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New state guidelines could mean exciting news for parkgoers.

By Carlye Wisel
March 05, 2021
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Minnie Mouse in Disneyland parade
Credit: Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG

The Happiest Place on Earth may put a smile back on guests' faces — beneath masks, of course — sooner than anticipated.

According to new state guidelines, California's theme parks now have the ability to reopen as early as April. The announcement came late Friday as sports stadiums, theme parks, and outdoor performances were granted a path towards reopening much sooner than initially thought.

Parks at Disneyland Resort, located in Orange County, and Universal Studios Hollywood, located in Los Angeles County, are allowed to reopen when their counties are downgraded to "red tier," which is expected in the coming weeks. (Currently, both are purple tier, or "widespread," the state's highest.)

Once California's parks can reopen, they will be limited to 15% capacity in the red "substantial" tier, 25% capacity in orange "moderate" tier, and 35% capacity in yellow "minimal" tier, when COVID-19 cases are at their lowest. (For comparison, Walt Disney World Resort in Florida is currently operating its parks at 35% capacity.)

Once California's parks can reopen, they will be limited to 15% capacity in the red "substantial" tier, 25% capacity in orange "moderate" tier, and 35% capacity in yellow "minimal" tier, when COVID-19 cases are at their lowest. (For comparison, Walt Disney World Resort in Florida is currently operating its parks at 35% capacity.)

Once each location's county is downgraded, rides and attractions can reopen for the first time in over a year — but indoor dining will be banned and indoor attractions will be limited, according to the state.

Ken Potrock, Disneyland Resort president, released a statement shortly after the news broke, assuring that the parks will reopen with "Disney safety protocols already implemented around the world," and that an opening date will be shared soon.

Originally, California's Blueprint for A Safer Economy required larger theme parks to reach the minimal yellow tier before reopening. This shift allows places like Disneyland and Universal Studios Hollywood to bring guests back much earlier than before.

Still, don't buy your plane tickets to Disneyland just yet. According to KTLA, California health and human services secretary Dr. Mark Ghaly said the state is recommending theme parks "only be accepting visitors from inside the state of California," due to a statewide travel advisory currently in place. (No details were provided on how that may be enforced.)

The change in guidelines was rolled out amid new plans for statewide distribution of all three COVID-19 vaccines, along with lower COVID-19 rates and a decrease in related hospitalizations. 

Thursday, both Disney California Adventure and Universal Studios Hollywood began selling tickets to special in-park outdoor dining events, allowing the parks to bring guests back while attractions and entertainment remained closed.

A Touch of Disney, which offers park favorites like Dole Whip to ticketed guests, was intended to last through April 5 with additional dates added on a rolling basis. Demand was so high from the start that Disneyland Resort added two extra weeks of tickets almost immediately once they went on sale, extending it through at least April 19. All tickets to the event are currently sold out.

Universal Studios Hollywood's Taste of Universal has tickets on sale through April 4, while Knotts Berry Farm's Taste of Boysenberry Festival event lasts through May 2. Due to capacity restrictions, it's unclear if or how these planned in-park events may affect when the parks are able to reopen attractions.

Either way, after a year of coasters, rides and even the Millennium Falcon sitting closed, it looks like California is finally on its way back to normal.