“When will Disneyland and California Adventure reopen in 2021?” and “how much longer will the parks stay closed?” are common questions. This covers what the end of Orange County’s stay-at-home order means, why the closure will continue the next few months, and more. (Updated February 18, 2021.)
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 Governor Newsom 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…
Right now, the only thing open at Disneyland Resort is the Downtown Disney District, which extends partially inside Disney California Adventure. 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. It’s likely more will be opening very soon…
The latest update is that Disney California Adventure will host an all-new, limited-time ticketed food and beverage experience beginning in mid-March 2021. This will also feature the latest merchandise and unique, carefully crafted entertainment experiences multiple days per week.
Disneyland’s Local 50 Union confirmed on Facebook that the event will expand DCA operations from Buena Vista Street and Hollywood Land into Cars Land, Pacific Wharf, Pixar Pier, and Grizzly Peak (basically, every land except the new Avengers Campus). Additionally, there will be six Festival Marketplace booths along the parade route.
In another move that bodes well, a new bill proposes accelerating the reopening of Disneyland, Disney California Adventure, and other theme parks in an earlier tier of the state’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy, overriding prior guidelines. The text of this bill is concise, interesting, and easily digestible, so we’d encourage you to read that.
California Assembly Bill 420 has already garnered bipartisan support among state assemblymembers. Moreover, The Anaheim City Council voted 6-1 on February 16, 2021 to support AB 420. This bill could be what gets the ball rolling on reasonable theme park reopening rules. However, my guess is that AB 420 won’t end up mattering for the reasons discussed in our commentary below.
Prior to that bill’s introduction, the regional stay-at-home order for all of Southern California, including Los Angeles and Orange Counties, was lifted. That stay at home order had been in effect since December, because intensive care bed capacity had dropped below 15%; it is now once again above that mark.
All of California’s key metrics–new cases, positivity rate, and hospitalizations–have improved significantly in the last month. (The Los Angeles Times has a good tracker.) These numbers are projected to continue improving in the coming weeks, as the worst of the holiday surge is now in the rearview mirror and there has been no Super Bowl spike.
Orange County is back in the most-restrictive purple tier of the state’s four-tier reopening blueprint, but has made strides towards the red tier and is projected to be there by March 2021. Right now, restaurants at Downtown Disney are open for outdoor dining. Additionally, stores and shopping centers can remain open at 20% capacity.
There is not yet a scheduled reopening date for the Villas at Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, which was slated to return at the beginning of December. Moreover, there’s also no indication yet as to when amusement and theme parks, including Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, might be able to reopen in 2021.
Now that key metrics are heading in the right direction, California’s Blueprint for a Safer Economy once again dictates how 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, but when originally unveiled, did not offer guidance for theme parks.
Theme park reopening guidelines have since been 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.
If those rules remain in place, the practical effect is that Disneyland’s closure could extend until Summer 2021. Local health experts believe that Los Angeles and Orange Counties cannot conceivably reach the yellow tier before June 2021. That’s the best case scenario under those rules, and that’s with the vaccine rollout.
However, the release of those rules is 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. The latter is looking more and more likely, especially with all of California’s key metrics improving significantly and Newsom facing a recall effort that is gaining momentum and the theme park reopening bill having bipartisan and public support.
Rather than taking another L, it seems likely that Governor Newsom will want to get out ahead of public opinion and advance now-popular policies on his own with a modified reopening plan. Now that the United States is starting to turn the corner on this, it should make California more amenable to reopening–or at least more cognizant of the other ramifications.
For its part, Disney is also helping to diffuse some of the tensions between the company and California, with Disneyland serving as the first vaccination super-site in Orange County. It’s a mutually beneficial move, but also an olive branch that Disneyland is extending to the state.
Also in January 2021, Disney announced it was cancelling all Annual Passes and ending the AP program. While this does not indicate a reopening date in and of itself, it demonstrates that Disney is laying the groundwork for a responsible reopening. (As we discuss below, sky-high demand posed a potential problem.)
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. Not only that, but it’s not even remotely necessary given plummeting case and hospitalization numbers coupled with surging vaccination rates.
A more specific prediction at this point is not possible because there are too many variables and externalities. It’s likely that Disney will want Disneyland and Disney California Adventure open by April 2021 for the popular Spring Break and Easter seasons, but there’s no guarantee they’ll hit those targets. (We view May 2021 as much more likely.)
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. 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 diehard fans. While the scales have tipped a bit in recent years (especially over the summer months), there’s still a huge local fanbase 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!) However, cancelling the AP program should definitely cut crowds.
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 Spring 2021, or is that too 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!