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The ‘Happiest Place on Earth’ is back as Disney parks to reopen

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Sleeping Beauty’s Castle in the background at Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, California.
Image Credit: AP

The self-proclaimed “Happiest Place on Earth” will no longer be one of the world’s emptiest places starting next month.

Disney has announced plans to reopen its Disneyland and Disney California Adventure theme parks July 17 — the same day the original park opened in 1955.

As it has done around the world, the company plans a phased ramp-up, with the Downtown Disney District shopping and dining complex starting to come online July 9 and some on-site hotels opening their doors July 23.

All the plans are subject to state and local government approvals, the entertainment giant said. If Disney gets the green light, its California and Florida parks will reopen within days of one another, giving the company a chance to salvage the busy summer season.

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Magic Kingdom, Disneyworld, Disney World, Orlando, Florida, USA
Image Credit: Agencies

In Florida, Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom are set to open July 11, followed by Epcot and Disney’s Hollywood Studios on July 15. All have been closed because of the coronavirus pandemic since mid-March, bringing some of the world’s biggest tourism machines to a halt. The California parks drew attendance of more than 28.5 million in 2018, according to an industry estimate.

In a blog post, Josh D’Amaro, chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, said the company was “one more exciting step closer to reopening all of our Disney parks and experiences around the world.” Shanghai Disneyland opened again in May, and D’Amaro said more announcements were coming soon.

“We are purposefully taking baby steps during this very intentional phased approach,” he wrote. “As one of the first major theme parks to close our operations and the last to reopen, we have been deliberate about keeping the health and safety of our cast, guests and local communities top of mind. And as we look forward to bringing our cast members back to work, and welcoming you back as cherished guests — we know it will take all of us working together responsibly to recapture the magic.”

The company has not yet detailed the health-related changes that visitors should expect when they return in California. But parades, nighttime shows and character interactions will be “temporarily unavailable,” an announcement said. Health and safety policies “are under continuous review and are subject to change as the Disneyland Resort monitors conditions and receives guidance from health and government authorities,” the company said in a news release.

In Florida, where a company representative publicly presented a reopening plan for local approval, measures will include temperature checks at park entrances, required face coverings, physical distancing, the suspension crowd-attracting events like parades and fireworks, hand-sanitizing stations and more contact-free payment.

“Social distancing squads” — including some dressed as Star Wars Stormtroopers — are reminding visitors at Disney Springs, the shopping area that has already opened in Central Florida, to keep their masks on and stay away from each other.

Capacity at the California parks will be “significantly limited” to allow for physical distancing and to abide by government requirements, though Disney did not say how many people would be allowed in. Anyone who wants to visit will have to reserve park entry in advance through a new reservation system, and the company is putting a temporary pause on new ticket sales and annual pass sales and renewals.

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Park guests wearing protective masks walk through the Universal Studios theme park in Orlando, Florida, U.S., on Friday, June 5, 2020. Universal Orlando began a phased reopening, becoming the first of the major theme parks in Central Florida to resume operations after the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Photographer: Zack Wittman/Bloomberg
Image Credit: Bloomberg

Competitor Universal Studios Hollywood has not announced when it will reopen its theme park, but the CityWalk shopping area opened with limited hours. In Florida, Universal’s theme parks reopened last week.

The Disney announcement comes as California is moving into the third stage of a four-stage reopening in which higher-risk workplaces and recreational venues are allowed to open their doors. State officials told the Orange County Register last month that theme parks would be included in Stage 3.

Still, some on social media responded to Disney’s news with worries that the opening was coming too soon amid fears of a second wave of coronavirus infections. Hospitalisations in nine states, including California, have been increasing since Memorial Day. Anaheim, the city where Disneyland is located, reported a spike Wednesday when it added 79 new cases after three days of 20 or fewer cases each day.

“I love Disneyland, but this is disgusting and irresponsible,” one Twitter user wrote.

“Soon to be the Most Contagious Place On Earth,” another wrote.

Still, Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu welcomed the announcement on Twitter.

“This is a major milestone in the recovery of Anaheim, California and our nation,” he wrote. “We know Disney will be able to meet the challenge of reopening safety, and Anaheim stands ready to see that happen.”


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