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When will Disneyland reopen? COVID-19 surge retains California theme parks in limbo


Disney World reopened nearly a month ago, and most Disney theme parks around the globe have also reopened after closing amid the coronavirus pandemic.

One that hasn’t: Disneyland.

And it’s unlikely that the Anaheim, California, park will reopen anytime soon. California leads the nation in coronavirus cases – more than 550,000 as of Sunday, according to Johns Hopkins data – and state officials aren’t ready to let theme parks reopen.

“Theme parks are not permitted to open in California at this time, under current public health orders,” said Kate Folmar, a spokeswoman for California Health and Human Services. “We will continue to review health data to determine when and how theme parks may consider reopening at lower risk to staff and visitors.”

Disneyland is waiting on guidance from state officials, and the company did not offer additional details.

The park was tentatively scheduled to reopen on July 17, but that was put on hold as coronavirus cases surged.

Anaheim and surrounding Orange County are in early Stage 3 (of four) of their reopening plan. The guidance posted on the city’s website indicates that Disneyland Resort hotels, shopping, dining and theme parks will open in phases among Stages 2, 3 and 4, but no date has been set for the theme parks.

Still, a reopening may be possible this year. Cedar Fair, owner of Disneyland’s rival in Orange County, Knott’s Berry Farm, indicated Tuesday that it “will remain in a state of readiness as park teams continue their dialogue with authorities about the possibility of opening.”

A close eye on Disney World

Disney World in Florida reopened its Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom parks on July 11, followed by Epcot and Disney Hollywood Studios on July 15. Its resorts began reopening in June, though many remain closed.

The parks require visitors to wear face masks and respect social distancing requirements. They canceled events such as parades, fireworks displays and its big Halloween celebration that draw large crowds and closed attractions that involve person-to-person contact.

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Disney executives conceded in a quarterly earnings presentation Wednesday that Disney World hasn’t drawn the attendance they expected, even accounting for the reduced capacity. They noted a drop-off in visitors coming from out of state. Air travel is nowhere close to what it was before the pandemic, and many states have imposed quarantine requirements on people traveling back from states that are coronavirus hot spots. And Disney posted scaled-back operating hours at the Magic Kingdom and several other Florida theme parks over the weekend.

Florida is catching up to California in coronavirus cases, with more than 525,000 COVID-19 cases as of Sunday, according to Johns Hopkins data. 

J.D. O’Connor, an associate professor of cinematic arts at the University of Southern California and a Disney expert, said Disney World relies more heavily on long-distance travelers who book flights and rental cars and stay in Disney resort hotels. Disneyland draws more people from Southern California, who drive there but don’t stay overnight.

“Disney World takes in fewer people from within a three-hour drive than Disneyland,” O’Connor said, which may give Disneyland an advantage over its Florida counterpart when it reopens.

O’Connor, who wrapped up a summer graduate course on Disney last week, said Disney’s businesses are tightly interconnected.

When the company is working on all cylinders, he said, the movies drive people to the parks. The parks, in turn, are built on the content produced by the movie studios, which had to shut down for many of the same reasons.

Disney is watching what’s happening in Florida closely, O’Connor said, in addition to its parks worldwide. He calls Disney World a “nice prototype for what it’s like to be open in a pandemic” and expects that the company will apply the lessons it learns in California.

It will also look to see what happens once schools in Orange County, California, reopen with students in the classroom. Orange County is on the state’s monitoring list, meaning schools are not able to have in-person instruction immediately.

If coronavirus cases don’t surge again after school starts, it might be a sign that Disneyland can reopen soon.

“That would be if everything goes right,” O’Connor said.

Parks are Disney’s profit maker

Disney makes movies and television programs and operates cruise ships and resort hotels. Its theme parks though, make big profits.

On Wednesday, Disney reported its earnings for April, May and June. The numbers were not pretty. The company posted a nearly $5 billion loss for the quarter, including a $2 billion loss in its parks, experiences and products segment.

Disney World and Disneyland, the cruise lines and resort hotels were all shuttered for the entirety of the quarter. Its cruise operations remain shut down; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has extended its March no-sail order through Sept. 30.

It may take a while to get the operation back in balance.

“It will be at least a year of very bad numbers,” O’Connor said.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Disneyland, California theme parks left in limbo by COVID-19 surge


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