“When will Disneyland and California Adventure reopen?” and “how much longer will the parks stay closed?” have become increasingly common questions. This covers what Governor Newsom’s four-tier opening plan means for Disneyland Resort, why an end to the closure won’t happen until 2021, and more. (Updated November 16, 2020.)
We’ll start by underscoring the reality that we don’t have a crystal ball, and no one knows for sure when Disneyland will reopen. This is a fluid situation, which should be apparent by the fact that Disneyland was originally scheduled to open this July and now may not reopen until Summer 2021. New information and data emerges on a daily basis, and plans change and evolve.
Moreover, Disneyland’s reopening has been incredibly contentious, a flashpoint between the state and…several groups/cities/businesses/etc. We aren’t going to recap the whole saga here, but Disneyland’s Wild Reopening Ride is worth the read if you want the backstory of the drama. Hopefully someday we’ll get a DisneyWar sequel that covers some of this…
For those who have not been following the closure roller coaster, here’s a quick recap. Disney actually announced an official reopening date for Disneyland over summer. However, California subsequently saw a spike in new cases, leading Governor Newsom to pause reopening plans.
That caused Disneyland to cancel those plans 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. Since then, an underlying animosity towards California has permeated multiple statements by Disney.
Nevertheless, Downtown Disney reopened as planned. Restaurants are operating with outdoor seating and physical distancing, the use of face masks by employees, increased cleaning procedures, and limited-contact. Some retail locations, including the World of Disney, use a mobile wait list system to manage the number of guests shopping.
On some weekends, parking at Downtown Disney has filled to capacity–although that’s deceptive given that only a small surface parking lot is open. We have full details about all of this in our Guide to Downtown Disney at Disneyland. Additionally, Disney California Adventure will soon reopen for dining and shopping during the holiday season beginning November 19, 2020.
Beyond the shopping and dining options, it’s becoming increasingly unlikely Disneyland or DCA will reopen anytime soon as theme parks. Per the California Blueprint for a Safer Economy, businesses may reopen and increase capacity in line with with county numbers. That plan includes reopening guidelines and rules for a variety of businesses and activities, and when released, did not offer guidance for theme parks.
More recently, theme park reopening guidelines were released, much to the dismay of Disney, Anaheim, and others. While smaller parks can open sooner, those rules provide that Disneyland and DCA cannot reopen until Orange County reaches the yellow tier, at which point the parks will be limited to 25% capacity and reservations will be required.
Unfortunately, those reopening rules are now something of a moot point as California’s key metrics–new cases, positivity rate, and hospitalizations–are all skyrocketing statewide ahead of Thanksgiving. (The Los Angeles Times has a good tracker.) The statewide positivity rate has now increased to 5.0% with 16.5 new cases per 100,000 people. There are fears that Thanksgiving and Christmas family gatherings will further fuel spread.
The latest development is that Orange County regressed to the most restrictive purple tier, Governor Newsom announced during his November 16, 2020 press conference. He stated that California is hitting an “emergency brake” on economic activity in light of what he calls an unprecedented spike in cases statewide.
It’s not just Orange County, either. In total, 28 counties are being moved back to the most restrictive tier of California’s matrix governing business operations. Out of the state’s 58 counties, 41 are now in the restrictive purple tier–that’s 94% of California’s population.
The practical effect of California’s surging numbers and these rules is that Disneyland’s closure could now extend until Summer 2021. Local health experts believe that Los Angeles and Orange Counties cannot conceivably reach the yellow tier in 2020, and most likely will not get there until Summer 2021 at the earliest.
As they point out, such an onerous standard will have devastating consequences not just for the parks, but for local businesses dependent upon their operations. However, that’s far from the end of the saga.
After California released the theme park guidelines, Anaheim and Orange County leaders quickly spoke out against them. Additionally, the California Attractions and Parks Association held a “Ready to Reopen Responsibly” conference call with theme park executives from Disneyland, Universal Studios Hollywood, Legoland, and Cedar Fair.
During that conference, the trade group and theme park leaders said they’re considering legal action against California to reopen or to change the state’s newly-released reopening guidelines. Following that, several mayors–including those of Anaheim and Los Angeles–have pleaded with Governor Newsom to issue new, more reasonable theme park reopening guidelines.
So…what happens next? When will Disneyland reopen?
First, we believe it’s highly likely that the theme park guidelines that California has released will be legally challenged or voluntarily rescinded. Our belief in looking at the totality of the circumstances is that California is simply trying to buy time. Delay the openings for a couple of months, giving the state a better chance at keeping numbers down during what’s likely to be a challenging holiday season.
In such a scenario, we’d expect the dispute to die down for the remainder of 2020 (until the latest surge subsides), with new rules released or litigation commenced in early 2021. By January or February, the United States will hopefully be starting to turn the corner on this, making California more amenable to reopening more–or at least more cognizant of the other ramifications.
That still does not answer the titular “when will Disneyland reopen?” question, but our response at this point is simply “before Summer 2021.” That’s predicated upon the economic devastation in keeping theme parks and other business sectors closed that long. It’s simply unsustainable and not feasible.
A more specific prediction at this point is not possible because there are too many variables and externalities. So much depends upon when Orange County’s numbers improve, available treatments, etc. It’s likely that Disney will want Disneyland and Disney California Adventure open by March 2021 for the popular Spring Break and Easter seasons, but there’s no guarantee they’ll hit those targets.
Once new guidelines are released and Disneyland qualifies to reopen, employee unions and Disney need to reach an agreement for Cast Members to return to work. It’s very likely that there are already tentative terms on the table here, and the unions and Disney will formalize those as soon as the state releases its rules.
Finally, Disneyland will need to call-back employees, who will then need to undergo training while the parks ramp back up for operations. It’s realistic to expect a two-week timeline for all of that. Since Disneyland has already prepared for reopening once, all of the safety modifications and theme park reservation system have been prepared, so there’s less prep work that needs to be done this go-round.
While a reopening date for Disneyland is still far away, it’s nonetheless worth addressing 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.
The colossal crowds at Disneyland’s Downtown Disney District the last several months goes to show how much pent-up demand there is for all things Disney in Southern California–and that’s just a crumby outdoor mall. (Not even one of the top 10 malls in the area!)
Suffice to say, the crowd dynamics are different in California than in Florida. 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 visitors used to decide the night before or day-of whether they were going to the parks.
Disneyland Resort also 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 are offering deep discounts for Christmas 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 has been 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 test and adjust on the fly. Disneyland will need to get things right from day one.
Ultimately, those are our predictions and it’ll be interesting to see how this actually plays out. It appears that Disney is eager to reopen Disneyland Resort sooner rather than later, whereas the State of California is stalling and putting up as many prohibitive road blocks as possible. The latter totally rules out the rest of the year, and makes Spring 2021 more likely as a best case scenario. It’s also entirely possible that Disneyland won’t reopen until Summer or Fall 2021.
If you’re preparing for a Disneyland trip, check out our other planning posts, including how to save money on Disneyland tickets, our Disney packing tips, tips for booking a hotel (off-site or on-site), where to dine, and a number of other things, check out our comprehensive Disneyland Vacation Planning Guide!
Do you think Disneyland Resort will reopen in 2020, or do you think even Spring 2021 is optimistic? What’s your predicted timeframe? Are you expecting reduced capacity once the closure ends, or do you think Disneyland won’t come back until all public health restrictions are removed? 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!