearly any price or grief to be in the parks, for the average guest who goes only once in 5 years after a lot of savings, dealing with endless lines, spacing, virtual queues, closed rides, no parades, limited amenities, etc., this will be nothing but aggravation and disappointment. Safety comes first, of course, but wouldn’t it be better to just wait until the parks get their act together and/or fears of the virus pass rather than deal with all this hassle?

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Krazykat_randi April 20, 2020 - 11:36 pm

There is absolutely no way any of this will work. People will simply stop going to the parks. If they have to cut the number of people in the parks, they will never make enough money to stay afloat. It all sounds good until you get down to the dollars. The lines would be a mile long. And who wants to go to a park when there is a chance they won’t be able to do anything but walk around because the lines are limited. None of the restaurants will be able to survive. Most of them barely make it as it is.

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