Disney World changes mask requirements for guests

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(CNN) — In a major moment for Disney parks, and the theme park industry overall, Walt Disney World changed its mask rules for guests following new guidance from the CDC.

The resort located in Orlando, Florida announced Friday that masks and face coverings for guests will be “optional in outdoor common areas” at Disney World starting on Saturday. The exception being that guests “must wear face coverings from the entrances at all attractions, theaters or transportation and throughout those experiences,” the company said.

So that means if you’re walking down Main Street, U.S.A., you don’t have to wear a mask but if you’re riding Space Mountain, you’ll still have to.

The news comes after the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Thursday that people who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 do not need to wear masks or practice social distancing indoors or outdoors, except under certain circumstances.

The adjusted safety requirements could have huge ramifications for Disney’s attendance numbers and the theme park industry as a whole since Disney parks are an industry leader. And as goes Disney, so usually go other amusement parks.

Universal Orlando Resort, a Disney competitor in Orlando that houses attractions from Harry Potter and Jurassic Park, also announced Friday that it was updating its Covid safety measures. Like Disney’s new requirements, it says that masks are not “mandatory” while outdoors but are still “required in all indoor locations including shops and restaurants” and required at all attractions.

Disney’s parks and resorts have been an important foundation of the company’s media empire for decades. However, the division was hit particularly hard because of the coronavirus pandemic. Following a challenging year that brought extended closures and significant layoffs, the new mask rules, as well as increasing capacities, could have a significant impact on the parks’ attendance heading into the vital summer season.

Disney generated more than $26 billion in sales at its parks division in fiscal 2019, the year prior to the pandemic, representing 37% of the company’s overall revenue. Returning to those levels would obviously be a boon to not just the parks unit, but all of Disney.

“This is the next step in their recovery,” Robert Niles, editor of ThemeParkInsider.com, told CNN Business before the announcement on Friday. “They’ve built a foundation at the parks that they can expand upon. I don’t think you’re really going to see the result of that expansion in 2021, but you’re going to see the beginning of it.”

The Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World is the world’s most-visited theme park, with more than 20 million visitors in 2018, according to a report by AECOM. The company has invested billions in its theme park division, opening new Star Wars lands in Florida and California in 2019. It’s also planning to debut Avengers Campus, a land based on the successful Marvel franchise, at Disneyland this summer.

Disneyland, the flagship resort in California, reopened last month after being closed for more than a year.

Disney did not say if and when it would change mask guidance and safety measures at its other parks.

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