Disney theme parks in U.S. California reopen after being closed over 13 months

(Xinhua) 09:57, May 01, 2021

LOS ANGELES, April 30 (Xinhua) -- After being closed over 13 months, Disney's flagship theme parks in the U.S. state of California reopened Friday with reduced capacity and enhanced COVID-19 safety measures in place.

The Walt Disney Company CEO Bob Chapek joined a reopening ceremony with a small group of park employees in the Disneyland Resort. Disneyland Resort, located in Anaheim, Orange County, is home to Disneyland Park and neighboring Disney California Adventure Park.

"What a day. We have waited so long for this," Chapek said during the ceremony. He thanked park employees for their spirit, persistence and patience throughout the 412-day closure to "bring magic to the world."

"We're not just another place. We're not just another theme park. We're something special and we're something special because of all of you," he noted.

"A truly happy day at the happiest place on earth, @Disneyland! To our cast and our guests, welcome back!" tweeted Robert Iger, executive chairman of The Walt Disney Company.

"Favorite sights and familiar sounds have returned, from the smiling face of Mickey Mouse on the Pixar Pal-A-Round to the welcoming whistle of the Disneyland Railroad. Beloved characters from favorite Disney stories are here to entertain and delight in new ways and sometimes in unexpected places. And those much-missed treats - DOLE Whip, Corn Dogs, not to mention churros - are also back to satisfy cravings," wrote Michael Ramirez, public relations director of the Disneyland Resort, on the Disney Park Blog.

It was the longest closure for Disneyland in its 65-year history. Disneyland Park and Disney California Adventure Park, as well as other theme parks in California, were forced to shut down in March last year amid coronavirus fears.

It was also the first time Disneyland closed after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. The other two shutdowns of Disneyland took place after U.S. President John F. Kennedy's assassination in 1963 and the 1994 Northridge earthquake which resulted in at least 57 deaths.

According to a detailed phased reopening plan to welcome back visitors on the website of the Disneyland Resort, the parks at this stage will only open to California residents, and in groups no larger than 3 households, per state guidelines.

Given theme park capacity will be significantly limited to comply with governmental requirements and promote physical distancing, Disney will manage attendance through a new theme park reservation system that will require all guests to obtain a reservation for park entry in advance. Tickets to Disneyland are reportedly already sold out for the first seven weeks.

Park officials said that face coverings are required for all guests aged 2 and older and Disney cast members, including those who have received a COVID-19 vaccine.

Guests are required to undergo temperature screenings with no-touch thermometers, before entry to some locations at the Disneyland Resort, including the theme parks and the Downtown Disney District. Cast Members and operating participant employees are also required to complete a health screening and temperature check prior to coming to work.

Additionally, select attractions and certain experiences that draw large group gatherings - such as parades and nighttime spectaculars - will return at a later date. Character meet-and-greets are temporarily unavailable, according to Disney.

Disney has been hit severely by the pandemic. The company said last November that the pandemic cost it approximately 7.4 billion U.S. dollars in operating income for fiscal 2020, including 6.9 billion dollars from the theme parks and experiences segment.

Disney also said in its first quarter results report in February that pandemic-related costs for the company may total approximately one billion dollars in fiscal 2021.

"Since late in the second quarter of fiscal 2020 and continuing into fiscal 2021, COVID-19 and measures to prevent its spread have impacted our segments in a number of ways, most significantly at Disney Parks, Experiences and Products," noted the company.

Disney said in the report that COVID-19 cost its parks, experiences and products segment an estimated 2.6 billion dollars in operating income in the most recent quarter, while segment revenues decreased by 53 percent to 3.6 billion dollars.

"As a result of COVID-19, Disneyland Resort was closed and our cruise business was suspended in the current quarter. Disneyland Paris closed on Oct. 30, 2020 and Hong Kong Disneyland Resort closed on Dec. 2, 2020. Walt Disney World Resort (in Orlando, Florida) and Shanghai Disney Resort were open in the current quarter," the company stated in the report for the quarter ending Jan. 2, 2021, adding that its parks and resorts that were open during the quarter operated at significantly reduced capacities.

The reopening of Disney's parks in California came two weeks after the reopening of Universal Studios Hollywood, another popular tourist attraction in Southern California.

According to California's Blueprint to a Safer Economy reopen plan, theme parks in the counties in the purple tier, the most restrictive tier of the state's four-tier, color-coded system for reopening, are not allowed to reopen. But theme parks in the less-restrictive red tier will be eligible to reopen at 15 percent capacity. Maximum capacity will be increased to 25 percent for theme parks in the counties in the orange tier and to 35 percent in the yellow tier.

Orange County, where Disneyland Resort is located, remains in orange tier currently and is on track to meet yellow tier criteria. California, the most populous state in the United States, aims to fully reopen by June 15, if COVID-19 vaccinations remain widely available and hospitalizations associated with the virus stay low.

(Web editor: He Zhuoyan, Bianji)