Universal Studios’ move earlier in the week has forced Disney World mask policy changes, but it only moves to further complicate the experience.
Disney World Mask Policy Changes
Universal Orlando theme parks led the way this week in dropping outdoor mask mandates for park visitors. Mask requirements remain in effect for indoor locations. Disney World, not to be outdone, matched the policy for its parks with the new requirements:
- Masks remain required when indoors including onsite restaurants unless actively eating or drinking
- Masks remain required at the entrance and on all rides
- All transportation including transportation entrances
- Masks are not permitted on waterslides or in the water
- Masks are optional in outdoor common areas
- Masks are optional on pool decks and relaxation stations
There is no requirement to be vaccinated nor prove vaccination (“show me your papers”) to meet these requirements and likewise, there is no waiver for vaccinated visitors to sidestep the new rules. They must continue to wear face masks despite the CDC guidelines.
Businesses have always had the option to create their own requirements for entry that may be stricter than the state or federal standard. The airlines enacted mask policies well before the federal government mandated it. Many states have ended mask requirements prior to this point, Florida being one of the first. Disney can choose whatever policy they like and have chosen to this point to be stricter than the state, and now, than the federal government.
That’s their choice. It’s Universal’s choice, it’s a bar owner’s choice, and it’s also the visitor’s choice. If a visitor wants to wear a face mask even after the new guidelines were released, they can also choose to do so.
What will be more telling is how much harder enforcement is going forward with a number of different rules and regulations depending on the business, vaccination status, and state. For Disney, my suspicions are that mask-related incidents will increase now that they are largely no longer required.
Impact on Disney Operations
Thinking back to my Disney Annual Passholder days, all of them are open air. Many ride lines are also open-air for a substantial portion of the wait time. They call out both of these cases, but if you hop in line for Tower of Terror at Hollywood Studios all the way back at Main Street near the Starbucks (I have seen it that long before), you’re likely to be in the Florida sun and outisde for the better part of an hour. Does the mask go on once you cross the threshold of the building? What about right before you go in?
Mask requirements would be clear on the monorail, but waiting for the open-air parking lot shuttle wouldn’t be ok? Disney Hotel rooms with balconies should be ok, but they weren’t on the approved list – what then?
Cast Members will still be required to wear a mask regardless of their location throughout Disney Parks and will have the duty of enforcing physical distancing and mask policy. How much longer can they hold the line, especially as more and more Americans are taking the vaccine and even the abundantly cautious CDC has said it’s no longer necessary?
Shopping at Disney Springs can be complicated too. Ordering a Dole Whip outside wouldn’t require a mask though a guest would order from the window, but eating outside at a restaurant would be required.
Following CDC Guidelines
The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention guidelines state that fully vaccinated people do not need to wear a face-covering with the exception of buses, airplanes, and trains. This would include inside theaters, restaurants, and passing through the outdoor gates to enter the Disney World parks.
The parks are following the direction of the CDC to an extent but continue to take a harder line than the health organization.
Disney Parks in Orange County, Florida are trying to make things easier for guests, but I fear they will make it harder on their staff. The requirements, as clearly as they are laid out, still leave room for interpretation. Guests who want to visit but are vaccinated would be following the guidelines of both the state and the federal government (along with 18 other states and more to follow) to discard their masks outside of transportation. This mask policy change may bring more frustration than is necessary for what the CDC has determined to be a safe situation.
What do you think? Are the new mask requirements the right step? Should Disney drop them altogether? Should they have kept them or followed Florida guidelines?