Some believe there is bound to be a high demand for Disney magic when Disneyland Resort reopens its theme park gates, presumably sometime this year. Others are doubtful that the Disney Parks will see any groundbreaking success until 2022.
Per a report by local Southern California news source the Orange County Register, some analysts predict that “attendance at Disney’s pandemic-battered theme park division will bounce back in 2022 after bottoming out during the COVID-19 pandemic.” But the Disneyland Resort theme parks are expected to reopen sometime in 2021, so what will attendance look like then?
When Disneyland reopens, who will visit the California theme park destination — or rather, who will want to return to Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, and who will be allowed to actually visit?
Here, we examine the guidelines for reopening California theme parks, the current protocol in place for visiting the State of California, tourism trends, and the past precedent set by the reopening of Walt Disney World Resort in Florida last summer.
Note that visiting any theme park amid the ongoing pandemic comes with a risk. Click here to visit the CDC website for up-to-date information on COVID-19.
Guidelines for reopening California theme parks
In order to understand who may visit Disneyland when it reopens, we should first acknowledge the theme park reopening guidelines put in place by California Governor Gavin Newsom.
Large theme parks in California — including the Disneyland Resort, which encompasses Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park — are not permitted to reopen until the county in which they are located has less than one daily new COVID-19 case per 100,000 residents. Orange County (where Disneyland Resort is located) will have to reach the yellow tier, labeled as “Minimal Tier 4” in the chart below, in order for the California Disney Parks to reopen their gates. As of late January 2021, Orange County is in the purple tier. Read more here.
Large theme parks are defined as those parks that have daily capacities of 15,000 visitors or more. Small theme parks, such as piers and local amusement parks, have a separate set of reopening guidelines they must adhere to.
Keep in mind, however, there are no restrictions on who is allowed to visit the large theme parks when they reopen — according to the current guidelines, the visitors will not be limited to those who live within the county where the theme park is located. In addition to other health and safety protocols in place, capacity must be limited to 25% and advanced reservations must be required.
Can out-of-state Disney fans visit Disneyland when the parks reopen?
It’s true that there are plenty of out-of-state Disney fans (and even former Disneyland Resort Annual Passholders) who will want to visit the Happiest Place on Earth when the theme park gates reopen. But the question that remains is this: will they be allowed to come?
The answer isn’t a simple one, but we think we can provide some hope for out-of-state fans.
Californians should remain local (not traveling more than 120 miles from their home or other place of residence) and avoid non-essential travel. Travelers from other states or countries entering into California for tourism and recreation are strongly discouraged.
However, based on the guidelines for reopening California theme parks — laid out by California Governor Gavin Newsom and Dr. Mark Ghaly in the Blueprint For a Safer Economy — Disneyland Resort will not be allowed to reopen until COVID-19 case numbers significantly decrease in Orange County, CA.
Therefore, if COVID-19 cases will be dramatically lower than they are currently by the time Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park, then perhaps travel restrictions in the State of California will be loosened, as well. It is highly unlikely that California state officials will be encouraging out-of-state visitors anytime soon, but one of the reasons why major theme parks are currently closed is because they are huge tourist attractions and draw in people from other states and even other countries. So, if the status of the coronavirus pandemic will need to be very different for theme parks to reopen, then perhaps out-of-state Disneyland Resort fans can be optimistic.
At first, Walt Disney World saw low attendance
When predicting the possible demand for the Disney Parks in California — be it from in-state visitors or out-of-state visitors — it is helpful to recall the demand seen in Florida when Walt Disney World reopened last summer.
When Walt Disney World Resort reopened its theme parks (Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and Disney’s Animal Kingdom) in July 2020, Walt Disney Company executives admitted that attendance was lower than they had expected.
Per our past coverage:
Bob Chapek stated they did find “higher than expected level of cancellations once somebody does make a reservation, because as the disease ebbs and flows they might necessarily cancel,” and they could tell before Walt Disney World reopened that there would be a demand to go beyond social distancing.
He explained that “each day we are at a percentage of the park that we can fill while maintaining social distancing” and “we have roughly 50% of our Guest base still traveling from a distance.”
Another report also indicated that Disney Park attendance upon reopening last year was impacted by Florida’s low tourism numbers. At the time, capacity at Disney World theme parks was limited to 25%, and even that number was not reached every day.
Now, in 2021, COVID-19 transmission rates in the U.S. are higher than ever. Florida and California are seeing high case numbers despite the recent (albeit limited) availability of the coronavirus vaccine. With travel still being discouraged, it is unclear who will want to head to California to visit the Disneyland Resort theme parks amid the pandemic, even once they open.
A huge distinction, however, is that the Florida Disney Parks reopened amid what was, at the time, a record-breaking week for coronavirus cases for the state. Therefore, it was not surprising for so many people to feel hesitant about traveling to Disney World at that time. On the other hand, the California Disney Parks are not allowed to reopen until coronavirus cases are significantly lower. So, it could be argued that at that time, more and more people may be comfortable traveling — and traveling may not be as discouraged. There is a chance that the California Disney Parks will see higher demand by the time the Happiest Place on Earth finally reopens its gates, especially since it would appear that it will have been closed for well over a year by that time.
When Disneyland reopens, will you visit?
Considering the theme park reopening guidelines in place in California, it would appear that anyone who wants to visit Disneyland and Disney California Adventure will be allowed to do so, once the parks reopen. But when that time comes, do you think you will want to visit?
So far, it appears that there is a high demand for Disney magic in Southern California.
Before the theme parks closed in March 2020, a majority of daily Disneyland Resort theme park Guests were Annual Passholders and locals. When it was announced that reservations would be required in order to visit the Disney Parks when they reopen in California, many speculated that a reservation system could cause issues for APs. Many believe there will be such a high demand for the theme parks that it would be highly difficult for Passholders to actually visit, given the Annual Pass program that was previously in place.
Disney indicated that they are aware of this high Disneyland demand when they made the decision to end the Annual Passport program.
A “new membership offering” is planned for the resort, and it is expected that this will “enhance choice and flexibility” for those Disney fans who want to visit the theme parks when they reopen. Disneyland Resort President Ken Potrock shared the following about future membership programs for Disneyland Guests:
“We’re trying to understand: What do people want in this new world? When do they want to access our parks? How frequently do they want to access our parks? With what level of spontaneity? With what level of value? All of those kinds of things and many more.”
Keep in mind that we continue to await more details regarding pass and ticket types that will be available when the parks reopen.
On the contrary, the analysts cited by the OC Register report mentioned earlier in this article predict that Disney’s theme parks won’t be as popular as they were pre-pandemic until 2022 and beyond.
So, what do you think? If you are a Disneyland fan, California local, or theme park lover, do you plan to visit Disneyland Resort when the theme parks reopen? And, if you are from another state, how will the status of COVID-19 impact your decision to travel to the Happiest Place on Earth?
Since Disneyland and Disney California Adventure are currently closed and given the current status of coronavirus in the state, it’s too early to predict when exactly they will reopen or even what the demand will be by then — but we’re certainly eager to find out.
As a reminder, Downtown Disney (and, by extension, Buena Vista Street in Disney California Adventure) is the only area of Disneyland Resort that is currently open to Guests. In addition to the theme parks, the hotels of the Disneyland Resort (Disneyland Hotel, Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel, and Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa) are also temporarily closed.
Stay tuned to Inside the Magic for the latest news on Disney Parks operations.