Disney World fans, you may want to take a deep breath for this one. The holidays are going to look different this year.
It might seem premature to start talking about the holiday season just yet, but plans are already underway for holiday festivities at Walt Disney World Resort – and given the coronavirus pandemic, the theme park is making tweaks to address ongoing public health concerns.
Events that typically draw large crowds are going “on hiatus” for this year, like Mickey’s Very Merry Christmas Party and Candlelight Processional at Epcot, which is in line with social-distancing measures.
Meanwhile, holiday show Castle Dream Lights will be replaced with special projection effects; Cinderella Castle “will be transformed with a rotating series of designs including a whimsical Christmas sweater and a regal overlay of red, green and gold ornamentation,” Laurel Slater, manager of communications for Walt Disney World Public Affairs, wrote in a blog post.
“We know these experiences are a cherished part of holiday traditions that will be missed by guests and cast members alike, but we’re glad to be able to bring holiday magic in other creative ways.”
The resort will be in the holiday spirit from Nov. 6 to Dec. 30. This includes festive décor, themed merchandise and seasonal food and beverage options all over the resort. Santa Claus himself will make pop-up appearances, too. Remember that photo opportunities must be socially distanced, however (i.e., guests can’t get too close to Santa).
Not all events are going on hiatus: “Guests will be delighted by the sight of festive flotillas at Disney’s Animal Kingdom, holiday promenades at Epcot and merry motorcades at Disney’s Hollywood Studios,” Slater wrote. “Character cavalcades at Magic Kingdom Park will take on a special holiday twist, with Christmas friends on festive floats in their holiday finest.”
Guests can find more details about Disney’s holiday plans on its website.
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Elsewhere at Disney World, the Four Seasons Resort Orlando is offering supervised schoolwork sessions in an effort to accommodate families, starting Sept. 14.
Students will attend supervised e-learning in event rooms in socially-distanced groups of no more than six. They will receive their own desk area and have premium WiFi; they can stay for half a day (9 a.m. to 12 p.m.) or a full day (9 a.m. to 3 p.m.) that includes lunch.
It’s hardly the only hotel making such plans, but evidently one of many ways the theme park is looking to attract more guests. Hotel occupancy remains low in Orlando, standing at 27.2% for the week ending Aug. 29, according to data firm STR. Disney World reopened in July.
That said, it appears all four parks hit capacity on Saturday and Sunday, according to park expert Len Testa, author of co-author of “The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World.” During the pandemic, the Magic Kingdom sets capacity at 12,000; Epcot at 18,000; Hollywood Studios at 6,500; and the Animal Kingdom at 8,000. Each is between 11% and 16% of what the respective park can accommodate at max.
USA TODAY has reached out to Disney for comment.
Universal Orlando, too, saw an influx of guests.
“Over this past holiday weekend, all our parks quickly reached our capacity limits and were closed early in the day,” Universal Orlando spokesperson Alyson Lundell told USA TODAY. “For the health and safety of our guests and team members, we have limited capacity at our parks since we reopened.”
Contributing: Eve Chen