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Disney World and Universal Florida Are Going to Open Faster (and Bigger) Than You Think.

By Daniel B. Kline - Updated May 21, 2020 at 7:10AM

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The Sunshine state's governor has laid out a path to reopening theme parks.

Walt Disney (DIS 2.34%) has already opened its Disney Springs shopping area at Walt Disney World. Comcast (CMCSA 0.07%) has done the same with its CityWalk shopping area that essentially serves as the entrance to its two Florida theme parks.

Both companies have taken significant safety steps to ensure social distancing. That includes limiting capacity, marking out where people should (and shouldn't stand), making employees as well as vistors wear masks, and increasing how often surfaces are cleaned. Restaurants also have limited seating, and visitors are encouraged to wear a facial covering.

Many consider these openings as the first step toward throwing open the doors to the Disney and Universal theme parks. Now, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has provided direct details as to what the two companies need to do in order to make that happen.

A family visits Toy Story Land at Disney's Hollywood Studios.

A visit to Disney's Hollywood Studios won't look like this when the park reopens. Image source: Walt Disney.

What do Disney and Universal have to do?

Essentially, the theme park operators (and this includes non-Disney and Universal parks) must follow roughly the same rules as Las Vegas casinos in that they must detail their plans to operate safely, according to a report on Theme Park Tourist.

DeSantis has addressed the current shutdown of all theme parks earlier this week and has said that in order to get theme parks open operators will need to submit their reopening plans to both the Governor as well as their local government officials (county and city mayors, etc.), and should identify the date that they believe that they can resume safe operations. These plans need to be extremely detailed, and theme park operators need to outline how they're going to open, what kind of social distancing measures will be in place, how they're going to accommodate guests, and how they're going to protect their workers.

That sounds like a lot, but it's actually a pretty low bar. Disney and Universal have been working on exactly this type of plan since they had to close in mid-March. Disney also has experience reopening a park under these terms as its Shanghai operation has partially been reopened.

Under phase one, the Florida theme parks will open at 50% capacity, increasing to 75% when phase two begins. Those numbers are surprising given that earlier projections suggested phase one would be 25%. It's also worth noting that 50% is a significant amount of people, which will make distancing a logistical challenge.

How soon will the parks open?

Probably sooner than you expected. Both companies need to submit their plans but they likely have those plans in place ready to hand in. The DeSantis administration has pushed reopening, so it's hard to think he will get in the way of either company throwing open its doors.

Both Disney and Universal have already been doing the work needed to open their parks safely. That will likely include some sort of reservation system and a way to let people on a waiting list know when a spot has opened up due to people leaving.

Both Disney and Universal have very advanced apps that already provide some needed features. Those can be adapted and, along with physical measures, it seems likely that we could see the parks open back up maybe as soon as June (though neither company has mentioned a date).

Daniel B. Kline owns shares of Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Walt Disney. The Motley Fool recommends Comcast and recommends the following options: long January 2021 $60 calls on Walt Disney and short July 2020 $115 calls on Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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