May 27 (UPI) -- The Walt Disney Company and SeaWorld announced plans Wednesday to reopen their Florida theme parks over the next two months.
Thomas Smith, editorial content director of Disney Parks, said Magic Kingdom Park and Disney's Animal Kingdom will begin a phased reopening July 11, pending an approval by Florida and Orange County. EPCOT and Disney's Hollywood Studios will open July 15 under the preliminary plan.
"In preparing to reopen during this unusual time, we have to manage our theme parks in a very different way from what we've known before," Smith said in a statement. "As we begin to reach out to our cast members and call them back to work, they will be focused on operating our parks in a responsible way that continues to give our guests opportunities to create magical Disney memories."
Marc Swanson, interim CEO of SeaWorld, told Central Florida leaders at a meeting Wednesday that SeaWorld, Discovery Cove and Aquatica will reopen June 11.
Disney closed the Walt Disney World Resort parks as well as its theme parks in California in mid-March, around the time many states began banning large gatherings of people amid the rising coronavirus spread.
Under the phased reopening plans, the parks will limit attendance to enforce social distancing guidelines. To that end, large group gatherings for events such as parades and nighttime spectaculars will not immediately take place.
To manage attendance, Walt Disney World Resort will implement reservations for park entrance in advance and is pausing new ticket sales and hotel reservations to focus on allowing entrance for customers will existing tickets and reservations.
While characters will still be in parks, meet-and-greets and other "high-touch" experiences, such as makeovers and playgrounds, will also remain closed.
Both Disney and SeaWorld officials said all employees and guests 3 years old and older -- 2 years old and older at SeaWorld -- must wear face coverings in the parks and hotel common areas. All guests and workers will also undergo temperature checks to screen for COVID-19. And Disney is encouraging all transactions to be cashless.
"We're looking forward to reopening our theme parks, Disney Resort hotels and stores and doing so in a responsible way," Smith said. "In this spirit, our destinations will continue to follow enhanced safety protocols based upon applicable guidance from health authorities and government agencies."
Future reopening plans include Disney Vacation Club resorts at Walt Disney World and Disney's Fort Wilderness Resort & Campground on June 22, and Disney Vacation Club resorts in Vero Beach, Fla., and Hilton Head, S.C., on June 15. Disney hasn't released plans for reopening parks in California.
Disney Springs shopping and dining district in Orlando, Fla., partially reopened on May 20.
Earlier this month, a task force of local businesspersons and health officials approved Universal Orlando's plan to open its parks in early June to invited guests and season-pass holders. After county officials sign off on the plan, it will go to Florida Gov. Ron Desantis for his review.
Universal started its reopening effort May 14 with limited guests -- and required masks and temperature checks -- at its free-admission CityWalk area, which features restaurants and retail shops.
Orlando plays host to 75 million visitors per year, according to state and local tourism officials. As the world's top tourism destination, it contributes to a large extent to the local economy.