Hit harder than most U.S. states by COVID-19, California has been comparatively slower to reopen. So slow, in fact, that Walt Disney Co. has lent its loud and powerful voice to increasing calls that the state allow Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Park to reopen.
But Disney has promised to reopen the park with many health guidelines in place to protect guest safety — upgrades the company put it place when its Florida parks reopened in July. Those include hand-washing stations, attendance by reservation only, face-covering requirements, temperature checks for all entering guests and expanded the use of mobile food ordering to prevent lines.
“We are offering technology solutions that make it easier for our guests to minimize contact and maintain physical distancing. Help us reopen. We need guidelines that are fair and equitable,” Josh D’Amaro, chairman of Disney parks, experiences and products, said in a video presentation to regulators, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Disneyland was initially set for a phased reopening starting in mid-July, a plan that was pushed back as California’s COVID-19 cases increased over the summer. Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office has stated that it’s working on guidelines for safe park reopenings, but doesn’t yet have any timeline.
But Disney argues the closures are crushing the livelihoods of roughly 80,000 workers in Anaheim, Calif., and surrounding areas that rely on Disneyland, a related shopping district and three hotels.
“The longer we wait, the more devastating the impact on Orange County and the Anaheim communities and the tens of thousands of people who rely on us for employment,” D’Amaro said.
And despite early concerns in Florida about Disney World’s reopening, the park’s efforts appear to have so far been a success. Florida’s caseload has dropped, and there have been no reports of major outbreaks detected or originating from Disney World. Park officials argue that’s evidence that they’re able to offer the Disney experience to guests in a way that’s safe.
“If anybody can figure it out, Disney will,” Dave Schmitt, founder of theme-park consultancy MR-ProFun, noted in an interview.
And though park attendance has been incredibly low over the summer, signs of improvement did make themselves felt during Labor Day weekend. More people seemed willing to pop into the Magic Kingdom or Epcot. Analysts believe customers will come as long as the park is open and selling waffles in the shape of Mickey Mouse.
Disney World this week released its holiday-season hours, with the company’s Florida parks staying open later as fall wears on — reversing a cutback in hours announced a few weeks ago.
But the company’s California parks are different in some key regards. For example, the Times noted that Disney’s Florida parks have since 2013 used “Magic Band” technology — NFC enabled wristbands that have made contactless payments the norm for covering initial admission and purchases made within the parks.
By contrast, Disneyland doesn’t have the Magic Band system, although it has moved to add mobile contactless payment methods like Apple Pay and Google Pay, as well as accepting contactless card payments. Disney officials in California also say they’ve put a virtual queue system in places to further encourage mobile management of the theme park experience.
The other advantage Florida has is lots of physical space for social distancing. The Times noted that Disney’s California theme parks, resorts and shopping areas cover about 500 acres. On the other hand, Disney World’s resorts, four theme parks and shopping district take up about 25,000 acres. There’s just a lot more space to spread guests out.
Nonetheless, Disney feels it’s ready to reopen its California parks, and businesspeople in Anaheim told the Times they agree, as the lack of “The Happiest Place on Earth” has been a curse on local revenues for months.
But is Newsom’s office is inclined to agree with them? That mystery remains unsolved — and it looks like Disney may still have some waiting to do despite the preparations it’s already made.