ORLANDO — In Orlando, the arrival of July 4 has always meant one thing: getting to Lake Eola Park as early as possible.
Huge crowds flock to the city’s popular downtown park on this holiday for an evening of entertainment that’s included music, movies, food, and a spectacular fireworks show. The city traditionally urges people to get to the park early to be certain they find a place to sit.
This year, though, chances are no one looking forward to the fireworks show is going to have a problem finding a seat.
The Annual Fireworks at the Fountain show is being done virtually this July, out of concerns about the risks of crowds gathering together during the coronavirus pandemic, and the challenge of practicing social distancing during an event like this one.
Instead, the city’s 43rd annual Fireworks at the Fountain will be held virtually. WKMG News 6 will feature a pre-recorded compilation of the brightest and biggest fireworks from the past several years at Lake Eola Park. The news station also plans to honor heroes in the community during this online presentation.
It’s one of many ways that Orlando, known for hosting plenty of crowded events in the downtown throughout the year, is shifting to a different approach due to COVID-19.
COVID-19 Changes Orlando’s Holiday Plans
The Independence Day holiday is a big one for the city’s residents, visitors and tourists alike, and the Annual Fireworks at the Fountain is the largest and longest running fireworks display in Central Florida. While festivities have traditionally started around 4 p.m. on the holiday, people are known to arrive hours earlier to get a good spot, since this event draws thousands to downtown Orlando, with activities that include live music in the Walt Disney Amphitheater, often followed by patriotic music by the Orlando Concert Band before the evening concludes with a firework display that lights up the sky.
The City of Winter Park is doing the same with its annual Fireworks Show. Instead, the city is hosting a virtual presentation of its 4th of July Celebration, offering a link to the pre-recorded celebration that will be posted on Saturday at 9 a.m., on the city’s official website at as well as the city’s Facebook page. “Families and friends are encouraged to enjoy the socially-distanced celebration from the comfort of their own home, at a backyard BBQ or picnic in a park,” the city noted in a news release.
The virtual celebration will begin with a special welcome from Mayor Steve Leary followed by musical performances by the Bach Festival Society Choir and country Sean Holcomb, and a historical presentation by The Charles Hosmer Morse Museum of American Art.
The coronavirus pandemic has changed all that. Florida now has more than 77,000 cases of the virus, while more than 2,900 people have died from the disease. The Florida Department of Health reported an additional 1,758 infections today, and as testing has expanded statewide, the number of people testing positive continues to increase by thousands per day.
In Orange County, there are now more than 3,000 cases of COVID-19, with 46 deaths from the virus. The City of Orlando now operates mobile testing sites on Wednesdays at different locations across the city. Appointments are required, although there’s no symptom criteria for getting tested.
Although Orange County has the highest number of cases of any county in Central Florida, the numbers are even higher in South Florida, with 22,197 cases in Miami-Dade County, 9,086 in Broward and 9,015 in Palm Beach. Nationwide, there have been more than 2 million cases and 115,000 deaths.
Orlando’s Downtown Restaurants Are Still Serving
Although Florida lifted its Stay At Home order in May and allowed restaurants to reopen, some in downtown Orlando are still offering take out orders for city residents who prefer social distancing.
Uber Eats and the Orlando Downtown Development Board are collaborating to help support restaurants in the downtown, offering free delivery through June 30 courtesy of a program called Order Up Downtown. the first program of its kind in the nation. First-time Uber Eats users can enter the promo code ORDERUPDOWNTOWN to also get $10 off your first order.
Michael Freeman is an Orlando journalist, playwright, and author of the book When I Woke Up, You Were All Dead. Contact him at Freelineorlando@gmail.com.