“When will Disneyland and California Adventure reopen?” and “how much longer will the parks stay closed?” have become increasingly common questions. In this post, we’ll address what Governor Gavin Newsom’s four-stage plan for reopening the state economy means for Disneyland Resort, why an end to the closure might still be months away, plus predictions & commentary on crowds and discounts once DCA and Disneyland reopen. (Updated July 1, 2020.)
We’ll start by underscoring the reality that we don’t have a crystal ball, and no one–not even Bob Iger or Chapek–knows for sure when Disneyland will reopen. This is a constantly changing and evolving situation. New information and data emerges on a daily basis, and public sentiment remains fluid. All of this impacts the decisions that will be made by California and Disney leadership.
All of this is highly speculative, and based not on our personal opinions of when Disneyland should reopen, but when we anticipate it likely will. Many readers have asked us to address the closure and potential reopening of Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, which we have not done with nearly the same frequency as Walt Disney World…
For those who have not been following the closure, Disney actually announced Official Reopening Dates & Details for Disneyland Resort last month. Among other things, that plan indicated that Disneyland & DCA would reopen on July 17, 2020 and two of the hotels would debut on July 23, 2020.
However, California subsequently saw a spike in new cases, causing Governor Newsom to pause some reopening plans. Consequently, Disneyland Indefinitely Delayed Reopening Plans and issued a somewhat bizarrely passive-aggressive statement blaming the state for not approving its plans, while praising local unions with whom Disney had been butting heads.
At present, Downtown Disney is still scheduled to reopen as planned on July 9, 2020. However, California Governor Gavin Newsom just ordered that 19 counties must close all indoors operations for restaurants, family entertainment, and more, while requiring that bars cease all operations. This applies for at least the next 3 weeks, and impacts many third parties that would potentially open at Downtown Disney. We’re thus guessing that the reopening of Downtown Disney will likewise be delayed.
So…what happens next? When will Disneyland reopen?
Before we delve into predictions of a reopening date, let’s address what reopening Disneyland looks like in terms of crowds, discounts, and more. With Walt Disney World reopening first, many fans will look at what happens in the Florida parks for insight into what Disneyland will be like when it reopens. We’d caution against this.
Due to divergent demographics and the nature of the California complex, things differ for Disneyland Resort. This is both good and bad for Disney, providing an easier path for bouncing back while also necessitating policies that can scale (and less learning on the fly).
For one, Disneyland Resort has a colossal local audience. There are huge populations in Los Angeles and Orange County, California, many of whom are Annual Passholders. While the scales have tipped a bit in recent years (especially over the summer months), there’s still a huge local AP-base and even larger potential audience within driving distance of Disneyland.
Whereas pent-up demand among Floridians might fizzle out in a week or so at WDW, the same thing in California could overwhelm the reduced-capacity parks for months. (Hopefully the Flex Pass has caught on by now, as Disneyland-by-appointment is undoubtedly the future.) Walt Disney World operating at 20-30% of normal capacity should be easier, as it’s likely demand will keep the parks well below half full.
In Florida, attendance will limit itself organically, as an overwhelming majority of tourists don’t want to fly or be in large venues right now. Even those who are comfortable traveling might be limited by economics–with consumer confidence plummeting and unemployment skyrocketing, fewer people will book expensive vacations. Then there’s the matter of lag between booking a trip and actually traveling.
That’s all very different in California. Rather than being a once in a lifetime vacation that requires months or years of planning, Disneyland Resort is more akin to the mall or beach for many locals.
There are far more people within driving distance of Disneyland Resort. Hundreds of thousands of locals have pre-paid admission in the form of Annual Passes or deeply-discounted Southern California Resident tickets that were sold in the off-season (but have since had their expirations extended). Many of visitors can decide the night before or day-of whether they’re going to the parks.
Disneyland Resort doesn’t have the same issues with discounts. As we’ve reiterated countless times, Walt Disney World’s discounts are all about keeping hotel occupancy high. With only 3 hotels, Disneyland Resort is far less dependent upon them. They’ll probably increase room-only deals by 5-10%, or maybe they’ll just reopen with lower occupancy numbers and eat the losses. The stakes are considerably lower.
With that said, most tourists to Disneyland Resort are booking off-site hotels, anyway. There has been a proliferation of these in the last ~5 years due to expansion to the parks and the Anaheim Convention Center. With no events on the horizon, these walking distance hotels already are offering deep discounts for this summer and beyond.
Suffice to say, it’ll be considerably easier for Disneyland to open the doors, get up and running, and back on its feet. Disneyland Resort lacks the complexity and demographics barriers that will be significant impediments and complicating factors for Walt Disney World.
However, that’s a double-edged sword. Walt Disney World should be able to ease back into operations due to reduced demand, which will allow for a greater degree of learning what works and doesn’t, doing some degree of test and adjust on the fly. Disneyland will need to get things right from day one.
Under this plan, we are currently in Stage 1. “Lower risk” workplaces such as retail, manufacturing, offices, schools and childcare facilities reopening with adaptations in Stage 2.
Stage 3 encompasses “higher risk” businesses and gatherings that include close contact (e.g. salons, gyms, theaters, weddings, and sporting events without live audiences). These businesses would need to make adaptations to operate, while also imposing limits on the size of gatherings.
Stage 4 is when the “highest risk” venues such as concerts, conventions, and live-audience sports would reopen. These large scale events and venues can reopen once therapeutics have been developed. Per Dr. Angell, “this is going to be a while, but there are ways we can modify the way we move around in our environment that will make it more possible.”
California’s Resilence Roadmap is currently paused in its bifurcated Stage 3. As California sees a dramatic uptick in the number of new cases–the Golden State recorded 8,610 new cases yesterday, its single-highest daily count to date–Governor Newsom has temporarily pumped the brakes on the state’s phased plan to restart the economy.
“We are at pause…and there is nothing to suggest, based upon the criteria and conditions…that we’ll be moving anytime soon by pushing further with those protocols,” Governor Newsom said. Newsom also offered Disney a back-handed compliment in “recognizing” that California had delayed its science-based guidelines.
We already know that theme parks can resume modified operations in Stage 3, which is why Disneyland Resort was preparing to resume operations. This is possible at least in part thanks to the San Diego Tourism Authority, which released an Attractions Re-Opening Plan for Southern California amusement offerings.
While Disneyland is in Orange County, this document served as the template for other theme parks, including Disneyland, Disney California Adventure, Knott’s Berry Farm, and Universal Studios Hollywood.
As of July 2020, cases are still on an upward trajectory in California. The state has already rolled back some of its reopening progress, shutting down bars and other high-risk businesses in many counties. As our collective knowledge increases about where spread is more and less likely, more testing and adjusting like this is likely.
Once cases start to drop in California, it’ll be at least another two weeks before California restarts its reopening plan. That means the best-case scenario is things restarting around July 14, 2020. Realistically, with the Independence Day holiday coming up, further increases are likely for the next couple of weeks (even with beaches closed again and other holiday gatherings & events cancelled).
Realistically, that would put the date California would resume its reopening plan closer to the last week or two of July. And again, that’s assuming measures work and cases start to decline. There’s no guarantee of that.
Once California resumes its reopening plan, it’ll need to issue operational guidelines for amusement and theme parks. That’ll take at least a week or two after the un-pause. So we’re looking at early August at this point.
Disneyland Resort has already indicated that it takes a few weeks of time to bring thousands of Cast Members back to work and restart the business, meaning Disneyland and Disney California Adventure reopening in late August 2020 is the most likely best-case scenario.
Obviously, that’s still not a definitive prediction. We think the beginning of September makes a lot of sense (again, assuming all goes well with California getting new cases under control). This would put the reopening date after Los Angeles and Orange County school districts go back into session, easing crowds to some degree. It would also align with the popular (and lucrative) Halloween Time at Disneyland season, which will likely begin on September 4, 2020 (or September 11, 2020).
Ultimately, this raises more questions than it answers for us. Is Disneyland’s reopening actually months away? When will California un-pause its reopening plans? Will Disney use the Florida Project as a testing ground for what works and doesn’t, and apply those lessons to Disneyland Resort? How will sentiment and our collective knowledge change in the coming weeks?
This might leave you wondering what you should do if you have a Disneyland trip planned before this fall or holiday season. We don’t really have a reliable answer for you–it’s pretty much a ‘wait and see’ holding pattern. Right now, the California parks reopening in time for summer vacation season is highly unlikely–the start of Halloween Time at Disneyland is a much more likely scenario. The good news is that Disneyland is considerably easier to plan for, and last-minute deals for third party hotels and airfare should be abundant. Our advice is to be flexible or, failing that, maybe start thinking about the holiday season or beyond.
Do you think Disneyland Resort will reopen in time for the Summer 2020 tourist season? If not, what’s your predicted timeframe? Halloween or Christmas-time? Are you expecting modified operations once the closure ends? Do you agree or disagree with our advice and assessment? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!