Back to the spaceship... The theme parks are open and bookings can be made all the way up to September 2021. Image Credit: AP

New York: Josh D'Amaro, the chairman of Walt Disney Co.'s theme parks business, said he's very happy with booking trends, both now and into next year, as the company began reopening its resorts in Florida on Saturday.

Disney, the world's largest theme park operator, opened its Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom parks to the general public following a four-month shutdown due to the coronavirus. Its Epcot and Disney's Hollywood Studios parks will return on Wednesday.

Guests have to make reservations to enter the parks, a first for Disney, but a move that allows the company to control capacity and keep visitors more socially distant on rides and other attractions. Bookings are being accepted through September of next year.

"When we opened up our reservation system, we were pretty pleased with the demand that we saw and that demand is not only showing up in the short term, but it's also showing up well into 2021," D'Amaro said. "Our guests, they trust us, they trust that we're going to create an environment that they could still experience the magic in."

Protocols in place

Disney is opening with a number of virus-related safety protocols, including temperature checks at gates and mandatory mask-wearing by guests and employees inside. Still, many people on social media have criticized the company for opening as Florida is seeing a spike in COVID-19 cases, and some employee unions have asked for even more precautions.

"This is the new world that we're operating in and we feel like we've got a way to operate in that new world," D'Amaro said.

Shanghai Disneyland, the company's first park to close, opened in mid-May, and other resorts in Hong Kong and Tokyo are now open as well. Competitors, such as Comcast Corp.'s Universal Studios and SeaWorld Entertainment Inc., reopened in Florida a month ago.

Get the games going

The Disney World resort is also hosting the return of the National Basketball Association and Major League Soccer, a league where two teams have already dropped out after players tested positive for the virus. D'Amaro did not say if any Disney employees had also gotten sick.

"We have very, very strict and solid protocols in place to handle those types of situations," he said. "I think we're doing a great job with it."

Modest lines formed on Saturday morning before the parks opened and inside foot traffic appeared light. The longest wait time Saturday was 45 minutes for Splash Mountain, a ride that is ultimately being rethemed to take out any references to the controversial 1946 film "Song of the South". It will instead feature Disney's first Black heroine, Tiana, from "The Princess and the Frog".

Fans have been snapping up merchandise based on the old characters, like Br'er Rabbit, and in some cases reselling them on Ebay Inc. for hundreds of dollars more.

"We're pretty proud of the changes that we're making on Splash Mountain," he said. "We'll continue to adjust our product portfolio as necessary."