Universal Targets June 5 for Reopening of Florida Theme Parks

(Bloomberg) -- Universal Studios asked Florida officials for permission to reopen to the general public starting June 5, marking another step toward recovery for Orlando, the theme-park capital of the U.S.

John Sprouls, chief administrative officer for Comcast Corp.’s Universal’s Orlando resorts, said the company would like to bring employees back to the parks on June 1 and 2. Invited guests, including some annual passholders, would be allowed over the next two days, and the general public could come on June 5.

Orange County’s Economic Recovery Task Force approved the company’s request after inspections by officials Thursday morning. But the county’s mayor, Jerry Demings, said he still wants to review the plan before making a final recommendation to Governor Ron DeSantis, who also needs to give his blessing. Demings said he expected to speak with the governor on Friday.

Universal’s plan included stark changes to the typical theme-park experience. Guests will have their temperatures taken at the gates, and both guests and employees will wear masks. There will be no valet parking, no interactive play areas for kids and no water or misting elements that could spread the coronavirus, Sprouls said.

Guests will be encouraged to use their phones to make electronic payments, though cash will still be accepted. The company is eliminating single-rider lines, which put solo travelers in seats with other parties when there is extra room. Visitors won’t be allowed to get their pictures taken with performers after shows.

Popular Attractions

Universal Studios Florida and the adjacent Islands of Adventure are two of the largest theme parks in the world, attracting about 10 million guests each in 2018. Among the big draws are their Harry Potter lands. The parks have been shuttered since March due to the coronavirus. Comcast had said its theme-park business could lose $500 million if its resorts are closed all quarter.

Sprouls said Universal had accommodated over 30,000 guests under similar restrictions at its CityWalk mall, which opened last week. Only a handful of guests had temperatures and most were able to enter the facility after taking a seat and cooling off.

“Our guests have been very supportive of the process,” Sprouls said. “We’re not hearing a lot of complaints about that or the masks.”

The task force also recommended reopening 10 smaller attractions, such as Gatorland and Nona Adventure Park.

Walt Disney Co. and SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. are also expected to submit plans to the county. The next scheduled task force meeting is Wednesday.

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