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SYFY WIRE Theme Park News

Theme Park News: Changing mask rules, Disney's earnings, and Soarin' Over California

Universal Orlando Resort cuts its mask mandate and Disneyland brings back Soarin' Over California.

By Carlye Wisel
Disney "cast members" welcome back guests on Disneyland Resort's opening day

Hello and welcome to this week's Theme Park News! We've got some Disneyland updates, football news and even some special food news. From the return of a beloved attraction to a breakdown of The Walt Disney Company's recent financial call, here's everything you need to know from the past week:


From sports to snacks and everything in between:

Disney California Adventure's Food & Wine Festival officially returns on March 4. The celebration, which runs through April 26, welcomes back a dozen Festival Marketplaces selling loads of things to sip and snack on. New this year is Alice's Wonderland Bakery Unbirthday Party — a cupcake decoration experience themed to the Disney Junior show — which joins the lineup of character interactions with folks like Chef Goofy, live entertainment, and culinary demonstrations each weekend. Special seminars on beer, wine or mixology and wine events are available for an additional fee, but most importantly...

Soarin' Over California is returning to DCA! The original film, which first debuted in 2001 at Disney California Adventure, is back for a limited time only. Disneyland Resort switched to the newer film, Soarin' Around The World, when it opened with Shanghai Disneyland in 2016, but the original homage to the first state to ever have a Disney park has a special place in fans' hearts and is deeply exciting. The beloved orange smell (IYKYK!) returns March 4, but there is no announced closing date yet — try to catch it as soon as you can!

Heading to Disneyland for President's Day weekend? Don't miss in-park entertainment as part of the resort's Celebrate Gospel lineup on Feb. 19 and Feb. 26. Gospel artists and groups will be performing live, with community choirs taking place both Saturday afternoons as well.

The Los Angeles Rams...went to Disneyland! Fresh off their hometown Super Bowl win, MVP Cooper Kupp, Aaron Donald, and Matthew Stafford took part in the famed tradition and visited The Happiest Place on Earth Monday afternoon, leading a cavalcade down Main Street, USA, and even meeting a legion of superheroes at Avengers Campus.

Woman and child in masks in front of Universal globe


Late last week, Universal Orlando Resort announced that masks would no longer be required indoors for vaccinated guests starting on Saturday, Feb. 12. I've been covering theme park COVID-19 protocol for nearly two years now, so when a mask mandate is "for vaccinated guests" with no vaccine check, it essentially means everyone.

A vacation free of face coverings is the goal for all, of course, but the only problem is, we're... not quite there yet. Universal Orlando Resort cited "local trends and conditions" for removing the resort's indoor mask mandate, but those local trends are telling a very different story.

Orange County, Florida's 14-day rolling percent positive average on Dec. 27 — a few days after the mask mandate was wisely put in place — was 14.6 percent. The rate when they removed it this past week? 19 percent. Even the 14-day rolling percentage at the time of publishing was 17.1 percent. COVID-19 cases may be trending downwards, but they're irrefutably still high.

While Universal Orlando Resort never required masks indoors throughout COVID-19's Delta strain, Disney Parks reintroduced their indoor mask requirements for all guests on July 30, 2021, which remains in place. Universal's shift leaves many to wonder — and worry — when Disney parks on both coasts could change theirs as well. (As a reminder: Universal Studios Hollywood won't be removing their indoor mask mandates for a while, as per LA County guidelines.)

As we discussed last week, Disneyland Resort has the ability to remove its mask mandate as early as Wednesday, but there's no guarantee either way. With Universal somewhat "opening the door" for Disney World to go next, it's worth keeping an eye out for a joint announcement like we got last time. (As usual, we'll keep you posted.)

Still, given the resort's family-focused resort, waiting a bit would make sense considering the F.D.A. just delayed review of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccines for kids under 5. (Add to it, too, that Disney World's extremely indoors Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser experience opens March 1.) We look forward to the day when masks are no longer a necessity, but cautiously await when that time may come.


The Walt Disney Company held its earnings call from the last few months of 2021, and profits are up — way up, particularly in the parks sector. Here's some key takeaways:

  • Over a third of domestic guests purchased Genie+ and/or Individual Attraction Selection during trips to Disneyland and Disney World. During the holidays, over 50% made purchases.
  • Domestic parks — Disneyland and Disney World — achieved "all-time revenue" and operating income, even during a pandemic.
  • Spending by each person at domestic parks rose more than 40 percent versus the same time in 2019. The Walt Disney Company credits this with a "more favorable guest and ticket mix", more spending on food, beverage and merchandise, and spending for Genie+ and Lightning Lane access, which was previously provided complimentary to all guests.