Theme parks in California have been shuttered for nearly a year amid the pandemic. In Southern California, Disneyland, Universal Studios Hollywood, Six Flags Magic Mountain, Legoland California and even the theme park that started it all, Knott’s Berry Farm, sat empty with abandoned parking lots, eerily quiet hotels, and boarded up businesses along the Anaheim strip. Some found other uses for all the space—Disneyland, for instance, has been moonlighting as a COVID vaccination site. But on Friday, an announcement brought hope and a little bit of magic: Theme parks have been cleared to reopen April 1.
In a surprising move, California officials amended the state’s guidelines for amusement parks, stating that parks are now eligible to reopen in April with reduced capacity. But there’s a big stipulation: a SoCal theme park cannot reopen until the county it is in reaches a certain color. California’s economic reopening plan is divided into four colors that represent COVID risk: purple, red, orange, and yellow. Purple denotes the highest infections per 100,000 people and as colors get lighter, the case counts and risks are lower. To reopen come April 1, a theme park would need to be in a county that is at least red, orange, or yellow. Both L.A. County (home to Universal Studios and Six Flags) and Orange County (home to Disneyland and Knott’s Berry Farm) as well as San Diego County (Legoland) are all still purple. But with vaccines rolling out and cases going down, health officials expect these counties to be red by the end of March—and therefore, be able to open in April.
If a theme park is in a red county, the guest capacity is limited to 15 percent. An orange county can increase capacity to 25 percent. A park in a yellow county can increase guest capacity to 35 percent. At this time, only residents will be able to visit theme parks in California. It’s unclear how theme parks will manage and screen for this, as current offerings at Disneyland’s outdoor shopping center Downtown Disney or Universal’s CityWalk don’t have these restrictions.
What to know before visiting Disneyland
In a shareholders meeting on March 9, Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Chapek said Disneyland is working toward reopening in April. “Here in California, we’re encouraged by the positive trends we’re seeing and we’re hopeful they’ll continue to improve and we’ll be able to reopen our parks to guests with limited capacity by late April,” he said. “We look forward to publicizing an opening date in the coming weeks.”
Chapek also added that April 1 isn’t realistic for Disneyland because of the necessary training for employees. “While last week’s announcement stated that theme parks may open starting on April 1, the fact is it will take some time to get them ready for our guests. This includes recalling more than 10,000 furloughed cast and retraining them to be able to operate according to the state of California’s new requirements.” These requirements haven’t been announced, and could impact distancing in ride queues and attractions. No information is available yet on how guests will be able to book tickets or make reservations.
A reopened Disneyland won’t be the same as a reopened Walt Disney World. Indoor dining is a no-go and indoor attractions such as dark rides (rides constructed in an indoor setting such as Pirates of the Caribbean) and shows will have additional restrictions. It’s unclear how rides with indoor queues will be restricted, but mask guidelines will be exactly the same as Downtown Disney’s current policy: All guests ages two and older must wear a mask at all times unless actively eating or drinking. That means sitting at an outdoor restaurant table warrants a mask unless you’re actually taking a sip or a bite.
As for the highly anticipated, brand new Avengers Campus at Disney California Adventure, Disneyland president Ken Potrock confirmed at the Visit California Outlook Virtual Forum that the new Marvel-themed land is ready to welcome guests. But it will not be included in the park’s initial reopening and is expected to debut later this year. Perhaps in an effort to prevent out-of-state visitors, Disneyland hotels are still very much closed. The one exception is villas at Disney’s Grand Californian Resort & Spa. These units will be available to book as early as May 2 and are part of the Disney Vacation Club timeshare network.
What to know before visiting Universal Studios Hollywood
Universal Studios Hollywood is just as excited to reopen the gates. Park president and COO Karen Irwin told the Los Angeles Times, “We are ready to reopen, ready to bring our team members back to work, ready to help stimulate the local economy and ready to welcome guests.” Like Disney, Universal already has a robust safety policy on masks, temperature screenings and social distancing at CityWalk. However, their current rule that allows removing masks while dining in a designated area could change when the park reopens. And unlike Disney, Universal didn’t gut their annual passholder program. So, when information on ticketing is announced, passholders will likely have some priority for booking.
This all comes on the heels of Universal, Knott’s, and Disney all announcing modified events for March and early April with access inside the parks for socially distanced shopping, dining and photos. The ticketed “Touch of Disney,” which is centered on outdoor attractions, immediately sold out, and there are only a handful of dates left for the dining-focused “A Taste of Universal” and “Knott’s Taste of Boysenberry Festival.” But given the anticipated reopenings, everyone else won’t have to wait that much longer before experiencing some of that theme park magic for themselves.
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