Updated: Mar 16, 2021
To quote Princess Anna in Disney's "Frozen:" "for the first time in [what feels like] forever, there'll be magic, there'll be fun.” And that’s because the state of California announced on March 5 that theme parks — including Disneyland Resort and Universal Studios Hollywood — can reopen as early as April 1.
What Requirements Must Theme Parks Meet to Reopen by April? Previously, large theme parks were required to wait until their county reached the yellow/minimal tier in the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy COVID-19 recovery plan. However, the newly announced “Blueprint Refresh” would allow them to reopen as early as April 1, so long as the county in which they are located has reached the plan’s red/substantial tier.
At this point, Orange County (home of Disneyland) and Los Angeles County (the location of Universal Studios Hollywood) are both in the purple/widespread tier. Neither park has announced a definitive opening date as of yet.
Additionally, theme parks will still have to operate with some changes: Attendance capacity will be capped at 15%, increasing to 25% in the orange/moderate tier and 35% in the yellow tier. There will be no indoor dining and indoor rides and attractions will be limited. And most significantly, no out-of-state visitors will be allowed to visit California’s theme parks.
Nevertheless, theme park fans are overjoyed at the news that they will soon be able to pass through the turnstiles after more than a year away.
Theme Park Travel Agents Respond The announcement also brought a renewed sense of optimism for travel advisors who specialize in theme park vacations.
“We’ve been helping a large number of clients book Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando Resort and expect the same for Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood when they reopen,” said Steve Griswold, owner of Pixie Vacations in Atlanta. “Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood have the advantage of almost a full year of the [Florida] parks being open, and while the opening in California has more restrictions, it's a positive step toward getting back to normal at the theme parks. Our clients can't wait to go to [Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood] once the parks and resorts open up to non-residents.”
Kacie Darden, owner of Blue Pineapple Travel in Marietta, Ga., says she fully expects the reopening of the California parks to be an evolving process with plenty of new protocols. And while her clients haven't minded waiting for the reopening, having a more definite timeline has provided them with optimism about the future.
They have learned a lot from the Florida operations that have proven to be successful, but as with any travel destination right now, it’s a personal choice — and for some families, it’s worth waiting a little longer.
“We are thrilled to hear that Disneyland Resort and Universal Studios Hollywood have a reopening plan," Darden said. “Our clients have been traveling to the theme parks in Florida successfully and happily for months now, and seeing a future for California's parks to reopen is exciting. I know that it will still be a while until the California parks are open for all clients around the United States, but just knowing that the Happiest Place on Earth will soon reopen brings a smile to my face.”
Beci Mahnken, founder and CEO of MEI-Travel in Issaquah, Wash., also has a waitlist of clients eager to return to the “thrills and magic of a West Coast theme park experience.” However, she notes that other clients plan to wait until masks are no longer required or until they’re fully vaccinated.
“With the focus on health and safety protocols [at the Orlando parks] and the feedback from clients who have returned, I am confident [Disney and Universal] will do all they can to minimize risk at their California parks,” Mahnken said. “They have learned a lot from the Florida operations that have proven to be successful, but as with any travel destination right now, it’s a personal choice — and for some families, it’s worth waiting a little longer.”
Even California-based travel advisors are getting questions about some of the reopening restrictions, including concerns about how many attractions will be available and whether the cost will be worth it.
“One of the biggest concerns is limited experiences at the parks [given that prices may be the same or higher],” said Sue Ellen Knebel, director of travel services for DreamFinder Travel in San Marcos, Calif. “Both Universal Orlando and Walt Disney World have proven they can push through limitations and operate safely, so while we won’t know exactly what to expect until things begin to open up, we are doing our best to assure clients that Universal and Disney are doing all they can to make sure they still provide the ‘magical’ experience they are known for.”
Neither the Disneyland Resort nor Universal Studios Hollywood has announced an official reopening date; however, during Disney’s annual shareholder call on March 9, CEO Bob Chapek said the company is hopeful its California parks will be able to reopen by late April.
Similarly, in an email to annual passholders, Universal Studios Hollywood said that “the excitement of walking through the park’s signature arches and once again experiencing our rides and shows is just around the corner.”
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