ORLANDO, Fla. — Florida's major theme parks have been reopened for a couple of months now, and all have new health and safety procedures because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
During a roundtable discussion Wednesday at Universal Orlando, Gov. Ron DeSantis brought together leaders from each park to talk about how the companies are doing and how guests are reacting to visiting theme parks during the pandemic.
Universal and SeaWorld parks in Florida reopened in June and Disney World parks followed in mid-July. All of the parks were closed for months because of the pandemic, and all suffered devastating financial losses because of the historic closures.
Disney's theme parks took a $3.5 billion hit because of pandemic closures. SeaWorld's revenue and attendance were down 96 percent, while Universal said park attendance dropped more than 94 percent.
During Wednesday's discussion, Universal said it's brought back between 85 and 90 percent of full-time employees. However, the company has not yet been able to bring back most of its part-time and seasonal workers.
"We're hoping if we can increase visitation, increase our hours, increase capacity, we can bring those people back and get them working again," Universal's John Sprouls said.
Leaders with Disney World also said they've brought back thousands of cast members and hope to bring back more as the parks are able to increase in capacity and demand.
"I think we've been able to demonstrate that it is very safe for (guests) to come and visit our parks," Sprouls said.
DeSantis said he would be supportive of and "very comfortable" with the theme parks increasing capacity, praising the parks' new health and safety measures.
"We're very comfortable at the state level that they're doing it in a good way," he said.
SeaWorld's Marc Swanson explained how since reopening the parks, they've increased hours and operating days to accommodate more people for longer periods while maintaining capacity procedures.
"People are craving that entertainment," he said, noting SeaWorld and Busch Gardens leaders are excited to host upcoming Halloween and Christmas events at the parks.
Disney leaders praised cast members for their flexibility and patience learning all new health and safety protocols in the parks and beyond. Leonard Spencer, senior manager of supplier diversity at Disney, said the company was "thrilled" to have the NBA and MLS at the ESPN Wide World of Sports to bring back live sports.
"We took a measured and thoughtful approach to reduce risk," he said. "So far we have been successful."
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