Disneyland and California Parks Can Reopen as Soon as April 1

March 5, 2021, 5:11 PM · Well, that answer came quickly.

Yesterday, I asked Could Disneyland Reopen in April? Today, the answer came from California Governor Gavin Newsom's office: "Yes."

Amusement parks in the state will be allowed to reopen starting April 1, provided their home counties reach the redefined Red Tier 2 status, which Disneyland's Orange County and Universal Studios Hollywood's Los Angeles County will be able to meet should their adjusted new-Covid case rates per 100,000 residents not rise above today's levels. San Diego County is just above that level and would need to see its case level decline for SeaWorld to be allowed to reopen as a theme park on April 1, though it is currently operating without rides as a zoo.

Under the new rules, theme parks would be limited to 15 percent capacity, with indoor attractions and shops limited to the same 15 percent capacity and no indoor dining permitted. Only Californians would be allowed to visit and park employees would need to be tested for Covid weekly.

At the Orange Tier 3 level, which would be reached once the case rate drops below 4, (or 6, once the state administers four million vaccines to hardest-hit communities), parks could increase capacity to 25 percent. Overall capacity rises to 35 percent in the Yellow Tier 1, though indoor capacity would remain at 25 percent. Visits would remain limited to California residents.

"With case rates and hospitalizations significantly lower, the arrival of three highly effective vaccines and targeted efforts aimed at vaccinating the most vulnerable communities, California can begin gradually and safely bringing back more activities, especially those that occur outdoors and where consistent masking is possible," California Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said. "Even with these changes, California retains some of the most robust public health protocols in the country."

"We are encouraged that theme parks now have a path toward reopening this spring, getting thousands of people back to work and greatly helping neighboring businesses and our entire community," Disneyland President Ken Potrock said. "With responsible Disney safety protocols already implemented around the world, we can’t wait to welcome our guests back and look forward to sharing an opening date soon."

"This is very exciting news. We deeply appreciate the partnership with State and Local Health and Government officials, and are thrilled to have finally arrived at this milestone announcement," Universal Studios Hollywood President Karen Irwin said. "The health and safety of our guests and team members remain our top priority, and we’re committed to ensuring full compliance with our newly established protocols as we continue to create an exceptional entertainment experience for everyone. 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."

What today's announced changes mean for the special events that most California parks had planned for April and beyond remains to be seen. And, as I suggested yesterday, approval to reopen and an actual reopening date can be two different things, as parks take the time they need to recall employees and reopen ticket sales to the public.

Stay tuned.

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Replies (28)

March 5, 2021 at 5:19 PM

This is great news to hear! Epic Universe and now this.

However I don’t see any of the parks opening in April. I wonder if 15% capacity is even viable. But I swear, if it's some April fools joke... I'm gonna lose it.

March 5, 2021 at 5:21 PM

I'm not quite so confident that this will happen (and if it does, I'll be bummed that I took my remaining vacation time this week instead of waiting until April, because my last Disneyland trip was in September 2019), but it's fantastic news if it ends up happening.

March 5, 2021 at 5:24 PM

So... is 15 percent capacity in a day more or fewer tickets than Disneyland has sold already for A Touch of Disney at Disney California Adventure?

March 5, 2021 at 5:29 PM

Ooh, good question, Robert. I have friends who are going to Touch of Disney, but I have no idea what capacity is for the event, though I have read that it's selling out. The question of "is it more profitable to reopen fully with limited capacity" vs "is it more profitable to just hold a food festival" is an interesting one.

March 5, 2021 at 5:30 PM

15% is a major pill for those parks to swallow. I don't even know how that's supposed to work in regards to attraction capacity unless they are strictly talking theater shows. We probably won't see any parks open until they get 25% approval at least.

March 5, 2021 at 5:34 PM

It's about time! These guidelines are really what should have been in place since the tier system started in August, but better late than never I suppose. As for reopening, I fully expect parks to finish out the announced run of their current food festivals and then reopen for normal operation afterward, with most opening their attractions in the second half of April or first half of May, and I do think it is reasonable to assume all will be open by Memorial Day at the latest.

March 5, 2021 at 5:34 PM

At the rates that cases are dropping in the state and vaccines being distributed, if we don't screw this up (I know), it's possible that OC and LA will be in the new Orange Tier by when the parks are ready to reopen after April 1, so they can go at 25 percent.

Timing the reopenings is going to be a big issue, too, with Disneyland, Knott's, and Universal all planning to have new attractions ready to go on day one, with Legoland and SeaWorld possibly ready to go then, too. Will everyone really try to do official premieres for their new attractions on the same day?

March 5, 2021 at 5:53 PM

What new attractions are Disney planning? I don’t think Avengers Campus will be complete by then. Or, will it?

March 5, 2021 at 5:59 PM

The new Snow White dark ride.

March 5, 2021 at 6:09 PM

New attractions (or revamped attractions like Snow White) or not, it will just be nice to know that the parks will be available to visit again for more than just food and shopping. It's not my favorite attraction in the park (though I don't dislike it, obviously), and yet I'm craving me some It's a Small World right now even more than Haunted Mansion, which I like more overall.

March 5, 2021 at 6:43 PM

I remember an article (not on this blog) last year where Disney said that a low capacity restriction wouldn't be operationally and financially feasible. This is when they were trying to open Disney World. I doubt Disneyland will open at 15%, especially with California-residents only restrictions.

March 5, 2021 at 7:13 PM

Newsom's management of the parks safely reopening has been pathetic. California's health officials should have traveled to Orlando and embedded themselves there. They should have seen the Florida operating protocols and used the methods and data to develop solid means of protection for guests.

The reason the idiot is doing this comes down to one word: Recall.

March 5, 2021 at 7:51 PM

After thinking about it, here's my best guess for SoCal's major parks...

Six Flags Magic Mountain will be the first to reopen, and could potentially be open April 1st if LA drops to red by then. They are the only park without an event extending in to April, and other than Justice League all their attractions are completely outdoors.

Disneyland will reopen in early May, by which point Orange County should be in at least the orange tier and things will likely be as good as they'll get under the tier system. Snow White will likely open with the parks. If California drops the travel advisory and parks aren't restricted on who they can admit, Avengers Campus may open at that time as well. If not, opening will be postponed until the California resident restriction is dropped. At opening, tickets valid for one to three visits over a multi-month period will be sold, with sales of annual passes resuming only when the park is not hitting their capacity limits on a regular basis.

Knott's and SeaWorld will both reopen in mid-May after their current food festivals conclude. Knott's will have Bear-Y Tales open with the park, while SeaWorld may or may not open Emperor right away (given that Iron Gwazi and Ice Breaker haven't opened yet and don't have dates despite Florida being open since June, I'd bet on SWSD holding off). Prior to officially reopening, the parks may offer a limited selection of rides during festivals to aid in the training process for new hires.

Universal will keep their food festival going until LA hits the orange tier by extending it a couple weeks at a time, then reopen ASAP after that point. Given the likely operating restrictions under red tier, I don't think they'll attempt a reopening under those guidelines.

March 5, 2021 at 8:26 PM

Representatives from the Newsome administration actually did visit the Orlando parks, I don't remember the month, but it was when DLR was making the big push to re-open. They purposely went on a holiday weekend and lets just say their visit was actually a factor in the decision to not allow the parks to re-open in California.

March 5, 2021 at 9:06 PM

@the_man: Absolutely missed my point. Not"visit". Embed. Travel to Orlando. Set up an office. Engage the safety and operations managers of the parks. Stay in Orlando for months. Find out what works. Write protocols that protect guests and workers.

If that "visit" you reference had any credibility, the results of their taxpayer funded vacation would have yielded a published document that provided real analysis and innovative ways to ensure safety.

BIG swing and a miss.

Also, it's spelled "Newsom".

March 5, 2021 at 10:20 PM

Let's see how it goes, still a few things can alter and Disney themselves might want to hold a bit longer for safety and making sure it's all set up right. Still, it's good to have light at the end of the tunnel.

March 5, 2021 at 11:48 PM

@Robert-

I mean, wouldn't it take more employees to pay in order to run two theme parks than a food festival in one park?

The parks will have more expenses to run everything but hey, maybe 15% capacity would be better than doing a food festival. We'll just have to see.

March 6, 2021 at 2:35 AM

Max capacity at Universal Studios Hollywood is 50,000(This was the capacity that closed the park that one time). 15% of that is 7,500: This is the regular amount the park gets during the weekday during the off-season.

Magic Mountain is the one that will not be affected much due to they barely get 1,000 guests during weekdays(Wouldn’t be surprised that they resort to weekends only.

March 6, 2021 at 8:03 AM

I don't even know how 15% will work for park attraction capacity. I will be surprised if any parks open before they get 25% approval at least. Let's see how it goes, still a few things can alter and Disney themselves might want to hold a bit longer for safety and making sure it's all set up right.

WickerLove

March 6, 2021 at 9:55 AM

@AgustinMacias I used to work at Universal Studios Hollywood. They're lucky to get 3,500 people a day during the summer, so capacity is not an issue there.

I also used to work at Disneyland, and I've been there on days where attendance was capped at 86,000. 15% of that is 12,900. That's a bit less crowded than a rainy off-season day (about 14,000), so we'll see if Disney decides that is profitable enough to reopen at 15% if the April 1st thing actually happens.

@tahase5514 You could very well be right, at least as far as Disneyland is concerned (while I've worked at Disneyland and Universal Hollywood, I cannot speak for Knott's, Six Flags, or Sea World). As you said, we'll wait and see. 25% at Disneyland would be around 21,500 so I could see that working for them financially, but 15% may work for them as well. I wasn't a financial guy -- I sold popcorn and balloons, but at Universal I was in management and had an alphanumeric pager through which I got attendance figures every hour to help us plan which carts to close and which to keep open and if the 50,000 capacity is accurate, 15% will work for Universal -- but take everything I say with a grain of salt, because I worked there in the 1990s and things may have changed since then. I'm just kind of going on what I saw when I worked in those two parks.

March 6, 2021 at 9:54 AM

“ Magic Mountain is the one that will not be affected much due to they barely get 1,000 guests during weekdays(Wouldn’t be surprised that they resort to weekends only.”

Agustin, that’s true...however, I’m wondering / thinking those numbers could be higher now. It’s been a year since lockdown restrictions have been in place & many people are very anxious to get back out anywhere. If Magic Mountain is the first park to open, they might get a huge boost from folks just looking to get back out somewhere.

But I think you could be right about weekends, although it will be Spring, so if the demand is there...

March 6, 2021 at 10:04 AM

@Jay R. You do make a great point about pent-up demand, which I didn't account for in my last reply.

March 6, 2021 at 11:12 AM

I agree with the above comments about the timing of the various parks re-opening,concluding their food festivals and watching for when they can increase capacity; but as Robert pointed out there will be weekly worker testing for the Theme Parks and Outdoor Venues (concerts, sports, etc.). The weekly worker testing for the Theme Parks extends into the Yellow Tier, while Outdoor Venues only need to do the testing in the Red and Orange Tiers. No other sector has had to follow that requirement. It still seems as if the State Leaders (and I use that term loosely) have no interest in helping the Theme Parks re-open without adding on some sort of additional expense, in this case weekly testing programs. I never did get tested because I couldn't get an appointment. I wonder what the logistics will be to test several Thousand employees each week? If they have stay quarantined until they get their results then the Parks would have to have about 1/3 more employees just to cover for those waiting results. That additional testing and quarantine would be a further burden on the employees' families without that income for those few days or will the State make the companies pay "quarantine" pay; that could be another expense.
Yup, there is a light at the end of this tunnel - but it might be just another train on the track.

March 7, 2021 at 2:24 PM

It was always a head scratcher to me why theme parks were held to higher standards than other businesses. The parks are able to control and enforce attendance limits and distancing measures. When I went to a Knott's food festival, we personally experienced employees being diligent in enforcing the 'don't eat while walking' rule. I went to the Santa Monica pier over the summer, where there is no limit on people on the pier, and it was packed with people, albeit they were wearing masks. There might be a concern that people spend the whole day in a theme park, but they are still controlled. Add to that, it is relatively low risk to be outdoors. But even indoor rides are short experiences where people move through quickly. People probably spend more time indoors shopping at Walmart, while there is a mask mandate and people are expected to distance 6 feet, there is no real restriction, no temperature checks, no questions.

March 6, 2021 at 11:47 PM

@Jay R

While there’s no denying that the attendance might be up due to people want to go anywhere that is open, I hope Six Flags ditch their membership program because it’s hurting them in the long run($8 a month to go to any Six Flags park in the world is not a profitable measure).

The reason I stated that they barely get 1,000 on a weekday is because it’s a park that only caters to thrill seekers with barely anything for families and it isn’t handicap friendly. On these days I went, everything was a walk-on(Literally no lines) and team members were bored out of their mind at how empty the park was. Magic Mountain going open all year round was a terrible decision that is costing the park so much money.

March 7, 2021 at 2:33 PM

I wonder if theme parks like Six Flags, Sea World and even Universal, that have low annual pass prices make it up with food sales from the repeat visits. Six Flags and Knott's have meal plans which seem like great deals, but somewhere in there they must be figuring to make their money, maybe because not everyone takes full advantage of the meal plans. Maybe something like how not every Disneyland annual passholder takes full advantage of their passes, Disney is making their money off those people.

March 10, 2021 at 7:46 AM

Given that it's likely to be restricted to 15% capacity at Disneyland who will be able to get tickets ?
Did I hear that there are no Annual Passholders anymore ? If so then it obviously won't be them or have people already, wisely, invested in day tickets that can be used when it re-opens ? Also if those numbers of ticket holders exceed the permitted daily attendance it could be weeks before they clear that "backlog ".
Thoughts ?

March 10, 2021 at 9:06 AM

@Rob P - It's likely that Disneyland/DCA will use a similar ParkPass system that is used at WDW. My guess is that former APs who were in good standing before the programs were cancelled will be given early or exclusive access to the reservation portal, and that reservations will be limited to a set number of days per week/month. Disney has indicated that they will be creating a new AP-style program (my guess is that it will be a "Membership" type system being used at Sea World parks and Six Flags). So if that is initiated before the parks reopen, those early adopters are almost certainly going to get first dibs on limited reservations during the first few months of reopening.

Just like at many parks around the country right now, nobody will be able to walk up to the gates at Disneyland, buy a ticket, and get in. Everyone, regardless of status, will need to buy a ticket or subscribe to whatever new program Disney launches, and then make a reservation for the date they want to visit.

I anticipate that any such reservation system will NEVER go away, even after the pandemic is over, because forcing guests to make reservations before arriving helps the parks to allocate resources and create demand. WDW managers probably LOVE knowing exactly how many people are going to show up on a given day, and have announced the ParkPass system will remain in place until 2023 (and almost certainly beyond). Guests will just need to get used to it, and accept that the days of just showing up on a random day or popping in on their way home from work are numbered, even after parks can be safely filled to maximum capacity.

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