Disneyland Resort announces plan to begin phased reopening of Anaheim theme parks in July

MOMENT OF HOPE: The Disneyland Resort in Anaheim raised the American flag during a touching ceremony Friday morning at the park, which remains closed amid the coronavirus pandemic.

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Nearly three months after shutting its gates to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus, Disneyland has announced when visitors can once again enter the Happiest Place on Earth.

The long-awaited park reopening is scheduled for Friday, July 17, which is Disneyland’s 65th birthday. Fans have been speculating for months when the park would reopen and saw plans for the other Disney parks take shape first, which was likely because of California’s stricter protocols for social distancing.

The opening will occur in phases, with the Downtown Disney District opening first on July 9. Disney’s Grand Californian Hotel & Spa, Disney Vacation Club and Disney’s Paradise Pier Hotel plan to reopen on July 23, pending regulatory approval. Disneyland and Disney California Adventure parks expect to reopen July 17.

To control crowds, there will be a new theme park reservation system for all guests, including annual passholders. All must obtain an advance reservation to get into the parks. Temporarily, park tickets and annual passes are not for sale.

Parades and nighttime spectaculars are temporarily suspended, but new character meet-and-greets will be available.

“This is the moment that Disneyland fans have been waiting for,” said Todd Regan, who runs the popular Micechat fan blog under the pen name Dusty Sage. “We just can’t wait to get back into the park.”

No one except a skeleton staff has been allowed inside the park since it closed March 14 — the first time in its history there was an extended closure. Disneyland and Disneyland California Adventure were last open to the public on March 13, with an original plan to stay closed through the end of March. But as COVID-19 spread across Southern California and the U.S., the closures were extended.

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This impacted not only Disney but the surrounding resort area and all of Orange County since the Disneyland Resort is the county’s largest employer and biggest tourist draw. Some 150 hotels now surround Disneyland.

“This means the third-party operators – the hotels, park vendors, people supplying products and services to the parks – can finally get back to work again,” Regan said.

For Anaheim officials, “It is fantastic news — we have been waiting for this,” city spokesman Mike Lyster said.

Disney is Anaheim’s biggest employer and a major source of tax revenue for city services, and city leaders hope the reopening news will signal the start of a tourism revival.

Lyster said the city was preparing for three possible scenarios of how long entertainment and tourist venues would be closed, and the best case was summer reopenings. Earlier this week, the city projected a $75 million deficit in next year’s budget.

Besides being good financial news for Anaheim, Lyster said, Disneyland’s reopening is a positive sign for economic recovery in general and “definitely a morale boost.”

In a statement, Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu called the announcement “a major milestone in the recovery of Anaheim, California and our nation. We know Disney will be able to meet the challenge of reopening safely, and Anaheim stands ready to see that happen.”

Disney expert David Koenig has been talking to employees who are returning to work to get the complex ready to reopen after being furloughed. A skeleton staff of some 300 remained on the property to do maintenance and water the landscaping.

“As one insider shared with me days before the troops started returning from furlough: ‘The park is filthy. The kitchens, restaurants, stores and attractions are covered in a thin layer of dust. The kitchens and restaurants will have to be thoroughly cleaned before accepting any food deliveries,’” Koenig wrote in a piece for the Micechat fan blog.

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“A skeleton maintenance staff checked in on certain attractions, making sure the electricity and water were running, even if vehicles weren’t cycling through,” Koenig wrote. “In Foods, a few chefs monitored the temperatures of the freezers and refrigerators. A small number of security officers patrolled the property to make sure everything was secure and keep out unwanted visitors. The fire department continued to monitor any fire alarms on property. A few cast members opened up the Costuming Building each morning, to supply fresh costumes and accept deliveries.”

To get ready to open, Disney plans to sanitize the entire park, set up new health protocols and have new rules for visitors and employees alike, officials said. Disney has not yet publicly elaborated on the details of the new rules at Disneyland.

In late May, state officials designated Disneyland and other theme parks as part of Stage 3 of California’s post-COVID roadmap.

As the parks remained shuttered, Disneyland began furloughing employees in April. However, limited construction crews returned to the parks to work on the Marvel-themed Avengers Campus at Disney California Adventure and the upcoming dark ride Mickey and Minnie’s Runaway Railway coming to Disneyland.

Disney officials also delayed the opening of Avengers Campus, which was to debut in mid-July.

Disneyland also stopped annual passholder payments in early April due to the coronavirus closure.

Disney said its theme park division lost $1 billion by May in the first earnings report since the pandemic hit the United States.

Shanghai Disneyland in China reopened last month with additional health and safety measures, such as face masks, temperature checks, reduced attendance, social distancing and constant sanitization. The park, which opened May 11, had been closed for more than three months.

Walt Disney World, in Florida, will also open in mid-July.