Walt Disney World has been gradually updating loading procedures for numerous rides, including Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster Starring Aerosmith, Expedition Everest and Slinky Dog Dash, loading guests into empty seats in every row previously used to socially distance amid the continuing coronavirus pandemic – a change in the parks’ initial health and safety protocol upon its reopening in July.
By Emily Ryan
According to a representative from Disney, this is not a new phase of reopening, but an ongoing evolution of park practices. This choice was, according to Disney, made with the support of local Florida health officials and those specific rides were selected for having higher backs that create a physical divider between parties.
Guests noticed the change and began posting photos to social media of ride vehicles at full capacity.
Twitter user @disneyxc tweeted a photo of the Expedition Everest boarding area at Disney’s Animal Kingdom on Dec. 10 with the caption, “Expedition Everest is loading every row.” A similar photo was shared on Twitter of the Rock ‘n’ Roller Coaster boarding area at Disney’s Hollywood Studios on Dec. 15, to which user @magicbandmaniac responded, “They were doing this on Slinky Dog Dash to[sic] yesterday.”
This change in Disney Park protocols follows similarly to that of other nearby theme parks, including Universal Orlando, which have been loading both Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit and The Incredible Hulk coasters to capacity since September. Prior to September, parties were seated in every other row; however, they are now no longer separated one row apart from another. In addition, plexiglass barriers have been added to offer additional separation between guests waiting in the queues.
Universal Orlando confirmed the change on Sept. 11 after a user on Twitter asked why they were no longer socially distancing between parties on rides and stated they wanted to cancel their park passes due to the “irresponsible” new policy.
Universal Orlando responded, saying, “We have been planning toward this for months as part of the next step of our reopening procedures, and we are applying everything we have learned so far. We’ve briefed local health officials about our plans, and they have let us know they are comfortable with us moving forward,” and noted in a separate tweet that they had taken CDC guidelines into consideration and had consulted with local health officials.
Omnimover attractions at Walt Disney World, such as The Haunted Mansion and Under the Sea – Journey of the Little Mermaid at Magic Kingdom, and The Seas with Nemo & Friends at Epcot, have been loading every buggy for a while, initially after only seating guests in every other ride vehicle.
Walt Disney World Resort began a phased reopening in July after a four-month-long closure beginning in March. The parks are still operating under a limited capacity and increased cleaning and sanitation.
Guests visiting both Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando are still required to wear face masks on rides and throughout the parks (except when eating or drinking and in designated Relaxation Stations) and undergo temperature checks. Social distancing is also still encouraged as well.