Christmas tree at Knott's Berry Farm theme park
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Credit: Knott's Berry Farm

California theme parks face major setbacks as nearly everything shuts back down

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Feb 2, 2021, 12:50 PM EST (Updated)

Welcome to Theme Park News. There's a lot happening, so we'll get right to it with some unfortunate developments before ending on a more Jurassic note.  

California theme park fans were thrilled when things began to resemble a form of normalcy late last month. Sure, there would be no way to enjoy a roller coaster like HangTime or Matterhorn Bobsleds or Revenge of The Mummy for the rest of the calendar year, but things were vaguely rounding out towards familiarity. Knott’s Berry Farm’s Taste of Merry Farm dates were selling out, reservations to Disneyland’s newly reopened Carthay Circle restaurant had been quickly snapped up, and even Disney’s Grand Californian Villas were getting prepped to reopen a small segment of their rooms starting in early December, each with an extensive amount of safety precautions in place that were actively and regularly enforced.

And then... things changed. COVID-19 cases began to skyrocket in Southern California, and new guidelines were put in place, first in Los Angeles County and then through the rest of Southern California.

Universal Hollywood CityWalk was the first to undergo swift changes stemming from Los Angeles' repeal of outdoor dining, which went into effect on Nov. 25. With it, restaurants like Antojitos and VIVO Italian Kitchen have temporarily ceased operation while others, including Buca di Beppo, Voodoo Doughnut, and Universal's own newly launched Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Sweets & Treats Butterbeer snack stand, will only be offering food for take-away and is likely to remain that way through the end of the year.

Late last week, California Health Officials announced a regional stay-at-home order that would be implemented if ICU bed availability dipped too low. Some key theme park counties in California soon crossed this ominous threshold, including San Diego, whose SeaWorld location was required to close, and Orange County, home to both Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm.

Disneyland pre-emptively decided not to open The Villas at Disney's Grand Californian Hotel & Spa two days before its scheduled Dec. 6 opening, as non-essential travel and hotel bookings are not allowed during the stay-at-home order. The following day, in line with Southern California closure guidelines, further changes were in store for Downtown Disney and Buena Vista Street — the only portions of Disneyland Resort that are currently open: 

In line with proposed stay-at-home mandates, Disneyland President Ken Potrock informed employees that retail locations would be operating at 20 percent capacity and much of Downtown Disney's dining program would be halted. With all Disney-operated food and beverage locations closing down yet again, the move temporarily shutters many of the newly opened Buena Vista Street locations that were drawing guests back, including Award Wieners, Carthay Circle Lounge, and Smokejumpers Grill. (Sweets shops selling Disney desserts like Marceline's Confectionary and Trolley Treats are categorically retail and will remain open.)

Many third-party eateries, including La Brea Bakery, Starbucks, Tortilla Jo's, and Naples have chosen to close their Downtown Disney locations for the time being, while others, like Salt & Straw, Sprinkles, and Ballast Point Brewing will remain open for take-out; no food or beverage can be consumed on-property at this time. 

And, by yesterday morning, Knott’s Berry Farm had officially announced that Knott's Taste of Merry Farm food festival event would be canceled through Dec. 26.

California's amended theme park Christmas has officially been canceled, but for good reason. COVID-19 positivity rates have skyrocketed in Southern California, with Orange County hospitalizations surpassing the first surge in July and Los Angeles County hitting record-shattering case numbers day after day this past week, leaving Southern California under the stay-at-home mandate through at least Dec. 28. It's a bitter pill to swallow for many hoping to at least get a taste of theme park joy in a year so devoid of themed thrills, but unfortunately, the festivities will have to wait until it's safer to do so.

BUSINESS TIME

The Walt Disney Company's Investor Day is this Thursday, and with it comes a four-hour whopper of a meeting that’ll provide guidance to the future of Disney+ and what can be expected of the company's content programming in the next 12 months.

While our many theme park questions remain — including details on their operational future and capacity restrictions as vaccinations begin to be rolled out next year amid the pandemic as well as concrete ride opening dates pertaining to Walt Disney World's 50th Anniversary celebrations — don't expect them to be answered on this massive afternoon-spanning meeting. There may be a bit of crossover, but if so, it'll only be on the content side.

We generally prefer to stick to cotton candy news in this column, but it's worth adding that Disney’s stock hit an all-time high on Monday, after a week that also happened to mark many, many, many Disney cast members' official final day of employment. With so many people out of work, either temporarily via furloughs, permanently through layoffs, or once again due to the closures listed above, we encourage readers to donate to Second Harvest Food Bank branches in Southern California and Central Florida whenever possible in honor of those who make the time we spend at theme parks so special and memorable.

TWEET OF THE WEEK

Velocicoaster sneak peeks are heating up out of Universal Orlando Resort! The record-setting coaster, slated to debut Summer 2021 at Universal’s Islands of Adventure, began testing during the day and the early footage goes beyond the park's own sneak peek to provide up-close looks at this behemoth that'll make you want to plan next year's trip right now. Many folks, myself included, wondered if Hagrid's Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure could be dubbed the best coaster in Orlando when it launched, but with these videos of the Jurassic World-themed extravagance in motion, it very well could have that title locked up.

So good, right?! I completely understand why ospreys are relentlessly setting up their homes inside this bonkers coaster. I want to permanently live there too!

LINKS! LINKS! LINKS!

- Though I am pro-FastPass, this thread is still a must-read.

- V-e-r-y amped for this new podcast all about Disney World bathrooms.

- If you're craving Epcot's Candlelight Processional from home, this should have you covered.

- There are many more iconic steel coasters than I realized.

A Disney meet-cute that is truly so heartwarming to see. (This too! And this!)

SYFY, SYFY WIRE, and Universal Parks are properties of NBCUniversal, a subsidiary of Comcast Corporation.