“Star Wars” Stormtroopers enforced mask-wearing and Mickey Mouse waved from a distance on Saturday as Florida’s Walt Disney World opened to the public for the first time in four months amid a surge of coronavirus cases in the state.
Walt Disney Co (DIS.N) welcomed a limited number of guests to parts of its sprawling Orlando complex, the most-visited theme park resort in the world, with a host of safety measures designed to reassure visitors and reduce the chances of catching the sometimes deadly virus.
Executives felt confident they had developed a responsible plan for reopening in phases during the pandemic, said Josh D’Amaro, chairman of Disney’s parks, experiences and products division.
“This is the new world that we’re operating in, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon,” D’Amaro said in an interview on Saturday after he greeted guests and workers at the park.
Disney’s reopening of parks in Asia helped provide assurance about moving ahead in Florida, he added.
“I feel really good about our environment,” he added. “We’re taking this seriously.”
At the Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom, the two parks open on Saturday, guests and employees wore face masks, underwent temperature screenings and were told to social distance everywhere from streets to rides. Plexiglass separated rows in lines, and ground markings indicated where people should stsand.
The resort suspended parades, fireworks and other activities that create crowds, as well as up-close encounters with Mickey Mouse, Cinderella and other characters. Instead, characters appeared on floats or on horseback.
Some pictures on Twitter showed people close together waiting to get in. Disney employees, called cast members, began enforcing distancing requirements after about 30 minutes, one person said.
Florida has emerged as an epicenter of COVID-19 infections. Over the past two weeks, Florida reported 109,000 new coronavirus cases, more than any other U.S. state.
Still, many Disney fans and workers were eager for Disney World to open its gates. The resort employs 77,000 people.
Disney said it had trained a group of employees, including some who play costumed characters such as superheroes from “The Incredibles,” to nudge guests who become lax about the rules. Stormtroopers kept watch for violations in the Disney Springs shopping district outside the theme parks.