News for the Hospitality Executive
|The Orlando Sentinel, Fla.
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
September 7 2004 - Thousands of tourists returned to Orlando's theme parks when they reopened Monday despite warnings from emergency managers to remain inside until the last of the Hurricane Frances passed.
"The kids have been going stir crazy. They've been bored out of their brains the last few days," said British tourist Donna Waddington at Epcot. "As soon as we saw `Disney's open' on the TV ticker, we headed for the car," she said.
The decisions of theme parks Walt Disney World -- the region's largest employer -- Universal Orlando and SeaWorld Orlando put thousands of workers and tourists on the roads as the hurricane's final bands sparked tornado warnings throughout the region.
Fire and police requested people stay inside for their own safety and to clear the streets for emergency vehicles.
Yet Orange County Sheriff Kevin Beary said he or his staff personally approved the move by the major theme parks. Without his OK, Disney would not have reopened Epcot or the Magic Kingdom Monday morning, spokeswoman Jacquee Polak said.
"That's what we were looking for from him -- some sort of acknowledgment of safety," she said.
Beary, in an interview Monday, said he gave his approval because he did not think the openings of the parks would create a hazard. With Disney's parks, he assessed that most visitors would come from hotels on Disney's property and not clog county roads.
Beary said, "We knew people would be anxious to get out." And, emergency officials said, the open parks gave them somewhere confined to go.
After two days cramped inside hotel rooms, visitors were elated to find the parks open. Steve Lindemann came to the Magic Kingdom with his family at 10 a.m. Monday, seven hours before his flight home was scheduled to leave.
Disney would not have opened unless it was safe, he said.
"Disney's in a tough situation. People spend a lot of money for these hotel rooms, and they're sitting inside asking, `What can we do?' It's not like we can come back tomorrow," Lindemann said.
Attendance was relatively light at all the parks.
"We did the Mummy, Jaws and Nickelodeon in less than two hours," said Jamil Saunders at Universal Studios. "Everything is instantaneous -- no waiting in line."
All the major theme parks will be open today. Universal's parks and SeaWorld were open Monday, as were Epcot and the Magic Kingdom. Animal Kingdom and MGM Studios will reopen today after an unprecedented three-day closure.
Sean Mussenden can be reached at smussenden@ orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-5664. Chris Cobbs can be reached at 407-420-5447 orccobbs@ orlandosentinel.com.
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(c) 2004. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News.