Disney Parks chief on reopening: ‘We are in a new normal’

“We are in a new normal,” said D’Amaro, who started the job in May. “The world is a different place, but we feel really prepared to operate in this new environment.”

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Coronavirus cases are surging in Florida, exactly why is Disney World reopening today? Isn’t reopening in this climate unsafe?

We are in a new normal right now, so what’s happening outside of the gates of Walt Disney World is our new world. I think you understand we were one of the first theme parks to close, and we’ll be concerning the last to open. And we spent every minute of every day thinking about just how to operate in this new normal that we’re in.

I’m exceptionally happy with this group in terms of what they’ve assembled from a protocol perspective and having the ability to open in a phased and really responsible way. I had a possiblity to walk Main Street just a couple of minutes ago. It feels great in the park. So yeah, the entire world is a different place, but we feel really prepared to operate in this new environment that we’re in.

What guarantees can you offer to guests that they’ll be safe of one’s park?

We’ve got a screening process, for instance. When folks enter the park, are going to temperature checked. Everyone will undoubtedly be wearing a mask. Sanitizers are fundamentally everywhere in the theme park. We’ve programmed the environmental surroundings with six-foot social distancing everywhere that you go, whether that’s on an attraction, in the merchandise shop, in the foodstuff and beverage [areas.]

The experience can look different. So, you won’t of necessity see fireworks anymore, however, you still will feel a few of that magic that people are accustomed to experiencing at Disney. Our training is really aggressive with our cast members. I had a chance to consult with cast members over the course of the final couple of days. They’re incredibly prepared.

What else?

Communication to your guests, who also have a responsibility here, has been really pervasive as well, so they really come prepared with their face masks and understanding what social distancing looks like. And then, we’re in get a grip on of the environmental surroundings. We have a reservations system that we’ve put in place that allows us to control just how many guests are inside of our parks. And then finally we’re achieving this in a phased fashion. We will, take our time sufficient reason for the right way and make sure that guests feel comfortable and that we’re feeling more comfortable with the operation.

Speaking of guests: Two of the safety requirements for Disney World are wearing masks and proper social distancing. But how are the parks planning to make sure that guests are following these directions? We’ve seen many around the world avoid these rules. How do you guys plan on enforcing them?

So first of all, from a communication perspective, we’ve been incredibly aggressive in communicating to your guests. We’ve actually had a little fun with that aswell, using our intellectual property and The Incredibles, letting the guests know that they will have a part in this whole process.

The other thing that we have the benefit of is parks around the globe. And we’ve had a chance to open parks around the globe and watch how guests are behaving and shift our operations as necessary. In fact, Disney Springs just opened recently right here in Orlando, and we’ve had the benefit of working together with our guests and our cast members to make sure everyone’s doing their part. And they are.

We’ve been really impressed with guests understanding when they come right into this environment that it is a new environment and they have a responsibility as well. And it’s working really well. And again, just walking around Walt Disney World this morning, every one looks fantastic in their face masks, and they all have them on.

But some people may possibly refuse to wear a mask. Some people may take it off and never put it back on. Do you guys have any structures in destination for a deal with this example when people break the principles?

We’ve actually seen incredible cooperation from our guests, to start with. And if anybody loses sight of what’s necessary when they are in the park, we now have cast members, again, that are extremely well-trained. In fact, we now have very specific cast member groups, I do believe we call them “The Incredi-Crew,” leveraging the communication that I discussed a tiny bit earlier. And they’ll very nicely remind somebody, “Pull your face mask up,” or, “If you’re not eating or drinking, make sure you have your face mask on.” And that seems to be working pretty well.

Did you, at any point since announcing the reopening date, reconsider opening Disney World as cases in Florida spiked?

Listen, we are watching the external environment really carefully. But what we’ve done here’s we’ve built an operations protocol. We’ve phased this opening. We put ourselves in complete control. But our confidence has always been high that independent of what’s happening on the outside of our gates, we’re in a position to open responsibly. And again, it’s validated when you are and you speak with our cast members and you also see the guests coming in this morning. So, we’re really confident with our approach.

If the specific situation gets worse in Florida, at what point would Disney consider re-closing Disney World?

Well, first, what I’m focused on right now gets the park open, which I’m really proud of and, again, seeing the guests come in this morning. We built our operation, so we can flex. And so, we’ll flex with what’s happening on the outside from, again, controlled attendance to training our cast members to sort of watch the motions inside the park.

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Disney has a workforce around 75,000, which makes it America’s largest single site workforce. And many may be worried or even scared about time for work. What do you tell those cast members?

Well, I had the advantage yesterday of walking around both of our parks, and I talked to literally hundreds of cast members, and also this is a new environment for our cast. When they come back, they are getting trained in a brand-new way. I think I see the confidence in the cast members’ eyes. I hear it in what they’re playing back to us.

There’s no doubt that at some point people might feel a tiny bit nervous, but once we train them and help them understand the protocols that individuals have in to place, the way in which in which they’re going to connect to guests, the way in which that we’ve programmed the entire operation, their confidence is incredibly high. And that is something I take very seriously. We do have a large amount of cast members here. This is our number one priority, to make sure that they feel equipped to do their job in the best way possible.

There’s been criticism about Disney reopening in this climate. Do you think that’s fair?

I can comprehend people’s criticisms, but again, I am incredibly confident about where we are from an operations perspective. And when guests are prepared to come, they are able to come. It’s their choice. We will undoubtedly be ready and open for business and ready to make that magic that we always make.

Disney announced it would be re-theming Splash Mountain into “The Princess and the Frog” from the controversial “Song of the South.” What role did the Black Lives Matter protests and conversations about race in recent weeks have in influencing the timing of the announcement?

We have been working on it for above a year. In fact, I was a element of those conversations over a year ago. Listen, our stories evolve all the time. After all, back from when Walt started Disneyland back in 1955, that he stated that when we would continue steadily to evolve our stories, that they are never ending, that they’re going to always be contemporary. And I do believe that that’s what you’re seeing with Splash Mountain.

I keep utilising the same word, but I’m really happy with this team and what we’re doing on this front. I do believe Splash Mountain, no doubt, is a sacred attraction to a lot of of our guests. And I think you will love what we’re doing in making the attraction even more contemporary.

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