ANAHEIM, Calif. — Disneyland and Disney California Adventure opened their gates to guests Friday after an unprecedented 13-month closure, welcoming parkgoers as the COVID-19 pandemic loosens its grip on the state.
In the 66-year history of Disneyland, the theme park has been shut for extreme circumstances only a few times — after the assassination of President Kennedy and following the 1994 Northridge earthquake, for example — but before the pandemic struck in March 2020, none of those closures lasted longer than a day.
Now, with a slew of coronavirus safety adjustments, the Anaheim parks are welcoming back their fans.
Eager parkgoers began lining up hours before Disneyland’s official 9 a.m. opening time, and a cheer greeted the announcement that the temperature-check station would start processing them for admission about an hour early. To prevent crowding in Disneyland’s Main Street area, park employees waved in the admitted guests and invited them to freely roam the grounds.
“This is a homecoming for us,” said a crying Claudia Martinez, who visited the park Friday with her mother and aunt from San Diego. Her plans for the day? See the new Snow White ride and “eat all the Disneyland food they have,” she said. Martinez is a former pass holder who said she used to visit the park almost weekly.
Melisa Howell of Clovis was also crying as she entered the park with her husband, Paul. “It’s been a long year,” she said, adding that the park opening feels like a bit of normalcy.
Meanwhile, park workers patrolled those still in line to enter, reminding people to keep their distance from one another and make sure their masks covered their mouths and noses.
Among other precautions, park attendance is capped at 25% of capacity. Guests and employees must wear masks, and people who don’t live together must maintain physical distancing in queues and on rides.
Don’t expect any parades or fireworks shows — those tend to cause excited parkgoers to cluster too closely together. Costumed characters such as Mickey Mouse and Goofy aren’t giving out hugs, but they will be posing for pictures and waving from balconies and stages.
The changes don’t seem to be deterring hard-core fans. Tickets to Disneyland are already sold out for the entire first seven weeks, according to the Disneyland online reservation page. Tickets for Disney California Adventure are sold out for seven days during the first month. A few dates in May and several in June are still available for visitors who buy a park hopper ticket to visit both parks in the same day.
The parks are only allowing in California residents. Visitors must attest that they are Californians when they buy tickets online, and Disney representatives suggest bringing a photo ID as backup confirmation.
In allowing theme parks to reopen this month, California initially prohibited the parks from accepting out-of-state visitors, but it has since ended that restriction. Universal Studios Hollywood and SeaWorld San Diego are among the parks that have begun selling tickets to people who live outside California and are fully vaccinated, but Disney has chosen to stick with the earlier restriction longer.
Most of the rides at the Disney parks are open. Some are shut for pandemic safety reasons, including Disneyland’s Monorail, Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage and Sailing Ship Columbia.
On Friday morning, queues for some rides were unusually quick. Around 9:20 a.m., the queue for the Haunted Mansion was 20 minutes long, and the wait for Millennium Falcon: Smuggler’s Run was 10 minutes long. “It feels like a non-busy day. You don’t get those anymore,” Elizabeth Brillo of Sun Valley said as she exited the Millennium Falcon ride.
On the other hand, the wait to board the new Snow White ride was estimated at 60 to 90 minutes.
With the exception of the A Touch of Disney food event this spring, the Disney parks — a crown jewel of California’s travel and tourism industry — had been closed since mid-March 2020. State health guidelines released last month have allowed the parks to reopen while aiming to lower the risk of spreading the coronavirus.
Before the pandemic, California theme parks collectively generated $1.5 billion annually in federal, state and local taxes, according to a trade group for the parks.