California Details Theme Park Reopening Rules

March 26, 2021, 7:09 PM · The state of California has issued its official industry guidance for amusement parks and theme parks. This is the more detailed set of rules that parks must follow when they reopen under the broad guidelines announced earlier this month.

Those guidelines allowed parks to reopen starting April 1 in counties that had reached at least the state's "Red" Tier 2 level for Covid infections. Parks in those counties could operate at 15% capacity, moving up to 25% in the Orange tier and 35% in Yellow.

The new guidance details more restrictions on park operations, including:

The rules also encourage parks to implement mobile ordering and electronic tickets to minimize waiting inside the park and physical touching of ticket media by park staff. The state also recommends that parks adopt virtual queueing and eliminate single rider lines and that parks comply with other state Covid safety rules, including those for ventilation and cleaning and disinfecting workplaces. You can read the entire PDF document on the state's website.

So far, Six Flags Magic Mountain and Discovery Kingdom have announced that they will begin reopening on April 1, with Legoland California also beginning previews on the same day. Legoland official returns on April 15, and all three parks have begun accepting advance reservations from members, passholders and ticket holders.

Disneyland and Disney California Adventure will reopen on April 30, though Disney has yet to announce its reservation and ticketing plans. Disney has closed its annual pass program, so there are no existing passholders to accommodate. Knott's Berry Farm has said that it will reopen sometime in May and sister park California's Great America returns May 22. Universal Studios Hollywood has not announced a reopening date, and SeaWorld San Diego is currently operating as a zoo, with no date announced for the return of rides in theme park operation.

While the new rules will allow theme parks to reopen, the specific requirements detailed today will keep certain attractions from being able to return. Disneyland already has announced that it will not conduct parades or fireworks shows, for example. The prohibition of indoor queues also will affect several rides at Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood, which will need to substantially modify their operation if they are to reopen.

Update: Here is the statement from the state's theme park industry association, the California Attractions and Parks Association:

"We appreciate the administration’s efforts to provide our industry with the guidelines necessary to safely reopen California’s amusement parks," CPA Chairperson Kris Reyes said.

"California amusement parks prioritize health and safety, and we have worked collaboratively with state leaders and health officials at the state and local levels to develop guidelines that will protect employees and guests. We will continue to communicate with state officials about appropriate guest and staff capacities as COVID-19 rates decline.

"Amusement parks are critical economic drivers in our state and local economies and we provide essential jobs for tens of thousands of Californians. We are ready to reopen responsibly and we can’t wait to welcome back our employees and guests."

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Replies (19)

March 26, 2021 at 7:24 PM

Note the complete lack of anything about screaming.

March 26, 2021 at 8:16 PM

Outdoor queuing only? So I take it that Universal will use the single riders line for most of their attractions given that most of their attractions are indoors with long stand-by queues.

March 26, 2021 at 8:49 PM

I think a lot of California theme park fans are about to discover the VIP/Media event entrances that parks use to "back door" guests directly into rides without waiting in their indoor queues.

March 26, 2021 at 9:38 PM

These feel like the guidelines that should have been put in place last August when theme parks were exempted from tiers due to their different operational needs and now feel extremely overboard given months of safe operation under less stringent rules elsewhere. I do hope Newsom is much quicker to revise them as conditions improve than he was to approve them initially, because if trends continue it's going to become increasingly difficult to justify some of these prohibitions a couple months from now (particularly if they don't exist outside of theme parks). Masks make sense, distancing makes sense, the rest of it much less so, but if it gets the parks back open it's good enough in the short term.

I'm interested to see how many major attractions Disneyland will be opening without given the 15 minute rule on being indoors. I can think of at least four that probably can't operate while that guideline is in place.

March 26, 2021 at 11:11 PM

I'm wondering where the research is that shows people cannot be indoors for more than 15 minutes, that seems extremely arbitrary. All of the rides everywhere else are using their normal queues with 6 foot distancing in place, so a ride like Space Mountain at MK has a full queue house which is all indoors and nobody is getting coronavirus there.
I agree with the poster above this would have made sense if they opened last summer but now its just silly.

March 27, 2021 at 1:06 AM

Disneyland does have a lot more places with outdoor ques anyway so can work a bit more so it might work out.

March 27, 2021 at 4:52 AM

I’m guessing the 15 minute limit comes from studies that suggest that 15 minutes of exposure is enough to catch COVID. However masks and social distancing should greatly reduce that risk, making the rule pointless and overbearing. And apparently social distancing inside at a store is fine, but thats not enough if you are in line at Disneyland. Same thing with being from another state. Hard to believe Disney wants to expand Disneyland with the way the state has treated them.

March 27, 2021 at 10:25 AM

I wonder if CA will allow water rides to be open. In FL, most are with the option of removing your mask while on the ride. It doesn't sound like the parks here will be allowed to do the same.

March 27, 2021 at 11:50 AM

@randykeith: "And apparently social distancing inside at a store is fine, but thats not enough if you are in line at Disneyland."

Agreed. You're also inside a plane for 15 minutes before it even takes off. And how can you compare the total volume of air inside Pirates of the Carribean with the volume of air in most stores you visit? Surely it would take FAR longer for the aerosols to build up in that giant room . . .

Agreed that these rules seem extremely arbitrary.

March 27, 2021 at 10:19 PM

The only things I think are really smart about this list that follows science is: masking, the real it looks effort to contact trace and keeping the first guests all coming from CA & collecting their names and addresses, and weekly staff Covid tests. This all said, the 15 minutes inside is ridiculous... if one wears masks, this is just our state being unfair to theme parks again and again and doesn't really prevent Covid-19 that wouldn't spread with distancing between parties, and proper mask wearing. And why outdoor shows only, why not indoor with masks being worn by audience and non-performing cast members and using distancing? If movie theaters are open, why can not live entertainment with safety protocols be too? And let's face it movie theaters, restaurants, grocery stores, and other stores are not taking anywhere near the same precautions to welcome guests in and no known large outbreaks I know by me in LA County at any of the mentioned places. Why are theme parks again and again treated worse than an ugly stepchild? I am off to Orlando in April... I am holding off for Disneyland as I no longer have an AP, and the day with no fast passes, and I think a real headache ahead of ride queuing and seating sound painful and it is about to be hot. BTW, LA and OC County have HORRID unemployment, and really elected officials should be looking at getting as many people back to work as possible, having all of us still thankfully employed start paying money at local businesses, as long as both can be done pretty safely. Any how, I am totally for the contact tracing being implemented at theme parks, but anything more they are asked to do past restaurants in their county is frankly BS and unfair.

March 28, 2021 at 12:01 AM

@AJ Hummel

Rise of the Resistance should be interesting. I could see them bypassing so much of the attraction and just go straight to the ride portion.

March 28, 2021 at 3:39 AM

Nah, we pretty much still know hardly anything more detailed about where exactly people get infected under which conditions and everyone with money to make from being open is using that to yell load: Not here, must be somewhere else, 200% of all infections happening at home! Fortunately the data on vaccines is rather unambiguous good, which should be sufficient to keep the dying far below the business as usual in the last 12 month, no matter what else. My energy to get worked up about minor catastrophes short of new daily death records is rather limited these days.

Additional note: That was a comment limited to the US vaccine rollout situation. New death record are still very much an option if not an acute reality at other places for some time.

March 28, 2021 at 6:42 PM

I live in Nevada but live closer to Disneyland than many Californians. That being said, I don't have any vacation time left until my next allotment in July, so that restriction doesn't affect me personally at this time, but it seems silly with vaccinations spreading (I had my first vaccination on Thursday of last week, and get my second dose on April 15th but still wouldn't be allowed to visit).

But thank you, Robert, for pointing out that there is nothing about screaming. I'm so sick and tired of fake articles that say that guests won't be allowed to scream on roller coasters.

March 28, 2021 at 7:15 PM

@kenny Vee: The screaming thing sounds like someone heard it secondhand "not encouraged" and next thing you know, it's reported as a real rule.

March 28, 2021 at 9:46 PM

Agustin, I'm honestly 50/50 on whether Disneyland will attempt to reopen that one right away. On my visit to Florida in October, Rise of the Resistance was the only attraction that was operating with all the preshows running. The only way I can see it working in California would be if they skipped the preshows and escorted guests directly from the outdoor queue to the star destroyer hanger (likely 1-2 groups at a time to avoid an indoor queue), which quite honestly would devalue the attraction so significantly IMO I'm not sure it'd be worth it (especially given all the hassles of the virtual queue).

Of the top of my head, I'd say Rise, Nemo, Pirates, Small World, and probably Indy would either be disqualified by the guidelines or require so much modification it wouldn't be worth it to run them. Buzz, Mansion, Roger Rabbit, Space, Smuggler's Run, and maybe Splash would be a challenge due to the ban on indoor queuing, but I can think of modifications that should allow them to be okay (though all will wreck capacity). Over at DCA, Grizzly, Guardians, and Soarin are the main ones I see as a challenge. Everything else should be doable without too much difficulty.

March 29, 2021 at 8:25 AM

The indoor queue rules make very little sense. It's also not clear what qualifies as an "indoor queue". For instance, does BTMRR count as indoor, even though it's fed primarily by fresh air (with vents and fans in the loading station to improve circulation)? Also, rides like ROTR, Indy, Guardians, and TSMM have a combination of indoor and outdoor queue spaces where you just can't circumvent the indoor sections to facilitate this rule without ruining the theming and build-up.

The other rule here that's strange is the closing of rides that have a high rate of mask loss. Exactly what would a "high rate" be? If 2-3 people per hour lose their mask, is that considered "high", or does it need to be closer to once every cycle or 2? I will say that if you've never been on a high-intensity ride before while wearing a face mask, it's pretty easy to lose it, especially the thin/light paper varieties that simply wrap around your ears. However, if you have some experience, you know that you need to secure your mask a little bit tighter (or use a heavier or differently designed mask - like ones that wrap around the back of the head instead of the ears) when riding these higher intensity attractions. The rule to force parks to provide replacement masks to guests that lose them on attractions is very appropriate, but to close the attraction because people are losing masks at a "high rate" seems unnecessarily harsh. Can parks deny access to more intense attractions to those not wearing better secured face masks? Can parks mandate that masks secured around the ears are just not allowed through the gates at all (just like how WDW has determined gators as inappropriate face coverings)? Six Flags and Cedar Fair parks are probably the most affected by this rule.

March 29, 2021 at 12:09 PM

Just spent 6 days at Universal Florida. Everyone was wearing masks and it was strictly enforced. All indoor ques were spaced 6 feet apart. No parades but everything is open and fairly busy with spring break. Theme parks can open and they have for sometime in Florida and be safer than walking around in the Real world. I have taken my family numerous times to the parks in Orlando and felt safe every time even with the spring break crowds. The only problem I see all over Florida is lack of employees. Every business is looking to higher. I'm sure they will run into the and problems in California. I know people who are more content getting checks to stay home from work. But these same people are going to the parks as guests so I don't think they are staying home for fear of Covid

March 29, 2021 at 2:28 PM

Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk has just announced 8-12 rides will be opening April 1.

March 29, 2021 at 4:11 PM

Russell, I believe California defines an indoor space as a structure with solid walls on three sides, so something like BTMRR and TSMM would be considered outdoor even though there's a roof. I don't know if this is state rules or simply chain policy (this comes from SFMM employees), but if the queue must enter a building for the ride to function (such as the station) it may do so, but any portion that doesn't share space with the ride itself must be circumvented. Also, only two cycles of guests are allowed inside at once...those currently on the ride (including loading/unloading), and those on standby to board. How this is interpreted could affect some of Disney's attractions significantly (for example, if only one vehicle's worth is considered standing by, Indy can't possibly function, but if one cycle is the total number on the ride at once it could probably work). Lastly, the 15 minutes is from the time guests enter the building until the time they leave it. For attractions that have both indoor and outdoor sections, the outdoor time pauses the clock but doesn't reset it as guests will still be in close proximity to the same individuals.

As for the mask loss rule, it is based on a percentage. I don't know what that percentage is, but I was told no rides at other Six Flags parks were seeing an unacceptable rate of mask loss and they don't expect it to be a problem here. Unlike other parks, however, in California they're supposed to provide a guest with a disposable mask before they leave the platform instead of just directing them to the nearest store to make a purchase.

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