“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 might happen this month, plus crowds & discount predictions. (Updated October 11, 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 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 saga, 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, causing 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.
The good news is that the trajectory of cases in Southern California is generally trending downward, even taking into account a minor blip resulting from Labor Day. (The Los Angeles Times has a good tracker.) The statewide positivity rate is decreasing (to 2.6%) as are new cases and positivity rates–some great developments, all around.
Once California’s cases began decreasing, the state released its Blueprint for a Safer Economy, allowing more businesses to reopen and at higher capacities. Below are the requirements for each tier:
While this includes reopening guidelines and rules for a variety of businesses and activities, theme parks were conspicuously absent. In the month since, this 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.
The only recent developments since then are Governor Newsom holding another press conference last week, during which he said: “There’s disagreements in terms of opening major theme parks. We’re going to let science and data make that determination. I understand the friction and frustration…but we’re going to be led by a health-first framework and we’re going to be stubborn about it…there’s no hurry putting out guidelines.”
Following that, Disneyland released the above statement. From that, it would seem that the state and theme park industry are at an impasse, and there’s no end in sight to the closure of Disneyland, Disney California Adventure, Universal Studios Hollywood, Knott’s Berry Farm, etc.
With all of that said, the industry is continuing its pressure campaign and an agreement will be reached at some point. As such, there’s a best-case scenario and a worst-case scenario going forward. Instead of assuming the worst, let’s start with some positivity and hypothetically say that the guidelines are released this coming week, and Disneyland qualifies to immediately reopen at 25% capacity, which would be consistent with other businesses of the same transmission risk profile in red-tier counties.
In that theoretical scenario, what would happen next? When will Disneyland reopen?
Once the 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.
If all this happened tomorrow, that would put the earliest plausible reopening date for Disneyland and Disney California Adventure around the beginning of November. Of course, it’s assuming a number of best-case scenarios and is probably a faster timeline than can be expected.
With all of that in mind, it’s possible that Disneyland could reopen on November 5, 2020. This would be a logical target date for a couple of reasons. First, it’s at the start of what would normally be the lucrative Christmas season. It’s doubtful Disneyland will do much of anything for the holidays, but that’s still a big season for food & beverage and merchandise sales. Second, it would give a bit of a buffer for some hiccups before travel and crowds pick up leading into Thanksgiving and Christmas, which are more popular travel holidays.
That’s the best case scenario at this point, which at one point we honestly would’ve called the worst case scenario. In fact, earlier incarnations of this post did call a Christmas-time reopening the worst case scenario.
Now, that seems naively optimistic. Given the ongoing standoff and recent flippant statements by Governor Newsom, it seems increasingly likely that Disneyland will not reopen until 2021. If the final theme park guidelines end up mirroring the draft ones, it’s anyone’s guess when theme parks might be able to reopen.
Orange County will not enter the yellow tier anytime in November or December 2020. After a bit of recent regression, the county will be lucky to hit the orange/moderate tier by some point in the next month.
The problem is that entering the yellow/minimal tier requires significant improvement. The standards for that tier are almost insurmountable for Orange County. Only a handful of counties adjacent to California’s Oregon border are in or near the yellow tier. It’s impossible to forecast when Orange County might get there. It could be February 2021…or it might not occur until a vaccine has been widely distributed.
Speaking of weekday v. weekends, it’s 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.
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 still high, fewer people will book expensive vacations. Then there’s the matter of lag between booking a trip and actually traveling.
The colossal crowds at Disneyland’s Downtown Disney District the last several weekends 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, in which case the early November opening makes sense. On the other hand, the State of California might put up prohibitive road blocks that rule out the rest of the year, and make Spring 2021 more likely. We shall see what happens next…
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 time for the Halloween season, or will Christmas be the target reopening? What’s your predicted timeframe? 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!