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A tale of two Disneys: Florida parks open, California stays shut

Christopher Palmeri, Bloomberg News on

Published in Business News

Walt Disney Co. begins reopening its Florida theme parks on Saturday, ending a four-month shutdown at one of the world's most-popular tourist attractions.

Guests will be able to ride to parks on the new Disney Skyliner -- though just one family per gondola, please. At Epcot, they can check out the recently installed Remy topiary, while enjoying the International Food & Wine festival at tables socially distanced throughout the park. Masks are required, and there's glass separating people in line at the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train. If anyone has a fever over 100.4 degrees, their whole party will be turned away.

Yet across the country at Disneyland in Anaheim, California, no guests are coming through the gates. The world's largest entertainment company has postponed the planned reopening of its two California theme parks indefinitely, citing issues with its unions and the time required to get approvals from the government.

The tale of the two Disneys highlights the differing strategies of the states, both of which have seen a surge in new coronavirus cases since reopening their economies. "This truly is a story of contrasts," said Jessica Levinson, director of the Public Service Institute at Loyola Marymount University's law school in Los Angeles.

In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis, a first-term Republican, said he's less concerned about outbreaks in theme parks than he is at private parties, where safety standards aren't enforced. Comcast Corp.'s Universal Studios, he said at a July 6 press conference, has taken precautions. It's been open a month already, along with SeaWorld Entertainment Inc.'s parks and Legoland. DeSantis said he's reviewed Disney's reopening plan and found it "very, very thorough."

In California, Governor Gavin Newsom, a Democrat also in his first term, applauded Disney's delay when the company announced it last month. Through a spokesman, the governor said he "appreciates Disney's responsiveness to his concerns." At a press conference later, he added: "That's an example of data-informed decision making."

 

Newsom's approval ratings, when last surveyed in May by the Public Policy Institute of California, were the highest they have been since his election. DeSantis's ratings have slid over the past two months, according to a June Fox News poll, which found more residents critical of his performance.

"You could argue Disney is more economically important in Florida," said Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute for Public Affairs at California State University, Los Angeles. "It's this major economic force that the state wants to keep open."

In another twist, Disney unions in Florida have largely accepted reopening after winning some concessions from the company, such as pay for employees who become ill or need to be quarantined, according to Paul Cox, president of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, Local 631. Mask wearing is being enforced in the parks, he said, a sharp contrast to other parts of the state.

"I feel safer here than I do going to the grocery store right now," Cox said in a call from Disney World.

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