Travel Tuesday: Disneyland’s Dilemma — To Reopen or Not to Reopen Next Month?
On March 14th, Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure will have officially been closed to the public for a full year. Like many closures that coincided with the early days of the pandemic reaching the United States, the parks were originally only announced to be closed through “the end of the month.” Later, Disney stated that Disneyland would reopen on July 17th for its 65th anniversary — although that obviously didn’t happen. When those plans fell through, the resort along with other California theme parks pushed the state to allow them to reopen (eventually-released guidelines prevented large parks from reopening prior to their counties reaching the lowest “Yellow” Tier) until another surge in infections rendered their arguments moot. Now, many months later, a change to California’s guidelines could allow Disneyland and others to welcome back guests as soon as April 1st — but with a catch.
Update: since I initially published this post, Disney has announced that it’s targeting a “late April” reopening but did not share an exact date. What follows is my original post without edit.
Armed with only the info I provided in that intro, one might assume that Disney is elated with the news and will be planning an April Fool’s Day return. However, it’s not quite so simple. The first complicating matter is that, if the county where a theme park resides reaches the “Red” Tier, they can only open to 15% capacity. What’s more, only California residents will be allowed to visit. Additionally, according to reports, indoor rides and attractions will not be able to open, among other restrictions. The capacity limit does increase to 25% in the “Orange” Tier and 35% in the “Yellow” tier — although the “only California residents” rule remains. For what it’s worth, Orange County where the Disneyland Resort is located is currently still in the “Purple” Tier but is expected to move down to “Red” by the time April 1st rolls around.
Interestingly, the quick turnaround and tight restrictions may not even be the top reason why Disney might not be jumping at the chance to reopen. A day before the revised guidelines were announced, tickets for a paid event called A Touch of Disney went on sale. Rather than utilize Disney California Adventure as a theme park, this special event will allow guests to wander different areas of the park and enjoy a number of culinary items that Disneyland is known for (prior to this event, the resort had reopened parts of California Adventure for shopping and outdoor dining). These tickets sold for $75 and, due to popular demand, Disney opened more dates than anticipated for their first round of events. Meanwhile, Knott’s Berry Farm and Universal Studios Hollywood have similar events in the works or underway.
There in lies the key issue: should Disney bother reopening its theme parks at such limited capacity when it can seemingly still turn a profit with alternative events? Moreover, if they did decided to reopen on April 1st, what would become of A Touch of Disney? While it might seem as though Disney could simply cancel the event and convert purchased tickets into park tickets, it’s unclear what capacity limit the park’s placed on the events — or if tickets were sold to non-California residents. Therefore, this process could actually be quite a headache.
Speaking of headaches, I should also mention that the on-sale process for Touch of Disney wasn’t so smooth. Guests reported being greeted by a virtual queue that stated wait times of over an hour. At one point, the queue was even stopped before ticket sales resumed. This experience coupled with several other encounters I’ve had with Disney’s site technologies really makes me wonder how they’d even manage an April 1st reopening. Not only would their reservation system need to be able to handle tremendous demand for a very limited supply but would also need to reasonably confirm residence to a level that state leaders find acceptable. Again, this doesn’t seem like it would be too difficult… yet I suspect it will be.
So here we are. After months of asking the California government to allow theme parks to reopen, the ball is now in Disneyland’s court (presumably the one housed inside of the Matterhorn’s facade). While the resort is no doubt excited about the prospect of welcome back both guests and Cast Members, the short notice of the change, the strict rules and capacity limits they’ll need to adhere to, and the question of what to do about an event they’ve already sold tickets to leave Disney in a real pickle. Seeing as I’m no longer a California resident, their choice doesn’t have a whole lot of impact on me aside from my intrigue as a fan. Still, it will be very interesting to see what Disney, Universal, Knott’s, Six Flags, and others decide to do next.