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Disney World's Top Rival Has a Reopening Plan

By Rick Munarriz – May 21, 2020 at 8:00AM

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Universal Orlando will be the first major theme-park operator to present plans to reopen in Florida on Thursday, but Disney World and SeaWorld Orlando should follow soon.

The economy has been reawakening in Central Florida after two months of shelter-in-place slumber, and it's time for the country's largest theme-park operators to step up with their reopening plans. Comcast's (CMCSA 2.08%) Universal Orlando will be the first of the area's major players to submit plans to its county's Economic Recovery Task Force. It will present its plan on Thursday, and the proposal will come with a projected opening date.

Some news outlets initially claimed that Walt Disney (DIS 4.44%) and SeaWorld Entertainment (SEAS 9.08%) would also be presenting their plans today, but those reports have now been revised to clarify that the companies aim to make their presentations in the coming days.

All eyes will be on Universal Orlando, of course. If the fast-growing resort receives the green light to unlock the turnstiles at its gated attractions. it starts the clock for everybody else to fall in line. As awkward and inconvenient as the initial reopening process will be, no one wants to be left behind at this point.

Concept art for Universal Studios Florida's Cinematic Celebration, with a T. rex projected on a water wall

Image source: Comcast's Universal Orlando.

Ride the movies

It's not a surprise to see at least one of the major theme-park operators hop on the submission process that began earlier this week. Comcast, Disney, and SeaWorld have been putting out all indications that they wish to open sooner rather than later. Universal Orlando has been laying out social distancing stickers six feet apart heading into the entrance turnstiles of its two largest theme parks. Earlier this week SeaWorld ran a test of riders wearing masks on its Mako roller coaster -- the park's tallest and fastest thrill ride -- to make sure that the protective face coverings wouldn't fly off during the experience.

Last week it was Disney World coming to terms with its unions to pave the way for furloughed employees to return to work. Both Disney World and Comcast's Universal Orlando have reopened their shopping, dining, and entertainment complexes over the past week.

It won't be business as usual, of course. There's a global pandemic picking people off if they're not careful, and all theme parks will be required to meet stringent social distancing, sanitation, and protective standards in the current phase of the state's economic recovery.

There's been a lot of speculation as to how Disney, Comcast, and SeaWorld will go about capping daily attendance levels. Will they limit the initial group of visitors to annual passholders, or just those staying at an on-site resort? Will they require advance reservations with purchased one-day tickets? Social media has been ablaze with speculation over the past two months, guessing what the new normal will be like for these consumer discretionary bellwethers. The questions are everywhere. We're now closing in on the answers.

Rick Munarriz 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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Stocks Mentioned

The Walt Disney Company Stock Quote
The Walt Disney Company
$101.44 (4.44%) $4.31
Comcast Corporation Stock Quote
Comcast Corporation
$30.99 (2.08%) $0.63
SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc. Stock Quote
SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc.
$49.51 (9.08%) $4.12

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