Disneyland, California’s world-famous theme park, reopened to excited and emotional visitors Friday after an unprecedented 13-month closure in what tourism officials hope is a sign of the state’s rebound from the pandemic.
The reopening came just four months after the nation’s most populous state was struggling to combat a surge in coronavirus hospitalizations that packed patients into outdoor tents and killed hundreds of people each day.
Some visitors cheered and screamed with happiness as they entered Disneyland, with a few visitors even seen crying with emotion.
‘Not having it for over a year was really kind of hard for us, and so it´s just really nice to be able to come back,’ said Jaki Montanez, 27, who drove 340 miles from Modesto and wore sequined Minnie Mouse ears for the occasion.
The park and neighboring Disney California Adventure will reopen with a capacity that is currently capped at 25 percent under state health rules. Reservations are required, hugs and handshakes with Mickey and other characters are off limits, and the famous parades and fireworks shows have been shelved to limit crowding.
Additionally, the two theme parks will only be open from 9am to 7pm for the time being.
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Guests as are waved to by workers as they take in the sights and sounds of Main Street U.S.A. at the Disneyland Resort Friday
Social distancing and capacity limits didn’t quiet the excitement bubbling out of Disneyland on Friday
Guests walk down Main Street USA at Disneyland in Anaheim, California on Friday to celebrate the park’s reopening
The flag is raised at Disneyland in Anaheim, California on Friday morning ahead of the theme park’s reopening
The day began with Disney officials and park employees wearing face coverings gathered in the park’s town square for the morning flag-raising ceremony.
Disney CEO Bob Chapek thanked the color guard for raising the flag daily throughout the 412-day closure and asked employees to ‘bring the magic back’ for visitors about to enter the park. Chairman Bob Iger was also present for the reopening.
‘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, because you bring magic to the world,’ he said.
Employee Norali sheds a tear as they prepare to open the gates at Disneyland on Friday morning
Employee Diane, who only gave her first name, wipes her tears after a flag-raising ceremony at Disneyland on Friday
Employees take a photo on Main Street before the gates open at Disneyland on Friday
Guests walk down Main Street USA at Disneyland during Friday morning’s reopening
Guests ride the Splash Mountain attraction at Disneyland on Friday while wearing masks
For now, the park is allowing only in-state visitors and operating at limited capacity. The park now has hand sanitizing stations and signs reminding visitors to keep their distance and wear masks. Benches are marked as ‘designated dining areas’ where visitors can remove face coverings to eat.
Additionally, restaurants are taking orders on an app to maintain social distancing and some rides are closed, such as the Monorail.
Many visitors had gathered outside Disneyland since the previous night.
‘This is a monumental day for Anaheim,’ Mayor Harry Sidhu said, according to The Hollywood Reporter. ‘We have all missed the joy of Disneyland, and we are so glad to have it back. But this means so much more to working families, small businesses, and our city. The impact of having the theme park closed for 13 months has been devastating. This begins our economic recovery and brings hope back to Anaheim.’
‘It has such a symbolic nature to really quantifying that we’re finally rolling out of COVID,’ said Caroline Beteta, president and CEO of the state tourism agency Visit California.
The news comes as California boasts the country’s lowest rate of confirmed coronavirus infections and more than half of the population eligible for vaccination has received at least one dose.
Employees in masks wave as guests walk along Main Street USA at Disneyland on Friday
Guests take pictures at Mickey’s Toontown in Disneyland on Friday
Visitors came in cheering and screaming with happiness on Friday morning during Disneyland’s reopening
It’s a dramatic turnaround from December, when hospitals across the state were running out of ICU beds and treating patients at overflow locations.
Now, children are returning to school, shops and restaurants are expanding business and Gov. Gavin Newsom set June 15 as a target date to further reopen the economy, albeit with some health-related restrictions.
Theme parks were among the last businesses allowed to reopen in California, and Universal Studios and others have already thrown open the gates after Newsom gave the go-ahead on April 1.
That’s a contrast to states with fewer restrictions such as Florida, where Disney World’s Magic Kingdom resort has been up and running, though at lower-than-usual capacity, since last July.
Another major U.S. amusement park, Ohio’s Cedar Point, opened last summer and will do so again for the upcoming season – only this time, it won’t require masks on rides or outdoors where crowds can be avoided.
Employees welcome guests at Disneyland in Anaheim, California on Friday morning
Disneyland had been closed for 412 days to the coronavirus pandemic prior to its reopening on Friday
Disney chairman Bob Iger, center, poses for photos with employees at Disneyland on Friday
While California continues to ‘strongly discourage’ anyone from visiting the state as tourists, the travel industry is banking on pent-up demand from its own nearly 40 million residents for a comeback. An advertising campaign encourages Californians to travel within the state, mirroring a pitch made after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
‘We’re back to that playbook,’ Beteta said. ‘It was very successful for us then, and we’re hoping it will be for us now.’
Disneyland is a major economic engine in California, drawing nearly 19 million the year before the coronavirus struck, according to the Themed Entertainment Association. It and other such attractions were shuttered in March 2020 as Newsom imposed the nation’s first statewide shutdown order.
Prior to the shutdown, Disneyland had never been closed for longer than a single day, let alone 13 straight months.
Safety protocols are remaining in place at Disneyland, including capacity limits and social distancing
A family takes a photo in front of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle at Disneyland on Friday
This guest holds a ‘We’re back’ sign as they walk down Main Street USA at Disneyland on Friday
A family takes a photo in front of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle at Disneyland on Friday
‘This is a homecoming for us,’ Claudia Martinez said to the Los Angeles Times through tears.
In a state with so many people shut in for so long, even in-state tourism could be a huge boost. Plus, Disney’s California parks have long had a loyal local fan base while its Florida locations rely more heavily on international tourists, said Carissa Baker, assistant professor of theme park and attraction management at University of Central Florida’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management.
‘When they reopen, they’re probably going to be pretty instantly at whatever the allowable capacity is just because there´s so many locals who go to the California parks,’ Baker said.
Guests ride the Dumbo ride at Disneyland on Friday morning at the reopening
A worker cleans the window of a decorative building at Disneyland on Friday as it the park reopened
Mickey Mouse keeps social distance while interacting with guests at Disneyland on Friday
Zach Bolger, 35, is among them. Before the closure, he took the half-hour drive down from Los Angeles County two or three times a week with his girlfriend, whom he met trading collectible pins at Disneyland.
‘Just walking down Main Street and looking at the bricks on Main Street and looking at the stores or up at Walt’s window with the candle in it, all those things bring us a lot of happiness,’ said Bolger, who has opening tickets for the park.
‘We’re definitely looking forward to the rides, but if Disneyland opened up and said, ‘All rides are closed, you can only walk around,’ we still would have bought tickets.’
Many guests had their phones out to record the moment the theme park reopened on Friday
Guests take in the sights and sounds at Disneyland on the day of its reopening on Friday
Visitors walk along the Main Street USA at Disneyland’s reopening on Friday
The theme park will only be open from 9am to 7pm for the time being due to coronavirus concerns
The reopening is also good news for theme park employees eager to get back to work and owners of hotels and shops in the surrounding city of Anaheim, which is running a $109 million deficit due to pandemic-related closures, said Mike Lyster, a city spokesman.
Visit Anaheim President Jay Burress said the city’s convention center saw more than 300 cancellations since the pandemic and so far has rebooked about a quarter. Some events might not be due to return to the West Coast for years or could get moved to states with fewer restrictions, Burress said, but added he believes the reopening of Disneyland and other attractions is promising.
‘We’re not out of the woods, but at least we´re seeing some light for future,’ he said.
Disneyland is expected to reopen popular rides such as Space Mountain and Dumbo the Flying Elephant. But there will be changes to the park, with masks required and no live theater performances scheduled. This is how Disney started out at its Florida theme park and gradually phased back in entertainment, Baker said.
Earlier this week, Disneyland lit up its hallmark Sleeping Beauty castle and released a video tribute to employees. ‘There’s a great big beautiful tomorrow ahead for all of us,’ said Ken Potrock, president of Disneyland Resort.
Employees air hug before the gates open at Disneyland on Friday morning, a historic day for the park
Employees hold a meeting before the gates open at Disneyland on Friday morning, ending a 412-day closure
Guests pose in front of Sleeping Beauty Castle at the Disneyland Resort as it reopens on Friday
A visitor wearing a Disney shirt ‘It’s good to be home again’ arrives at Disneyland on the day of the park reopening