TRAVEL-CSN-DISNEYWORLD-CAPACITY-OS

A new gelato stop named Gelateria Toscana has opened in the Italy pavilion of Epcot. (Dewayne Bevil/Orlando Sentinel/TNS)

ORLANDO, Fla. — Walt Disney World has lifted its attendance capacity beyond its previous self-imposed 35% limit, although company CEO Bob Chapek didn’t disclose by how much, as the theme parks significantly loosen their COVID-19 safety rules.

The park announced Friday night that beginning Saturday masks would not be required in some areas of Disney World.

“Anybody (who has) been in Florida in the middle of summer with a mask on, that can be quite daunting, so we think that’s going to make for an even more pleasant experience,” Chapek said on an earnings call Thursday, which disclosed Disney’s theme parks are still taking the biggest financial hit within the company. “You’re going to see an immediate increase in the number of folks that we’re able to admit into our parks, through our reservation systems that we recently implemented, so we’re very, very excited about that.”

Chapek said Disney decided to raise capacity limits after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidelines Thursday and after earlier conversations with Gov. Ron DeSantis. The CEO’s updates come after Disney World said this week on its app it’s starting to phase out social distancing from six feet to three feet in some places.

At Disney World, masks are still required for indoor spaces including theaters throughout the attractions, on Disney transportation and at restaurants, except when guests are eating or drinking while stationary, according to the new posted rules online. Masks are optional in outdoor common areas and pool decks.

With the theme parks rebounding, Chapek said the theme parks are “bringing back a lot of people back to work. That is going to be an even bigger catalyst for growth and attendance.”

During the pandemic, the company laid off 32,000 people — including at least 18,000 in Central Florida, according to last year’s state filings.

Some experts had warned it could be a challenge for Disney’s reopening if large numbers of employees found new jobs elsewhere. In Orlando, some restaurants and other businesses are struggling to hire enough employees.

But Chapek said it’s not the case at Disney.

“We’ve had about 80% of our cast members return that we’ve asked to return,” Chapek said. “We’ve had no problems whatsoever in terms of trying to get our cast to come back and make some magic for our guests.”

Thursday’s second-quarter earnings report showed revenue fell 44% to $3.2 billion compared with last year’s quarter for the division covering theme parks, experiences and products. The pandemic has docked Disney’s cruise ships, and Disneyland Paris and California’s Disneyland were closed for the entire second quarter.

Disneyland reopened two weeks ago and an opening date could be announced soon at Disneyland Paris, Chapek said.

“We are focused on the ongoing recovery of our parks business and the resumption of Disney Cruise Line,” Chapek said. “There have been some encouraging developments in recent months, particularly with the ongoing rollout of a vaccine and the gradual lifting of government-mandated restrictions.”

At Disney World, attendance is improving and guests are spending more at the resort than at the same time last year, the company’s chief financial officer, Christine McCarthy, said without disclosing exact figures.

Overall, company revenue fell 13% to $15.6 billion in the second quarter, and Disney+ subscribers reached nearly 104 million which fell short of Wall Street estimates. Disney+ is the company’s new streaming service that airs Disney movies and original shows.

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